2016 bookshelf update: april

You know, if I didn’t fall asleep on the couch every time I sat down to read, I’d have a lot more books to write about here. But alas, I am getting old.


Nothing Gold Can Stay, by Ron Rash

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I absolutely devoured Rash’s novel Serena, so I figured nabbing this at the local library sale would be worth my dollar. It’s a collection of Americana short stories spanning various time periods, all, of course, written in Rash’s no-frills prose. As is the case with most short story collections, some stories were stronger or more interesting than others, but it was an enjoyable read and perfect for those minutes before bed.

[4/5 stars]


The Night Sister, by Jennifer McMahon

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I’ll be honest, I only picked this up because I was going to be hanging around a coffeeshop for a few hours and was dangerously close to done with my other book, so obviously I needed a back-up. Thanks, Target.

Like Rash loves Americana, McMahon loves her Northeastern-based, supernatural mysteries (see: The Winter People). The Night Sister begins with the gruesome murder/suicide of Amy Slater, her husband, and her son. Her daughter somehow escaped onto the roof and remained alive. Amy’s childhood friends, Piper and Margot, attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding the killings and around Amy’s family as a whole. This story is interwoven with the story of Amy’s mother and aunt, Rose and Sylvie, and the bitter sibling relationship they lived, each one believing something terrible of the other. It’s all set among the once-prosperous Tower Motel, owned by the Slater family. (This is another of those books that’s hard to summarize without giving away, sorry.)

I mostly enjoyed this book, though I now wish I had saved it for a late autumn read. You go back and forth between trusting and not trusting the characters, the setting, the narrator…everything. Sometimes I felt things could have been fleshed out more realistically, but that might have taken away from some of the aura of mystery. So who knows? Not a perfect book, but definitely satisfactory.

[4/5 stars]


We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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This is the essay form of Adichie’s viral TEDx talk of the same name. I have heard clips and always intended to watch the full thing, but never got around to it. So when I needed to add a couple of dollars to my Amazon purchase, this lovely little $5 booklet found its way in. (It’s also beautifully designed, so I’m happy to have it on my shelf.)

In the last few years, I’ve been going through my own personal evaluation of what feminism actually means, both in my life and in society as a whole. I’ve thought many times about writing about it, but I never felt I had the right words. Thankfully, Adichie voices almost exactly my feelings, and she does it a lot more eloquently. I was especially appreciative of how she addressed the fact that both women and men suffer from institutionalized and societal sexism, which is often unconsciously inflicted because “that’s just how it’s done.”

“But by far the worst thing we do to males—by making them feel they have to be hard—is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The harder a man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is.”

“And then we do a much greater disservice to girls, because we raise them to cater to the fragile egos of males. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man. If you are the breadwinner in your relationship with a man, pretend that you are not, especially in public, otherwise you will emasculate him.”

I would encourage anyone to take the time to watch this TEDx talk or pick up the essay. It’s absolutely worth your attention.

[5/5 stars]


Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier

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This was another book sale purchase, but thankfully it was one that was already one my TBR list after hearing about it on a radio show a few months ago. Chevalier was interested in the background to Vermeer’s famous painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring, and so decided to novelize it. These kinds of historical novels are probably my favorites, so I was eager to dive in.

Griet is 16, the daughter of a tile painter who was recently made blind in an accident. To make ends meet, her mother arranges for Griet to work as a maid in the Vermeer household. She intends to keep her head down and do her work, but her curiosity and perceptive nature begin to draw her closer to Vermeer’s work and the painter himself.

It’s an incredibly researched novel; the setting feels alive and intimate with the grit of life in Delft. The characters felt a little less so, and I think Chevalier knows that is her weaker element and so leans more heavily on the setting. But it is an excellent novel for anyone with a love for art-based historical fiction.

[4.25/5 stars]


Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Apparently I decided that April was the month for me to read books on highly charged topics.

This book is written as a letter from Coates to his teenage son, part memoir and part charge, dealing with the historical and modern oppression of black Americans. Coates is eloquently angry as he explains the ways in which black bodies are stolen and broken, sometimes in the figurative sense and sometimes in the literal. He reckons with the terrible history and burden of being black in America, and there is a palpable current of emotion flowing through his writing.

Parts of this book made me balk, made me think “Oh, that’s an oversimplification” or “That’s not fair.” But that’s why books like this one are important. Because my views and experiences as a white woman are not universal. Because there are certain histories I will never have to reckon with or hurdles I will be forced to jump because of the color of my skin. Just because I don’t personally encounter an obstacle doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist for so many other people (the same thing can be said in regards to feminism, too). We have to pay attention to the stories of others around us. We have to seek to understand when they are angry, why they are angry. Dismissing it does far more harm because it only serves to divide us further.

[5*/5 stars]

*I gave the book 5 stars, but I honestly don’t consider myself qualified to really rate this book. This book is not truly for me. But it did help me, and I wanted to give it a rating to reflect that.


Favorite book this monthWe Should All Be Feminists

Most likely to re-read: We Should All Be Feminists

Most likely to recommend: We Should All Be Feminists and Between the World and Me


 

And that’s my April in books! As always, recommendations are welcome. And if you’d like to discuss any of the books above (you know the ones I’m talking about), please reach out.

Keep reading and support your local libraries (and their book sales!).

 

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