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books and reading

The Nickel Boys

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I buy books on Amazon for my Kindle when they are cheap. Somehow, I ended up buying this one about a month ago, having no idea it was going to win the Pulitzer. Did you know only four authors have won two Pultizers? Booth Tarkington, William Faulker, John Updike, and Colson Whitehead. I was shocked that it was so few, but also of who wasn’t on the list… Steinbeck, Hemingway, Toni Morrison to start.

I read The Underground Railroad before it won the Pultizer and enjoyed it quite a bit. It was a tough read, but worth it. When I heard amazing things about this one, I bought it when the price dropped and added to my ever-growing “to read” category on my kindle (currently the home of 90+ books). Once it won, though, I bumped it to the top and am very glad I did.

The story is a fictionalized account of a home for boys in Florida where juveniles are sent to “rehabilitate.” The real school is the Dozier Home for Boys which operated for over 100 years. Once closed, authorities found the unmarked graves of over 50 boys and noted over 100 deaths. This story follows Elwood, who is sent there just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but is otherwise a good kid with a bright future.

Not only is this story captivating, but the writing is top-notch. Whitehead’s language is subtle and understated, but powerful and sticks with you. I can see why he won again. The two books I’ve read of his follow a similar concept: fictionalized accounts of real events/places, but not only do these accounts create meaning for the reader by putting the reader inside the environment, but Whitehead also creates emotions by letting the reader see the nasty side of it all. Some books, literally, whitewash events. Books like American Dirt, for example. It’s impossible to get inside the psyche of a person of a certain culture unless you are that culture. A white person’s perspective of the Underground Railroad would be just words, emptiness. And although Whitehead didn’t live through slavery, his experience is much different than a white person’s and should be afforded the respect and the benefit of the doubt that he (and any “own voices” author) can capture his culture best. That’s what I love about his books. I’m getting to see a side of people that is honest and real and raw and genuine, and I respect that.

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books and reading

The Goldfinch

I try to keep up with Pulitzer winners, but many of them are rather dull. I read The Orphan Master’s Son, American Pastoral, The Shipping News, all were rather dull. However, some like The Underground RailroadBeloved, and Middlesex were amazing and worth reading. So when I hear a book has won the Pulitzer, I’m a bit leery. I first read The Goldfinch a few years ago and absolutely fell in love. It was the best book I read that entire year. I’ve recommended it to everyone, but I realize it’s not a book that all will love. It’s not always the most exciting book, but it is beautifully written and kept me engaged from the first page. I reread it in anticipation of the movie coming out this week.

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The story of Theodore Decker is a difficult one. His mother is killed in an art museum bombing. Theo was spared, but in a moment of insanity, he steals a painting during the chaos. A simple little painting of a bird. Theo’s entire life revolves around the fear of the authorities discovering the painting. As a teenager, he bundles it up, hides it, doesn’t think much about it. But as an adult, he realizes the magnitude of what he’s done and doesn’t know how to handle it.

The story is told in two big chunks, Theo as a teenager and as an adult. As a teen, he his mother has died, his father abandoned him, and he ends up living with a family friend. Once his dad resurfaces, Theo moves with him to Las Vegas and ends up meeting Boris, a classmate. Boris is hands-down the most interesting character in the book. You love Theo and are heartbroken for his life, but Boris leaps off the page, both in the teenage years and when he reappears in Theo’s adult life.

I don’t want to say much about the plot because it doesn’t go the way you expect, but it all revolves around the painting. Theo is flawed. He’s a drug addict, a thief (aside from the painting), a liar, and you still love him. But Boris is the dynamic one, and I can’t wait to see him portrayed on screen. He equally oozes charm and violence. He’s a scoundrel to the highest degree. But he is loyal and protects Theo. So far the trailers seem to get the book right. I’m cautiously hopeful for this one.