April was a bit of a time. We had some warm weather, some awfully cold weather, some flowers, and I was off of work the whole month, which gave me a welcome breather from the frenetic pace there.
Here are some of the tulips on our little plot. They give me hope that warmer days are just around the corner.
Most recently, we celebrated our grandon Ames’ first birthday! What a little king. I can hardly believe he’s a year old now!
That’s it from the homefront. On to April’s books!
What Shannon Read in April
I read seven books in April and went on a bit of an Elizabeth von Arnim bender. I love reading her books in the spring.
The Enchanted April, Father, Vera, and Love:
I think von Arnim must be one of my favorite authors. Every spring, I come back to reading The Enchanted April, Elizabeth and Her German Garden (read last month), and Love.
I did re-read and enjoy those this year, but I then realized how large her catalog is and delved in head first. I liked Father the best and Vera was good, but not my favorite.
I then saw that von Arnim’s collected works were available for a pittance via Kindle, so I’ll be reading more of her in May.
Aside from the writing and good stories, one reason I love von Arnim’s books so much is that she focuses on women and their roles in relationships and society, especially when those roles are unexpected and fly against the sort of standard patriarchal assignations.
The Day Job:
Mark Wallington wrote a book called 500 Mile Walkies, which I first heard about when reading The Salt Path by Raynor Winn. I couldn’t find a reasonably priced copy of that book, so I pivoted to The Day Job, which is all about Wallington’s work as a jobbing gardener around London.
I truly enjoyed his storytelling and meeting all the characters he comes across in his work. Do recommend, especially if you’re interested in gardening and fellow gardeners.
I was worried that this book was going to be “cute,” but it definitely wasn’t. In fact, it had definite thriller vibes. It is about a woman who is unhappily married to a controlling man who doesn’t see her for who she truly is—and who doesn’t allow her to be herself at all, really.
Victoria, an avid bookworm, regularly visits her favorite café to read and ends up falling in love with a man she meets there.
There is intrigue as she begins a relationship with the new man and also begins to defy her controlling husband. I found the plot surprisingly suspenseful.
Note: This is the book I chose for the “2000-present” category of the 12-book When Are You Reading? Challenge. Just one more book to go for that challenge!
How to Catch a Mole:
Mark Hamer is a wonderful nature writer. I thoroughly enjoyed his descriptions of the English countryside where, in this book, he works as a mole catcher. What a job to have. I didn’t even know it was a job.
There are some kind of gory bits involving the moles he catches, but those are few. The rest is an interesting history of the animal and the work of mole-catching, plus much about the nature that surrounds him.
That’s it for April! May has started out rainy and cold, but I’m looking forward to some upcoming warmth.
Happy April! Has spring hit your neck of the woods yet?
We have exactly two daffodils blooming, but the high for today is 74 degrees F, so I have some hope in my heart.
Definitely need to rake those leaves…
On to the books!
What Shannon Read in March
Very little. I read very little in March. I was hit by a terrible reading slump and managed only four books, including two comforting re-reads. What else is one to do during a slump but embrace what one knows?
Why am I talking like an English person from a past century?
I don’t know. I’m all off today.
Here are some notes on the four books I did manage to read.
Touching the Wild: Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch
After reading that, I became obsessed with spotting wild turkeys on the roadsides wherever we drove. (I was often successful too, since they tend to hang out at the edges of fields along roadsides.)
But this book is about Hutto’s befriending and observing a herd of mule deer who live in the mountains in northern Wyoming.
He names all the deer and tells their individual stories. Some are fun and interesting and others are sad because living in the wild as a prey animal is, of course, inherently dangerous.
King of Wrath
This is the dumbest book I’ve read in a long time. I blame TikTok. I started following this creator who does cute little skits about reading, but all she reads is romance.
I thought, why not. I’ll try a genre I’ve given up on before. Maybe there’s something new and interesting out there that will hold my attention.
Well, maybe there is, but this wasn’t it. This is just poorly written smut. There’s no art to it at all.
I did discover that this is part of the “arranged marriage” sub-genre of romance. I did not know that was a thing. Now I know.
And I’m not judging, by the way—if this is your brand, please enjoy. 🙂 It’s definitely not for me.
The Salt Path
In other news, I finally got around to reading The Salt Path, which was both heartwrenching and delightful at turns.
This is Raynor Winn’s memoir of walking the South West Coast Path in England, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall.
One of the reasons Raynor and her husband Moth decide to walk the path is that they’ve just lost their house and income due to a bad business deal with a lifelong friend. In addition, Moth has been diagnosed with a terminal illness that is slowly stealing his ability to move.
They decide to strike out and walk the path while they still can. It turns out to be emotionally and physically illuminating as they learn about themselves and the wilderness—and even Moth’s stiffness seems to abate due to the constant movement.
It’s a wonderful story. Highly recommend.
Elizabeth and Her German Garden
If you know me and my reading life at all, you know I’m going to re-read this bookevery spring.
This is Elizabeth von Arnim’s highly autobiographical novel about creating a garden in Germany. She is a native Brit, but lives in Germany with her husband, “the man of wroth,” as she calls him, and their three small children.
Elizabeth loves the land around their stately home and much of the book is a diary of her plans, enjoyment of, and interaction with her beautiful and varied gardens.
I feel like that makes the book sound like there is no action, but there is!
We hear about the man of wroth, the children and motherhood, and Elizabeth’s interactions with her friends and guests. She is a wry observer and many of the episodes are humorous.
It’s a wonderful book and a perfect read for spring.
And that’s it for March! Wish me luck getting out of this stupid reading slump for April.
I have a feeling that re-reads and audiobooks will be my salvation per usual.
It’s March and that means that spring is just that much closer! We’re not safe from crummy weather here until around May, but the sky is lighter in the morning and it’s giving me life.
Also giving me life was our recent trip to New Orleans, where Ben and I spent four days with our good friends eating, drinking, and enjoying the 70-degree weather and sunshine. It. was. amazing. And I want to go back immediately.
I literally forgot that flowers existed…
On to the books!
What Shannon Read in February
I read six books in February, including three books for my When Are You Reading? Challenge. This means I’m actually only two books away from finishing that challenge—that went fast. I now only need to read books for the 1900-1919 and 2000-present categories.
It was a slower month for reading and I certainly didn’t fit in as many books as I did in January. I think that’s mostly thanks to The Persian Boy and Katherine, both of which were long, intense novels that took me awhile to read.
This is the reimagination of real events that took place in Queens, New York in 1965. It’s the story of a woman, Ruth Malone, whose children are murdered. She is put on trial for murder and, thanks to a botchy job by cops who have it in for her, and the prosecutors lambasting her for her reputation as a “loose woman,” she is convicted.
This story is told from several perspectives, including Ruth’s and Pete Wonicke’s, a rookie tabloid reporter who believes Ruth is innocent.
The reader wonders whether Ruth is innocent right up until the end of the story when the murderer is revealed.
Jazz (Read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge):
I love Toni Morrison. She is a master of imagery. Each sentence, it seems, has to be unpacked, dissected, and metabolized before you can know it’s meaning. I listened to the audiobook of this classic, read by Morrison herself, and it was a whole experience. Her reading voice is incredible. I’m so glad I finally read it.
Here’s the Goodreads synopsis if you’re interested in the story:
In the winter of 1926, when everybody everywhere sees nothing but good things ahead, Joe Trace, middle-aged door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra beauty products, shoots his teenage lover to death. At the funeral, Joe’s wife, Violet, attacks the girl’s corpse. This passionate, profound story of love and obsession brings us back and forth in time, as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of black urban life.
My Happy Life:
I needed an audiobook to listen to before bedtime, so why on earth did I choose this one? This is the story of, ironically, a not-so-happy life narrated by a woman who is locked by herself in a of mental hospital ward when the person who brings her food suddenly stops coming. She whiles away the time telling the story of her incredibly traumatic life.
The writing was excellent; the was story riveting but very hard to get through. Not a relaxing bedtime read at all, but I couldn’t stop listening. *shrug*
A Dangerous Business (Read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge):
This was a very enjoyable read. It’s the story of a woman, Eliza, whose new husband takes her from her parents’ home in Kalamazoo, Michigan to live in Monterey, California during the 1850s gold rush. Right at the start, we find out her husband has been shot dead in a saloon in Monterey and Eliza then takes on the world’s oldest profession to support herself.
She and a new friend, Jean, who is a lesbian and also a prostitute in Monterey, stumble into a murder mystery after women begin to disappear from the town.
I found the setting fun and the story fascinating as Eliza details the characters she meets in her profession. The issues of the day (gold rush, the possibility of a cross-country railroad, slavery and an impending civil war, religion) are touched on with caution and reverence, but they are not the focus of the story. Sexual orientation and gender identity are also themes.
The Persian Boy (Read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge):
This looong book kept me busy for almost half of February. It’s the story of a boy-turned-eunuch in ancient Persia. I don’t want to give too much away, but significant plot points include protagonist Bagaos, um, “servicing” the needs of the Persian king Darius and then, when Alexander the Great rolls into town and conquers everything, Bagoas serves and falls in love with Alexander.
It’s a great reimagination of these historical events. Most of them are true and the character of Bagaos is real. He is sympathetic from the beginning and I loved following his life, and Alexander’s, throughout the book. That’s all I’ll give away. Here’s the Goodreads synopsis if you’re interested.
Katherine (Read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge):
Katherine by Anya Seton, one of my favorite historical fiction writers (sadly, now deceased), is about Lady Katherine Swynford, who lived 1349-1403.
This is the epic tale of her life, which begins with her leaving the convent where she was raised to go to the English royal court. Katherine marries a night, Hugh Swynford, bears children, suffers many trials as Lady Swynford and then, when Hugh dies of supposed dysentery after fighting in Spain, Katherine begins her romantic attachment to the Duke of Lancaster.
The story is a romanticized version of her life, of course, and it is quite romantic as she falls in love with the duke. It’s also an incredibly well-drawn-out look into the distant past, where laws of chivalry, feudalism, and Catholicism ruled people’s lives. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
That’s it for February! Happy March—hope you have tulips and daffodils peeking out of the ground like I do. I can’t wait for real spring to hit. Take care!
The House of Fortune (Read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge): Ok, I didn’t fully read the cover before I started this book. So I had no idea it was a sequel to famed novel The Miniaturist until the main character started receiving miniatures on her doorstep…I was reading along like, “Gee, this sounds a lot like The Miniaturist…Wait, is this just a rip-off of The Miniaturist?” No, smarty, it says right on the cover that it’s the literal sequel to The Miniaturist.
Whoops. I didn’t actually read The Miniaturist, but I did see the movie adaptation, so I could follow along with this sequel just fine.
Unfortunately, this book did what a lot of sequels do—it followed less interesting characters, lagged horribly in pace, and was all around just kind of slow and predictable.
Despite that scathing take, though, I finished it. I had to find out if main character, the young Dutch-African woman Thea Brandt, got to marry who she wanted in the end. And I did. Meh
The Stepford Wives (Read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge): The Stepford Wives, published and set in 1972, was a fun romp. It’s the second of Ira Levin’s books that I have read and loved—the first being Rosemary’s Baby. He’s so good at building suspense. This is the story of a woman, Joanna, her husband Walter, and their two children, who move to the town of Stepford for Walter’s job.
Walter immediately joins the Men’s Association and Joanna tries to drum up some friendships of her own but only has success with one other woman in the town. The reason is that all of the Stepford wives look and act the same—like subservient “hausfraus,” as Joanna calls them. She and her one friend, Bobbie, slowly come to realize that something isn’t quite right with the wives and Joanna thinks the men of Stepford might be responsible.
The build of suspense is a slow, fun burn and the ending is, well, I won’t spoil it for you. But it’s good.
Malibu Rising (Also read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge): It’s August 1983 and famed model-surfer Nina Riva is about to throw the party of a lifetime. The story of this particular end-of-summer party spans an entire day, but dips out regularly for flashbacks to Nina’s and her family’s past. So, in the end, we can see how the story ended up here, at the party happenning tonight.
This is a fantastic novel. I loved the breezy and bright Malibu setting—just the sunshine I needed in January—and the historical settings as the story flashes from the 80s back to the 1950s, when Nina’s parents first meet.
This book is essentially the story of a family—Nina and her three siblings and their parents. It’s intense despite the sunny setting and covers a gamut of themes, including familial relationships, parenthood, alcoholism, fame, friendship, loss, and betrayal. There’s some good atmospheric surfing too. I loved it.
Also, I highly recommend the audiobook. Narrator Julia Whelan reads it and she’s one of my favorites. I’d listen to her read the phonebook.
Breaking up the text with a pic of my mushroom light, also helpful in these dark winter days/nights.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking: “If you have never tried to make conversation with a monarch over the hog-tied body of an evil wizard, it’s very hard.” I feel that funny sentence communicates the mood and tone of this book to a T. I don’t read much fantasy, as you know, but again, I’m leaning into the #cozygirl life this winter and this is definitely a cozy fantasy.
It centers on a wizard girl, Mona, who is also a baker and who can command dough to do minor (and sometimes major) feats. For example, she constantly feeds a sourdough starter named Bob that she accidentally animated and which has taken on a life of his own. She also has an animated gingerbread man as a familiar.
The action starts with a murder in the bakery where Mona works, and which her aunt owns. And the plot escalates from there.
I would say this one was a little slow for me, but I understand that might be typical of the genre. I still enjoyed listening to the audiobook and was glad I dipped into a fun, new-to-me genre. I give it a cozy 3 out of 5 stars.
Lavender House (Also read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge): I read this baby in two sessions. It’s a queer murder mystery set in 1952. Former police inspector Evander Mills has just been outed and fired from his job. He’s planning to hurl himself off of the Golden Gate Bridge and stops for a last drink beforehand. That’s when Pearl Velez finds him in a local bar and hires him to investigate the potential murder of her dead wife, Irene Lamontaine, head of the Lamontaine soap empire.
I was drawn in from the beginning. The mystery is interesting, but it’s mostly about the characters and atmosphere for me. Pearl and Irene live/lived in a secluded mansion with a fun cast of characters. The only member of the household who isn’t queer is the mother of one of the characters. Even the staff are gay/bisexual. The house has been a haven for all of them, though, of course, there’s been a potential murder, so all is not well among them.
I won’t ruin the story with any spoilers, but will say I highly recommend this one.
Station Eleven (Yet another read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge): I’m a late-comer to this book. It got a ton of hype when it came out and for good reason. It’s very accessible speculative fiction.
The story is about what happens to the characters in the aftermath of—this will sound familiar—a global pandemic.
Unlike covid, this pandemic (also a flu, which I found eery and relatable), wipes out most of the world’s population. Within a matter of days, death abounds and human life on earth changes drastically as infrastructure and society as we know it collapse.
This one was an emotional roller coaster and I definitely cried at the end.
Remainders of the Day: This is the third in the series of diaries by Shaun Bythell. I LOVED going back to Wigtown. Talk about cozy and comforting.
Mozart’s Starling: I did not, apparently, know how special starlings are. Did you know they were introduced to the U.S. from Europe in 1890 when a flock was released into Central Park? Here’s a good story about it.
They took over the entire country from there, breeding more quickly than anyone imagined possible and migrating from the East Coast across the country to the West Coast and into Canada and Mexico.
They have become such a menace, taking over and having such disastrous effects on natural habitats, that people have made it totally legal to kill them and destroy their nests.
This book is part history, part memoir as the author tells the story of Mozart and the pet starling he raised, plus raises one of her own. I couldn’t read this and not become compassionate toward starlings and their plight. After all, it was humans who introduced them to the U.S.
Did you know that they can learn to talk? Fascinating. And look—how pretty their feathers are:
Rooted: A lovely meditation on nature and spirituality. I hadn’t heard of this until I received it as a birthday gift from my sister- and brother-in-law, for which I am grateful.
I mostly enjoyed the author’s own story as she describes becoming closer to nature through activities like walking barefoot in the forest. This book made me want to escape to a cabin in the woods and never come back.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation: I don’t know why this weird book is one of my favorite books ever. It’s an odd one, but I’ve read it around five times. I guess I love the unlikeable narrator, the idea of sleeping for a year fascinates me, and I love the well-written dialogue. The character of Dr. Tuttle is incredibly funny and I truly enjoyed the scenes in which she appears.
I think Ottessa Moshfeg’s writing just always hits for me. She’s such a talent.
The Mercies: A witch hunt in the 17th-century Norway town of Vardø. This is an excellent novel that largely tells the story of two Norwegian women. One, Maren, was witness to a storm over the sea that claimed the lives of over 40 men from her village, leaving the women of Vardø to fend for themselves. And fend they would as a new Commissioner has been appointed to their village. The second woman, Ursa (short for Ursula) of the major city Bergen, is newly married to that Commissioner, who turns out to be a witch-hunter of the most violent order.
While the characters in the book are fictional, the storm and witch-hunting in this area of Norway are real. Both actually happened during this time period.
I found the story truly engrossing, the suspense building to a terrible and exciting climax and ending. I don’t feel my description has done it nearly enough justice. Highly recommend this book.
That’s all she wrote! If you’ve stayed with me this far, thank you. 🙂 I hope you have a lovely February—turn on the twinkly lights and stay warm!
You know I can’t go into another year without facing a reading challenge. 🙂 Here I am in 2023 ready to attempt, once again, the When Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.
The challenge requires reading books set in 12 different time periods throughout history. Since historical fiction is my jam, I’m eager to get started.
Here are the 12 categories and the books I plan (hah) to read for them.
PRE 1200: Hild by Nicola Griffith
Seventh-ish century Brittain, here I come.
1300-1499: Katherine by Anya Seton
Classic love story? I’ll be the judge of that.
1500-1699: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
1617 in Norway. Sounds badass.
1700-1799: The Silent Duchess by Dacia Maraini
It’s about “the victim of a mysterious childhood trauma that has left her deaf and mute, trapped in a world of silence.” Probably right up my alley.
1800-1899: Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr.
A runaway slave returns to the South after the Confederate surrender.
1900-1919: Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
1920-1939: Jazz by Toni Morrison
1940-1959: This September Sun by Bryony Rheam
1960-1979: God on the Rocks by Jane Gardam
1980-1999: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
2000-Present: Little Scratch by Rebecca Watson
The Future: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Yep, finally getting around to this one. 🙂
And those are my best laid plans. Now we’ll see how they pan out throughout the year.
Are you doing any reading challenges this year? Do tell!
Somehow, another year has gone by and here I am writing yet another reading wrap-up post.
It’s been a fun and eventful year, with the most notable event being the birth of my first grandchild Ames in May.
Celebrations were had, selfies were taken, and collages were made.
These pics only tell part of the story.
And how did the 2022 reading go?
Well, I read a lot of books, though not all, for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Here’s a challenge wrap-up if you’re interested in a looong post about that.
And, generally, here are the year’s stats.
Reading Wrap-up with Nerdy Book Stats
Total books read: 107 (25 more than last year!!) Fiction: 64 Nonfiction: 43 Female authors: 89 Male Authors: 19 Nonbinary: 0 (Geez, must work on this ASAP.) Non-white authors: 24 E-books: 51 Audiobooks: 40 (15 fewer than last year) Re-reads: 24 (I leaned into the re-reads this year and re-read comfort books to my heart’s content.)
Fiction vs. Nonfiction: I’m not surprised to see that I read more fiction than nonfiction this year. I needed some serious distraction in the later half of the year, so I went on a fiction rampage, diving into all the stories I could. Sometimes, you need to be anywhere but here, amirite?
Female vs. Male authors: I am also not surprised to see the number of female vs. male authors. A couple years ago, I got decidedly tired of men telling me things, so I tend to avoid their books unless they are a person of color or happen to be writing on a subject I really want to know about (usually, it’s a nature book).
Non-white authors: I did make more of a point to read books by authors who are not white, but it’s a challenge. Like a lot of other people, I tend to want to read books written by people like me and those, of course, are white cis women. But there are more books written by people of color than ever available right now, so I want to work on getting my numbers up. How else will I learn from other perspectives?
Historical Fiction – 20 books
I really delved into this genre, one of my favorites. Here are 10 of the best historical fiction books I read this year. I really can’t pick a favorite!
Memoir/Autobiography – 16 books
No surprise that this is right below historical fiction. It’s obviously another favorite genre. Learning from other perspectives, right?
These are eight of my faves.
Classics – 15 books
Ok, almost all my classics were re-reads of Edith Wharton books. Wharton is my summer reading. I go back to her every year after having first read The Age of Innocence two summers ago.
I did sprinkle in a few others. Notably, a new Elizabeth von Arnim and a new modern classic favorite, The Women of Brewster Place.
These were my top six.
Nature – 10 books
I tend to read nature books in the spring when the world is coming back to life, but this year, I read them throughout and mostly in audiobook form. I love to listen to a soothing audiobook at bedtime or while walking or collaging. And books about nature, at least the ones I’ve chosen, are often soothing. I include books on flora and fauna in this category, as well as general books on the effects of getting out into nature.
Here are my top few from 2022. The Inner Life of Animals is a re-read.
Mystery/Thriller – 5 books
This is another favorite category, but I had trouble finding good ones this year for some reason. Does anyone have any recommendations? I usually like stories focused on women and I tend to avoid the grizzled detective (male or female) trope. Let me know if you have thoughts!
I wanted to make mention of three books I didn’t categorize above as they were three of my favorites this year and include two I wouldn’t normally have picked up.
One, The Wild Iris, is an incredible book of poetry that uses flowers as metaphors. I’m re-reading it this year for sure.
Two are books of essays, which I wouldn’t normally dip into.
I read The Lonely Stories, a moving series of essays on loneliness, for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. And I read Bad Vibes Only on a whim and enjoyed it thoroughly.
Another category that hit for me this year was general contemporary fiction. These are a few books I loved.
Do you pick a favorite book each year? Or a top 10 or top five?
I couldn’t pick a favorite. I tried. I could maybe be forced to pick a favorite from each category.
At any rate, that’s what I read in 2022! Overall, it was a hugely successful reading year. I enjoyed so many books, including some I wouldn’t normally choose to read thanks to the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge.
This year, I Decided I Need a Challenge and took on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. The challenge consisted of 24 categories of books with the goal of reading outside of your comfort zone. I read 14 books out of 24 for the challenge and, honestly, I feel like that’s pretty good.
Most importantly, I stepped outside of my usual reading habits and ended up reading books, like an anthology of essays, that I wouldn’t normally read.
Because I love researching and reading about books, I also had a lot of fun looking up books and figuring out which to read for each category.
Below is a synopsis of what I read and what I didn’t.
p.s. Please forgive any typos. This is a long post and I’m being a lazy editor. 🙂
Categories I Read
Read a biography of an author you admire—Harriet Jacobs: A Life by Jean Fagan Yellin
I adored Harriet Jacobs: A Life. What a difficult story to read. I’m glad I know more about her. Did you know she was hidden in a space where she couldn’t stand up for 7 years? I’d forgotten that from reading Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in college. Just, wow.
Read a book set in a bookstore—The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
I do not care that this book can be described as “cute.” I loved it. It’s the story of an English woman who gets downsized from her library job and, despite being fairly square and timid to boot, she moves to Scotland, buys an old van, fixes it up as a traveling bookshop, and becomes the local book dealer.
There are some love interests. It reads like a Hallmark movie—if Hallmark movies were actually good. I enjoyed it thoroughly. There’s also a charming intro. by Colgan about the best places to read a book. I love her even more as an author after reading that.
Read any book from the Women’s Prize shortlist/longlist/winner list.—Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
This contemporary novel is part love story (or marriage story, more like), part introspection on the part of the protagonist Martha, and part family drama.
If someone had described the novel in that way to me, I’d probably have passed. But I came to it with no expectations, not really knowing what the book was about, and was immediately sucked in by Mason’s incredible writing. Here’s the Goodreads link if you need a better description than mine!
Read a book in any genre by a POC that’s about joy and not trauma—The Sisters are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America
What a wonderful category. It led me to The Sisters are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris. Winfrey Harris explains the origins of stereotypes assigned to Black women and then takes them on, discussing the ways in which they hurt Black women and degrade their place in society.
From the “angry Black woman” stereotype to the “Mammy” stereotype, Winfrey Harris takes us on a journey of understanding. I finished this book a renewed sense of the unfairness and struggle placed on the shoulders of Black women.
The “joy” (per the prompt for this selection) is woven throughout, however. In interviews with Black women and experts who understand the issues, hope abounds. There’s also a section at the end of each chapter titled “Moments in Alright,” which presents examples of women, along with statistics, that defy the stereotypes society has put on Black women.
Read an anthology featuring diverse voices.—The Lonely Stories, Edited by Natalie Eve Garrett
In August, I read The Lonely Stories, a book of essays on the topic of loneliness. I found so many of these moving. The topics range from chronic illness to moving to a new country to taking care of an aging parent. I don’t normally like anthologies and I never seek them out, but I highly recommend this one.
Read a nonfiction YA comic—The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson
This is a lovely memoir by a well-known artist who got her start in web comics. Sprinkled throughout the drawings are actual photos from Stevenson’s life, plus some solid writing. It’s a quick but touching work. Do recommend.
Read a romance where at least one of the protagonists is over 40.—Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
This is the charming story of retired Major Pettigrew (68), who falls in love with the Pakistani woman who runs one of the local shops in his English village. Romance and foibles ensue. There is also a story line about his son with whom the Major has a rocky relationship, which I found interesting. The characters, story, and tone come across with depth and wryness—a tough combo that author Helen Simonson masters. Would recommend.
Read a classic written by a POC.—Quicksand by Nella Larsen
I fell in love with Nella Larsen last year after reading her perhaps more well-known classic Passing. There’s now a 2021 movie adaptation, which I have yet to watch. Need to get on that.
In the meantime, I enjoyed reading Quicksand in April 2022. The story centers on Helga Crane, a woman who quits her comfortable teaching job despite the security it offers and goes from situation to situation, moving to Harlem, Denmark, and eventually to Alabama for various reasons. Race is a major theme as Crane has her own thoughts about how her race (she is half Black, half white) has affected her life and situation.
This is a story about a woman trying to find herself and the various geographical locations she finds herself in each teach her something about who she is and what she wants. The ending leaves Helga’s own ending to the imagination, which is both frustrating and a perfect ending in different ways.
Read a political thriller by a marginalized author (BIPOC, or LGBTQIA+).–Forbidden City by Vanessa Hua
This is a bit of a cheat. It’s not a thriller exactly, but it is political, and because I generally hate the political thriller genre, this is as good as we’re gonna’ get. I’m still counting it.
Anyway, what a great concept for a story. Apparently, Chairman Mao loved ballroom dancing and while he was in power, his underlings organized dances for him and his comrades featuring the company of beautiful teenage girls plucked from all over China for his entertainment (and bedding). This story features the rise and fall of one of these young women.
Read an entire poetry collection.—The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck
I said I would read this one and I did. It’s WONDERFUL. I began reading it in February and finished it in August, which is kind of perfect because the book takes you through the seasons from the perspectives of the plants that grow throughout each.
This may be my new favorite book of poetry. The imagery and perspective are so unique, with the content being both playful and profound at turns. If you like poetry, and especially if you are obsessed with plants like me, this is a great volume for you.
Read an adventure story by a BIPOC author.—Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
I LOVED Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. This is a heart-rending story of slavery and a young Black boy’s coming of age. The adventure comes in when Washington Black, an 11-year-old enslaved boy who lives on his master’s sugar plantation in Barbados, is selected by the master’s brother to assist him as he builds a “cloud-cutter,” a giant gas-powered balloon-like flying machine. Wash’s story is woven with heartbreak, adventure, love, and joy, and I lived it right along with him.
Read a book whose movie or TV adaptation you’ve seen (but haven’t read the book).—The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Did you know this book was the second in a series? I had no idea. There are more Hannibal Lecter books, apparently. News to me.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know the story. The book was just as gritty as the movie, but I found it slightly less dramatic because it’s definitely a police procedural. Not my usual brand, but I still enjoyed reading the book, then watching the movie again for comparison.
Read a horror novel by a BIPOC author.—Mirror Girls by Kelly McWilliams
On the recommendation of an old friend who commented on a Facebook post asking for suggestions, this was my selection. Mirror Girls is a gothic-y YA novel set in the South at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. It centers on two sisters, one Black and one passing for white, who have just found out that they are sisters. Drama ensues. It’s good, but I don’t know that I was in the mood for the breeziness of a typical YA novel. It wasn’t too scary and it didn’t delve deeply enough emotionally for my tastes.
Read a queer retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, folklore, or myth.—Beast by Brie Spangler
Of course the Read Harder Challenge would have me read a retelling. I do not like retellings. I was becoming disheartened in my search for a good one back in March, finding all the books a bit plodding, and with my inability to suspend disbelief, it wasn’t going well. But I happily stumbled on Beast by Brie Spangler and it was great.
First, I couldn’t resist that pretty cover art. Second, I didn’t find it plodding. Third, the “retelling” part of the retelling was more of a theme than this overriding airy-fairiness that I usually can’t abide in retellings.
It’s about an exceptionally large and hairy teenager named Dylan. In the first scene he falls or jumps off of a roof–we don’t know whether he’s fallen or jumped, but readers will have their suspicions. After doctors treat his broken leg, Dylan’s mom sends him to group therapy because she has her own suspicions.
This is where he meets Jamie, a trans girl with issues of her own. The thing is, when they first meet, Dylan doesn’t hear Jamie say that she’s trans. Dylan falls in love and complications ensue. There’s a lot about identity in this one (and not just gender identity) so if you like books with that as a central theme, I recommend this one.
Categories I Didn’t Read
Read the book that’s been on your TBR the longest.
Read a new-to-you literary magazine (print or digital).
Read a book recommended by a friend with different reading tastes.
Read a memoir written by someone who is trans or nonbinary.
Read a “Best _ Writing of the year” book for a topic and year of your choice.
Read an award-winning book from the year you were born.
Read a book with an asexual and/or aromantic main character.
Read a history about a period you know little about.
Read a book by a disabled author.
Pick a challenge from any of the previous years’ challenges to repeat!
Can you tell I ran out of steam after awhile? It would’ve been so easy to pick a category to repeat from a previous year or to read about a historical period I knew little about. And Ben recommended at least 10 ideas for the “read a book recommended by a friend with different reading tastes” category.
But after awhile, I couldn’t be bothered. I just wanted to read what I wanted to read.
So here we are at the end of the challenge year. All in all, not too shabby.
Mine was busy and included a great Thanksgiving, plus what Ben and I now call “birthday season.” My birthday is actually November 28, but I had so many celebrations, little and big, that we’ve been celebrating for a solid two-and-a-half weeks.
Special thanks to all my loved ones who showered me with cake, gifts, a manicure, coffee, dinner out, drinks, and a generally amazing amount of festivity!
I remembered to take a few pics, but not many. You know how it is.
On to the November books!
What Shannon Read in November
Nonfiction November is officially over. Did I actually read any nonfiction in November? Surprisingly, yes. I’ve been on a solid fiction kick for a while, but I managed to sneak in a few nonfiction volumes, including some re-reads.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Fascinating look into the history of humans and how our species developed. The first half of the book is about the evolution of humans and the second is about how humans formed societies, especially after the agricultural revolution.
This was a re-read for me for good reason. It’s one I keep coming back to.
Jog On: How Running Saved My Life
I loved this memoir about running because it focuses, not on racing and achieving, but on how running can help support mental health.
British writer Bella Mackie suffers from severe anxiety and, after the break-up of her marriage, she decides to go for a jog as a sort of coping mechanism. Running becomes one of her main methods for dealing with stress and anxiety. In the book she talks about why it’s effective and goes on to detail her journey as a runner.
One of the reasons I loved Mackie’s story is that she talks about how running is accessible for everyone. It was especially encouraging to me as someone who wants to run but hasn’t been able to make it a habit. Yet…
2 Elizabeth Berg books
I enjoyed both Elizabeth Berg books, but favored The Pull of the Moon, which is about a middle-aged woman whose children are grown and who is on a sort of mission to find herself.
She leaves her husband at home one day and takes a road trip around the country by herself. Throughout her travels, we learn more about her and her life.
Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself
This is another nonfiction re-read for me. In it, Neff talks about why being kind to yourself helps and how to do it. Recommend.
Nobody, Somebody, Anybody
This is a novel with a quirky main character that reminded me of the book The Maid by Nita Prose. It’s about a woman who longs to be an EMT, but is working as a housekeeper in a resort and just can’t quite get it together to take her EMT certification test.
Over the course of the book, we learn about her relationship with her father, her burgeoning friendship with her neighbor and landlord, and watch her start to form a life of her own, rather than living in the shadows watching others live.
The House Next Door
I started this a little past Halloween this year, but it’s one of my favorite books to read during spooky season. It features a married couple living in Atlanta and their neighbors.
A house is built on the lot next door to them and things go terribly wrong from the very beginning–for anyone who comes in contact with the house.
I love the southern setting and the relationships between the couples in the insular neighborhood. And the creep factor is fun too.
That was it for November! I’m planning to read a couple more running memoirs in December.
This is the last prompt for Nonfiction November, provided by The OC Book girl. It asks us to list the books we’ve added to our TBR (to be read) lists after reading all the Nonfiction November blog posts by all the great book bloggers and social media-ers who have participated.
I haven’t posted anything but monthly updates on the blog these days, but I couldn’t resist this prompt for Nonfiction November.
Rebekah of She Seeks Nonfiction is hosting this particular blog prompt, for which bloggers respond with nonfiction books they’ve read and recommend.
The prompt is Worldview Changers and here’s the explanation:
One of the greatest things about reading nonfiction is learning all kinds of things about our world which you never would have known without it. There’s the intriguing, the beautiful, the appalling, and the profound. What nonfiction book (or books) has impacted the way you see the world in a powerful way? Do you think there is one book that everyone needs to read for a better understanding of the world we live in?
So here are seven books that fit the bill for me, books that taught me something about the world and, well, why it is the way it is.
Trees feel and communicate. So that was news to me. This was the book that made me fall in love with German forester and author Peter Wohlleben. Highly recommend the audiobook if you need a soothing—but very interesting—bedtime story.
This is an incredible biography of escaped slave Harriet Jacobs, who authored the memoir Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. I read Incidents in my first college course and never forgot it. After escaping slavery, Harriet hid in a small attic room where she couldn’t stand up for 7 (!!!) years. Amazing survival story. I recommend reading both books.
I talk about this book a lot. It’s Alice Fowler’s memoir of both coming out and how she rafted the canals of Birmingham, England to cope. The nature writing is beautiful and the details of her coming out and the dissolution of her marriage are heart-breaking and heartening at turns.
Housing—it’s not for everyone, as homelessness rates have proved. Neither are 9-to-5 jobs. Catrina Davies eschews conventional jobs and conventional housing and talks about why in this memoir. I thoroughly enjoy books about alternative living and recommend this one if you like those kinds of books too.
I’ve written about this one before too. Affluence Without Abundance offers a look at an existing hunter gatherer society in the Kalahari. It reflects on the Bushmen’s natural tendency to work only as much as is needed for food and comfort (as do/did most hunter gatherer societies). And author James Suzman introduces us to members of the group, illustrating the many new challenges such a society faces as their home territory is eaten up by the larger society, allowing them little room for their traditional way of life. Totally fascinating.
I could go on and on. There are so many nonfiction books that have helped shape my understanding of the world. Do you have some that fall into this category? I’d love to hear what they are!