Best Books of the Month: Literature and Fiction

RooneyHere are a few of our favorite fiction titles for January. See more of our favorite fiction, and all of the Best Books of the Month.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

This is a novel about an 85 year-old woman who wends her way to a party. I may have lost you already, but Kathleen Rooney and her delightful Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk will not. Turns out, Ms. Boxfish is a fascinating woman who has led a fascinating life, the details of which she teases out before bidding adieu to the year 1984. One of the most talented and successful ad women for R.H. Macy’s in the 1930s, Ms. Boxfish was once the toast of New York. She reminisces about the time she asked her boss to pay her the same as her less accomplished male counterparts. Seeing as though that’s a battle still being fought today, you can guess how that went, but this incident hints at the kind of woman our feisty flâneur is. You will learn more about Lillian’s life as a “Mad Woman,” and the one she didn’t anticipate as a wife and mother...Her story takes a dark turn or two as well, and you will root for her as she responds with her signature wit and mettle.

There are beloved works in the canon of great literature featuring famous walkers (James Joyce’s Ulysses and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway immediately come to mind). One of the joys in reading them is the motley cast of characters our heroes and heroines encounter along the way, and Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is no exception. Whether it’s a bartender, a bodega employee, or a group of thugs, Lillian confronts them with the same infectious curiosity, compassion, and pluck. It’s a testament to Rooney’s writing chops that you’ll want to walk with Lillian as she ponders, all the while paying homage to New York in its gritty glory.

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This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
In recent years we’ve seen an increasing number of memoirs from transgender individuals and from parents forging uncharted waters in order to help their transgender children live happy, healthy lives in a society that still largely defines gender by what’s in your pants. In her novel This is How It Always Is Laurie Frankel takes those real-life experiences and puts them into a big-hearted story of family and secrets. Penn and Rosie are a close, loving couple, living in Madison, Wisconsin with their five boys. But it becomes evident before long that their youngest, Claude, feels like he should have been born a girl. So how do these strong, supportive parents go about helping their son live as the person he wants to be? It’s a fascinating thing to behold. The nuances and unforeseen pitfalls of trying to protect your child from fear and hate while nurturing a sense of acceptance is daunting. What is private and what is a secret, and what is, really, nobody’s business? Sometimes secrets have a way of materializing in the blink of an eye or the span of an innocuous question, and this novel is about the lengths we will go, as parents and siblings, to protect each other. And how we react when our secrets are exposed. This is How It Always Is in an incredible read that speaks to the heart of what it means to love and be loved by family. --Seira Wilson
 

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Human Acts by Han Kang
Han Kang, author of the Man Booker Prize-winning The Vegetarian, is back with a new novel that is as poetic as it is disturbing, profound as it is intimate, brave as it is brilliant. This is a story seeped in South Korean history but rooted in the stronghold of humanity. In Human Acts, Kang recounts a violent uprising in Gwangju, South Korea in 1980 and begins unapologetically with the bodies – the bodies piled unclaimed and rotting of the students that were murdered. Dong-ho, a young teenager looks for his friend amidst the rubble, clinging to the proximity of his friend’s last breath. Refusing to go home, Dong-ho is murdered. From there, Kang’s epic novel blooms outward, telling the stories of friends, family, prisoners, editors that are haunted, ruined and ravaged by the atrocities of that day. Kang is uncompromisingly raw in her portrayal of the violence, censorship and political corruption that pervades the lives of these South Koreans. She unfurls how trauma extends across generations, how forgetting is impossible and how human touch can still incite hope: “it felt as they were rethreading the sinews of that world heart, patching up the fissures from which blood had flowed, making it beat again.” Human Acts is a triumph of sustained force and poetry. --Al Woodworth
 

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