This edition of All Booked was originally emailed to subscribers on March 9, 2022. To receive Emily Cosentino Lee and Caitlin Fitch’s literary newsletter in your inbox, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
Recently, I read Luster by Raven Leilani. This impressive debut novel is a witty examination of race in the U.S. while also exploring the ways women twist themselves into knots to please mediocre men. So much of what makes this book great is what is not said by the characters or the author. The story is told through the eyes of a young Black woman making a series of bad decisions while living in New York City. The main character, Edith, reminds me so much of Candace, the protagonist in Severance by Ling Ma. I started thinking about how these two characters would probably be friends or coworkers if this were real life. Severance is another smart book making statements about race, womanhood, capitalism, and much more, but through the eyes of a young Chinese-American woman living through a pandemic-fueled apocalypse. When paired, Severance and Luster, although quite different in plot, make an even more powerful indictment of patriarchal norms and racism in the United States.
These connections in theme and style got my synapses firing, so I created a collection of books that speak to each other across pages and authors.
Mrs. March by Virginia Feito and Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh are another pair of books that communicate so closely that it is almost eerie. Both feature paranoid women and unreliable narrators with plotlines happening almost entirely inside the narrators’ heads. Mrs. March focuses on a ’60s housewife who has lost herself within her marriage, while Death in Her Hands focuses on a widow who has lost herself without her marriage. Both women do such audacious things that I audibly gasped while reading. Although ultimately I enjoyed Death in Her Hands more, both books are entertaining literary rollercoasters. Another book that is on my To-Read List and lands in the same neighborhood is the Nobel Prize–winning novel Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of The Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.
If post-apocalyptic traveling circuses are what you’re after, then definitely read both The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan and Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. I missed the boat a few years back when Station Eleven was the featured Santa Barbara Reads book. But not to worry, HBO just came out with a TV series based on the book that reignited my interest. Station Eleven focuses on a traveling troupe of Shakespeare performers after a species-obliterating virus rips through humanity. The Gracekeepers is a bit more tame, following a circus boat as it floats between islands doing shows after rising sea levels cover most of the earth, leaving only two groups of humans: Damplings and Landlockers. The Gracekeepers is also based loosely on the legend of the selkie, so a mysterious mer-folk being haunts the book, making it akin to Things in Jars by Jess Kidd.
If Celtic spirituality sparks your interest, then I suggest reading John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara and In The Shelter by Pádraig Ó Tuama in tandem. Both are poetic and beautiful, taking the reader on an interior journey that transcends religion into the realm of how to be a better human in a strange world. For more context on both of these authors, you can listen to John O’Donohue on On Being, and Pádraig Ó Tuama on For the Wild.
On another note, it is a heavy time to be a human, and Santa Barbara Librarian Molly Wetta was recently featured on NPR discussing book recommendations on the history of Ukraine, Russia, and the Soviet Union. If you are interested in learning more on the subject, give it a listen. SBPL has also created a list of books on their app, Libby, that provides more context for the crisis in Ukraine. Please consider donating to Santa Barbara–based nonprofit Direct Relief’s efforts to help the Ukrainian people.
LOCAL BOOK SPOTLIGHT
We at the Independent get many books sent to us by local authors, sometimes too many! It’s practically impossible for us to read and review them all, but just because we are busy bees does not mean that they aren’t worth the attention. In an attempt to not completely drop the ball, we have compiled a list of books here that have a local spin. They are all either written by a local author, feature someone in our community, or have another tie to Santa Barbara. I urge you to look through this list. Perhaps you will find your new favorite read!
If you are a local author and would like us to feature your book in this section, please email us at email@example.com.
INDY BOOK CLUB
Indy Book Club is a monthly community book club hosted by the Santa Barbara Independent and the Santa Barbara Public Library, where we read and discuss books on a wide range of themes and genres. Join in on the literary fun!
March’s Indy Book Club Selection: Vincent & Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman
Publisher’s Synopsis: The deep and enduring friendship between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh shaped both brothers’ lives. Confidant, champion, sympathizer, friend, Theo supported Vincent as he struggled to find his path in life. They shared everything, swapping stories of lovers and friends, successes and disappointments, dreams and ambitions. Meticulously researched, drawing on the 658 letters Vincent wrote to Theo during his lifetime, Deborah Heiligman weaves a tale of two lives intertwined and the love of the Van Gogh brothers.
Get Your Copy: Borrow a physical copy from the Santa Barbara Public Library, listen to the audiobook on Hoopla, or read the ebook on Libby. Catch up on our previous cover story on the Van Gogh exhibit at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art here.
March Book Club IN PERSON Discussion: Wednesday, March 30, 6 p.m., on the patio at Municipal Winemakers, 22 Anacapa St. Wear layers as it can get chilly.
We would love for you to come and chat about the book with us! It is very informal, and we usually spend about 30 minutes chatting about the book and then the last 30 minutes giving recommendations and chatting about other books we’ve read.