Short Stack Reviews (Circe, John Green, Zadie Smith, and more Baldwin!)

I don’t know about you guys, but the spring flew by. That might be due to the amount of books I was reading. Here’s a short stack of books I’ve been reading:

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

This is not a book I would usually read but I went out of my way to read it because everyone was talking it up last year. Circe is a lovely retelling of Greek mythology from the perspective of Circe, the witch-goddess more popularly known from the Odyssey. Since Circe is immortal, the book spans over a thousand years of her life and is marked by her intersections with better-known characters such as her father Helios, the titan Prometheus, the inventor Daedalus, and others. Overall, I found this novel very accessible (even for those of us that haven’t read anything Greek myth related in years!). I loved the perspective Miller was able to cultivate to create an almost fully “human” portrait of an immortal woman. Not only does it give a fresh perspective on these myths, but it has a feminist, female-centered bent that kept me turning the pages. I’m curious to read Miller’s last work (Song of Achilles) and was honestly hit with the desire to re-read the Iliad and the Odyssey. Insane!

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way Down

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

It has been a long time since I’ve picked up something YA. I read a bunch of John Green’s books in high school so I’ve had this on my “to read” list for some time. Overall, it contains many of the elements of other John Green books—quirky-beyond-belief characters, overly-philosophical teenagers, a mystery many of the characters have no business solving but feel they are owed the adventure, etc. As far as the book goes, I felt the overall situation was a little too extreme (whereas his other works usually are based in a more grounded everyday-teenager reality) and the pacing, especially in the first chapter, exaggerated that extreme. However! There were interesting discussions on perspectives of class separation, and his treatment of Aza’s struggle with her mental health is incredibly well-written. Anyone that’s loved his books in the past or is into YA will definitely enjoy parts (if not all) of this one.

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Y’all know I’m a huge Baldwin fan (he’s actually my favorite author). He’s mainly known for his imaginative novels and his essays of social critique, including his 1963 pair of essays titled The Fire Next Time—which I consider to be essential reading. Sadly, his examination of race in America feels as if he had just written them yesterday. Enter The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward. This selection of essays, stories, and poems are all in response to Baldwin’s influential work as a continuation of African American thought and history over the last fifty years. This is likewise essential reading, which will surely spark conversation and introspection for any American.

NW by Zadie Smith

NW

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

I have a Zadie conundrum: this is my third Zadie Smith novel and now—writing the review a week after completing NW—I am overwhelmed by this feeling of fondness for Smith’s work. As with Swing Time and White Teeth, I didn’t entirely enjoy reading NW (I’ve originally wanted to give three stars to all three directly after finishing). Like the other Smith books, I often found myself not being able to remember the plot whenever I put the book down or when I see her books on the shelf. Regardless—I’m still quick to recommend her to any bookish friend I know. What gives?

NW, named after the northwest area of London, was even more extreme for me because it is very experimental. I struggled to get through it in increments—ultimately opting to make time to knock it out in one go over the weekend. The two main characters (Leah and Natalie) are well-drawn and interesting to read, Natalie’s section being the most captivating section of the novel, which describes Leah in even more depth. (I’ve already forgotten any details about the third main character, Felix). Retrospectively, the overarching themes of luck versus choice and the nostalgic desire of how things never really were are still spinning through my mind days after reading.

In conclusion: I wasn’t keen on this book, I loved this book, you should read this book, even though I didn’t appear to care for this book—when it comes to Zadie Smith’s work I’m about as reliable as one of her characters.

View all my reviews on Goodreads!