The second installment of my favorite reads of the year includes humor, insight to classic literature and ghosts!
Lanny by Max Porter
Dead Papa Toothwort is a spirit in the little village about an hour away from London. He haunts the children’s dreams and when he is bored, he just may sweep them up and be away with them. He takes the form of a tree and manipulates, cajoles and chides the village. Meek child Lanny is struggling to make his way and find his place. In desperation, his mother arranges drawing classes with town recluse, Pete. Before long, Lanny disappers, and everyone is a suspect. Most of the town imagines the worst and surprises and twists squeal this tale to its conclusion.
Porter uses a non-traditional storytelling approach with Papa Toothwort text in swirls and various fonts and sizes and commentary and text from several other characters coming in bits and spurts. In a slight 210 pages, Porter manages to create a contemporary setting that is both familiar and mysterious. A place where things don’t seem to change, yet each resident’s fate could be changed by the whim of a spirit. Some have called this magical realism, fantasy, even horror. It is completely original and unforgettable.
You must work for this book. Things are insinuated instead of spoon-fed and the language is raked and splayed with refreshing couture style and elegance. There is a creepy tone that will pull even the most reluctant reader into the story and make them question their own ability to foretell the path of the tale. Shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize, this novel is an avant-garde delight and nearly perfect book.
Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future by James Shapiro
For any fan of literature, or teacher of English, this title provides compelling thoughts about race in Shakespeare’s work, as it questions how we have developed with dramatic racial divides in our American society. Almost everyone is familiar with at least one piece by Shakespeare and to benefit from this book, you need no more background than that.
Shapiro considers the entire span of the American experience and its relationship to the work of Shakespeare. Some examples of tales include John Adams rewriting a passage of Henry V, to Abraham Lincoln, and his assassin’s shared obsession of the bard. Shakespeare’s words have been used to justify war, plead a case for Manifest Destiny and reflect common trends in current class warfare. Some chapters veer from the political to the personal in chapters on marriage, adultery, and same-sex love.
Chock-full of research and listings of new sources to further study the topic, Shapiro invites his readers to consider the classic works in a new way. For better or for worse, Shakespeare’s work has become analogous with our cultural mores. One hopes that we could move faster in repairing some of the social fouls that have been committed in our past, but as the book ends with a recent event involving supporters of President Trump interrupting a production in New York City’s Central Park. It seems as if this story is still being written.
Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour
A lonely orphan, Mila, who newly graduated from high school accepts a unique job offer. She will work on a farm on a mystical patch of land. The residents are expected to prep, cook, and clean up three meals each day. They are provided with clothes, tools, and education. They learn life skills and are expected to complete the goal of taking off on their own when they are ready. Mila is given a one-room cabin that has no amenities and utilizes a wood-burning stove for heat. This idyllic homestead is far from perfect as Mila soon realizes that the land is full of ghosts, including her own ghosts from the past.
LaCour’s gorgeous word choices and spare yet colored language further enriches the reader’s experience. Metaphors and nature envelop the growth and experiences of the charachters. Interacting with other teens and watching the daily life on the farm forces Mila to confront her past so that she can deftly move into her future. Although written as a young adult novel, this title should be read by any literary fan. LaCour’s writing style is poetic and infectious, the story enlightening and beautifully human.