Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

“My heart clutched – it was one of those moments when you feel time is a rug that’s been yanked out from under you; everything around you has changed so gradually that it is only all at one you look up and realize how different your life has become.”

5/5 stars.
ebook, 432 pages.
Read from September 13, 2021 to September 17, 2021.

Okay crew, I am officially 20 books behind on my reviews and have some serious catching up to do. It’s been a shit show over here in Hong Kong the last two months and my schedule has been turned upside, yet again, for what feels like the millionth time. I’ve got some time so I am going to try my best to get through my backlog even if it means writing shorter reviews.

If someone had told me I would read a fictional story about Hilary Clinton and love it I would have called them bluff. Enter Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld…

What if Hilary Rodham didn’t marry Bill Clinton? How would the world of politics fare? What would have changed and would it have been for the better? These are the questions that author Curtis Sittenfeld answers in writing this book as she reimagines Hilary’s life and career after opting not to marry Bill. This isn’t Sittenfeld’s first time writing a political-alternative narrative as in 2008 she wrote a book called American Wife that echos the life of the First Lady that is reminiscent of Laura Bush’s time in the Whitehouse.

Sittenfeld clearly did her homework when writing this book in order to get the wider picture of both Hilary and Bill. The first part of the book encompasses Hilary and her family and how she meets Bill while at Yale. The ensuing sex scenes feel awkward at first since you know that these people aren’t just merely characters in a book but actual people with a real romantic history. There is a sexy naked saxophone scene that I will forever remember, for better or for worse. While the sex scenes themselves lose their awkwardness you become enthralled with the inner workings of Hilary and her ambitions. The writing is concise, exciting, and introduces you to this intricate world of politics and the scandals behind them.

Sittenfeld carefully shaped this story around real quotes and real historical situations and made Hilary’s alternative life seem so real. The book is meant to dismantle the misogyny that the real Hilary has faced her whole life and attempts to show reasons why Hilary may have stayed with Bill after his infidelities.

Some of my favourite parts of the book include cameos from Donald Trump and how he would have fit into this alternative narrative. The way Sittenfeld wrote Trump and his dialogue felt so comically accurate. The ending of the novel was also immensely satisfying and moving.

Sittenfeld has clearly found her niche as I could not put this book down. If someone can make me read a book about political figures and love it, they must have some serious talent. A highly recommended read for anyone looking for something different and thought-provoking.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

“There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.”

5/5 stars.
Hardcover, 229 pages.
Read from July 8, 2021 to July 13, 2021.

It’s not very often that a book can marry literature, science, and philosophy together and it’s even rarer when it’s a memoir. Then again, the author of this book also seemed to be a rare human being. One that was taken from this world far too soon.

Losing someone you love to cancer is an exclusive club that nobody wants to be a part of, in that only those who have known the pain of it can truly relate to it. At the same time, it becomes such a defining and all-consuming part of your life that you can’t help but also be drawn to anything relating to it. This is how this book found my reading list.

The opening foreword by Abraham Verghese gives you your first powerful impression of what Paul was like and draws you in from the first page. Paul Kalanithi was an accomplished neurosurgeon whose first love was writing and reading, a venture that almost had him become a professor instead of a surgeon. He found himself in the medical field due to his own questions of life and death, often brought on by the literature that he read. Initially thinking he’d do psychiatry, Paul fell in love with neurosurgery and became one of the best. When Paul was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, his deep intrigue with life and death took a whole new meaning.

Despite his illness, Paul decided to continue doing what he does best, being a neurosurgeon. Paul gives the details of how he came to medicine and how he grew as a physician, not hiding his faults as he progressed in the field. His diagnosis changed him from a practitioner to a patient and it gave him a wholly different perspective on his patients and the type of care he and the system provided. Paul and his wife decided to try for a child despite his dire situation, a child he was able to see and spend time with for a few brief and magical months. He started with the hope of leaving his daughter something of him in writing this book.

Paul melds his talent and passion for writing with his ideas on science, death, and dying creating this moving and masterful work. I am so thankful he shared his ideas and vulnerabilities with the world as this book has left a lasting impression on me, as it has, no doubt for many others. Paul faced death with an immense appreciation for life and what he had and made the most out of every second, a lesson that he shared through his writing. Actively living and actively dying are two sides of the same coin and the side that you want is one of your choosing.

This book feels incomplete because it is. Paul had so much more to share with the world and with his family but cancer cut his life short. Isn’t that always the way of things, though? Never enough time. While poets have been writing on this topic for more than a century, Paul’s story is a modern telling of the beauty and fleetingness of life.

This book is suitable and recommended for any human but I think especially those going through times of struggle or transition. Paul’s words are raw, comforting, and a gentle reminder of what we have to be grateful for while exploring death and life’s meaning.

Blankets by Craig Thompson

“We experience a discomfort that may be foreign to others, but that pain opens up a world of beauty. Wouldn’t you think?”

5/5 stars.
Paperback, 592 pages.
Read from June 21, 2021 to June 22, 2021.

Childhood and youth are often reflected on with nostalgia as we age, even for those who have had difficult upbringings. Craig Thompson’s Blankets is a coming of age story in which he reflects on his youth with reverence, sadness, longing, and regret.

Craig grew up in Wisconsin in a strict Christian household with his parents and younger brother. Craig and his brother grew up like a lot of brothers do, a mix of roughhousing, shenanigans, and rivalry but as Craig gets older he comes to some harsh realisations about the abuse that occurred in within family, a weight that he still carries. As Craig enters his teenage years he is an awkward youth who has yet to find his place among his peers. During a stint at a Christian camp for teens, he meets a curious and intriguing young woman named Raina. As Craig and Raina get to know each other, their blossoming love is beautifully described with all the familiar intensity of a teen relationship, both sexually and emotionally. However, Raina comes from her own troubled home and while the two of them maintain a long-distance relationship, their home and family lives make it difficult to maintain. Craig’s relationship with also God begins to change, as he questions and grapples with the experiences and discussions he has with Raina.

The artwork colour scheme used by the author creates a perfect dream-like tone and mimics the blustery winter weather of Wisconsin as well as the fondness and frustration of being a teenager. Craig’s work is insightful, poetic, honest, and highly relatable. The story itself doesn’t feel tragic, though it has elements of tragedy, instead, it’s Craig’s matter-of-fact recollection of times gone and of moments of love, growth, and regret that he still holds close to his heart.

At first glance, this novel may look intimidatingly large but its content and beautiful imagery is devour-worthy and makes for a quick and pleasurable read. A highly recommended read to graphic novel lovers or for those looking to enter the genre.

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