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Real Life

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  16,628 ratings  ·  2,625 reviews
Almost everything about Wallace is at odds with the Midwestern university town where he is working uneasily toward a biochem degree. An introverted young man from Alabama, black and queer, he has left behind his family without escaping the long shadows of his childhood. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of fri ...more
Hardcover, 329 pages
Published February 18th 2020 by Riverhead Books
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Average rating 3.88  · 
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 ·  16,628 ratings  ·  2,625 reviews

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Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There is writing so exceptional, so intricately crafted that it demands reverence. The intimate prose of Brandon Taylor’s exquisite debut novel Real Life offers exactly that kind of writing. He writes so powerfully about so many things--the perils of graduate education, blackness in a predominantly white setting, loneliness, desire, trauma, need. Wallace, the man at the center of this novel, is written with such nuance and tenderness and complexity. He is closed unto himself but wanting to open ...more
chai ♡
find this review & others on my blog

This review would be a lot easier to write if Brandon Taylor weren’t so damn good.

Real Life” was like a crush, an obsession, a compulsion. It seemed almost to beckon me like a half-curled hand, and when I finished reading it, I sat in the state of suspension that often comes over me at the end of a particularly good book, the sense of coming slowly back to awareness of the world outside my mind, and finding it echoing with a harrowing quiet that wasn’
Nov 24, 2020 rated it liked it
I genuinely feel bad for giving this story such a middling rating, but I just had a very neutral experience.

To be honest, I mostly want to blame myself for reading it at the wrong time. Maybe if I had waited until the semester ends, and I could have dedicated all my brain power to the book in every way, it would have been more successful. But unfortunately I am in exam hell and my audiobook hold was running out fast,,,,

Truly, I think it’s a fine debut, Booker Prize shortlist worthy even. The wr
Though it pains me to write it, this book and I just did not fit well together much at all. I appreciate some of what it portrays, the struggles of Wallace, a gay black biochemistry graduate student living in the Midwest. Brandon Taylor does an excellent job of showing the anger and then learned helplessness Wallace experiences due to overt and subtle racism throughout the book. Wallace’s sadness – from his trauma with his family, from the racism he encounters, from feeling invisible and isolate ...more
Feb 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
Contemplative and absorbing, Real Life reflects on what it means to live authentically. Unfolding over the course of a single summer weekend in a Midwestern college town, the story follows Wallace, a reticent biochem grad student, as he nears an existential breakdown. His father has recently passed, he finds academia stultifying, and, as a queer Black man in an overwhelmingly white space, he finds himself estranged from his friends and labmates, subject to constant microaggressions and overt rac ...more
Paris (parisperusing)
Sep 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Brandon Taylor’s Real Life is indisputably one of the best novels of our generation, and I say this because it is true. Do you know how wonderful it feels to be represented as a gay black man — and by one of our own? Next to living, it is precisely the most euphoric feeling in the world, and so it is with immense joy that I could be one of this book’s earliest champions. Because when it comes to realizing the anxieties and nuances of our humanity, Taylor has given life to a character gay literat ...more
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020.

It’s strange. They say, study science and you’ll always have a job. And it seems so easy. But they don’t tell you that there’s all this other stuff attached that will make you hate your life.

This book is based on a premise I like well enough: the suffocating alienation in a place that should have been otherwise ideal. I am quite wary of academia even though all my decisions were/are shaped to ultimately lead to it. So Wallace's story should have struck some
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
Re-read after its shortlisting for the 2020 Booker Prize. Given my observation below that I felt like large parts of the hastily written novel were existing works in progress (or at least fully formed concepts) included in the narrative I was intrigued to see the author's interview in the Guardian the week before the winner announcement where he says "I wanted to go back to writing about short stories, and the fastest way to make that happen seemed to be to take up parts of my life or things I'd ...more
Feb 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: ew
I can’t figure out if it’s me or the books I’ve been reading, but I feel like I’m in a bit of a reading slump after a strong beginning in 2020. It took me forever to read Real Life. It’s getting a fair bit of attention and is on several books to watch in 2020 lists, but I found it hard to keep focused on the narrative. Wallace is an African American graduate student in biochemistry at a mid western university. He comes from a brutal impoverished family in Alabama. He is gay. His father died rece ...more
Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd)
Longer review to come. Thanks so much to Riverhead Books for the review copy, clearly I adored this book and I’m so glad I got to read it.
Feb 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Now Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020
Taylor's debut novel is strong when it focuses on the subtle dynamics of social interactions, when it conveys what it means to live in a white world as a black, homosexual man. Wallace, the protagonist, grew up in Alabama and is now enrolled in a graduate program for biochemistry in the Midwest - the only black student in his year. He falls for his white friend Miller who presents as straight and/or isn't sure whether he is gay. They start a relationship
Jun 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Update: And now a rather surprising, but not unworthy, Booker longlist nominee.

4.5, rounded up.

I am intrigued that the author states emphatically that he 'didn't write this book for the white gaze' (, since it was totally accessible to me in a way that other books by POC writers sometimes are NOT (e.g., Queenie; Lot) - but I appreciate his point. Mainly, I was engrossed in this seemingly autobiographical tale of a queer, black grad student in a Midwestern
Elyse  Walters
Dec 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Audiobook/sync ebook.
.....with thanks to ‘many’ of the Bay Area Libraries.

This was one of those books that I (shamelessly admit), started and stopped many times. - I hope the Bay Area libraries weren’t checking my nuttiness too much....(I checked both the ebook and audiobook out - each - a few times from several different libraries....
I was determined to eventually commit to the whole enchilada.

It’s not that I didn’t like the audiobook voice narrator...(Kevin R. Free was a wonderful voice to
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Mar 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read2020
This is one of the best books I've read in a while, spread out over a few days because I was worried I'd finish it too quickly. The author uses some of his own experiences as a gay science grad student who is also a person of color. The character Wallace questions the white apology, how much we have to bring in from our past, and how sure we have to be of our life direction. I feel like I'm not doing it justice, still wrapping my head around it, but definitely felt the intensity of this read.

★★★★✰ 4.25 stars

“Is it into this culture that he is to emerge? Into the narrow, dark water of real life?”

It had been awhile since I finished a book in one day or since I read a book that made me cry...but once I started Real Life I simply couldn't stop, even if what I was reading made me mad, then sad, then mad again, and then sad all over again.
This is one heart-wrenching novel. Reading it was an immersive and all-consuming experience. I felt both secondhand anxiety, embarrassment, and anger,
There is much to admire about this novel, not the least of which is the fact that Brandon Taylor fearlessly embraces the idea that there is no easy solution to the messiness of the effects of grief and trauma on a person. His ability to lean into and plumb the psyche of his gifted, wounded, fiercely intelligent, deeply introverted protagonist, is very impressive. There are times when he’s a bit less successful at exploring the messiness of interpersonal relationships, particularly in a couple of ...more
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020

Another of the debut novels on the Booker list, and for the most part the right kind of surprise. This is an intense and personal book that follows a weekend in the life of Wallace, a gay black biochemistry student from Alabama in a mainly white university in the mid West.

Wallace is not the easiest protagonist to like - though he faces many problems and disadvantages, he keeps himself on the edge of the group of friends at the centre of the book, and often sa

Brandon Taylor's debut novel Real Life left me with such a bookish hangover. After finishing the book, I felt like my world was rocked, I had to sit with that feeling for a moment.

In Real Life we meet Wallace, originally from Alabama, he moved to the Midwest to pursue a degree in biochem. As a black gay man from the South, Wallace took the first opportunity given to put some distance between him and his barely there family. An introvert at heart Wallace tries to come out of his comfort
Mar 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The other day I was at my daughter’s swim lesson and observed a fellow parent wearing a sweatshirt that said “ADULTING IS HARD” in obnoxiously large, all-caps print. She spent most of her child’s lesson on her phone and/or sipping her Starbucks coffee. When she rose from her seat to greet her child as class concluded, she appeared visibly put out; it seemed as though she were in midst of texting someone else, that retrieving her kid was some monumental disruption to this activity. I felt bad for ...more
Darryl Suite
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
FINAL REVIEW: Real Life follows Wallace, a young Black and queer Biochemistry student enrolled in a predominantly white school and living in a predominantly white town. Throughout the novel, I was burning with a quiet rage due to the circumstances Wallace finds himself placed in, such as being on the receiving end of casual racism. A fascinating dynamic is that several of the casual racist remarks Wallace endures comes from his circle of (white) friends. Taylor does an excellent job of showcasin ...more
Claire Reads Books
Sep 23, 2020 rated it liked it
2.5 ⭐️ a lot of this book felt like a labored and overwrought creative writing exercise – throughout, I found myself bogged down in the excessive (& often meaningless) description, clunky dialogue, and over-abundance of half-baked MFA symbols and similes...unfortunately, not for me :/
Generously, two stars. Had I rated before I had a glass of wine? One. Sober Katie dgaf about feelings, apparently, but Tipsy Katie is worried that the author or someone the author loves will stumble upon this negative review and feel sad about it, which is ridiculous but nevertheless is what my brain grapples with. (Tipsy Katie possesses a certain vanity about her paltry Goodreads account, it seems.)

Anyway: to the meat. Re-reading the book synopsis above actually made me excited to read the book
Sep 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2020
So upon reflection, Real Life was definitely a 5 for me. I’ve sat with this story for a couple of days, and the weight of it is yet to lift, and that’s an achievement.

Real Life is a novel that isn’t about the big things that happen in life, but rather the little things that happen in brief moments, day in and day out, which we constantly adjust ourselves to. That being said, there are big things in this novel; the loss of a parent, discrimination of the basis of both race and sexuality that is
“Real Life” by Brandon Taylor is beautifully written; his prose is phenomenal. The story though, for me, wasn’t my thing. Perhaps it’s because I read it during the COVID-19 lockdown, and I should not be reading bleak novels!

This is a depressing story of a black gay man getting his degree in biochemistry in a small midwestern university. He’s working in a lab, which is cut-throat and isolating. He’s found a group of friends, yet he doesn’t allow them to get close. He’s endured trauma as a child,
Reggie Snead
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
I got an early copy of this from my bookseller, who couldn't make up her mind about it. I get that this book has a lot of in-crowd support right now, but it just feels tedious and self-congratulatory, mostly interested in its own cleverness. Wallace can't make up his mind about anything, and it feels like the author is wringing him dry for the sake of the story, rather than that pain coming from the character. It's also a book where very little happens--there's a lot of looking back--and that do ...more
I haven't read a book that has affected me so utterly since Memorial by Bryan Washington. Author, Brandon Taylor, does share that he hates when his work is called “raw” or “visceral” but when he draws from his own experiences to create a book that is part memoir and part one-of-the-greatest-books-I’ve-ever-read, what does he expect? That his work will make Black readers feel seen? Yes, yes I did.

Real Life takes place over a course of a weekend. It follows the story of Wallace, a gay Black p
Katia N
Aug 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
There was a chapter in the middle related to the main character’s childhood and written in the first person in a lyric and moody language which I really liked. Other than that I was less impressed.

In terms of the form, i had an impression it was MFA project or its aftertaste. And yes, today in the Guardian, it was confirmed. There is too much “show not to tell”. We constantly notified about different smells. Also the sense of touch is overbearing. The characters are constantly touching each oth
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queer, favorites, 2021
Major trigger warnings: depression, anxiety, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, homophobia, racism, sexual abuse of a minor (chapter 5)

“The most unfair part of it, Wallace thinks, is that when you tell white people that something is racist, they hold it up to the light and try to discern if you are telling the truth as if they can tell by the grain if something is racist or not, and they always trust their own judgment. It's unfair because white people have a vested interest in undermining racism
Aug 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Booker Award Longlist 2020. Taylor captures the deep insecurities of a black, gay man working for his Ph.D. in a midwestern university; sounding very much like the University of Wisconsin-Madison where Taylor himself studied. He grew up in an abusive home in Alabama, and is determined to put that part of his life behind him. He is a bright, intelligent man with keen observational skills. While his laboratory focus has been on nematode genetics, he observes his friends and colleagues with the sam ...more
lark benobi
Nov 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
I found this novel to be so masterfully written, a real five-star read, and yet at the same time I found the experience of reading it so bleak and airless that I can't quite love it. It is a perfect book in so many ways. It's a very subtle and beautifully written book. It takes the facts of systemic racism and shows how these facts manifests themselves in the everyday life of a hyper-intelligent, sensitive, gay black man.

Wallace is trying to survive in a graduate program as the only black stude
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2021 Reading Chal...: Real Life 1 18 Mar 22, 2021 07:51PM  
Play Book Tag: Real Life, by Brandon Taylor 1 7 Jan 24, 2021 12:25AM  
Booker of the Month: General Discussion (spoilers!) 2 18 Dec 13, 2020 08:27PM  
Play Book Tag: Real Life/Taylor - 5 stars 8 26 Nov 19, 2020 10:51AM  
21st Century Lite...: Sussex, Essex, Wessex, Northumbria by Brandon Taylor 2 46 Sep 27, 2020 03:42PM  
The Mookse and th...: 2020 Booker Shortlist: Real Life 81 163 Sep 20, 2020 06:04AM  

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Brandon Taylor is the senior editor of Electric Literature's Recommended Reading and a staff writer at Literary Hub. His writing has received fellowships from Lambda Literary Foundation, Kimbilio Fiction, and the Tin House Summer Writer's Workshop. He holds graduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Iowa, where he was

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“The most unfair part of it, Wallace thinks, is that when you tell white people that something is racist, they hold it up to the light and try to discern if you are telling the truth as if they can tell by the grain if something is racist or not, and they always trust their own judgment. It's unfair because white people have a vested interest in undermining racism, it's amount, it's intensity, it's shape, its effects. They are the fox in the henhouse.” 31 likes
“This could be their life together, each moment, shared, passed back and forth between each other to alleviate the pressure, the awful pressure of having to hold time for oneself. This is perhaps why people get together in the first place. The sharing of time. The sharing of the responsibility of anchoring oneself in the world. Life is less terrible when you can just rest for a moment, put everything down and wait without having to worry about being washed away. People take each others hands and they hold on as tight as they can, they hold on to each other and to themselves because they know that the other person will not.” 16 likes
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