It’s Raining (Audio)Books: April Reading Review
Updated: May 6, 2020
This has been the weirdest April, a month of being shut up inside, tutoring over Skype, wearing face masks. Every time I call my mom—in the middle of the day, because neither of us is at work—there’s not much to talk about except the rain.
It’s also been a weird reading month for me. More than half of the books I read were audiobooks, specifically YA fantasy audiobooks. None of that—YA, fantasy, audio— is typical for me. But strange times call for strange hankerings. Here are my impressions of the books I read in April.
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
I read this book to fulfill Reading Women Challenge prompt #13, a book by an Arab woman. It opened up a world I didn’t know existed in the US, where teen girls are married off while still in high school and denied a college education, all in the name of Arab culture. Deya, a high school senior with three younger sisters, lives with her paternal grandparents who are trying to find her a husband. Her parents died years ago. One day, a woman leaves her a letter, and Deya comes to find out her family’s secrets.
The characters were more like caricatures, two-dimensional and generic. The novel could have been much shorter, perhaps a novella or even a short story. Overall, I was unimpressed with the characters and the writing, and I looked forward to being done with it.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
I chose to read this after hearing it recommended numerous times by Anne Bogel on her podcast What Should I Read Next. Dana, a Black woman living in the US, keeps getting pulled back in time to the days of slavery. It seems she is there to save the life of a white boy named Rufus who lives on a plantation in the south. Dana thinks she is there ultimately to save her family’s lineage, but she will have to learn to save herself too.
I’m sensitive to violence, particularly when the violence is not only brutal but evokes disgust. In Kindred Butler wrote about slavery in a way that didn’t trigger me, but still got across the horror of it. Descriptions of beatings, for example, were only as graphic as necessary. Besides the violence, Butler communicates the utter powerlessness of Black people in that era. She illustrates the myriad ways that slaves were dehumanized: families broken up, slave sales, rape, whippings. This wasn’t solely for the reader’s edification but for Dana’s, so that she is prepared to make an important decision when it becomes time.
The novel is well-paced. Butler doesn’t muck around with detailed descriptions to set up the story. She dives right into the action from the start. The ending was also succinct, some might say abrupt. I thought it was just right.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
With the library closed indefinitely, I went to Target because I wanted a new book: fiction, an enjoyable story with likeable characters that was easy to read. Queenie fit the bill. The novel dealt with heavy topics without being a heavy read. The story of Queenie is U-shaped: she goes down, devolves into a train wreck, and then gets help, takes care of herself, makes better choices, and life looks up. I enjoyed getting to know Queenie’s friends and family almost as much as I enjoyed getting to know Queenie.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
I read this to fulfill the Reading Women Challenge prompt #7 Afrofuturism or Africanfuturism. In Dread Nation Ireland reimagines American life after the civil war is interrupted by the dead rising up in Gettysburg as zombies. At the center of the story is the protagonist Jane McKeene, spunky, loyal, and sharp.
Normally I would have zero interest in a zombie apocalypse book because I would expect the writing to be awful and the story to be contrived. I only picked up Dread Nation after I heard it recommended on the Reading Women podcast. Because I’ve had great experiences with their recommendations in the past, I thought perhaps this book would defy my zombie expectations in favor of my RW expectations.
Not so with Dread Nation. The more I think about this book the more I want to tear it apart. It’s bad like a Lifetime movie is bad. Do I think it was worth it to buy a copy? No. Will I listen to the sequel audiobook? Oh, probably. Something to pass the time while I clean the apartment.
Regardless of my disappointing experience with Dread Nation, I would love to give Afrofuturism another try. Perhaps more Octavia Butler is in my future?
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland
This was a book to savor. I grabbed this from the library weeks ago on a whim, and with the library now closed I was able to hold on to it long past the original due date and take it in slowly.
Part biography and part memoir, Shapland unearths Carson’s existence as a queer writer struggling with recurrent strokes, comparing it with her own story as a writer who is also queer and chronically ill.
The writing is superb. I can’t get enough of it. While My Autobiography of Carson McCullers is Shapland’s only book so far, Shapland has published numerous essays which can be accessed via her website www.jennshapland.com.
The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer
I decided to re-read the series when a podcast called Hot & Bothered posted chapter-by-chapter episodes on Twilight three times a week. Once I caught up to the most current episode, I kept reading, instead of waiting for the next podcast episode to air.
I was in college when I first read these, and I think it’s interesting to read them now that I have another decade of life experience in which to contextualize the story. Back then I didn’t notice how controlling Edward and Jacob are with Bella. I didn’t notice that Jacob assaults her in Eclipse when he forces her to kiss him. And I didn’t think anything of the fact that her dad, a cop, condoned it. It’s obvious these books were published before the #metoo movement.
I enjoyed three of the four volumes. The beginning of Bella and Edward’s romance in Twilight is charming, and I felt nostalgia for the days of dial-up modems and CDs. I found in New Moon that the writing effectively evokes the pain of a break-up, and I liked the excitement when Bella and Alice go to Italy to rescue Edward. Plus, I love Bella and Alice’s friendship and the whole Cullen family.
Eclipse, however, was total drudgery, filled with bickering between vampires and werewolves. I’ve never heard the word “glowered” so many times in my life. And after all the misogynistic garbage Jacob puts Bella through, she decides she’s in love with him too? The whole thing was nonsensical and overwrought.
Yet Breaking Dawn makes up for it. As ridiculous as Renésme is, and even more ridiculous that Jacob imprints on her, it also fits just right. Plus Jacob is so much more palatable at that point, no longer bitter that Bella chose Edward. I enjoyed the suspense leading up to Bella’s transformation, the description of the new world she has joined, and the climax when the Volturi show up in the meadow.