Books I Read in February

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates is one of my favorite writers. After reading an interview in which he talks about his experience writing the first six books in Marvel’s Black Panther series, I read the first in the series, a gift from my Coates-fan son and his partner. The majesty and gravity of the visual and literary collaboration between Coates and artist Brian Stelfreeze held me in its grip for an afternoon. Black Panther reminded me of childhood, when I was obsessed with Batman comics (still am, actually) and would dream myself to sleep at night making up scenarios in which I was Batgirl, saving the world. Comics and graphic novels: I so admire what writer and artists, working in sync within the freeing confines of the hallowed graphic form, can create.

Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson. Such a quiet, introspective, surprising novel. It completely absorbed me, and since finishing it, I’ve been thinking about how our early adolescence –just a few moments, even—informs our understanding of adulthood ever after. How we turn those moments over and over in our minds and hearts as we age and gain wisdom. A few trustworthy friends had described this novel as “nothing happens!” so (despite the fact that I often secretly think the same of my own novels) it was never on my must-read list. But I found it riveting in the way that sitting by the bank of a river for a slow afternoon, absorbed in watching the eddies and swirls, is riveting. Highly recommend.

Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata. I didn’t want my heart to be broken by another book –sometimes your heart just gets tired of breaking, you know?—and I had long assumed this novel would break my heart, because such is the way of most Newbery books. But I picked it up one morning and finished it the next, swept along by the narration of Katie, the middle child of the Takeshima family, who’s blunt, funny, enjoys being “bad,” and whose sister Lynn means everything to her. Set in the 1950’s, in the chicken-sexing Japanese-American subculture of southern hatcheries, this novel feels so real in its depiction of poverty, the cruelty and abuse of racism, endless work, family devotion, and a childhood filled with wonder and love. This is also an example of the rare child narrator who feels truly, infectiously, beautifully real. This lovely novel and its people will stay with me forever.

The Keep, by Jennifer Egan. Every once in a while, I pick up a novel by Jennifer Egan and each time she surprises me with the way she bends and twists her people and their narratives. She’s incredibly inventive, layering in all kinds of unusual twists that in another writer might seem showy, but not her. Who’s telling this story? I kept asking myself as I read this novel, because the narrators keep changing as the story deepens. Two cousins, bound by a singular traumatic childhood event, meet again as adults with a vision of turning a European ruin of a castle into a tech-free hotel. Technology and our addiction to it, imagination and our fundamental need for it, guilt and the ache of dreams that didn’t come true, all against the chilling backdrop of a castle from which you can never escape infuse this novel with a despairing kind of love. Brilliantly wrought.

Transit, by Rachel Cusk. Onward, ever onward, with my new infatuation with Rachel Cusk. Transit is the second in a trilogy of novels about a writer, recently divorced, whose books are both well-known and well-reviewed, who teaches occasional workshops both in England and abroad, who has two children currently staying with the father while the writer undertakes a difficult renovation of her newly-purchased awful house in a neighborhood she loves. That little summary makes it seem as if Cusk’s writing is pretty standard, yet it’s anything but. Only at the very end of Transit does the writer-narrator finally let us know her first name. Every actual “fact” of her life is painfully extracted, but who cares, because facts are not the point of these novels, in my reading of them. Instead, Cusk lays bare, with unsparing honesty, the heart and soul of a person’s hard-won insight into human nature. The conversations throughout these novels are like the (few) purely honest conversations I’ve had in my life that happen when everything is stripped away and there’s nothing to lose. I’ve already bought the third in this trilogy. Cannot get enough of this writer.


  1. Kathryn Wilking · 22 Days Ago

    Alison, Please accept my deepest sympathy at the loss of your father. It hurts. I am traveling the path of being a newly widowed women. Oh, that sounds odd, and somehow very cold.But, 1. One day at a time2. Breathe3. Pray4. Laugh every day Not in this order.  Grab what you need when necessary. Thanks for the newest podcast Words of Winter.  TheBadAss Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android


  2. Mary · 22 Days Ago

    Trying so hard to latch onto The Passenger, by Cormac McCarthy. Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Blackbird isn’t working either.☹️But Foster was a jewel. Reread it twice before returning.

    Mary Alice Gruppi “My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — / It gives a lovely light!” Edna St. Vincent Millay



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