I just finished a book, a brilliant, funny, beautiful, moving, smart, heartbreaking book. Ninety-two glorious pages of deeply felt, richly imagined, perfect, stunning words. It won’t take you very long to read, so you can go and get it from your local library immediately and you don’t even have to stay up late reading it. If you have not read this play, you are lucky, because that means beauty awaits you in Water by the Spoonful, by Quiara Algeria Hudes.
I can’t remember now why I picked up this play, specifically—it was either a Book Riot post, or a thread on the Read Harder Goodreads group. What I do know is that this is a thrilling example of why I am so in love with the Read Harder Challenges. I haven’t read a play since 2006. I like plays. I was really into drama in high school and I read a lot of plays when I was a teenager. But drama is not my go-to genre. I love novels. I love novels so much that sometimes my love for them blinds me to all the other forms of writing. I love novels, and there are millions of novels in the world. Even if I read novels exclusively between now and the day I die, I won’t come close to reading all the ones I want to. So. Sometimes it’s hard for me to pick up something else without a gentle kick.
Enter Read Harder. When it comes to reading, I am not in favor of rules. I don’t think it matters how many books you read, or how much time you spend reading, or even what kinds of books you read. It is not a competition. But because my brain cannot resist beautiful lists of tasks with tidy boxes that I can happily check off upon completion, the Read Harder Challenges speak to me. A list someone made on the internet says, “read a play!” and I say “okay, totally!”
So I do a little searching and I scribble down a couple plays I have never heard of (Water by the Spoonful won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012, and Hudes wrote the book for In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first musical, so don’t ask me why I’d never heard of it) and a few weeks later, I’ve just finished one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. The Read Harder Challenges are doing exactly what I wanted them to—opening me as a reader, bringing astounding books into my life that I never would have pushed myself to read otherwise. It’s so exciting I can hardly stand it.
Water by the Spoonful is a play about family. It’s about chosen families and the ones we’re born into, and the ways they can both hold us and destroy us. It tells two interconnected stories—one about a twenty-something Puerto Rican Iraq war vet, and another about the residents of an online chatroom for recovering addicts. The characters are deeply human—flawed and full of contradictions—and so beautifully drawn, it almost felt like I was watching the play, rather than reading it. I realize that plays are all dialogue, but I was still absolutely floored by the sparsity of Hudes’s language, the seemingly-endless wells of character she brought alive on the page.
I am somewhat obsessed with the ideas of home and family in my own writing. This play was one of the most beautiful and powerful meditations on family that I have ever read.
Note: I’m in the process of coming up with a few repeating features to put up on the blog, and this is the first of them. Just A Bite posts will be short, quick book reviews–nothing that gives anything away, nothing that even gets into the meat of a book. Just some quick impressions, or meditations on a single theme the book brought up, or simply a single paragraph imploring you to read this book right now because it is so good. Just a bite.