Last spring I attended an Penguin Random House multi-day webinar that focused on social media and book promotion. Will Bulsiewicz talked about his debut, Fiber Fueled, an instant New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly best seller. Whew! I was intrigued enough to buy an ebook. I’m glad I did!
Will is a gastroenterologist who in the last years has dug into studying gut health and the bacteria that live in our intestines (which power or diminish our immune systems based on what we eat). His overall premise is we need a wide variety of plants in our diets. The more variety we consume, the more microbes flourish, and the better our overall health becomes. (Thirty different plants a week is a good goal, he says. It doesn’t have to be a full serving. Add a sprinkling of sesame seeds, a knob of ginger — whatever small steps you can take to up your plant diversity.) The book is loaded with interesting recipes. I’m especially partial to the white bean and basil hummus. Definitely worth the read.
Conjure Women by Afia Atakora
“Rue knew secrets. She knew many a secret stretched out amongst the folks of that little town, some shameful, some devastating, some just too sad to shape into words. Rue kept them all and kept them well and so folks kept giving them to her, their secrets. And never mind that she knew she had some of her own to keep.”
I’m not sure how to talk about this book. It haunted me. It moved me. It’s lush and layered and expertly written and is something a reader has no choice but to respond to. Conjure Women moves back and forth between slavery time and freedom time, following Rue and her mama, May Belle, both conjure women who birth babies and heal, and Varina, the plantation owner’s daughter. It’s a story of motherhood and womanhood and power and secrets and the horrors of slavery. One line toward the end particularly struck me: “…the trouble was that Varina had never had to know anything up there in the House; she could close the blinds if she didn’t like what she was seeing, could turn away in her featherbed.” How easy it is to close the blinds, often without even knowing it (a privilege I’ve only been made aware of these last few years). I’m grateful for books like this one that won’t let me turn away.
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Jacob Finch Bonner, a once-promising author, has watched his career sputter and fail. While teaching in a third-rate MFA program, he comes across Evan Parker, a student who boldly claims anyone can write if they have a good story, and his is going to sell millions of copies. Evan is cagey about the plot, but when he shares it with Jake privately, Jake knows it will be a huge success. Years pass, and Jake wonders whatever happened to his brash student. He discovers Evan Parker has died, unpublished. Jake claims Evan’s plot as his own. He’s not really stealing, right? It’s not plagiarism; the words are his own. Soon he has a bestseller on his hands. But then the notes start arriving. Someone knows Jake’s secret, and it won’t stay secret long.
I found this book so, so fun. Honestly, parts were laugh-out-loud funny to me, which might not have been the author’s intent, but glimpsing the publishing machine and the woes of writing through Jake’s eyes really tickled me. (Coming back to say I’ve just read an article about Korelitz’s experience writing The Plot where the journalist found the book funny, too). Interestingly, there’s another book with a very, very similar plot written about fifteen years ago called About the Author. You better believe I’ll read that one, too.
Unsettled by Reem Faruqi
Thirteen-year-old Nurah and her family uproot their lives in Pakistan to resettle in Peachtree City, Georgia. Everything is strange in this new world, and Nurah feels out of place. Slowly, she finds comfort in swimming and a new friend named Stahr. She learns she is brave and courageous and strong. She soars like a kite — free.
This middle-grade verse novel reminded me of Thanhhà Lại’s Inside Out and Back Again. A lovely read.
What have you been reading?