Read Alikes for Our 2018 Podcast Reads
With 2018 drawing to a close I’ve been thinking over our podcast reads from this year. I’m happy to say that I’ve met and surpassed my reading goal, which is due entirely to working on the podcast as a project and having a partner hold me accountable (thanks, Becca!). Naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about the books we’ve read and connecting them in one way or another to other books I have read. So I have compiled a list of read alikes for some of the books we have reviewed and discussed on the podcast in 2018. Maybe the themes of the story remind me of another book from years ago, or maybe the framing devices or tone are similar. Whatever the case, I hope you’ll be able to discover some new reads here.
There, There was one of the biggest literary debuts of 2018. The novel weaves the narratives of twelve characters as they prepare for The Big Oakland Powwow in Oakland California and how their lives converge on the day of the powwow. It’s kind of a Crash-esque framing device which was also employed in Colum McCann’s 2009 novel Let the Great World Spin, in which the stories of many characters are told around the central event of Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the World Trade Center Towers in 1974.
This one might be cheating because we actually read both of these for the podcast this year. Their similarities are striking and really interesting to compare and contrast, especially because they were written and released nearly 45 years apart from one another. Both concern a young couple separated due to the male partner being imprisoned on false charges and the ways in which this trauma affects their families and relationship. They’re beautiful and heartbreaking and two of my favorite reads of 2018.
Melmoth has got a gorgeous modern Gothic feel that you don’t find very often anymore, but the plot reminded me of the 2009 novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. Both books use a backdrop of strange historical documents to propel the main characters on journeys of discovery about their pasts.
“But Memer of the Wedding isn’t horror,” you think to yourself as you read this on the bus or wherever. Just hear me out! Shirley Jackson’s novel, though billed as a horror story, essentially boils down to increasing paranoia caused by one woman’s extreme loneliness. The Member of the Wedding is the story of a 12 year old Frankie, bored and immensely lonely on her summer vacation. When her older bother is planning his wedding, her imagination goes wild as she imagines herself as part of something bigger. Both books are interesting explorations of the interior life of isolated female characters, and if that’s not enough, McCullers and Jackson are two of my favorite authors.
I’m looking forward to future installments in Attica Locke’s crime and detective series about black Texas Ranger, Darren Matthews, but if you’ve already read it and you can’t wait for more gritty, self-righteous, yet morally ambiguous detective dude written by a woman, may I present Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brody series? It takes place in the UK and Jackson’s a former military man who has taken on a private investigation business. Where Locke has a very tight precision to her writing, Atkinson is a bit more elaborate and meandering, but I think you will still enjoy the ride to find out who done it.
This recommendation is less about the particular books read than it is about the authors in general. Both Tolstaya and Williams seem to operate on a different plane entirely. The writing is bitingly funny and sarcastic one moment and then will breeze between delirium and magic the next. This might make Tolstaya and Williams seem interchangeable, but to steal a maxim about eyebrows from the beauty blogs, “they’re sisters, not twins.” If you love to feel like you’ve just stepped through a veil to a world almost just like this one but slightly more interesting, I’ve got a couple of books for you.
Just to make sure you’re fresh up on your horror fables and totally prepared for both the Her Body and Other Parties television show and the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie you’re going to want to read Alvin Schwartz’s kid cult classics along with Machado’s unstoppable story collection. And if you find yourself wanting more, I suggest picking up one of Karen Russell’s short story collections. Both writers glean from folklore and fairy tales to write unsettling and fascinating tales about women’s lives.
Both Swing Time and Another Brooklyn concern the friendships of two young black girls in urban settings. Swing Time takes place in the 80’s and 90’s in London and Another Brooklyn in the 70’s in, you guessed it, Brooklyn. While I found Swing Time to be a little overlong and overdramatic, Another Brooklyn was a very beautiful look at the realities of growing up in a rough neighborhood at a rough time. It contains both the fierce protectiveness of a group of girls and the bitter realities of growing apart from your friends.
Being perfectly honest: Future Home of the Living God was not a great read for me (or Becca), personally. That being said, it does exist in a wider literary genre of what I call “Fertility Dystopia.” The best known and perennially popular example of the genre is The Handmaid’s Tale. While Atwood’s classic has it’s issues from a modern standpoint (where are the women of color?) I’d point to it as a hallmark of this subset of speculative fiction. Another example published this year was the Red Clocks by Leni Zumas.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is an exhaustive account of the crimes committed by the Golden State Killer, a man that we now (because he was captured literally months after the book’s publication) know to be Joseph James DeAngelo, and the stories of the victims and investigators (including the author - a journalist/sleuth) who worked to find him. DeAngelo committed an impossible seeming number of crimes including break-ins, rape, and murders, in and around Sacramento, California in the 70’s and 80’s. Similarly, Missoula focuses on one city’s epidemic of campus rape and sexual assault and how the crimes were handled in the criminal justice system. Both are difficult to read and fathom. And while one focuses just on the heinous crimes of one man, both are indicative of a larger societal issue relating to violence against women and how the justice system can and has to improve to protect citizens.