The 3 New Stories About Stories You *Need* to Read RN
Literary hero Joan Didion once wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” The traditions and stories of this week’s Thanksgiving holiday remind us that humans need stories and mythologies on the personal, social and national level to define ourselves, even if not all of them are true. In fact, it often seems we prefer our stories to be myths; larger than life, emotionally satisfying, prioritizing drama over truth. The three novels in this week’s book club are examples of the stories we tell about ourselves, and they’re all richly worth telling.
1. Victoria by Daisy Goodwin ($18): There are very few who are more mythologized than members of the Royal Family, especially the ones who lived before constant media access became de rigeur. If you’re not paying attention, Queen Victoria’s character is often stereotyped as dour and unforgiving, but there’s every evidence she never actually spoke her famous words, “We are not amused,” and in fact had a wicked sense of humor.
The tiny, stubborn, four-foot-eleven dynamo became queen at 18 (her first royal decree was to have an hour to herself!). She then used her queenly privilege to propose to her husband Prince Albert, survived six assassination attempts and generally ruled, bringing popularity back to the monarchy. She became England’s longest-reigning monarch until Queen Liz surpassed her last year. Daisy Goodwin’s Victoria presents a headstrong teenage queen eager to make the best use of her power, disappointing those who would have pulled her strings behind the scenes: “when the time came, thought Victoria, she would never allow herself to be trapped.”
“Victoria did not have a clear idea of what being Queen would mean,” Goodwin writes of her teenage heroine. “No one could tell her what a queen actually did all day.” Goodwin simultaneously wrote Victoria’s story as both a novel and a screenplay, the latter hitting PBS next January. In this unique coming-of-age story, one taking place on the world’s largest stage, Victoria must deal with her teenage crush on the Prime Minister, her tempestuous relationship with her mother and the “prig” Albert who’s shown up at her door from Germany. It’s an origin myth, but it’s also romantic, passionate and royal fun.
2. Moonglow by Michael Chabon ($17): Michael Chabon has given us plenty of history-writing, mythologizing, world-building treasures, from The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay to Telegraph Avenue to the alternate universe of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Here, he gets personal, spinning a tale about his grandfather in the style of a faux memoir, and adopting a persona, a fictionalized version of himself, as narrator. Chabon’s grandparents were the family mystery to him in his youth; his grandfather having spent time both in the army (as an officer in World War II) and in prison, and his grandmother unwilling to talk about her survival of the Holocaust.
Inspired by a trip home in 1989, in which his terminally ill grandfather suddenly opened up his locked box of memory under the influence of painkillers, Chabon details the myths and stories he does know, trying to flesh them out with speculation on why his grandfather did these things, and what effect it all had on his grandmother, a horror movie show host whose experiences during the war left her with irreparable mental scarring. Thematically, the work is structured around the stories we tell ourselves and others to get through life, and the book is full of them, from Chabon’s grandfather’s attempt to strangle a business partner with a telephone cord, to his life as a Nazi hunter, to a bizarre prank involving explosives and a Washington DC bridge.
“In preparing this memoir, I have stuck to facts except when facts refused to conform with memory, narrative purpose, or the truth as I prefer to understand it,” Chabon writes. “Whenever liberties have been taken… the reader is assured that they have been taken with due abandon.” A.O. Scott calls Moonglow a “beautiful” book; Keats may have said “beauty is truth, truth beauty,” but in this case, it’s carefully massaged and arranged truth that carries the glow, more a student of Oscar Wilde’s theory that “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
3. Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz ($12): “Ghosts ought to have been my specialty. There were enough dearly departed in my family to haunt a dozen Gothic novels, and if I never stopped to listen for a telling knock or squinted through the darkness for a hazy outline, it was only because doubt flowed through my veins more palpably than the blood of any continent.” Mythology thrives on national and cultural identity, but when you’re caught between more than one world, you’ve got to write your own tale. Beena and Sadhana Singh, sisters born to an Irish-American mother and a Punjabi-Sikh father, live in Montreal above their family’s business, (for extra multiculturalism, it’s a bagel shop).
In this debut full-length novel from Canadian author Saleema Nawaz, a selection of the Canada Reads program, the girls face many obstacles coming to terms with each other and their own issues, as they deal with racism, mental illness and loss. In relatively quick succession, their father dies, arson threatens their home and their mother succumbs to a family meal gone wrong, leaving them alone at 16 and 14 to be raised by their less-than-stable uncle. Previously “greedy” for the unconventional love story of their parents, the sisters now have to create their own stories and strictures to have any hope of surviving.
The narration, full of soul-searching, shows us Beena’s struggle with an unexpected pregnancy and Sadhana’s with anorexia in flashback, beginning eighteen years later after another tragedy spurs reflection. “In the past six months we’ve been like bad reproductions of ourselves, our conversations only shadow plays of the dialogues we used to have,” Beena says. The loss of story is the loss of self; in empathizing with the stories of others, we can find our own.
What’s your personal mythology? Tag us in your next great story @BritandCo.
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(Feature photo via Getty)
Pocket doors are so delightful in and of themselves. They appear when you need them, get tucked away when you don't, and make it easy to define rooms while keeping an open floor plan. Add to the pocket door a joyful patterned wallpaper surprise, and you will be sent right into fits of visual jubilation! Or something ;) Today we're sharing two simple and impactful pocket door makeovers that zhuzh up your space in a jiffy.
Anjelika Temple here, co-founder of Brit + Co and proud owner of several pocket doors! When I moved into my first real grown-up house a couple years ago, I knew I wanted to incorporate wallpaper so reached out to our friends at Chasing Paper to see how we might collaborate. It felt like a total lightbulb moment when I realized I could create a surprise pop of pattern on a couple sets of pocket doors.
Not only is it a whimsical way to bring color into a space, but the doors double as picture-perfect backdrops for all your SFH (selfies from home, obvs).
A few pro tips about install:
- Removable wallpaper is miraculously forgiving! You can take it on and off multiple times without it losing integrity (or mucking up your surface).
- I ordered this adhesive wallpaper installation kit with a squeegee and xacto knife and it worked super well. I also recommend a sharp pair of scissors for cutting longer lines.
- This is a two-person job! Get a friend, put on a playlist, and get ready to bond.
- Wild, organic patterns like Tally are great because it's challenging to spot any imperfections in pattern alignment; keep pattern choice in mind if you've got a lot of corners to match up. More geometric patterns and larger shapes leave less room for error (but are awesome in their own right!).
BATHROOM POCKET DOORS
In our primary bathroom, we chose the wallpaper pattern Tally, designed by Kelly Ventura, in White and Navy. In our space, the navy reads as a soft black, which is perfect for the space. It's easy to combine an ever-rotating collection of linens with the Tally pattern.
I love how the white trim becomes the perfect frame around this pocket door piece of art.
My favorite moment in this space is the fact that you actually get a third pop of pattern thanks to our serendipitously placed mirror!
And yes, this one works pretty darn well as a backdrop too ;)
LIVING ROOM DOUBLE DOORS
This set of doors is definitely a focal point of our home. It separates our living room from our primary bedroom which opens onto our backyard. The doors are pretty much always open, but when they're closed we wanted to evoke a fun, nature-inspired vibe. With that in mind, we selected the Lines and Moons pattern by Thimblepress in Green and Brown.
Earth mama vibes up in here! I love how the shapes and colors echo the ferns you see through the windows and the acorn wood details throughout the house.
Love this pattern moment, and xacto-ing out the door handle is def on the oddly satisfying DIY list.
For a pattern lover like me, I love that now I have this instant photo backdrop!
Thanks to Chasing Paper for providing these rolls of pure pattern amazingness. Head to chasingpaper.com to find our own favorites and start adding patterns to your home!
(Wallpaper wingwoman: Kayla Haykin; Photography: Kurt Andre)