I think everyone goes through reading phases, and this year has been a year of reading light for me. I’ve been dealing with a lot of emotions, and I just don’t want to read anything too heavy, or anything that deals with death, mortality, aging, etc. At the beginning of the year, I truly thought I could read all of Toni Morrison’s books, but it’s September and mama’s clearly not going to get that done. Instead, I’ve been reading a lot of romance novels.
But when I finished my book, I wanted to read something that was as far away from contemporary YA as possible. So I picked up A Little Life, which Alex promised would make me cry. Every review I saw of it on Goodreads said it was amazing, but people also spoke of it like it was a horror movie…like, “Be careful, don’t read it alone, it’s going to make you sob.” I was apprehensive, but I have a long history of reading upsetting things, so I was ready.
Well. Let me tell you guys, I wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen with A Little Life. It was, by far, the most viscerally horrifying book I’ve ever read, but it’s also one of the best. The writing is beautiful, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that made its characters feel so real. It seems like such a dumb cliche to say, “I feel like I know the characters,” but I really do feel like I know Jude, Willem, Malcolm, J.B., Harold, and Andy. Over the course of 700+ pages, they became real. The book’s about deep male friendship, which isn’t something that’s often explored honestly in fiction.
If you’ve been seeing a lot of great reviews for A Little Life and you’re thinking of picking it up, maybe do so. But maybe don’t! As much as I loved this book, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. It deals, very explicitly, with hard-to-read-about topics like childhood abuse, self-harm, and suicide. At time, I truly thought I would have to stop reading it. Before this, the most upsetting book I loved was Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State, but A Little Life is about 500% more brutal than that. It’s dark, and it doesn’t really let up. I’m not sure if there’s a lesson in it, or a moral, or even really a lot of hope, other than that we, as readers, get the privilege of reading about and understanding these people’s lives, of seeing the times they’re happy even when dealing with excruciating pain.
I’m going to go back to reading something a little lighter now, but A Little Life reminded me of the value we get when we challenge ourselves to read something upsetting or difficult. It made a deep impression on me and I’m going to be thinking about it for a long time.
But if you’re not up for reading something quite so bleak (because it is bleak, and unrelenting), I have some recommendations for books I’ve read this year that are upsetting but ultimately way, way happier. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie deals with some deep issues but is basically a happy ending sort of book (and it’s also very funny!). 32 Candles, which I recommend to everyone all the damn time, starts out with an abusive childhood and goes to some dark places, but is essentially a hopeful romance for John Hughes fans. And if you just want to go really light, read the latest Princess Diaries book, Royal Wedding. A++, would definitely read again.
PS: If you just want to know more about A Little Life, you can check out this interview with author Hanya Yanagihara on Late Night with Seth Meyers!