November Reading List: Dysfunctional Family Stories

November Cover

November is here! (Which is basically Christmas, right?) Time for family dinners and road trips and looking back on all the idyllic memories you’ve shared. Right. In my family, there have definitely been good times but we’ve also had our fair share of hilariously horrible times. Like the year my dad and I got into a giant fight at the Thanksgiving table about who would get to sit in the chair that had arms (I was an ADULT when this fight happened, you guys). Or how about the, um, creative insults my grandmother comes up with (I shave my forehead, apparently). And of course there’s always the one who brings up politics or makes a ridiculously inappropriate joke (um, that’s me. Every time). Every family has their kettle-callers and pot-stirrers. So this month, lets read about families that make ours look perfectly put together (and not, you know, how we normally are).

A book about families who don’t get along | The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor: This one has it all: custody battles, sordid histories, religious conflicts, and a fair amount of drinking problems. The novel centers on Francis Tarwater, who’d been raised by his uncle to be a religious prophet. When his uncle dies he goes to live with his cousin, Rayber, who tries to teach Tarwater how to be a logical, educated, not-superstitious member of civilization. Of course this doesn’t go well, and each character battles on with himself and everyone else from start to finish. The novel deals with questions of family, religion, community, and  destiny in a way that’s a little too close to home if you grew up in the South.

A book about families who REALLY don’t get along | August: Osage County, Tracy Letts: This is my favorite play. It centers around Beverly and Violet Weston’s family—their three daughters and Violet’s sister. Beverly has gone missing, and the family comes together under one roof in the aftermath of their father’s disappearance. But between sisters and daughters and mothers and husbands, it isn’t a peaceful house. Old tensions run high, new tensions run higher, and every twisted part of everyone’s life is brought to light. And everyone in this play has something twisted in them. But despite all the family’s darkness, there is a lot of humor in this play, too. It’s definitely worth seeing on the stage.

A book about trying to forget your family, and then remembering them instead | Wild, Cheryl Strayed: This is a book about what happens when you try to walk away from your family, literally. After the death of her mother, Cheryl’s life fell apart around her. In her attempt to make sense of it all and put grieving behind her, she took to the Pacific Crest Trail, with absolutely no experience hiking or being in the wilderness. It’s a travel narrative, a nature piece, and a memoir about self-discovery. It’s a family story, too, and Strayed honestly and simply details her relationship with her brother, ex-husband, and friends. It also is a beautiful examination of the mother-daughter relationship, in all its complicated, fraught, tender glory.

A book about finding family in unexpected places | It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Ned Vizzini: This is a YA novel about anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and psychiatric wards. Ned is 15 when he attempts suicide, and his is thereafter admitted into a psychiatric hospital. He at first feels he doesn’t belong there, but eventually accepts and is accepted by the other patients in the hospital. From these other patients, he learns about himself and how to cope with his life in a healthier way. The novel is funny and quick to read, reminiscent a little of John Green and Rainbow Rowell. Some might find the novel’s end a little too happily-ever-after, but I’m okay with a novel about teen suicide ending well.

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