A Different Kind of Wednesday: April Reading Recap
In lieu of Wordy Wednesday, I bring you reading reflections for the month of April.
April was busy. I realize most people are busy most of the time, but as someone who works part-time and has neither children nor pets, I expect to be less busy than the typical person. But life never works out that way. I plop into bed at night thinking, how am I so exhausted? How am I so busy?
In April I had clear reasons to be frazzled. I nearly doubled my hours tutoring with students either getting ready for AP tests or doing remedial work before the school year’s end. My husband Mark and I went apartment hunting, with great success, and will be moving in a matter of days. Mark has been in his last rotation of medical school before he graduates, and I’ve been picking up the slack at home.
Another thing that happened in April: I got the covid vaccine. I know that topic is rife with controversy, so let me just say getting the vaccine felt right for me, and I was glad to have the opportunity to do so. And when I casually browsed flights to visit my mom (who is also vaccinated) I was floored by the low prices and planned an impulsive trip home.
We lay around doing nothing but pet the cats. I put on the My Favorite Murder podcast and drew bookmarks while Mom prepped a craft for her preschoolers. We went shopping. We ate Chinese food. We listened to Hamilton. We watched all the Stefon SNL sketches. Even though we had a family emergency to tend to, (my grandmother fell and broke her wrist) it was so good to be home.
Now I’m back to reality and ready to talk books. Here’s what I read in April, from DNF to five stars.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Wow did I try to make Homefire happen. This book has been on my TBR for two years. I finally got my paws on a copy at the larger public library further from where I live, I’ve renewed it the maximum number of times, and now it’s more than a week overdue. Still I haven’t broken a hundred pages. The writing is solid but seriously, where’s the fire? I have no verve to finish this award-winning novel. DNF.
The Push by Ashley Audrain
No, no, no no no. It’s written in present tense AND starts out in second person. A woman writes to her ex (a man with a family) to tell her side of the story of what happened to tear her from them. The writing is melodramatic, obvious, and so terrible. Just, no.
The Christy Miller Series Books 1-12 by Robin Jones Gunn
After a particularly incisive therapy session, I found myself yearning to read a book I hadn’t thought of in more than a decade: Summer Promise, book one in the Christy Miller series that I read during my teens. Christy is a teenage girl herself, developing into a young lady earnest to follow God, be a good friend, and find love with model Christian and laid-back surfer-boy Todd. (Did the author intend for the love interest’s name to rhyme with God? It feels intentional.)
I found audiobooks of the entire series and began to listen to what could possibly be the jankiest recordings ever produced. Whole sentences occasionally repeated, for a few chapters I could hear the faint tick-tock of the narrator’s wristwatch, and at a crucial moment in the story I swear I heard a cabinet door creak open and close.
Sound quality aside, I ate up all twelve books despite the Focus on the Family-approved ideology that permeates Christy’s high school years. At first I didn’t know why I wanted to read a bunch of books that professed teachings that I vehemently broke with as an adult. I found myself teasing out the bad and holding to the good: Christy’s faith makes her better and drives her development into a character readers can admire. Though her brand of religion goes against what I choose for myself, I couldn’t help but find comfort in the familiarity of its culture and in how Christy reminds me of myself years ago.
Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor
James Nestor is a journalist, so naturally this books reads like the transcript of a podcast. It includes interviews, narration of first-person experiences in present tense, occasional snark, and scientific information translated into lay terminology.
Let me be honest: I don’t like how journalists write. I don’t like the dramatic flair, I don’t like how scientific explanations turn into some clever analogy that removes nuance and specifics. And In Nestor’s case, I definitely don’t like how he would insert his own opinions with the same objective-sounding tone that he used to list his observations.
I read this book for the info, and the info made it worth it. Nestor explains the significance of breath to health, and describes strategies that can be employed to improve your breath to improve your health. He’s well-researched and organized, with a summary of the strategies and an appendix with clear directions for how to use them. I can’t help but recommend this book.
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
Like Homefire, I’ve had this book on my TBR for two years. It took me three tries to finally read it to the end, and it was worth it. This novel is incredibly well-written. Listening to the audiobook, I wish I had been able to give it more attention instead of multitasking like I usually do with audiobooks. In it, Romy Hall is imprisoned for life after murdering her stalker. She has a five-year-old son for whom she’s desperate to create a future, despite that she is behind bars.
This book is gritty and grim, and at times I thought, how on earth can a book like this end? How do you make prison for life into a plot? If you pick this novel up, I encourage you to persevere. You have to sit with Romy’s pain in order to feel the reward of the ending.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
This is a tough read for its bald look at U.S. history. I felt my eyes open to how I, and all who live in this country, have been brainwashed into a caste system based on the social construction of race. Caste is not the same thing as racism, and while I strive to be anti-racist, I now see how caste is an invisible paradigm that upholds racism in both subtle and major ways.
Especially sobering is Wilkerson’s exposition of the eight pillars of caste, and how these pillars are upheld in the U.S. and have been similarly utilized in two other caste systems: the short-lived castes designated by Nazi Germany and the long-held and formalized caste system of India.
Wilkerson writes better than most. She deftly moves between allegory, personal narrative, statistics and evidence, critical analysis, and draws it all together into powerful conclusions. We have plenty of options when it comes to reading about race in America today, but only one option when reading about caste in America today. Wilkerson’s writing is pioneering and essential, and I urge you to read it.
All the Names They Used for God: Stories by Anjali Sachdeva
This is a superb collection of stories by an author of the famed Iowa Writers Workshop. Her writing is lyrical, precise, imaginative, original. On an episode of the Reading Women Podcast (I can’t remember which episode, it was ages ago) I heard that before publication Sachdeva read the stories out loud to ensure her phrasing was optimized for smooth reading. It shows. Her writing flows through the mind without a hiccup. These nine stories have a mythical or fairytale-like quality making them the kinds of stories to read again and again. I borrowed this from the library, but I want a copy for myself.