ARTS AND LIVING

Best Books to Binge this Winter: Comedic, Historic and In-Between


By Olivia Luntz '21, Staff Writer | Oct. 24, 2018 | 148-7

Photo Courtesy of Flickr.com

Winter is coming, and with shorter and colder days, it is only natural to want to cuddle up with a great Netflix series. However, if you’re running low on shows to watch, try one of these books that mirror the shows you usually binge.


For fans of “Handmaid’s Tale” and “Criminal Minds”: “Alias Grace” by Margaret Atwood


In this gripping and suspenseful novel, Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” reimagines the notorious 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery, Kinnear’s housekeeper and mistress. At the time, the murders captivated Canada, with much debate over whether servant Grace Marks, only 16 at the time, was actively involved in the crime or if she was forced into compliance by the farmhand James McDermott. Although both Marks and McDermott were eventually convicted of murder, Marks managed to avoid execution and was instead sentenced to life in prison. After 30 years of incarceration, she was pardoned and moved to northern New York, where she disappeared into obscurity.


In “Alias Grace,” Atwood explores this question whose answer has been lost to history: was Grace a willing participant in the crime or an innocent victim? Atwood skillfully weaves events from Grace’s life and details from the murders into her fictional narrative, which centers around an up-and-coming psychologist, Dr. Jordan, who is attempting to determine whether or not Grace is clinically insane. With most of the novel taking the form of Grace narrating her life’s story back to Dr. Jordan, Atwood masterfully conveys the voice of a young woman who has truly experienced the worst that life has to offer.


With “Alias Grace,” Atwood tests our limits of both suspicion and sympathy, as we are forced to take on the role of Dr. Jordan and make our own judgment on Grace’s guilt. By including excerpts from newspaper coverage of the murders, “Alias Grace” is an equally compelling murder mystery and historical narrative, providing us with a glimpse into the lives of millions of young people who travelled across the Atlantic in the 1800s in hope of a better life.


Once you finish the book, you can reward yourself with a watch of a miniseries based on the novel that is currently streaming on Netflix.


For fans of period pieces and spy shows like “The Americans” and “Downton Abbey”: “The Alice Network” Kate Quinn


The year is 1947, and Charlie St. Clair has a problem — she is pregnant, unmarried and about to be excommunicated from her family. But more importantly, she has not heard from her French cousin Rose, whom she loves like a sister, since the Nazi occupation of Paris in World War II.


When she and her mother travel to Europe to get an abortion, Charlie escapes and ventures to London, determined to discover the truth about what happened to her cousin. There she meets Eve Gardiner, who is hiding away in England and trying her best to forget her haunting experience as a spy in the elite Alice Network — a group of female spies during World War I.


However, when Charlie knocks on her door saying a name Eve hasn’t heard in years, the two women join forces on a mission to find out what happened to Rose and who betrayed the Alice Network.


Told through flashbacks and the alternating perspectives of both women, “The Alice Network” is a story of courage, sacrifice and friendship that is nearly impossible to put down. With shocking twists and turns, I guarantee you will tear through this book as soon as you crack it open.


As with “Alias Grace,” “The Alice Network” is based on historical events. The real Alice Network operated in rural France during WWII and spied on German occupiers in the city of Lille. Several real members of the Alice Network are secondary characters in Quinn’s novel, which sheds light on the heroism and bravery these women exhibited.


For fans of “Parks and Recreation” and “Saturday Night Live”: “Yes Please” by Amy Poehler


I initially picked up “Yes Please” when I was going through “Parks and Recreation” withdrawal and figured that a book written by Poehler herself would provide lighthearted comedy. Although this book is great for a “Parks and Rec” fan — Poehler dedicates an entire chapter to her experience being Leslie Knope — it is so much more than just a behind-the-scenes look at the show. Rather, “Yes Please” serves as Poehler’s guide on how to live your best life.


Poehler explains how she chose the title for the book, writing that “I love saying ‘yes,’ and I love saying ‘please’. Saying ‘yes’ doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no and saying ‘please’ doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission.”


Poehler’s transformation from a first year in college watching her first improv show to the Leslie Knope we all know and love is inspiring, and the book is full of resilience and optimism.


Even when she moved to New York without a job or place to live, or when it appeared that “Parks and Recreation” would be cancelled after its first season, Poehler’s optimism remained ever-present.


I especially appreciated Poehler’s focus throughout the book on the importance of being kind and how thankful she is for all of the people who have been kind to her in her life.


As Poehler writes, “The only way we will survive is by being kind.” It may be a simple message, but it is one I feel that we can easily lose sight of, especially in today’s world.


“Yes Please” is a quick read, as the text is supplemented with lots of pictures and other artifacts from Poehler’s childhood and days on “SNL” and “Parks and Rec.” As such, this is a great book to pick up if you are looking for something that will be both fast and worthwhile.“