The Slanted Spines 2020 Booklist

Happy New Year, Slanted readers! I have exciting (read: nerdy) plans for this year!

Slanted Spines is starting an informal book club! So, my fellow bookworms, get your notepad and paper out (or open a new tab on Goodreads) and take note! I’ve selected twelve books that Slanted Spines will be reading this year, and on the last Friday of the month I’ll post a book review featuring that month’s book. Hopefully, my Slanted Spines readers will join me in reading these books and discuss their thoughts following each book review!

So, without further ado, here is the Slanted Spines Booklist of 2020!

January: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Suddenly, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about Where the Crawdads Sing, and since it was such a hit in 2019, I thought I’d start the year off with this one. Reviewers say the imagery is magical and the story captivating, but I’ve also read that readers enjoy this more when they suspend their disbelief. So, I’m ready to let Owens take me on whatever journey she creates!

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Summary from Goodreads

February: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

After Little Fires Everywhere became popular, I started hearing a lot about Celeste Ng. I’m also intrigued because her work tends to take place in northeast Ohio, which just happens to be my native land!

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

Summary from Goodreads

March: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pick this book up solely because it was on the Buy 2 Get 1 Free stand at Books a Million, but after I read the back, I was interested! It passed my pre-reading inspection and explores important topics, so I’m excited to start this one.

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. In this deft exploration of love, loyalty, race, justice, and both Black masculinity and Black womanhood in 21st century America, Jones achieves that most-elusive of all literary goals: the Great American Novel.

Summary from Goodreads

April: Carrie Pilby by Caren Lissner

While I was working on my honors thesis during my undergrad, I was researching various literature either influenced by or similar to The Catcher in the Rye because I was writing a modern retelling inspired by Holden Caulfield’s story. The professor I was working with came across Carrie Pilby, and while I read half of it to garner inspiration for my own novel, I never actually finished it. But the half I read was very good! And reading young adult literature can be fun and refreshing.

Being a genius has never been this hard! Carrie Pilby doesn’t fit in. Anywhere. And she’s pretty much given up trying. A year out of college, this nineteen-year-old genius believes everyone she meets is immoral, sex obsessed and hypocritical, and the only person she sees on a regular basis is her therapist. When he comes up with a five-point plan to help her discover the “positive aspects of social interaction, ” Carrie, who would rather stay home in bed, is forced to view the world in a new light.

Summary from Goodreads

May: The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

My goal with this booklist was to include a variety of books, and so I did a little research on books to be released in 2020. The Night Watchman had a 4.33 out of 5 rating on Goodreads, with impressive reviews from its test readers. This will be released in March of 2020, and the reason I chose it was that reviewers said that the characters were well developed, the writing was excellent, and the plot focuses on a reservation in North Dakota in the 1950’s. I’m very excited about this, although it is a hefty 464 pages!

Thomas Wazhashk is the night watchman at the jewel bearing plant, the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a Chippewa Council member who is trying to understand the consequences of a new “emancipation” bill on its way to the floor of the United States Congress. It is 1953 and he and the other council members know the bill isn’t about freedom; Congress is fed up with Indians. The bill is a “termination” that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land and their very identity. How can the government abandon treaties made in good faith with Native Americans “for as long as the grasses shall grow, and the rivers run”?

Since graduating high school, Pixie Paranteau has insisted that everyone call her Patrice. Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Patrice, the class valedictorian, has no desire to wear herself down with a husband and kids. She makes jewel bearings at the plant, a job that barely pays her enough to support her mother and brother. Patrice’s shameful alcoholic father returns home sporadically to terrorize his wife and children and bully her for money. But Patrice needs every penny to follow her beloved older sister, Vera, who moved to the big city of Minneapolis. Vera may have disappeared; she hasn’t been in touch in months, and is rumored to have had a baby. Determined to find Vera and her child, Patrice makes a fateful trip to Minnesota that introduces her to unexpected forms of exploitation and violence, and endangers her life.

Thomas and Patrice live in this impoverished reservation community along with young Chippewa boxer Wood Mountain and his mother Juggie Blue, her niece and Patrice’s best friend Valentine, and Stack Barnes, the white high school math teacher and boxing coach who is hopelessly in love with Patrice.

Summary from Goodreads

June: In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

According to the cover, this book is quite scary, and after reading Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky, I’m ready to experience more horror books.

In a dark, dark wood.

Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back.

There was a dark, dark house.

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?

And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room.

But something goes wrong. Very wrong.

And in the dark, dark room….

Some things can’t stay secret for ever.

Summary from Goodreads

July: Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

I just finished We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby and this book’s narrator sounds similarly snarky, which excites me. I read the first page of this one and let me just tell you it opens up in a gynecologist’s examining room, so ladies, I feel like we’re most certainly in for a laugh with this one.

Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places…including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth.

As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”—all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her.

Summary from Goodreads

August: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and I absolutely loved it, so I’ve been dying to read another piece of Atwood’s writing. The Year of the Flood is actually a “sequel” in the MaddAddam series, but I checked out the reviews and this installment tells a story separate from the characters of the first book, which is called Oryx and Crake. Reportedly, Atwood does drop the reader in the middle of this alternate society, but not so abruptly that the reader doesn’t enjoy the culture shock.

The times and species have been changing at a rapid rate, and the social compact is wearing as thin as environmental stability. Adam One, the kindly leader of the God’s Gardeners–a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, as well as the preservation of all plant and animal life–has long predicted a natural disaster that will alter Earth as we know it. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have survived: Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked inside the high-end sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, a God’s Gardener barricaded inside a luxurious spa where many of the treatments are edible.

Have others survived? Ren’s bioartist friend Amanda? Zeb, her eco-fighter stepfather? Her onetime lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers, survivors of the mutual-elimination Painball prison? Not to mention the shadowy, corrupt policing force of the ruling powers…

Meanwhile, gene-spliced life forms are proliferating: the lion/lamb blends, the Mo’hair sheep with human hair, the pigs with human brain tissue. As Adam One and his intrepid hemp-clad band make their way through this strange new world, Ren and Toby will have to decide on their next move. They can’t stay locked away…

Summary from Goodreads

September: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I know this is an old one, but this is another book I’ve wanted to read for a while. An all-female society? Count me in. If you enjoyed The Yellow Wallpaper like I did, I’ve got pretty high expectations for this one.

An all-female society is discovered somewhere in the distant reaches of the earth by three male explorers who are now forced to re-examine their assumptions about women’s roles in society.

Summary from Goodreads

October: Small Great Things by Jodi Piccoult

My mom loves Jodi Piccoult. Has she bought me multiple books by Jodi Piccoult, all of which I haven’t read? Yes, absolutely. Which is why I finally want to make her proud and read this book. One thing my mom says she always enjoys about Piccoult’s books is that she is clearly well-researched on all of her topics, so we’ll see what I think–in my review.

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

Summary from Goodreads

November: I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

I feel like I’m cheating a little bit because I’ve already read I am Malala, but I never posted a book review about it, and it was so good that I want to encourage everyone else to read it, too. (Plus, November is a busy month for me, so rereading this will be “easy” for me with my schedule.)

I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday.

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.

Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

Summary from Goodreads

December: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Isn’t the cover beautiful? I know, I know—I routinely break the cardinal rule of book reading and that’s judging a book by its cover. But, to be fair, this book also sounds interesting. I skimmed through it, and I think it’ll be a lovely wrap-up for our 2020 booklist.

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes. The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

Summary from Goodreads

Because I hope to have some good discussions about these books, let me share some things that I consider while reading a work of literature:

  • First of all, I always read with a pen. I used to be one of those readers whose books had to be in absolutely pristine condition, but then I realized marking up my books improves my reading experience; plus, I was an English major in college, so making notes was necessary if I wanted to write a good paper on whatever book was assigned. Because libraries are also one of the greatest resources afforded to us, I also recommend reading with sticky notes to mark passages. I like to mark especially beautiful prose (“Wow that was perfectly written!”), patterns I notice (“Ooh, this parallels something that happened earlier in the book”), and symbols (“I think this represents something”).
  • When we start a book, the first few things we need to figure out are: Who’s telling the story? Where are we? Who are we with? Where are we going?
  • As I read, I notice the way the author writes. Is her writing style consistent or does the style change as she writes different scenes? Is the writing clear or am I often confused about who she’s referring to or what point in time the action is happening? How is the description—is it too elaborate, too lacking, or just enough? Does the author cover a range of senses in their description, such as sight, sound, touch? How do the characters develop—is it spelled out for us up front, or do we have to discover who the character is gradually?
  • Also as the story unfolds, I think about the protagonist’s (or protagonists’) journey. What struggles do they endure? How do these struggles change them? How do we notice this character’s growth—by how they speak to others, by how they treat inanimate objects, by what they focus on?
  • In addition to the protagonist, the supporting characters also bring more life to a story. What about these characters? Are they also well-developed and changing, or do they stay the same throughout the story?
  • What is the overall story arc? Does the story unfold from denouement to rising action to climax to resolution, or does the plot zigzag rather unpredictably? What is this story really about? What’s at stake?
  • And last, and probably most important above all else: How does this book make me feel? If we love a book with our whole heart even though the writing is amateur, then all that matters is that we love the book. If the book is totally unrealistic but it made us weep, then it doesn’t matter that there’s no way it could have actually happened in real life or not—it made us weep. A good author pours their heart into their writing with the goal of connecting with the reader, and if as a reader you feel connected, then that’s what counts.

I am SO excited to start reading these books! Find me on Goodreads—my name is B.C. Spines and I’m easy to find!—and let’s be friends! I have all these books on my Slanted Spines Booklist 2020 bookshelf, so you can add them all to your lists! Also make sure you’re following @slantedspines on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for updates!

Hope you enjoy Where the Crawdads Sing, our first read of the year!

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