Happy New Year!
Here at The Arcanist we’re feeling invigorated by the fresh start and the fresh powdery snow on the ground. Also, possibly because our social schedules have opened up. January is always the month that everyone starts strong — promising to be fitter and smarter than ever before.
This is a peak at the books that have started our year off right.
Every year I make a list of resolutions. If they look remarkably similar to the last year it’s because they are. In fact I routinely fail and pick up the same ideas of how I could better myself the next year. This past year, something different happened. I achieved was my reading goal. (In fact I smashed it.) It’s left me glowing and optimistic about my 2019 reading.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
This novel reminded me of Miss Lonelyhearts with its unnamed narrator overcome with ennui who is morally ambiguous at best. However, Moshfegh’s narrator has a plan. She’s going to medicate herself into a hibernation for an entire year in order to create a rebirth of sorts.
Moshfegh keeps the action rolling in a novel where the main premise is sleep, which I found impressive. She has created a narrator that you’ll love to hate and written the type of novel that used to be exclusively for men for women.
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
In 1941, Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston. He wrote under the pseudonym Charles Moulton, so few people knew he was the psychologist who invented the lie detector. Even fewer people knew he was related to the famous feminist Margret Sanger. If that name doesn’t ring a bell here’s a clue. She helped found Planned Parenthood.
Lepore paints a fascinating portrait of Wonder Woman’s origins — part biography of Marston and part exploration of first wave feminism. There are salacious bits (Marston’s polyamory) and unbelievable bits (like his involvement in Frye v. United States) all rolled into the most interesting history book I’ve ever read.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko follows a family from 1910–1989. When Sunja becomes pregnant, she rejects her baby’s wealthy father, a married gangster, and marries Isak, a kind minister, instead. Isak and Sunja travel to Japan to start a new life and join the Korean diaspora. The family face unjust laws, prejudice, and poverty in Japan.
Through her specificity, Lee is able to shed truth about xenophobia and bigotry that is universal. The historical backdrop, spanning Korea as a Japanese colony, WWII, the A-bomb, the Korean War, and American occupation in Japan, give context to one family’s story, making it all part of something so much larger. The prose is clear, beautiful, and holds no pretense, making such a large novel a pleasure to read, and Lee’s scope is epic to say the least.
January is one of the best times of the year for me as a reader, mainly because of all the literary loot I plundered in December, which has left me with a slew of choices from a bunch of different genres. First, it’s murder mystery time. Then, I plan on moving on to, of course, another Pratchett novel, and then follow that up with some Neil Gaiman.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
This is one of the strangest, most interesting novels I’ve read recently. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a murder mystery wrapped up in a time loop. Our protagonist, who goes unnamed for a while, has to relive a single day over and over again, jumping between other characters as he goes, to eventually solve the murder of a young woman. If he fails, his memory is wiped and he repeats the loop again.
It’s a fascinating, Agatha Christie-esque story that is a true pageturner. If you're looking for a good, spooky mystery novel, this is the one.
Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
Last month, I finished off the Night Watch portion of Discworld. Though I am sad to not have any new Vimes-focused stories left, I’m looking forward to diving more into Death (the character, that is).
I’ve already read Mort and enjoyed it quite a bit. In every other novel, I always get excited to see Death show up and make a few quips. I haven’t dived into this one yet so I can’t give a lot of details, but I’m definitely excited about it.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
I have two Gaiman books on my list, Neverwhere and Trigger Warning. I’ve decided to start with Neverwhere — which was gifted to me by fellow editor Patrick — because the edition is fantastic. Not only is it a hardcover copy that doesn’t have a dust jacket (I hate dust jackets), it’s been illustrated by Chris Riddell. Riddell’s artwork adorns just about every page, making it a wonderful experience to read.
For me, January means time to finally exhale after all of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. What better way to relax than with a winter run? Or, if you’re into warmth and stuff, one of these titles, paired with a cozy fire and cup of tea, may be more your speed.
The American Way by John Ridley, Georges Jeanty, and Karl Story
Cinema lovers will recognize John Ridley as one of the screenwriters behind 12 Years a Slave. Together with Jeanty and Story, he crafts a superhero story that blends the uncertainty, upheaval, and nostalgia of the 1960’s with all of the pageantry and power that make superheroes so fascinating. Additionally, the racial tensions and political atmosphere, while specific to the time of the narrative, ring eerily true with contemporary audiences (for better or worse). If you thought Watchmen had the market cornered on super-powered political allegories, get ready to be proven wrong.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
I won’t lie, it took me quite a while to come around to this contemporary classic turned major motion picture. Cline’s dystopian cyber-punk adventure is a little light on character development, and heavy on pop-culture references. But, it has a strong, authentic narrative voice. It’s unpretentious in it’s delivery, and entirely accessible. Put simply, it’s an adventure story, served straight-up and (very possibly) in a collectible Ninja Turtles glass. That may sound rough, but this title goes down surprisingly smooth.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Yeah, Mr.Gaiman get’s two spots this time around. I first read this book as a high school freshman. I had green hair, few friends, a taste for punk rock, and an insatiable desire for reading. American Gods came along at just the right time, and, I’m certain, played a formative role in my career. Mythology, social criticism, and Gaiman’s trademark, bleakly horrifying imagery are all present in full form. There’s no better way to ring in the new year than by paying homage to the old gods.