March Books

Reading is my refuge – an informational or imaginative rabbit hole to go down to escape from the real world.

So, reading less means life is really good – no rabbit holes necessary – or so bad that even picking up a book is too taxing.

March was the latter.

But, 3 out of 4 of these books were excellent, so quality filled in where quantity lacked.

The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez – Any writer or lover of language ought to enjoy this 2018 winner of the National Book Award. A woman’s best friend and writing mentor dies unexpectedly from suicide, and she inherits his Great Dane. But despite the cover and some write-ups, this book is not about the bond with “man’s best friend” (read Stein’s Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog if you want that). At turns funny (“Your whole house smells of dog, says someone who comes to visit. I say I’ll take care of it. Which I do by never inviting that person to visit again”), sometimes meditative (“What we miss—what we lose and what we mourn—isn’t it this that makes us who, deep down, we truly are. To say nothing of what we wanted in life but never got to have.”), this beautiful book is one I might have to reread to catch the nuances I missed the first time around.

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro – My mother recommended this book to me, as she knows I’m a sucker for a fellow daughter wanting to know more about her history after her dad dies, which is what this memoir chronicles. Like the author, I did an Ancestry DNA test; unlike the author, I did not learn that my dad wasn’t my biological father. Shapiro tries to piece together her past and make peace with what she learns, and I was turning the pages quickly to find out how.

You are a Badass by Jen Sincero – I don’t remember how this book made its way to me, as I’m not a fan of motivational-speaking type books. It’s not a surprise that I wasn’t particularly fond of this one. She’s a grittier Rachel Hollis. Where Hollis encourages you to be the best version of yourself, Sincero encourages you to buy a car you can’t afford as a push to inspire you to make more money. Seriously.

Factfulness by Hans Rosling – How should we make sense of the world today? Rosling’s book lays out ten perspective-skewing inclinations (often polarities) we should challenge to achieve “factfulness,” defined as “the stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.” In case you think the book doesn’t apply to you, he schools you quickly with a quiz about global trends to show you just how wrong your view of the world is. The results are humbling. The book is comforting. If you liked 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, you will like this one, too.

The best of the month:
This is easy, based on your genre of choice.

The Friend for fiction, especially if you like writing.
Inheritance for memoir, especially if you are intrigued by genetics and the moral dilemmas DNA invites.
Factfulness for nonfiction, especially if you’re into world news and global thinking.
Heck, maybe even You are a Badass if you need a (Bad)ass-kicking.

February Books

FebruaryCompared to January, this was a shorter month with fewer books, but these were all solid choices.

Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry – I purchased this young adult book about an atheist who attends a strict Catholic high school for my son, soon to be a Catholic high school student himself. (He devoured it in a day.) Michael, the protagonist, challenges school culture by making waves with his newfound friends. It’s funny, it’s heartwarming, and it delivers a strong message about the importance of faith – whether in family, friends, or the Church.

The Wrong Heaven: Stories by Amy Bonnaffons – A talking Mother Mary lawn ornament, a woman who takes steps to turn herself into a horse, and dollhouse figurines who come to life? Why not? I really wish I remember how I heard about this book so I could tell you why I picked it up, but it doesn’t really matter. Every story was an entertaining read.

Finding Sisu: In Search of Courage, Strength, and Happiness the Finnish Way by Katja Pantzar – You may recall that last month, I read a book called Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage. It wasn’t my fave, but I am a fan of Finnish culture, particularly the concept of “sisu.” This book, written more like a memoir as a fellow Finn returns to live in the motherland, was much better than Sisu… Still, I don’t think you’ll appreciate it unless you’re a Finn.

Ohio: A Novel by Stephen Markley – I first saw this book on a store shelf in Jackson, Mississippi this past Christmas, and as an Ohio resident, I was intrigued. This debut novel made many “Best of 2018” lists and classified Markley as a “writer-to-watch.” The story unfolds through multiple characters’ perspectives. It is long. It is dark. It is sometimes slow. But the payoff was good.

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson – I am constantly seeking to grow in my racial literacy. Having read his 2018 What Truth Sounds Like… in December, I looked up other Dyson books, and this one from 2017 seemed like a good fit for my second read. His arguments are sound, and I don’t disagree with a single one, even those that challenged me. If you are a member of “White America,” I would recommend Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility before this one (or over this one, if you only read one).

Friday Black: Stories by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah – Holy S#%t. That was actually what I said out loud, sometime after midnight when I finished the first story, “The Finkelstein Five,” one I started with the intention of “just reading a couple pages before bed.” I could not put it down, and when I finished, I was breathless. Think: if Black Mirror was a short story collection. Friday Black is uneven, but the good ones are that good. Other notables for me: “Lark Street,” “Zimmer Land,” and the title story.

Rages Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly – This was the last novel I read based on a Time magazine review combining this title with Gemma Hartley’s Fed Up… and Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad…, which I read within a week of each other at the end of last year. I saved the best for last. Where Fed Up was lacking research, Rage lays it out clearly. Where Good and Mad seemed to focus more on White women, Rage is intersectional in all the right ways. Honestly, after reading Traister’s All the Single Ladies a couple years ago, I thought this book read like I expected Good and Mad would, but didn’t.

The best of the month:

Friday Black for short story collection that offers disturbing social commentary
The Wrong Heaven for a lighter short story collection
Rage Becomes Her… for nonfiction

January Reads

January 2019BooksThis year, I’m writing shorter posts on books as I finish them rather than saving reading recs for the end of the year (expect a “Best Of 2019” list, though).

If January is any indication, 2019 will be a page-turner. Here are the 10 books to which I devoted my time, in the order I read them.

American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures by America Ferrera and others – A collection of essays from 32 first- and second-generation immigrants (all of whom are famous, but most of whom I did not know), these short tales illustrate America making good on her promise to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It’s a love story to, and celebration of, our country – a great start to the year!

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee – I was not familiar with Chee’s life or work before this book, another collection of essays that traverses a life of literature, writing, activism, tarot card reading, and surviving a father’s untimely death. I didn’t love it, but other writers might.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean – If you like reading, and/or buckling your seatbelt for a nonfiction ride that will take you to strange places you’re not sure connect to each other at first glance, then this is your book. I honestly had no interest based on the initial write-ups I read, but after it made so many “Best of 2018” lists, I caved. I am so very glad I did. The Library Book is my first rec of the year.

GMorning, GNight! Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda – This illustrated book of Miranda’s inspirational twitter messages is cutesy and quick to read, but, ehhh. I don’t feel any better for having read it.

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka – If you don’t like graphic novels, you won’t like this one, but if you are even a casual fan of the genre, this autobiography of a writer/artist finding his way despite a drug-addicted mom and an absentee dad is worth a read. Like with Spiegelman’s work, adults will get more out of this than the younger audiences graphic novels often target.

An American Marriage: A Novel by Tayari Jones – My first fiction read of the year gets my first fiction rec of the year. Told from multiple perspectives, this story dares you not to empathize with each of these characters. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore – I seem to be pulled to stories involving magical realism (see The Vegetarian write up from 2016), and y’all know I love multiple narrators (see above and many of my former picks for confirmation). Moore’s novel about the formation of Liberia has both of these characteristics. While I can’t say I completely understood or followed how the three main characters were separated and reunited, I did enjoy it.

Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman – If you want to get back to reading but can’t commit to a longer novel, this short, intense story ought to do it. Narrated by a dead man who intimately knows Eden, who is on death’s door himself, and his wife, Mary, this novella takes you to some dark, surprising places. I highly recommend!

My Ex-Life: A Novel by Stephen McCauley – Oh, you want something lighter? This novel about a private college counselor who gets sucked back into his ex-wife’s world via helping her daughter with her applications will do it. Readers of Richard Russo, Jonathan Tropper, and Tom Perrotta will surely like this one.

Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage by Joanna Nylund – My name is Kirstin Pesola. It’s as Finnish as they come, and I am proud of my Finnish ancestry for many reasons, and the concept of “sisu,” for which there is no literal English translation, is one of them. While I liked the book’s application of this Finnish trait to different contexts, I thought many of the tips were self-explanatory.

So, to recap, here was the best of the month:

The Library Book for nonfiction
An American Marriage: A Novel for fiction
Waiting for Eden for short, intense fiction
My Ex-Life for light-hearted fiction