My July Reading Journal

It’s been HOT this summer. So, it’s been the perfect time to get some good reading in. 2019 continues on with some excellent new releases. Dexter Palmer’s upcoming novel, Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen, is one of the most original and audacious books I’ve encountered in a long while. It leads the charge in a month that delivered multiple enjoyable reads. Here’s my recap of the books I read this July:

Lara Prior-Palmer’s Rough Magic: I’ve heard so many excellent things about this book, so I picked it up and found myself really drawn in to the author’s story. The book follows Prior-Palmer as she partakes in the “the world’s longest, toughest horse race.” The memoir sticks to focusing on the race as a singular focus, and I think the book is stronger by doing so. The result is nearly like that of a suspenseful novel. Rough Magic is a memoir about the power of courage and perseverance.

Kwame Onwuachi’s Notes from a Young Black Chef: Ultimately, this memoir is about a man proving he is worth it, even when so many voices around him tell him he isn’t. The feeling of the book bleeds with triumph. Kwame makes so many missteps in his early life with drugs and other bad behavior, but food saves him. One chapter that I love is about his experience at NYC’s Per Se. Kwame doesn’t hold back in discussing his mistreatment in the kitchen. The recipes at the end of each chapter add a nice touch. Food memoirs are my weakness, so it’s safe to say I loved this book.

Tea Obreht’s Inland: Obreht’s new novel is quite good. The language is beautiful. The characters are interesting. The story is engaging. I do wish there was a bit more magic and that the novel was condensed a bit, but those are just personal wishes. Inland captures the West beautifully, and the whole thing had me thinking of what it means to be home. I imagine the reviews will be very positive once it’s released.

Leland Cheuk’s No Good Very Bad Asian: Cheuk’s latest novel is his best work yet in my opinion. The novel contains equal amounts of humor and pain. Sections are laugh-out-loud funny, and others, especially near the end, are absolutely heart shattering. Cheuk explores issues of understanding one’s self in brilliant ways. This story about Sirius Lee will stay with me.

Sally Rooney’s Normal People: The “first great millennial novelist” has written a great millennial love story. I went it to this book expecting it to be written more difficultly than it is, but this novel is very accessible. And it’s brilliant. Connell and Marianne are a couple that are magnetic, each with developed quirks and eccentricities. I found myself rooting for them individually and then as a pair—even when I probably shouldn’t. The ending, as ambiguous as it is, is perfect. This is a novel of character, and it’s a stunning achievement. I understand the praise, and I champion it.

Stephanie Land’s Maid: Im adding this one to my syllabus for the upcoming academic year, so I visited it again. And guess what? It’s just as powerful as it once when I first read it. This memoir is a wonderful exploration of finding home, and it’s an affecting tale of achieving the American Dream. Lovely, important book, and I can’t wait for my students to read it.

Dexter Palmer’s Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen: Maddening, energetic, and audacious. This novel about a woman who suddenly begins to give birth to dead rabbits is a novel about curiosity and wonder. It’s a horror novel. It’s a literary novel. It’s a historical novel. It’s so many things, and somehow it works. Readers should be prepared for a wild ride. I found myself setting it aside because it’s so intense, but I think that’s a good thing. This is the kind of novel you want other people to read just so you can talk about it. It’s one of the year’s big achievements in literature.

Bradley Sides