Hooray for books! Robert over at Barter Hordes is one of the most well-read and inclusive readers on Booktube and has created this book competition just for us in YouTubelandia – The Booktube Prize. Read more about it here.
I am a judge for group D of this round, ranking the chosen six books in the order in which I like them. Though I ranked them, these are all very good book. Here’s how I voted.
6. The Overstory by Richard Powers
A cast of characters interacts with one another and with trees. There are several storylines to follow. I loved the story of Dorothy, the free spirit married to the straight-laced man who truly discovers life after staring at the tree in his backyard. Neelay, the computer genius who is paralyzed after falling out of a tree. Patricia, the scientist who becomes a laughingstock after discovering that trees communicate with one another via chemical signals.
While those stories sang to me, the others did not. I found myself zoning out during the other sections, which accounts for a whole lotta zoning for a book with more than 500 pages.
5. The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
When a woman’s friend commits suicide, he leaves his great dane to her. She knows nothing of raising a dog and lives in a tiny apartment. But together, they speak the universal language of grief together and find comfort in one another.
The only drawback: I’m not 100% sure if I liked this book. It takes a lot (A. LOT.) of diversions. The narrator chases after trivia like a dog who’s caught the scent (see what I did there), spending little time on the actual story and most of our time discussing cheating swans, or journaling, or some movie she watched years ago, or marital therapy, or any number of things that take us away from the story. I could make the argument that this was her way of processing her grief. But I’m still not fully convinced.
4. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Slave life is brutal. Children are beaten. Families are separated. Lives end. It’s normal. In the midst of this, Washington Black wonders: where is his true home? Who is his true home? Wash has trouble finding either of those things, keeping himself emotionally unavailable to both.
Washington Black does best in the lead-up to the near-fantastical escape from the plantation. The burgeoning friendship between Wash and Titch, the possibilities of a plantation under a secret abolitionist’s control…the story is captivating in the first section. But once Wash finds himself moorless, so does the book. Just a bit. Edugyan brings it back together in a lovely way in the end.
3. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
Rainbirds doesn’t rush from one plot point to the next. It sits in its grief, building the lush, melancholy atmosphere in heavy layers. But where Idaho remained static, Rainbirds moves forward.
When looking at Rainbirds as a series of somewhat meaningless events, it’s easy to be frustrated. But when viewing Rainbirds as a portrait of a quietly desperate man grappling with his grief, its beauty and poignancy becomes much sharper.
2. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Celestial and Roy are newlyweds when Roy is wrongly accused of rape and imprisoned. Can their fledgling marriage survive after five years of prison?
The answers are not easy in An American Marriage. How do they know what the right thing to do is when there’s been nothing but wrong for five years? Their attempts are beautiful and heartbreaking.
1. Happiness by Aminatta Forna
Attila is a large Nigerian psychiatrist of note. Jean is an American animal researcher and landscaper. Their paths cross by mere chance, but when they come together to help a homeless man, they begin a friendship.
The thing that gets me about this book is the exquisite kindness people show one another. A bunch of strangers for a community with one another. It’s not so uplifting to be treacly. Rather, it’s the kind of quiet, understated story that makes you proud of our fellow humans.
The next step: judging the Booktube Prize quarterfinals at the end of May. Yay!