It’s easy to read the same books. To reread Harry Potter for the umpteenth time while stacks of unread books teeter on your shelves. I know I am especially guilty of this; I’ve read the entire Harry Potter series forty-eight times now! With so many amazing books out there, it’s difficult to know where to start. Alors, voila! I’ve recommended a few books similar to the ones you might already know and love.
Reading slump, be gone!
The stories of Peter Pan and Alice are universally known by readers and non-readers alike. Peter and Alice is a gorgeous play attempting to give some light to the stories that inspired the stories, the lives of the real Alice (Alice Liddell Hargreaves) and Peter Pan (Peter Llewelyn Davies). Both muses met for only a few hours at a small literary convention in London and the brilliant John Logan imagined what they might have said to one another. The result is gorgeous, (I know I’m reusing words, but gorgeous is by far the best adjective to describe this play) evocative, and contemplative. It plays with the idea of memory, genius, growing up, the power of fame, the immortality and immorality of words. This is a play for everyone, but it might have more meaning if you are familiar with the stories its characters come from.
Side note: I feel obligated to thank Jen Campbell (an amazing poet, author, Booktuber, and the reason why my bookshelf is overflowing) for recommending this to me. Definitely subscribe to her if you aren’t already, she’s a certifiable literary goddess.
Imagine the general geekery of Hitchhiker’s Guide and combined with the introspective nature of literary fiction. Meet The Humans, one of the few books truly deserving of the word poignant. An alien (a Vonnadorian, to be precise) comes down to Earth after a Cambridge professor figures out humans can explore other planets and reach other galaxies. Of course, the highly developed aliens on other planets don’t want such vital information in the hands of glorified simians, so this professor must be exterminated and replaced by an alien in disguise.
The Humans has just as much humor and goofiness as Adams’ work, but with more substance. The alien has to figure out strictly human ideas like families, marriage, alcohol, and happiness, while still fulfilling his duty to his own planet. And the more he learns and the more peanut butter he eats, the less excited he is to return home.
The Humans is an attempt to view society objectively and, though a few may find it a pinch sentimental, I think Matt Haig did a superb job.
Although I had a few qualms with Bee Season, the entire time I was reading Goldberg’s novel I was reminded of Betty Smith’s little beauty. Both novels center around young female narrators navigating their complicated family dynamics. Francie of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is raised in the not-so-genteel poverty of early twentieth century (you guessed it) Brooklyn. Eliza, Bee Season‘s protagonist, lives in the modern era, with a brother trying to figure out his spirituality, a workaholic mother, and a distant, devout rabbi father. Eliza was always average and niche-less until she discovers she is unnaturally good at spelling. Soon, she and her father are simultaneously wrapped up in the world of spelling bees and Judaism, and forging the relationship Eliza always wanted.
Over the course of the novel, Eliza’s life falls together while the rest of the family slowly falls to pieces. Like A Tree Grow’s in Brooklyn, Bee Season chronicles a young girl’s struggle to become close to her father, but Goldberg’s work is more complex and twisted. In all honesty, I much preferred Smith’s novel, but I can still appreciate what Goldberg did and the artistry in her novel. In the hands of a certain reader, Bee Season could be revolutionary.
At first glance, these books don’t appear similar. The Miniaturist focuses on the Dutch Golden Age, the thrill of mercantilism (my WHAP teacher would be proud), love, and sin. Burial Rites centers on a convicted murderer in rural Iceland preparing for her execution. Yet both novels have the same quiet inquietude, the feeling of chaos and terror lurking beneath a placid facade. The heroines, Nella and Agnes, are similarly unlucky in love and, ultimately, defeated by life. Burton’s Amsterdam and Kent’s Iceland are beautifully fleshed out and make you want to hop on a plane/ time machine. And both novels twinkled with magic, although neither could be truthfully described as fantasy or magical realism.
Personally, I found Burial Rites to be much more engrossing and the storyline less melodramatic, but given the success of The Miniaturist last year, I figured some fans might be searching for something similar.
Why are circuses so fascinating? Even the most mundane events become extraordinary if they’re set under a circus tent. Although the settings are very different (Morgenstern’s in late nineteeth century England and America, Logan’s in a future world that is almost entirely water), the magic of the circus lends both these novels their whimsy.
The Gracekeepers follows North and Callanish, two women living in disparate halves of a dystopian world. Land is scarce and more sacred because of it, with only the wealthy and powerful (landlockers) able to inhabit solid land. North is an unfortunate dampling, raised on a circus boat with only her bear for family. Callanish once belonged to the privileged world of the landlockers, but after some unknown crime, she is condemned to her own island to perform funerals for landlockers lost at sea.
One of my favorite parts of the novel, besides the lush descriptions of the circus and its performers that are reminiscent of Night Circus, is the political undertone. Kirsty Logan creates tension between the landlockers and damplings that could be compared to hundreds of historical incidents. Although fantastical, the world still felt real, grounded. If it weren’t for the ending (which was nice, but too rushed for me) I would have definitely given this five stars.
I hope this helped! Let me know if you plan on reading any of these or, if you already have, what you thought.