What We're Reading / March 2019


Our staff have a range of reading interests, and we’re sharing our picks for March!


Our March reads include The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, Terra Nullius by Claire ColemanIRL by Tommy PicoThe Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Anne Barrows, and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.


Jane McCredie, CEO

Travelling in India recently, I read The Lowland by Indian-American writer Jhumpa Lahiri. A Kolkata friend recommended the novel for its evocative descriptions of her city and the political turmoil it experienced during the 1950s and ‘60s. The book’s title comes from a fragment of low-lying land in the south-west of the city, “a flooded plain thick with water hyacinth”, reclaimed from jungle swamp during British rule. For two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, growing up nearby, it is a place of exploration, play and ultimately danger. The Lowland is an epic family saga, ranging from India to the United States and back, exploring issues of migration, loyalty, politics and secrets. For me, though, the most moving part of the book was the complex, nuanced portrayal of paternal love in the relationship between Subhash and his adopted daughter, Bela.


 

Ashley Kalagian Blunt, Online Program Officer

Reading Terra Nullius, I was captivated by Claire Coleman’s twist on the settler invasion of Australia. A Noongar woman, Coleman traces her family’s ancestral country to the south coast of Western Australia. While her debut novel is challenging to describe without major spoilers, the book has been described as a blend of historical and speculative fiction. The book’s many accolades include winning the Black&Write! Indigenous Writing fellowship in 2016 and being shortlisted for the Stella Prize in 2018. Though I’d heard of the novel a few times, I became keen to read it after hearing Coleman speak about the process of writing the book while driving around Australia in a campervan, part of her interview on The First Time podcast. Terra Nullius tells a powerful story with imaginative surprises and deep humanity.


 

Dan Hogan, Program Officer

“In an effort to connect, / fingers will click open / more and more tabs.” IRL by Tommy Pico is a book-length poem—an intense, moving, and at times hilarious triumph. IRL is “rooted in the epic tradition of A.R. Ammons, ancient Kumeyaay Bird Songs, and Beyoncé’s visual albums”. The book is an epic direct message detailing the experience of Teebs, a queer Indigenous millennial disentangling what impulses and desires are his; and those that have been uploaded by white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, Bacardi, unending colonialism, and loneliness in the age of being Extremely Online. Pico is hugely generous to the reader as he reflects on the impact dispossession has had on him “coming of age” after his ancestors’ were deprived of their culture, language, and history. IRL stands as a monument to survival—a voice that refuses to be muzzled by white hands. In IRL, Pico has enshrined the possibility of a bolder and kinder future.


 

Claire Thompson, Communications Intern

I’m enjoying reading The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Anne Barrows. It’s unique to anything I’ve ever read in that the authors tell the narrative entirely through letters that different characters write to one another. The book is set in January 1946, just after the Second World War ended, and follows the protagonist Juliet Ashton, a writer who wrote columns during World War Two and now has writer’s block as she struggles to figure out her next project. That is until Dawsey Adams from Guernsey writes Juliet a letter after finding her name written in a second-hand book. So ensues an entertaining and intriguing correspondence with Dawsey and eventually all the members of the Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, as they tell Juliet about life on the island of Guernsey during the German occupation and why they formed their society.
At first it took me a little while to get into it as I found it difficult to figure out who all the characters were when reading each letter, but now I’m halfway through it honestly feels like I am part of this world, also receiving and writing letters. Though there are many characters, each feels as familiar as if I know them all personally. While the narrative is light-hearted and often makes me laugh, the novel deals with deeper themes of war and how uniting with others through a shared human experience allows one to find hope and a way to persevere through difficult times.

Grace Joseph, Program Intern

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is equal parts beautiful and devastating. Following four friends from college as they progress through life, Yanagihara explores issues of mental health, love, sexuality, family and friendship in stunning detail, doing exactly what the title promises and compressing four lives into one novel. Jude, however, is the story’s key protagonist as you delve further into the book, Yanagihara slowly reveals the horrors of his past, giving just enough away to hook readers into finishing the 700-page novel.

A Little Life is hard to summate for many reasons. But all I can say is that 700 pages was not nearly enough. Prepare for goosebumps and tears, for laughter and heartache, and to connect to fictional characters as you would your best friends.


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