Sometimes the Best Books Are Hard to Live With

I'm not going to blog. I'm not going to blog. I'M NOT GOING TO BLOG.

Except, this.

It is, I think, impossible to read a book like Mudbound and not say something about it to as many people as humanly possible. Even though I couldn't talk for a long time after I finished it, and not just because I was sobbing. There was also the anger. At the friend who recommended it. At the other friend who didn't warn me strongly enough. At the author for subjecting me to it.

At the knowledge that so much of it was so very far from fiction.

I don't usually contact writers. Oh, sure, there was that impulsive little email to Rick Reilly, formerly of Sports Illustrated, currently of ESPN. (I think.) He used to write a column on the last page of SI that pretended to be about sports but was really about the human condition, about the best, most generous parts of ourselves. I would take my husband's issue, skip over pictures of basketball players in improbable flight or women in impossibly small swimsuits,  flip to the back, and read. And get choked up. Eventually, I wrote to Mr. Reilly to tell him that this feminist, vegetarian, mother, lawyer, writer, girly-girl non-sports reader bought her own fricking subscription when her husband's expired, just so she could read his column.

And then there was the comment for Alexander Chee, author of Edinburghleft on his mind-blowing  blog Koreanish. A small note to say I'm still haunted by Fee. (I will never forget Fee's observation that the survivor gets to tell the story. It was the first time I was forced to consider whether it's a good thing to get to tell the story.)

Which brings us to the outrageously talented Hillary Jordan, author of Mudbound. Here is what I wrote in a recent email (redacted to avoid spoilers):

Dear Ms. Jordan,
I am, of course, late to the game with Mudbound, having just finished it a few weeks ago, even though it was recommended to me much earlier. I think it was the way my friend said, "I loved it, but there were parts that were hard to read."  Lots of books have parts that are hard to read; I knew she meant something qualitatively different with your book.
Your writing is beautiful and your story is compelling. But when I put the book down, I burst into tears and called my friend to tell her that she should have warned me.  She said that she did.  I said, no, what I meant is that she shouldn't have let me read it at all, because I didn't know how to live with it.
I am the white mother of an adopted African American son. I studied African American history at Smith College and Civil Rights at Georgetown Law School. I know something about the history of race in this country and still, you brought it home again and again and again. People need to read your book. I needed to read your book, even though I had so much to mourn when I finished.  XXXXX.   I could mourn what happened to XXXXX  for the rest of my life.
All I am trying to say is that your book moved me more than any book I can remember reading in a long time. And I just wanted to thank you for writing it.
She sent a lovely reply in which she mentioned work on a new, related novel that filled me with hope  and anticipation and which I will read in one sitting when it comes out, no matter what.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you haven't read Mudbound you should.

 For what it's worth, I sort of think you have to.

13 comments:

  1. J -A -- I too was angry when I finished Mudbound. I was angry at the world that allowed such a thing to happen, angry at the injustice of the situation, and angry at my sister for not warning me how angry I would be! That said, I agree with you that it is must read.
    P.S. Glad you are blogging. Your site and writing is beautiful!

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  2. So you got the memo? ;)

    Thanks! It's such a lovely first comment, and I hope you don't mind your (anonymous) starring role in the post! (And you do know that I am really glad you didn't try to stop me from reading, right??)

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  3. You are going to blog. YOU ARE GOING TO BLOG.

    Um, have I mentioned that I missed your blogging? :)

    Seriously, your voice has that rare combination of passion, intelligence, and unflinching, emotional honesty. Rather than just reading your words, I always have the sense that I'm sharing in a conversation with you. I've missed that dialog, even as I understand your reasons for (temporarily) stepping away.

    And thank goodness I've had some spectacular reading in the interim. ;)

    As an author, I can only imagine how gratified Ms. Jordan was to receive such a letter. As a reader, I am going to go put Mudbound on my b-day wish list RIGHT NOW.

    Welcome back! I LOVE the new place. :)

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  4. Thanks, Sarah! (I might blog? Just kidding--it will be good to be in the conversation again.)

    Your comments mean a lot to me, particularly because your own blog has such a warmth and openness about it.

    And don't forget that I, too, had some pretty amazing reading in the interim. And not just Hillary Jordan's book!

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  5. This is definitely a strong recommendation. I hadn't even heard of this book, but I will check it out this afternoon. Thank you! And thanks for blogging!

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  6. Thanks! I hope you like the book. Yours is another great book I read during my break, and I plan to blog about that soon, too--another book that ends with (a story) that rendered me speechless. Hmmm, I see a pattern here...

    Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. I got here through a search for the artist Gulgee. Your site is very nice, thank you. I will try to get this book.

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  8. Well this is annoying, I commented yesterday and it didn't show up here. :-( In any case, hello! And so glad to see your voice here my friend. This sounds like the kind of book I truly love to read...deeply moving. Did I tell you how good it is to see you here again? Big hugs 2 U.

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  9. Samaya, thanks for visiting! Gulgee's work is beautiful, and I'm glad it led you here. I hope you enjoy Mudbound.


    Cat!! Big hugs right back at you. Thanks for stopping by. And I'm going to do the whole twitter thing, I promise! I miss your voice, too, the breathtaking way you interpreted your art on your blog with such gorgeous (and thought-provoking) poetry and prose. Good to see you!

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  10. I saw your comment at NB's and was curious. Never heard of the book. Will chick it out.

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  11. Sorry that should be CHECK it out.

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  12. Hi Jazzy! (Yes, that's what your new nickname is, and I'm sticking to it)
    So glad to see you blogging again. No disappearing acts this time.
    There very few things keeping me sane, and I shall not let them go away, okay? I need you guys for intellectual conversations.

    Guess, we all have been reading in the interim. I've been reading total fun though. Steven Brust's Vlad Taltosh series is quite fun, and I love his simple, free flowing way of writing. I've never been good with realistic fiction. I felt so sad when Jackal died in The Day of the Jackal! Plum Blossoms In Paris was as sad an ending that I've read. That too Sarah had to mail me an extra chapter of what happens next to feel okay about Daisy.

    So you can guess that Mudbound is not the book for me. Humor and fantasy are more my cups of tea. I'll still give it a read though, now that you've said so much about it. Ah, curiosity.

    So happy to see you (and the rest of the gang) here! Just like ol' times.

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  13. Anon, thank you and I hope you do check it out.

    Aniket! Good to see you again. (I shall refrain from commenting on the jazzy.) Okay now that I know how you reacted to Plum (and where is that extra chapter?? :) ) I think Mudbound would be very hard for you. I still think it's important, but you should be prepared. And maybe plan some fun reading to bookend it.

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