Since I never posted a reading log for February, this list comprises the books I’ve finished since my January report.
- The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates: I picked up Coates’ first book at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn during a weekend trip to NYC in December. Have I mentioned that visiting independent bookstores is one of my favorite vacation pastimes? I mean, I’m always looking for an excuse to buy books, so making it my souvenir is one of my favorite approaches. Anyway, this memoir of Coates’ youth in Baltimore was very moving and I marveled over how different the lives of two American children (mine as a white girl growing up in an un-diverse middle class suburb and Coates as a black boy in a working class or poor area of Baltimore) growing up in similar time periods could be. This book illustrates the fact that there really are two (or more) Americas, and underscores how important it is to learn about other people’s very different experiences. Here’s a passage I dog-eared: “To be a black male is to be always at war, and no flight to the county can save us, because even there we are met by the assumption of violence, by the specter of who we might turn on next.” This description matches recent data on the different outcomes black men face (compared to any other peer group including black women), regardless of the socioeconomic class they are born into. This is a national crisis we should all be working to address.
- Red Clocks by Leni Zumas: I discovered this novel through Book of the Month (that’s my referral link, so if you sign up there I’ll get a free book–yay!). In it, Zumas imagines a world after the “Personhood Amendment” has been passed, which she created from real politicians’ proposals. The prose is very spare and tense, and sometimes I didn’t want to keep reading, but at the same time I couldn’t put the book down because I needed to find out what happens to these characters. There are so many gems on motherhood, female friendship, and women’s lives, like this one on feelings of jealousy and competition between friends: “How can the wife hope that Ro doesn’t get pregnant? Doesn’t publish her book on the ice scientist? As if Ro’s not having a kid or a book would make the wife’s life any better. As if the wife’s having a job would make Ro’s any worse. The rivalry is so shameful she can’t look at it. It flickers and hangs. It waits.”
- The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson: This book tackles some big issues but it’s written in a very readable contemporary prose style. I sometimes lose patience with this style, which can rely too much on hyphenated adjectives and adverbs for my taste, but I did enjoy Jackson’s novel. Set in the south, some elements of the small-town depiction reminded me of the time I spent in Hillsborough, NC. It was a great book for reading before bed and getting me through a winter reading slump.
- The Turner House by Angela Flournoy: This debut novel traces the lives of 11 (I think that’s the right number) siblings trying to figure out what to do with their parents’ house in Detroit, now that it is worth so much less than the outstanding mortgage loan. It also goes back in time to tell the story of their parents growing up in the pre-Civil Rights south and becoming part of the Great Migration north. A funny and poignant read.
- The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis: I had high hopes for this contemporary/historical novel set at the Barbizon Hotel in Manhattan. But while I did finish it in order to find out what happened, I often cringed at the writing along the way. Lots of telling without showing and weakly drawn characters who struggle to become more than two-note sketches. (I read this and the previous two books on the Kindle app.)
- The Glass Eye by Jeannie Vanasco: Another book (also from Greenlight Bookstore) that didn’t fulfill all of my anticipation for it. While aspects of Vanasco’s life and struggle with mental illness are interesting, and her love for her father is very touching, I find I don’t like memoirs that are written in blog-like snippets. I had a similar reaction to Roxanne Gay’s Hunger when I read it last summer. Let’s write for the Internet online and save books for longform writing.
- Exit West by Mohsin Hamid: Oh this novel was so, so good and I wish I could make everyone in the world read it. I bought it for myself during a February visit to Rehoboth Beach, which has one of my favorite indie bookstores, Browseabout Books. I’ll say more in my review this month for The Sunlight Press.
That’s all for now. What have you been reading lately?