My Winter Break TBR 2023
I don't read paper books during the semester because they're just harder to read on my commute and in gaps between classes than ebooks, but I love getting to savor the books in a different way. Since I've already read 106 books this year and wildly surpassed my wildest dream, I feel like I can really take my time with these books and read them slowly, which is a nice change of pace. I'm not putting pressure on myself to finish these books in a certain amount of time since I have almost two months ahead of me. I'm so excited to finally tackle this pile, as well as a few digital library books I've been looking forward to reading. Here's what's on my official winter break TBR:
by Zadie Smith
This is where I decided to start my winter break reading journey. I bought this book, along with the other Zadie Smith in the stack, when I saw her speak back in the fall, and I'm glad that I finally have time to dive into it now. I'm about 100 pages in, and I'm really enjoying the language and the cast of characters so far.
From Goodreads: Howard Belsey, a Rembrandt scholar who doesn't like Rembrandt, is an Englishman abroad and a long-suffering professor at Wellington, a liberal New England arts college. He has been married for thirty years to Kiki, an American woman who no longer resembles the sexy activist she once was. Their three children passionately pursue their own paths: Levi quests after authentic blackness, Zora believes that intellectuals can redeem everybody, and Jerome struggles to be a believer in a family of strict atheists. Faced with the oppressive enthusiasms of his children, Howard feels that the first two acts of his life are over and he has no clear plans for the finale. Or the encore.
Then Jerome, Howard's older son, falls for Victoria, the stunning daughter of the right-wing icon Monty Kipps, and the two families find themselves thrown together in a beautiful corner of America, enacting a cultural and personal war against the background of real wars that they barely register. An infidelity, a death, and a legacy set in motion a chain of events that sees all parties forced to examine the unarticulated assumptions which underpin their lives. How do you choose the work on which to spend your life? Why do you love the people you love? Do you really believe what you claim to? And what is the beautiful thing, and how far will you go to get it?
Set on both sides of the Atlantic, Zadie Smith's third novel is a brilliant analysis of family life, the institution of marriage, intersections of the personal and political, and an honest look at people's deceptions. It is also, as you might expect, very funny indeed.
by Zadie Smith
I'm thinking that I'm going to try to space out my reading of Smith's novels across the next month and a half instead of reading them all at once, so I think this might be one that I save for the end of December or January.
From Goodreads: Set in northwest London, Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragicomic novel follows four locals—Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan—as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. In private houses and public parks, at work and at play, these Londoners inhabit a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end. Depicting the modern urban zone—familiar to city-dwellers everywhere—NW is a quietly devastating novel of encounters, mercurial and vital, like the city itself.
by Zadie Smith
This will be my middle Zadie Smith book in diving into her catalog. This is her newest book, and it's historical fiction. That makes it unique on my reading list, and I want to read this one ahead of Christmas when my grandma is coming to visit. I think she might like it, so I want to go ahead and read it to see if I want to pass it along to her.
From Goodreads: It is 1873. Mrs Eliza Touchet is the Scottish housekeeper - and cousin by marriage - of a once famous novelist, now in decline, William Ainsworth, with whom she has lived for thirty years.
Mrs Touchet is a woman of many interests: literature, justice, abolitionism, class, her cousin, his wives, this life and the next. But she is also sceptical. She suspects her cousin of having no talent; his successful friend, Mr Charles Dickens, of being a bully and a moralist; and England of being a land of facades, in which nothing is quite what it seems.
Andrew Bogle meanwhile grew up enslaved on the Hope Plantation, Jamaica. He knows every lump of sugar comes at a human cost. That the rich deceive the poor. And that people are more easily manipulated than they realise. When Bogle finds himself in London, star witness in a celebrated case of imposture, he knows his future depends on telling the right story.
The 'Tichborne Trial' captivates Mrs Touchet and all of England. Is Sir Roger Tichborne really who he says he is? Or is he a fraud? Mrs Touchet is a woman of the world. Mr Bogle is no fool. But in a world of hypocrisy and self-deception, deciding what is real proves a complicated task...
Based on real historical events, The Fraud is a dazzling novel about truth and fiction, Jamaica and Britain, fraudulence and authenticity, and the mystery of 'other people.'
Breast and Eggs
by Mieko Kawakami
This is one of my latest book purchases thrown on top of the stack. I bought this book along with a copy of The Rachel Incident in the Denver airport at their Tattered Cover branch there. How cool is it that they have a bookstore in the middle of the terminal? I'd heard Jack Edwards talk about this one on his YouTube channel, so I was curious to pick up this translated work and read it myself. It seems to have a lot of the twenties coming of age themes that have really intrigued me lately.
From Goodreads: Challenging every preconception about storytelling and prose style, mixing wry humor and riveting emotional depth, Kawakami is today one of Japan’s most important and best-selling writers. She exploded onto the cultural scene first as a musician, then as a poet and popular blogger, and is now an award-winning novelist.
Breasts and Eggs paints a portrait of contemporary womanhood in Japan and recounts the intimate journeys of three women as they confront oppressive mores and their own uncertainties on the road to finding peace and futures they can truly call their own.
It tells the story of three women: the thirty-year-old Natsu, her older sister, Makiko, and Makiko’s daughter, Midoriko. Makiko has traveled to Tokyo in search of an affordable breast enhancement procedure. She is accompanied by Midoriko, who has recently grown silent, finding herself unable to voice the vague yet overwhelming pressures associated with growing up. Her silence proves a catalyst for each woman to confront her fears and frustrations.
On another hot summer’s day ten years later, Natsu, on a journey back to her native city, struggles with her own indeterminate identity as she confronts anxieties about growing old alone and childless.
Friends and Strangers
by J. Courtney Sullivan
I'm hoping that this will be a lighter, quicker read in the bunch to provide some variety in the tone and pacing of the books I'm setting out to read.
From Goodreads: Elisabeth, an accomplished journalist and new mother, is struggling to adjust to life in a small town after nearly twenty years in New York City. Alone in the house with her infant son all day (and awake with him much of the night), she feels uneasy, adrift. She neglects her work, losing untold hours to her Brooklyn moms' Facebook group, her "influencer" sister's Instagram feed, and text messages with the best friend she never sees anymore.
Enter Sam, a senior at the local women's college, whom Elisabeth hires to babysit. Sam is struggling to decide between the path she's always planned on and a romantic entanglement that threatens her ambition. She's worried about student loan debt and what the future holds. In short order, they grow close. But when Sam finds an unlikely kindred spirit in Elisabeth's father-in-law, the true differences between the women's lives become starkly revealed and a betrayal has devastating consequences.
A masterful exploration of motherhood, power dynamics, and privilege in its many forms, Friends and Strangers reveals how a single year can shape the course of a life.
The Vanishing Half
by Brit Bennett
I bought this book from a library sale last winter, and I haven't managed to get around to it yet. I feel like that should be remedied before the year is over, so I pulled it off my shelf and added it to the stack. I want to get through all my unread books that I own.
From Goodreads: The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' storylines intersect?
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person's decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
The Reading List
by Sara Nisha Adams
I'm not sure how I ended up owning this book (maybe a book box?), but it's been on my shelf for years. In a similar spirit of finishing the books that have been sitting there waiting, I'm going to pick this one up too. It seems like a book about books and the power of libraries, which is an incredibly fitting topic for the moment.
From Goodreads: Widower Mukesh lives a quiet life in the London Borough of Ealing after losing his beloved wife. He shops every Wednesday, goes to Temple, and worries about his granddaughter, Priya, who hides in her room reading while he spends his evenings watching nature documentaries.
Aleisha is a bright but anxious teenager working at the local library for the summer when she discovers a crumpled-up piece of paper in the back of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a list of novels that she’s never heard of before. Intrigued, and a little bored with her slow job at the checkout desk, she impulsively decides to read every book on the list, one after the other. As each story gives up its magic, the books transport Aleisha from the painful realities she’s facing at home.
When Mukesh arrives at the library, desperate to forge a connection with his bookworm granddaughter, Aleisha passes along the reading list… hoping that it will be a lifeline for him too. Slowly, the shared books create a connection between two lonely souls, as fiction helps them escape their grief and everyday troubles and find joy again.
The Last Thing He Told Me
by Laura Dave
This is another twist in bringing in new genres to this list. This time, I've chosen an eerier book about a man who disappears and those left behind to uncover the secrets. I don't typically read thrillers or mysteries because I'm great at scaring myself, but I feel like being at home and surrounded by other people might make it easier to enjoy a book like this.
From Goodreads: Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.
As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.
Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated.
by Lauren Oyler
If you remember my book haul when I bought this one, you'll know that I was on the fence about the purchase. But it's a nice, short read that will hopefully break up some of the longer books on the list giving me a quick boost.
From Goodreads: On the eve of Donald Trump's inauguration, a young woman snoops through her boyfriend's phone and makes a startling discovery: he's an anonymous internet conspiracy theorist, and a popular one at that. Already fluent in internet fakery, irony, and outrage, she's not exactly shocked by the revelation. Actually, she's relieved—he was always a little distant—and she plots to end their floundering relationship while on a trip to the Women's March in DC. But this is only the first in a series of bizarre twists that expose a world whose truths are shaped by online lies.
Suddenly left with no reason to stay in New York and increasingly alienated from her friends and colleagues, our unnamed narrator flees to Berlin, embarking on her own cycles of manipulation in the deceptive spaces of her daily life, from dating apps to expat meetups, open-plan offices to bureaucratic waiting rooms. She begins to think she can't trust anyone--shouldn't the feeling be mutual?
Narrated with seductive confidence and subversive wit, Fake Accounts challenges the way current conversations about the self and community, delusions and gaslighting, and fiction and reality play out in the internet age.
Under the Influence
by Noelle Crooks
I love influencer books, particularly in journalistic deep-dives and nonfiction, but I also find it intriguing in fiction. It's such an interesting world to inhabit, but it's so easy to create a shallow representation of, so I always look forward to seeing how authors take it on.
From Goodreads: After a series of go-nowhere jobs in the New York publishing world, Harper Cruz is broke, lonely, and desperate for a salary that won’t leave her scrambling to make rent each month. So when she stumbles across a job posting from an influencer offering triple her last paycheck, she automatically submits her résumé.
Harper may not be familiar with self-help guru Charlotte Green, but her relentless optimism and charismatic can-do spirit has created a cult-like following of women across the country. When she selects Harper among thousands of other applicants in less than twenty-four hours, it’s obvious she sees something she likes. Despite the pressure to accept the offer just as quickly as she’s been given it, Harper decides to take a leap of faith and become the newest member of The Greenhouse.
Accepting the job means a move to Nashville, and Harper is quickly dazzled by the glamorous world Charlotte has built in Music City. The Greenhouse is more than a workplace—it’s a family—and Harper soon finds herself swept into its inner circle. At first, she loves working in such an inspirational environment, where mandatory dance parties, daily intentions, and group bonding activities make up for long hours and Charlotte’s persistent demands for loyalty. But the deeper Harper is pulled into Charlotte’s world, the more she realizes that having it all and being it all comes with a price.
The Happy Couple
by Naoise Dolan
This is my latest book purchase. I stopped in a bookshop in my town that I'd never been to and purchased a hard copy of Death Valley that I want to study and annotate as well as The Happy Couple. There was a super long hold time at the library for this one, and I was intrigued to see what Naoise Dolan had come up with this time. I really liked the summary, and the cover is such a gorgeous blue. It's my last book purchase for the year, though – I promise. It should be another quick read to mix in with some of these longer books.
From Goodreads: Meet Celine and Luke--for all intents and purposes the happy couple. Luke (a serial cheater) and Celine (more interested in piano than in domestic life) plan to marry in a year. Archie (the best man) should be moving on from his love for Luke and up the corporate ladder, but he finds himself utterly stuck. Phoebe (the bridesmaid and Celine’s sister) just wants to get to the bottom of Luke’s frequent unexplained disappearances. And Vivian (a wedding guest), as the only one with any emotional distance, observes her friends like ants in a colony. As the wedding approaches and these five lives intersect, each will find themselves looking for a path to their happily ever after--but does it lie at the end of an aisle?
by Nathan Hill
I've been super excited to read this one since I bought it at Book Soup, but it's so long that I'm starting to get cold feet. I know I need to just dive into this story head first and see where it takes me, but I think I'm going to save that mission until I finish the semester in December. I might be physically home and far away from school, but that doesn't mean that the work has slowed down. I think it'll be fun to sink into these longest books right around the holidays when everything is quieter.
From Goodreads: The New York Times best-selling author of The Nix is back with a poignant and witty novel about marriage, the often baffling pursuit of health and happiness, and the stories that bind us together. From the gritty '90s Chicago art scene to a suburbia of detox diets and home-renovation hysteria, Wellness reimagines the love story with a healthy dose of insight, irony, and heart.
The Bee Sting
by Paul Murray
Everything I said about Wellness applies here. I made a B-line for this book when I assembled the giant stack, but then I set it back down and picked up a much lighter (and a bit shorter) paperback to begin this quest. I really want to read this one because it's up for the Booker prize, and I've seen great things about it. I just have to get over my fear of reading a book thick enough to be a dictionary.
From Goodreads: The Barnes family is in trouble. Dickie’s once-lucrative car business is going under―but rather than face the music, he’s spending his days in the woods, building an apocalypse-proof bunker with a renegade handyman. His wife Imelda is selling off her jewelry on eBay, while their teenage daughter Cass, formerly top of her class, seems determined to binge-drink her way through her final exams. And twelve-year-old PJ is putting the final touches to his grand plan to run away from home.
Where did it all go wrong? A patch of ice on the tarmac, a casual favor to a charming stranger, a bee caught beneath a bridal veil―can a single moment of bad luck change the direction of a life? And if the story has already been written―is there still time to find a happy ending?
by Melissa Broder
I'm still going to mix in some reading from the library on my Kindle even as I try to work through this book tower as my holds come in. Yesterday, I downloaded Melissa Broder's first book. It's the only novel of hers that I haven't read, and I'm curious to see what shape her debut novel takes. That's what's up next for me when I finish On Beauty.
From Goodreads: Lucy has been writing her dissertation about Sappho for thirteen years when she and Jamie break up. After she hits rock bottom in Phoenix, her Los Angeles-based sister insists Lucy housesit for the summer—her only tasks caring for a beloved diabetic dog and trying to learn to care for herself. Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube atop Venice Beach, but Lucy can find no peace from her misery and anxiety—not in her love addiction group therapy meetings, not in frequent Tinder meetups, not in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection, not in ruminating on the ancient Greeks. Yet everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer one night while sitting alone on the beach rocks.
Whip-smart, neurotically funny, sexy, and above all, fearless, The Pisces is built on a premise both sirenic and incredibly real—what happens when you think love will save you but are afraid it might also kill you.