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Emily Ratajkowski Getty 1.jpg

The Pajiba November 2021 Book Recommendations Superpost!

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Books | December 1, 2021 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Books | December 1, 2021 |

Emily Ratajkowski Getty 1.jpg

The year is almost done - boo - but I finally hit my goal of reading 100 books in 2021 - yay. December shall be a time for relaxing and catching up on some longer novels over the festive break. Well, that’s the plan. I will probably just end up vegetating in the spare room back home while I eat turkey curry and re-watch John Mulaney stand-up specials for the hundredth time. Anyhoo, here are some of my most beloved or notable reads of the previous month, and make sure to share your own in the comments below.

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Vern is a Black adolescent girl with albinism who has run away from the Black supremacist cult she grew up in. Hiding in the seemingly endless woods, she gives birth to twins and raises them free from the influences of her old world and the one she was told her entire life was pure evil. As she continues trying to outrun her childhood, her body starts to change, and she must confront not only her own bleak past but that of the world that created her.

I’m just going to call it here: I think Sorrowland might end up being my absolute favorite book of 2021. What a stunning piece of work, and one I did not expect to be so thoroughly bowled over by. Solomon has the striking ability to write prose that is stark yet sumptuously detailed. The multiple threads of intertwining genres and themes never become confusingly tangled, even as Solomon delves into weighty historical areas. Part sci-fi, part political drama, and part fairy-tale, Sorrowland is layered in ways that would have easily offered enough material for an entire series. At the heart of the novel is a brutal truth about America: this is a nation built upon the abuse and trauma of Black bodies, particularly Black women, who have been the subject of centuries of unethical experimentation.

Sorrowland is often tough to stomach thanks to Solomon’s refusal to pull any punches, but there’s something almost hopeful about it and its focus on transformative change. This condensed take on American history through a fantastical lens is confidently told and immensely satisfying to consume.

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

All cozy mystery novels are better when they’re chock full of food porn. Nothing gets the blood pumping quite like that potent combination of murder and feasting (insert Hannibal Lecter joke here.) The first book in a new series, Arsenic and Adobo does exactly what it says on the tin. Our heroine is Lila Macapagal, a Filipino American woman who returns to her hometown after a messy breakout to work in her Tita Rosie’s struggling restaurant. Her ex-boyfriend is now a sh*tty food critic who has it in for her family’s business, and when he dies while eating their food, Lila becomes the prime suspect for his murder. With the fate of the restaurant in her hands — as well as her own life — Lila must turn detective with the help of her network of nosy aunties and barista best friend.

This is a genre that works because of its comforting adherence to familiar tropes. We want murders that are solved by amateur detectives with gumption and interesting day jobs. It’s in the little changes where we find true satisfaction. Arsenic and Adobo is certainly cozy and it embraces its lightness even amid the darkness of its set-up. The ensemble of characters is charming and Lila’s conflict between dedication to her family and hopes for a solo life outside of her small town are relatable. Most importantly, the food descriptions are addictive. I’ve sadly never eaten Filipino food before and this book made me mad that I couldn’t seem to find any in my city. Fortunately, Manansala provides some recipes at the back of the book!

My Body by Emily Ratajkowski

What do we talk about when we talk about Emily Ratajkowski? The model was thrust into the spotlight after starring in the controversial video for the even-more controversial Robin Thicke song ‘Blurred Lines.’ Primarily known for thirst traps and her admittedly striking beauty, Ratajkowski’s embrace of an oft-diluted feminist ethos has inspired its fair share of discourse. With My Body, her debut essay collection, she seeks to fully convey what it’s like to be a woman who makes a living by appealing to men, and her own internal conflict over the system that made her famous.

My Body is an interesting one. Short but well-written, it’s limited in its scope but self-aware enough to know its constraints. Ratajkowski isn’t positioning herself as an unimpeachable feminist icon or an authority on anything beyond her own life, a smart move I wish more people would choose (hello, Caitlin Moran.) I must admit that, despite my many issues with her in the past, I was curious to know what it’s like to be a mega-hot woman and how that impacts the ways you are consumed by the world. It’s not an experience I have, and Ratajkowski does a good job in revealing the smothering boundaries of beauty as well as its freeing privileges.

The book is at its best when Ratajkowski gets specific. The sharpest essay focuses on the surrealness of not owning your own image and how that comes into conflict with Ratajkowski’s early philosophy on bodily and sexual empowerment. The boundaries of such ‘liberation’ are always changing, the ever-moving goalposts that few people can truly keep up with. She slyly notes how a bout of weight loss elicited by serious illness suddenly led to an increase in job bookings. While on a paid influencer holiday at an obscenely expensive resort in the Maldives, she endlessly checks Instagram to make sure the sponsored content (mostly shots of her ass) is doing well.

This is memoir more than activist guidance and should be read as such. Don’t come to My Body for solutions because Ratajkowski is candid in her admission that she has no idea how to fix any of these problems. While she’s conflicted about working in a system built entirely off the exploitation of female bodies, she doesn’t plan to stop, and she openly admits that she likes the attention her own beauty brings. This can make My Body an occasionally frustrating read. We see her come to the edge of realization then step back, mostly out of self-protection. Still, what My Body does offer is an insight into the commodification of beauty from a first-hand perspective, one who knows that there may be problems in her future as she bite the hand that feeds her.

Rizzio by Denise Mina

On March 9th, 1566, David Rizzio, the private secretary and close friend of Mary Queen of Scots, was murdered. He was stabbed 56 times by a group of assassins. It was said that the Queen, only 23 at the time and six months pregnant, had a pistol aimed at her belly when her friend was dragged from her chambers. If you visit Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh today, you can see the faint bloodstains on the wooden floor where Rizzio was killed. Crime writer Denise Mina brings an acutely modern perspective to this historical event with a short sharp shock of a novella. It’s not a whodunnit or even a whydunit so much as it’s an examination of the political pettiness and male fragility that smothered Mary’s reign.

The language here is straight out of Mina’s contemporary novels, with the novella capturing the agony of this moment. She has little sympathy for any of the men here, aside from Rizzio, and the narrative is openly contemptuous of their delusions of grandeur. They may claim that they’re committing treason for the good of God and country but it’s debatable as to whether or not any of them actually believe that. At the center of this is Mary herself, barely an adult and technically imbued with power yet endlessly derided by the old grey men around her, as well as her utter sh*t of a husband. The more things change…

Kayleigh is a features writer and editor for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.

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