A Little Literature Love Part Two: Naomi Novik & Madeline Miller

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If you missed part one, don’t fret! This is a series. You can always begin again.

When it comes to books, I’ve been very lucky this year. Choosing books that made my brain ripple (in the best possible ways) was easy: I read almost two dozen fantastic books. So the competition was tough. I tend to invest in audiobooks when I know it’ll be good. And I don’t find much point in giving bad reviews, so I avoid that.

That said, I can’t talk about this year without mentioning Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. As a fan of her Temeraire books, but especially of Uprooted, this book couldn’t come fast enough. And I absolutely devoured it when it showed up at my door (a rare instance where I bought both the hardcover and the audiobook). In its most simple pitch, it’s a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin… but it is so much more than that. Novik’s command of character and language are intoxicating, but so too were her lush descriptions throughout the story. It had a taste, a smell, a touch, a feeling, on every page and every scene. And that is no small task for a writer. I felt entirely enveloped by her world, once again.

My favorite thing, however, is that our protagonist is a young Jewish woman. I always wondered how my Jewish ancestors would figure their way into fairy tales — though I knew they were, in some cases, contemporaneous, it always seemed a space reserved for the pale Christian princesses. Yes, the Jews were expelled from England in 1290, and in various other countries time and again during the medieval period, however they were still around, still a part of society, and still very much a part of the lore. It honestly brought tears to my eyes to read Miriam’s story, to feel as if a part of me, long denied, was given space to breathe. And isn’t that the greatest power of storytelling? Giving people the permission to be heroes. 

The second book in today’s post is another mythological spin, but this time to Greece and, in particular, to Circe. Circe by Madeline Miller knocked my socks off. It’s rare that I find my way to the NYT lists, given my deep and abiding love for all things genre (and, additionally, obscure). But the buzz around this one was too much.  

I was so glad I picked this book up. Speaking of giving people the permission to be heroes, Circe is all about a subject I adore: re-examining the myths that we know and making them new. Circe’s narrative is woven together in gossamer threads, connecting the nymph to the Greeks’ greatest heroes and villains, building her up as a person so far beyond the witch of the isle. Hers is a story of feminine power, of love and of betrayal, of vengeance and of forgiveness. Each myth that crosses her path becomes imbued with her own accent, giving new light to old stories and polishing the stones anew. 

Circe is about power, about our transgressions, and about what happens when we stop looking outside and start looking inside, discovering what makes us divine. Her journey, her voice, and her mysteries, found their way deep into my heart. It is a tale that resonates with those of us who live on the margins, those of us who feel too much and never fit in. 

More to come before the year is out! What books made your heart sing this year?

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