I’ve been steadily reading the Booker long list and I will write about those books soon, but first I want to tell you about two books I finished and loved before the Booker madness began. First is Leigh Stein’s Land of Enchantment, a memoir about Stein’s relationship with a young man named Jason, who, she learns at the beginning of the book, died at 23 from a motorcycle accident. She tells about their relationship and the experience of learning of his death. The two meet when Stein is 22 and he is 19; they quickly fall in love, and then move to New Mexico so she can write a book. But things don’t go well: Jason is troubled and abusive, and Stein struggles with the isolation, uncertainty, and the lack of confidence that can come from being in an abusive relationship and not feeling sure enough of herself to get out.
Stein tells the story well: it’s engaging and emotionally powerful. She captures feeling of being trapped, knowing she’s in a bad place but not knowing what to do about it. Stein has gotten criticism for writing a memoir so young (she’s now 32 or thereabouts), but I think this book shows why that criticism is silly: yes, it’s a memoir by a young person, but it has the depth and insight one hopes for from any memoirist. Perhaps the book would be different if Stein wrote it twenty years from now, but that’s fine — it would just be a different book, not necessarily a better one.
The other book to tell you about is the anthology The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward. The book brings together an impressive group of writers, including Claudia Rankine, Edwidge Danticat, Natasha Trethewey, and Kiese Laymon. It’s mostly made up of essays, although there are some poems as well. The pieces are varied: some are personal and others are more historically or sociologically focused. The book is a sort of follow-up and response to James Baldwin’s book The Fire Next Time and is meant to offer thoughts on what has changed since Baldwin’s time — and even before that — and what hasn’t. There are essays on the experience of walking in Jamaica and New York City, on Ward’s experience of having a DNA test done to tell her exactly where her ancestors came from, on the 18th-century poet Phillis Wheatley, and on Rachel Dolezal. There is so much good stuff in this book!
I’ll be back soon to write about my Booker reading.