If you're anything like me, you have just finished listening to the podcast S-Town and you're irrevocably in the midst of a podcast hangover. A podcast hangover mirrors a book hangover, but is almost worse, since there are a million fantastic books available and uncovering a podcast like this is like catching lightning in a bottle. It's a feat nearly impossible to replicate (I'm looking at you, Serial Season 2).
Anyway, I had something else planned for this week's Four Book Friday, but as soon as I finished S-Town I knew what my next post had to be.
So here I present to you, four books to help you cure your S-Town hangover. There aren't any podcast spoilers here, but I do recommend that you at least get through Chapter II of S-town, just in case. Warning: I'm not promising that these books won't give you a hangover on their own, but at least they'll entertain you in the meantime.
A Little Life | Hanya Yanagihara
This is the book that most represents S- Town to me. They're wildly different in setting (S-town is in rural Alabama and A Little Life is set in New York), but the central characters gave me a similar feeling. The main character of S-town is passionate and dark, much like A Little Life's beloved protagonist, Jude. So many people are touched by them and the men have no idea how far they reach. They are both tortured and complicated and we get to know them through the eyes of those around them. (Full review on A Little Life here).
The Humans | Matt Haig
A part of the reason that I liked S-town so much was because it was so layered. On the surface, it looks like a buried murder mixed with political corruption. (It is a little sad that that in and of itself has lost its shock value in today's America). But as you listen through the episodes, you realize there's so much more to the story. There's commentary on the south, America, small towns, millennial, clocks, climate change, sexuality, family... there's even a treasure hunt. Similarly, The Humans appears to be a science fiction story about an extra-terrestrial that lands on Earth to inhabit the body of a mathematics professor, to prevent him from solving a math problem that will ultimately destroy the world. Initially, the alien is unimpressed with us humans (but he does like our peanut butter), but by the end you come to see that this book has so much soul. Both S-town and The Humans use an unlikely central character to tell a far greater tale. The alien's letter to his son also reminds me very much of a letter that shows up late in the podcast.
Hillbilly Elegy | J.D. Vance
S-town is painted so vividly, it's almost a character itself. Throughout the podcast, John's rage toward his hometown simmers. He's a liberal with broad views of the world and finds himself frustrated with the apathy that surrounds him. Hillbilly Elegy comes with very high praise- having been called essential reading and the most important book you'll read about America this year. The author describes himself as a personal marker of proof of success by his family, but shares the story of the rest of his family who were not able to break the cycle of poverty and trauma. This a powerful commentary on the culture that was presented in S-town, but presents it in a different light.
American War | Omar El Akkad
If there's one thing that everyone knew about John it's this: the man was obsessed with climate change. Well, in American War we get to find out what happens when the fossil fuels inevitably run out. It's 2075 and the country is a war zone. Oil is outlawed, Louisiana is mostly underwater, and people are being killed. People are distrusting and hateful and divided. Half of the country wants to address climate change and abandon fossil fuels, but the other half choose to continue to do what was always done and use up the resources. The book is dystopian and extreme, but eerily mirrors some of John's obsessions.
Bonus- Here are the books that are mentioned in the podcast.
Close Range: Wyoming Stories (Featuring Brokeback Mountain) | Annie Prolux
A Rose For Emily | William Faulkner
The Necklace | Guy de Maupassant
The Lottery | Shirley Jackson
What do you think? Do you have any recommendations?
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