The Reading List: A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara

I was first introduced to Hanya Yanagihara through her first novel, The People In the Trees, after randomly coming across it browsing through Indigo's online store. The cover grabbed me, and figuring I had nothing to lose (one, loving books profoundly, and two, shelling out $7 to buy it), I had it shipped home. The People In the Trees made me the angriest I've ever felt reading a book, and not because of the writing or the plot, but rather the way Yanagihara delivered the how, and the why, and the when. I have since unfailingly recommended The People In the Trees whenever someone asks me for a new book to read (kind of what I'm doing now, ha), because it made me feel. I attribute value to things and people who can make me feel something, both good and bad, and after reading A Little Life, Yanagihara's second novel, it's very clear that she has a talent for making me feel many things.


I wish I could find other words to describe the experience of reading A Little Life, because I am so often reduced to the simple fact that it spoke to me. Because I am trying to figure out how to help a loved one, because I romanticize the reasons for some of their actions (which A Little Life was able to provide, however hypothetically). Because it eased the constant turning of gears inside my mind, and that comforted me (selfishly). Because it is not about my comfort and safety and happiness, but theirs.

The book was both a reflection and a wish. Yanagihara conveyed her characters and their lives so minutely and intimately that, while I may not have experienced certain moments myself, those same moments felt like a moment I have lived, like acquaintances with the chance of becoming great friends. On the other hand, some moments were like having a truthful friend tell you how you know you are but ignore when convenient, a mirror that shines back both the light and the dark.

... as much as he was two people around us, so were we two people around him: we saw of him what we wanted, and allowed ourselves not to see anything else.
— A Little Life, page 407

And then her characters are so tender, so warm with each other, so alike to myself and yourself and our own beautiful faults, that you wish to see it in your everyday life: every touch and every word that the characters reveal to each other, either from gratitude, or protection.

Throughout my reading, I was repeatedly struck with numerous ideas on how to act, why to act: empathy, fear of loss, pure love, undeniable hope. The feeling of needing to secure something so desperately but often being without surety in how to do so. And then, nearing the end of the book: a dreaded. levelling feeling of inevitability. 

Inevitability: so final, so helpless. Somehow, however, lovely in its own way, in its steadfastness. Also terribly beautiful in its complete and utter control—not in your own hands, of course, but its own. It's its own abstract measure of time: on one side, the before, and on the other, however far along, the after.

... another day between the person he once was and the person he was now.
— A Little Life, page 113

When something finally happens, is it a relief—a comfort—on account of its finality, its long-awaited arrival? Or is it the shock of a deep gash when only paper cuts were before pressed to prepare for the moment, the moment? Does it give way to the last feeling this book has wound around me, through me: fear? Do I have to lose you? Am I—are we—just waiting?


How strange and beautiful it is that a book that reminds me so much of some of my more trying and painful moments could also provide me with a shoulder to lean on, a soothing voice to tell me, "Keep going." How beautiful it is that we're not alone in any moment that feels abundantly singular.

... life in general: things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.
— A Little Life, page 152-3