Jennifer Zobair’s Picks
A couple of years ago, my youngest son picked up my dog-eared copy of Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children and said, “I remember when you were reading this. It took you forever.”
It did not, in fact, take me forever. The book was “out” because I read it several times in a row. But how do you explain to an eight-year-old that there are books you read again and again because you stand in complete awe of the author’s craft, and those you read just once, like Hillary Jordan’s Mudbound—books that steal your breath and break your heart and imprint themselves forever on your soul the first time—that you also want on your nightstand?
The overflowing table near my bed holds novels that I can’t wait to read and some that I’ve already read but whose language or voice or characters inspire me to write. Often I reread them. Sometimes, like with Mudbound, I just keep them close.
My literary preferences tend toward the multicultural. I studied African American history in college, and married into a South Asian family, so my choices are often by or about people from those backgrounds. It is no surprise, then, that my current “to-be-read” list includes Mohsin Hamid’s latest novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Roopa Farooki’s Corner Shop, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. I am also a fan of upmarket women’s fiction, and my current to-be-read book in that category is fellow Smith grad J. Courtney Sullivan’s Maine.
The “already read” stack also changes, although not as frequently. Currently, it includes Christie Hodgen’s Elegies for the Brokenhearted, a breathtaking story, told in gritty, devastating sentences, about poverty and inadequate caregivers and the ways we both do and don’t survive. Alongside Elegies is Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection Interpreter of Maladies, which, with its precise, detailed prose, allows readers to access Indian culture while teaching about the power of straightforward word choice, how in contrast overwrought language actually prevents good storytelling. And of course I have Mudbound, Hillary Jordan’s heartrending story about white farmers and black sharecroppers whose lives collide in unspeakable tragedy. I am not sure any book has ever moved me more. The best part about tackling the new books is seeing which ones make it into the other stack, which ones I will finish and want to keep close.
Jennifer Zobair grew up in Iowa and attended Smith College and Georgetown Law School. She has practiced corporate and immigration law and as a convert to Islam, has been a strong advocate for Muslim women’s rights. Zobair lives with her husband and three children outside of Boston. Her debut novel, Painted Hands, is available from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. For more information, please visit www.JenniferZobair.com.
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