We are excited to present our February reading list! Inadvertently, we came up with a list that has a bright set of common threads running through it, encompassing ideas about immortality, family, and legacy. We begin with The Immortalists, which was a long-anticipated novel (and rewardingly so!) before delving into Brass, The Lightkeepers, The Girl on the Velvet Swing, and Eternal. We end with a highly-satisfying cookbook (Munchies), because the stories fantastic and the recipes were so delicious that we couldn’t resist!
The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin
I waited for this book. I preordered this book and anxiously awaited its arrival, gleefully ran to the bookstore to pick it up, and careened through it within 24 hours. In 1969 four children sneak out to visit a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day that they will die. Her answers inform the next five decades of their lives, as each respond to his or her date with death in different ways. The Immortalists is, at its core, a novel about destiny and choice, nature, and love of family. Chloe Benjamin is a must-read author – I also highly recommend her novel, The Anatomy of Dreams.
Brass – Xhenet Aliu
Brass is a novel written in two parallel narratives. The first is from the perspective of Elsie, a waitress who has high hopes and falls in love just a little too quickly. When she meets Bashkim, a married man who also has big dreams, the connection is instantaneous. The second narrative begins 17 years later, when Lulijeta receives a rejection letter from NYU and soon finds herself stuck at home with her mother, Elsie. Determined, Lulijeta takes this opportunity to move forward by looking to her past and the father she never knew. Xhenet Aliu has a sensitivity for characters, particularly their sense of identity and place, that truly elevates the story she creates. Brass is fierce and headstrong, subtle and heartbreaking, and Aliu balances the narratives effortlessly.
The Lightkeepers – Abby Geni
Miranda, a nature photographer, travels to the Farallons Islands – also known as “The Islands of the Dead” off the coast of California and soon finds herself in a hostile landscape, surrounded by violent animals end equally (if not more so) violent people. Part thriller, part murder mystery, part geographical and topographical landscape, The Lightkeepers is unexpected, gripping, and difficult to summarize without including spoilers – it is really a novel that must be experienced alongside the characters to appreciate its full weight.
The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century
– Simon Baatz
In a strange turn, I actually first heard about this case in the musical Ragtime – the song is “Crime of the Century” and it’s actually fairly accurate. The case itself centers around Evelyn Nesbit, a chorus girl who caught the eye of Harry Thaw, a millionaire who later became her husband. She confided in him that she had been assaulted years before by another man (Stanford White) and, in 1906, Harry shot and killed Stanford in front of many, many witnesses in Madison Square Garden. The resulting trial was a sensation that left much of the country divided as to whether Harry was justified in killing White. While I cannot endorse calling it the “crime of the century” – 1906 was far too early to call – it’s a riveting case and one with far-reaching implications. Baatz gives an incredibly engaging and informative account of the case, as well as his own final assessment of the outcome – definitely a must-read for American history lovers and crime-buffs (or murderinos!).
Eternal – Dara Horn
‘What would it really mean to live forever?’ is the question that frames the story of Eternal. While many books, movies, and TV shows have played around with the same concept (with Ashildr/Me from Doctor Who being a notable favorite), Dara Horn brings a familial sensitivity to the idea. Rachel’s immortality is not as a result of a deep love of self or from a personal desire to be immortal; it is due to an intense love of family: she made a bargain to save the life of her first son, back in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. Now, many years and children later, Rachel’s living children and grandchildren are obsessed with immortality in their own ways (such as genetic engineering!) and Rachel’s own life has lost meaning – even religion feels grim outside of the constraints of a normal human lifespan – but new breakthroughs might just make it possible for Rachel to finally find a way out. If you’ve never read Dara Horn before, she’s a remarkable author to pick up – not only has she written 5 novels so far, she is also a visiting professor in Jewish Studies at Harvard and her academic work always finds its way into her novels in intellectually stunning ways.
Munchies: Late-night Meals from the World’s Best Chefs – JJ Goode & Helen Hollyman
Perhaps it seems strange for me to have a cookbook on here, but I promise I have a good reason. Not only does each recipe feature anecdotes about the chef or restaurant that recommended it, the recipes are absolutely mouthwatering. Did you know that you can put bacon-gravy into mac and cheese? I do now! Or fried shrimp and bacon grilled cheese sandwiches were the stuff of reality instead of merely a fantastic dream-sandwich intersection point? Not all of the recipes feature bacon (although they are some of the more eye-catching ones!) – there are also inventive twists on cocktails, desserts, and breakfast foods (none of which have bacon for some reason, but I’m sure you can add it). It helps that the chefs guiding us through this culinary spread are fantastically skilled; Munchies features chefs like David Chang, Dale Talde, Anthony Bourdain, and my personal favorite – Isaac Toups. In short, there’s no way to go wrong with this book – the anecdotes are fun and informative, the recipes are incredible, and even the pictures are enough to make you want to run to the kitchen and give them a try.
As always, happy reading!
- The Crystal Clear Resources Team