What to Read Next: Coming of Age Fiction
Issue #307, featuring Charles Dickens and Corey Sobel
Happy Friday, readers!
All kinds of “Best Of” lists are floating around the bookish internet right now. So, FYI: I’m waiting until next Friday to share mine, only because I want to include as much of the year’s reading as possible while still allowing some time for Christmas shopping. Everyone deserves a great book under the tree!
This week, I’m sharing two great books in one of my favorite fictional categories: the coming-of-age story. We’re never really all the way grown up, are we? So in reading about how a young character comes to understand the world, we get reminders ourselves of what’s important and meaningful in life. The books featured today offer that in spades.
The Redshirt by Corey Sobel
Published: 2020 | Pages: 328 | Genre: Fiction
It’s rare to encounter a literary sport-focused novel that goes beyond shallow stereotypes to survey everything that athletics offers — the beautiful, the ugly, and everything in between. Corey Sobel’s The Redshirt does just that.
Our main character is Miles Furling, a talented football player who nabs a sports scholarship to the academically elite King College (which bears more than a passing resemblance to Duke, where Sobel himself played football). Miles is also gay, but closeted. As a young man playing an intensely masculine sport at a deeply traditional southern school, that poses some angst — to say the least.
Throughout the story, Miles is forced to wrestle with his own identity and how to live authentically. The problem, which Sobel handles so well, is that both parts — his sexuality as well as his remarkable athletic prowess — are authentic, but his environment forces him to choose. Miles’ roommate, Reshawn, encounters a similar conundrum, but as an intellectually focused Black man who runs circles around defenders on the football field.
In Sobel’s hands, football isn’t the god or the demon that it might be in another author’s exploration. As both an athlete and writer himself, Sobel deftly captured what competing identities look like on a campus and on a football field. The writing is easy to read (but not too breezy), the characters are real, and the story keeps the pages turning (with a couple of eye-popping surprises along the way).
I absolutely loved The Redshirt and I think you will too. Coming from a small press, it doesn’t have nearly the attention it should — so give it some love this holiday season.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Published: 1860 | Pages: 520 | Genre: Fiction
I love Charles Dickens. His prose isn’t always the easiest to read, but it’s always entertaining, enlightening, and soul-enriching. I enjoy Dickens so much, in fact, that I sometimes resist reading him because I don’t want to be done with my first readings of his books.
That said, I eagerly picked up Great Expectations this fall, knowing I wanted to feature Dickens in next year’s Big Read. It’s often listed among the top few of Dickens’ fifteen published novels and, without a doubt, lived up to my lofty hopes.
It’s one of only two Dickens novels in the first person — the other being David Copperfield. This immediately gives it a more personal, autobiographical feeling than his other stories. The narrative follows young Pip, an orphan living with his sister and brother-in-law in a poor village on the outskirts of London.
Pip has high hopes of moving up in the world. With all his heart, he wants to be a big-city gentleman of means. Against the odds, he gets just that: a mysterious, unnamed benefactor shows up and provides those means. Pip leaves the village behind and dives into his new life.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t go quite as planned. Through Pip’s travails navigating this new world, Dickens movingly writes about what it’s like to move from one strata of society to another. His probing psychological examination of those “great expectations” will stay with me for a long time. And like all of Dickens’ stories, he peppers in plenty of plot twists and oddball scenes to keep the pages turning at a good clip.
I know I didn’t catch every layer of the narrative, so I’m already excited to read it again next winter for the Big Read.
Thanks so much for reading! I deeply appreciate your time and inbox space.