What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: 2021 End of Year Wrap-up

Hey hai hello and Happy New Year! I’m back as promised with an end-of-year wrap on the reading.

But First, Some Pics from Our NYE Party

Just had to share these moments.

Ben knocked it out of the park this year by commissioning an amazing ice sculpture. Family and friends turned out to celebrate and make it the best time. We all wore either “black tie” or just what we were feeling. I, of course, turned up in sequins with champagne bottle earrings because I am that extra. We had a ton of food, drinks, beer pong, and fireworks.

It couldn’t have been a better way to say good-bye to a rough year and hello to a new one.



And Now for the Reading Wrap-up with Nerdy Book Stats

Note that these numbers won’t reasonably add up to the total number of books read due to issues like books that cross genres and books written by both a male and a female author. In these cases, I logged both stats for one book.

Total books read: 82 (3 fewer than last year)
Fiction: 58
Nonfiction: 24
Female authors: 65
Male Authors: 18
Nonbinary/Trans authors: 0 (Same as last year. That’s a real miss for me. Determined to work on it this year.)
Non-white authors: I managed 11, 7 of which happened in December when I realized I’d barely read anything by someone who was not of my same race. I want to be a more informed and aware person than that, so…
E-books: 16
Audiobooks: 55 (damn)
Re-reads: Started an official re-reading project in 2019 and am keeping it up.

Year of the Audiobook

The bulk of my reading happened via audiobook. Here are a few of my favorites from the year.

Most-read Genres

Classics: 13

I didn’t succeed at the Classics Challenge this year. In fact, I ignored it completely and read whatever I wanted. 🙂 C’est la ME.

Historical Fiction: 13

It was a goal of mine to read more historical fiction this year and I learned that there is a lot of bad historical fiction out there. But here are a few I loved. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Pachinko.

Mystery/Thriller: 13

There’s almost nothing I like more than settling into a warm bath with a glass of wine and a thriller. It’s always a true break for my tired brain.

Memoir/Autobiography: 11

Always a winning genre for me. A few of my favorites:

Other Genres I Read

Biography: 2
Fantasy/Magical Realism: 1
Nonfiction History: 3
Letters (nonfiction): 1
Myth/Folktale/Legend: 2
Psychology: 1
Speculative Fiction: 1
Self-help: 5 (Do not remember reading that many…)
Social Issues: 3
Spirituality: 1
YA Fiction: 1

2021 Takeaways/2022 Goals

I want to read more diversely and will be making a point to read many more books by BIPOC authors in 2022.

I loved the classics I read and plan to, once again, choose them at random rather than completing a Classics Challenge.

I’ve had a little time to reflect and can’t think what my other reading goals for 2022 should be. Just…drawing a blank. Will keep you posted.

In the meantime, I hope everyone’s 2022 is off to a good start!



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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: December 2021

And there goes another year–woo! Happy Holidays, all! Hope your December was as enjoyable as mine. And if it wasn’t, I’m sending virtual *hugs* to you. I know it’s not everyone’s favorite time of year.

Here’s one of my favorite presents from this Christmas–a brand new potting bench!

I’m about to level up my gardening game hard. (Ignore the dirty siding. It’s winter…)

Isn’t is *heart eyes emoji*???

Here are my sister’s two Christmas pups who decided my new rug was the comfiest spot to squat.

And here’s a snowy scene from our block. It’s not from Christmas, which was rainy, but from a couple days after.

On to the books!

I’ll put together a recap of my entire reading year soon, but here’s what I read in the past month.

What Shannon Read in December

Aside from the treat of rereading Bridget Jones’ Diary (because Christmas), I was determined to read only books by BIPOC authors. I succeeded in seeking out and finding some awesome books–I read a total of 7.


Another Brooklyn: This is a coming-of-age story that was a bit too sentimental for my usual tastes. That said, I read it in two days, so who am I to criticize? Set in Brooklyn, of course, it’s the story of a young Black girl who tells her own story and that of her neighborhood. I loved the sense of place.

Heavy: Quite the opposite, this an incredibly heartbreaking memoir by an amazing writer. I can’t use enough meaningless superlatives to describe it. Laymon writes about growing up Black, male, fat, and with a mother who is larger than life in some of the most dysfunctional ways.

Klara and the Sun: A totally different book for me to read. This is speculative fiction told from the perspective of an Artificial Friend, essentially a solar-powered, humanlike robot named Klara. She gets purchased by a young girl and her mother. It turns out she was purchased to learn as much about being like the girl, Josie, as she can just in case Josie dies from her illness–so Klara can “continue Josie”. It’s wonderful, creepy in the ways that only speculative fiction can be, and a bit plodding, if I’m honest.

A Burning: What a fabulous novel. This one, set in India, begins with terrorists locking the doors of a train car and throwing molotov cocktails into it. It’s heart-wrenching from the start. We then follow the story of the young woman accused of organizing this act of terrorism. We witness the story through three narrators, the woman herself, a trans friend from her slum, and oddly, her school gym teacher, all of whom play vital roles in the case as we learn their own stories. I sped through it in a day. Can’t recommend it enough.

Such a Fun Age: This audiobook won an Audie Award and for good reason. It’s wonderfully narrated by Nicole Lewis and I was sucked in from the beginning. It starts with an incident where Emira, a Black babysitter has been asked to take her young charge, a white toddler, to a grocery store to get the girl out of the house for a while while the family deals with a whole other problem.

Emira, her best friend, and the little girl head to the neighborhood grocery, which is something like a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. There, a white woman alerts security that Emira is with a little white girl and wonders weather the little white girl is supposed to be with her. The scene errupts into a disturbing, racially-charged incident filmed by another customer.

And the story moves from there. We also get a second perspective in the novel, that of Emira’s white employer Alix. The book is heartbreaking, triumphant in the end, and also, in its way, is a sort of coming-of-age story for Emira.

Bridget Jones’ Diary: Because Christmas. Don’t worry, I also watched the movie twice. Also, has anyone moved on from there to watch Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason? It’s terrible. Do not recommend.

Pachinko: Another award-winner for a very good reason. This novel pulled out all the stops. It’s one of those novels that reviewers probably call a “tour de force.” Set in 1900s Korea in the beginning, the book follows a young girl, Sunja, who works in her parents’ boarding house, and who falls in love with a wealthy man from another town. You can probably already guess that she becomes pregnant and I really don’t want to give away anything else. This is a wonderful book to discover as you go.

The story of Sunja’s family starts in Korea but is largely set in Japan and illuminates the experience of Korean immigrants there during the time of the novel. These are issues that I, having grown up a suburban white girl in America, wasn’t even aware of. And that, in a nutshell, is why books like this one are so important.

How can you understand the perspectives of others if you don’t know where they’re coming from–the history and experiences behind their actions, behind who they are?

I want to understand other people, but my travel budget is limited and I’m an introvert. Thus, books.


I’ll end on that not-so-eloquent note and hope you get my point. I’ll be back soon with a full year recap. Thanks for stopping by! And here’s a jolly Christmas collage.

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: November 2021

And there went another month! Thanksgiving and my 41st (!!) birthday in the bag. How did I get this old? Like, what’s happening?

Life Update

  • I had a birthday! It was awesome and I was soundly spoiled by my loved ones. Lots of presents, two cakes, and a pie. I love you all so much.
  • Thanksgiving was so much fun. We gathered. We overate.
  • I’m still making tons of collage and the obsession continues.
  • I have almost all of my Christmas shopping done.
  • Work is fine.

Scintillating, no?

What Shannon Read in November

Past monthly recaps available here.

And here’s what I read in November.


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Finished up the Dragon Tattoo series and enjoyed it thoroughly. I see myself coming back to these over the years. Especially the audiobooks read by Simon Vance. He’s such a great narrator.

The Woman Upstairs

Exactly the kind of quirky, introspective novel I love. This is about a single woman who befriends a family and becomes mildly…obsessed with them. She makes weird art and has lots to say about the lot of the single woman and her place in society. I loved this book.

Homesick

Another quirky book, this time a memoir by a woman who can’t afford housing and thus lives in a shed. I loved the atmosphere in the book, which is set in western Cornwall. And I appreciated what Davies had to say about exchanging one’s life force for money. She’s a gardener and a surfer and a bit of a loner. Can relate. (Not the surfing bit, but yes to the rest.)

A Friend From England

I wanted to love this and didn’t. I’m finding that’s how I generally feel about Anita Brookner. Her novels are odd, often with–you guessed it–quirky characters. They’re intense, “delicate,” as Goodreads calls them. This one is an examination of a relationship between a single woman and some family friends. She gets overly involved in their lives and this leads to discomfort for her in many ways. It’s an interesting premise and I thought I’d love it, but instead of appreciating the book’s “delicacy,” I just found it tedious. And now I find this paragraph tedious…

Transcendent Kingdom

This was my favorite book of the month. Gyasi can do no wrong in my eyes. Themes explored run the gamut from race to familial relationships, to the immigrant experience in the U.S., to addiction, suicide, and grief. It floored me. I’m going to reread it for sure.


Tell me what you’re reading! I have big plans to finish out the year strong. And, aside from a reread of Bridget’ Jones’ Diary, I’m focusing on BIPOC authors. How about you?

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: October 2021

Happy belated Halloween! Did you read any spooky books in October? I tried a bunch of ghost stories but got bored and didn’t finish them. I need to stop trying Susan Hill. I just can’t get into her. Instead, I ended up re-listening to the Dragon Tattoo series and that’s where I got my fill of darkness.

But I’m still looking for spooky book recommendations, so bring ’em on if you have ’em! I can read spooky all year.

In other news, October was a busy month here. Working, of course, plus it was Jacob’s 20th birthday and Desiree’s 21st! We had so much fun celebrating them with cake, presents, and a few libations.

We also hosted quite a few football weekend guests. People are excited to get back to ND now that restrictions have lifted a bit. And I’m still busy making lots of collage.

That’s the life update…

On to the books!

What Shannon Read in October 2021

Some Notes:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I’d forgotten how good this is! The mood, the quirky main characters, the odd and wonderful relationships–I love it all. Also, since I listened to it, Simon Vance’s voices is burned into my brain from the first time I listened. And this time around I had flashbacks to listening while driving to a job I had five years ago!

Side note: Given all the crazy action in this book, is it strange that my favorite scene is when Lisbeth goes shopping and drops 90,000 kronor at IKEA?

Yes, Lisbeth. The answer is always yes.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

This one was slightly less interesting, and certainly not as well-paced and tight as the first book, but after finishing Book 1, I needed more Lisbeth Salander in my life. Still good, but nothing is wrapped up and one must slog one’s way through Book 3 to get to a satisfactory ending. And I do mean slog. The audiobook is in the neighborhood of 20 hours in length.

Where the Crawdads Sing

This is a book I avoided because it was popular. You know by now that this is a habit of mine. But a friend recommended it and I finally gave in and read it. I read the hard copy about halfway through, then finished up via audiobook. Both were excellent and, per usual, I need to get off my high horse and stop nixing books from my TBR just because other people like them. I mean, what a book snob.

Quartet in Autumn

I love Barbara Pym. I read this one because it was recommended on this list by Five Books: “The Best Five Books on Friendship.” It’s about a group of four coworkers who are all single for one reason or another. They are office drones in 1970s London, the flavor of which comes across wonderfully in the book. That’s one of the things I loved about it–it’s much moodier than Pym’s other books.

All four main characters are nearing the end of their working lives. They’re all single and super quirky in their own ways and I enjoyed watching them interact. But the book also saddened me as questions of worth and mortality are revealed through those quirks. It’s a beautiful and sad novel.

Hand to Mouth

I read Hand to Mouth after watching Maid on Netflix. I really enjoyed Maid, but I’ve already read the book, so I had to find something else when I wanted to read a book in a similar vein.

Tirado works in various service industry jobs (generally–she does mention retail and factory work), and this book came of an essay of hers that went viral. The essay, based on an internet forum comment, essentially explained reasons “poor people” act and think the way they do. She starts with explaining why poor people indulge in various costly vices (smoking, drinking, etc.) when they have trouble paying for the basics in life. She refutes the idea that poor folks aren’t worthy of little luxuries despite their poorness. And she goes on from there, covering things like payday loans and going to the ER in place of health insurance.

For anyone who’s ever been broke, none of this will be illuminating. But for anyone who hasn’t, I recommend reading it with an open mind.

Virginia Woolf

My fascination with the Bloomsbury set continues! (There’s a little account of my Bloomsbury obsession in this post.) This biography of Woolf is by Nigel Nicolson, son of Woolf’s friend and lover (famous in her own right) Vita Sackville-West. It’s not comprehensive, but Nicolson tells lots of fun stories about Woolf and her life among the Bloomsbury crowd.


That’s it from me. What did you read in October?

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What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon read: June 2021

A bit late for What I Read in June, but it’s been a busy summer. And by busy, I mean I haven’t felt like blogging in a while. 😉

But I did want to report in on my June reads.

Past recaps here.

What I read in June

Notable Notes:

Abbi Waxman – Is there anything better than discovering a new-to-you author who has written a ton of books? I feel like I could now read all of Waxman’s. Her style is a little bit chick lit, a lotta’ bit LA. I loved The Bookish Life of Nina Hill for its set-in-her-ways protagonist, the ensuing love story, and the fun LA setting. There’s also a good bit of family drama for those that like such things.

Orfeia – I never read fairy tale reimaginings, but this book was so beautiful with its bronze leaf cover design that it called to me from the library shelf. And the story was fascinating. I don’t have a lot of patience for ethereal atmospheres, but I loved this book anyway.

Beyond Anne of Green Gables – I knew L.M. Montgomery had other series and stand-alone novels, but didn’t delve into them until I saw Jane of Lantern Hill on a list of #CottageCore books. I’m fascinated by that whole trend and it’s probably no surprise. I read Jane (not sure why that pic is so blurry…) and then The Blue Castle and loved them both.

Daddy Long Legs – A very dated epistolary novel. It was enchanting. Highly recommend.

The Creative Spark – Here’s a man who really wanted to hammer home a point and, while the evolutionary history was really interesting, I’m not sure he made it.

And that’s it. Not too terribly exciting, but July should be more fun because I just reread Flowers in the Attic. Oh the melodrama!

I leave you now with the gorgeous garden of a historic mansion in our city. If only mine looked half as put-together!

After that, I’d love to know what you’re reading…

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Fiction, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon read: April/May 2021

`Tis the season when I give everything the brush-off in favor of gardening and outdoor activities. If you live in a Northern state or, you know, the Northern Hemisphere, I assume you understand why. Total desperation.

Special thanks to Mother Nature for giving us a real spring here in Northern Indiana. I’ve got all kinds of plant babies cookin’.

Terrible lighting and terrible phone camera photos, but clockwise from top left:


> Geranium phaeum ‘Raven’–a real stunner in the shade garden
> Rhododendron maximum: (Great laurel aka azaleas, as they’re generally referred to around here)
> Proof you can grow seeds in anything–those are plastic berry containers and they’re growing in the guest room under lights.
> Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich fern)–another shade garden special. I planted it last year and it was just getting going when the cold hit. Looking forward to seeing how big it gets this year.

And there is lots of porch sitting to be done.

We’ve gotten an awesome dog trainer and that nervous little muffin is getting schooled on proper behavior–not biting small children being one of the objectives.

I’m still collaging and posting to Instagram @shannonrooneycreative.

And our crew is playing Dungeons and Dragons nearly weekly now. I feel like a qualified nerd now that I’ve played, even though I don’t understand half of what’s happening and why. If you follow me on Goodreads, you’re about to see Dungeons and Dragons for Dummies added to my current reads.

But my Jacob, our DM (that’s Dungeon Master for the unschooled), is awfully patient and helpful. He’s amazing at running our campaigns, writing fun adventures each week. He even does special voices for the characters we encounter.

In other news, my mom and I hit Chicago last week and it was so fun to get out into a big city and pal around. We went to the Art Institute first, always a joy. Then we walked around downtown, hit some shops, mourned the loss of Fields, stared at the river for awhile, and wound up at Navy Pier. That place was hoppin’. Did you know you can walk around with frozen margs there now??? Saving this info. for future trips.

We look a lot alike.

That’s the life update for now because BOOKS.


Past recaps here.

What Shannon read in April/May:

NOTES

Women Who Run with Wolves: A feminist new-classic. Meaning, it was written in the 90s so it’s somewhat contemporary, but it has a very Second Wave feel.

I recommend it for any woman looking to *eyeroll* step into her power. I’m rolling my eyes because that’s become a bit of a meaningless catch-phrase. But let me just say that if you know you have innate power but are having trouble accessing it, or are feeling powerless, it may help to read this book because it is about the natural power of being woman-identified in our world.

The House of Mirth and The Old Maid: MOAR Edith Wharton! I can’t get enough of her ever, so I’m now rereading the major novels and finally dipping into more of the novellas. The Old Maid is one such novella. I loved it.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden: Read this for the first time last year and it is now one of my favorite books of all time. I can see myself rereading it each spring. I got myself a very pretty Penguin version as a gift.

I have loved every book I’ve read in the past two months. If I had to pick a few favorites, other than the rereads, which are always favorites, I’d have to list every book.


I leave you now with a glimpse of my fussy spring mantel-scape, including my two Mother’s Day cards made by Jacob and Desiree’ (peep my hand in the mirror, haha).

Thanks for stopping by!

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: Jan/Feb/March 2021

Don’t worry, I didn’t write a personal essay today. Just a good ole fashioned round-up of books I read in the first quarter of the year.

How is the first quarter gone? I’m still reeling from 2020.

Per usual, books are keeping me relatively sane. Relatively. I’m following my bliss, as they say, with no real regard for the Classics Challenge or any other self-imposed structure.

That also means I’m nowhere near reading at the pace I managed last year. All my wordy power is going into the writing and proofing I do for work. Are one’s executive functions supposed to slow after 40?

Modpodge and themed mantels are also keeping me sane.

How about you? Tell me what weird (or normal if you’re like that) stuff you’re doing to sane.

On to the books!


What Shannon read in January/February/March

Past recaps here.

I managed, um, one review: Burnout: I’m adding this to the “books I throw at everyone” pile

Other thoughts:

What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers

This author wrote a fun New York Times article on this topic and it is better than the book. She essentially has one idea that she and an editor managed to streeeeetch out over way more pages than were necessary in her book. Most of the book is filler–stories from the time she spent researching and observing exotic animal trainers. If you like animal stories, you’ll like the book. If you want the straight deets on how she applied what she learned to her marriage, read the article.

That said, this whole concept rubbed me the wrong way. A lot of the “training” she was doing with her husband surrounded “second shift” work. It seems to me she is required to do a lot of the emotional and physical labor in her marriage and that needs to be addressed head on. Because women shouldn’t have to train their husbands. End rant.

David Sedaris books

In times of trouble, I turn to David. Whenever I’m taking life too seriously, his essays remind me that life is here to be experienced and that, when viewed from a distance and some added humor, one can experience life as something to be marveled at, laughed at, and enjoyed–even when it’s not the way you want it. You know, as long as your life is essentially going well.

Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey

I also turn to Bronte in times of need. These rereads are straight comfort reading for me. I listened to both while walking and ModPodging.

You Are a Badass

This is a reread for me. I’d forgotten how heavy-handed it is in the MANIFESTING department. Yes, all caps.

You Never Forget Your First

I do not give a crap about the early presidents, but this was excellent! Thanks to my sister-in-law for lending it to me. Coe writes a smart, funny, and feminist *praise hands* bio of Washington that will keep you entertained from the first page. Just read to the “thigh men” part and you’ll be hooked.

The Making of a Marchioness

Wonderful! And racist per usual. I’d never read any Frances Hodgson Burnett other than The Secret Garden.

84, Charing Cross Road

WHY DIDN’T I READ THIS SOONER????? Utterly delightful. I listened to the audiobook.

Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life

1. Tate’s therapist is a creep who, if he’s still practicing, should have his license taken away. Tate does not know this and presents her attachment to him with zero self-awareness.
2. Definitely don’t listen to the audiobook. She narrates it and it’s terrible.
3. The writing is pedestrian at best.
4. Why did I read to the end?!?!


And that is that! What are you reading? How are you staying sane?

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Fiction, What Shannon Read

In which I am annoyed by a book review

MyYearofRestandRelaxationWelp, after a four-month hiatus, here I am again. If anyone is reading, sorry about that.

And sorry for being sorry. Any time I visit a blog I haven’t read before and see that the most recent post contains an apology for lack of posts, I judge the writer as unreliable and pretty much never visit their blog again.

I truly hope there are more forgiving people out there than me.

Anywho, I’m back to say that I was appalled to read a NYRB book reivew by none other than the famous Joyce Carol Oates that was LARGELY SUMMARY. Well, summary supported by quotes.

Aren’t we all taught in third grade that in a book report you do not just summarize? No, nine-year-olds of America are required by their teachers to express original (if not unique or interesting) thoughts on what they have read.

JCO’s book review didn’t cut the mustard for either a book report or a review and I think I’m mostly annoyed because I just finished and loved the book she reviewed: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh.

The title of the book, while not entirely misleading, somewhat belies the drama and struggle within. In fact, when I heard that the author of the disturbing Eileen had a new book out, I was interested, but then I saw the title and passed it up. My thinking was, if the main character is resting and relaxing, where’s the drama? What’s in it for me as a reader?

Turns out, plenty. In truth, the unnamed narrator’s year of rest and relaxation is a drug-fueled attempt at blotting out her own consciousness. Which she seeks to escape for a number of reasons, including a pervading/overwhelming ennui that I can honestly really empathize with. Other issues in her life include the recent deaths of her parents and a shitty on-and-off boyfriend, Trevor. The plot line I most enjoyed is her antagonistic relationship with her so-called best friend Reva. There’re a lot of sardonic moments like this one:

“I took a Polaroid of [Reva] one night and stuck it into the frame of the mirror in the living room. Reva thought it was a loving gesture, but the photo was really meant as a reminder of how little I enjoyed her company if I felt like calling her later while I was under the influence.”

LOL. That’s cold.

Several of the reviews of MYoRaR on Goodreads talk about how much the reviewer disliked the main character and how selfish she is. But I liked her. I got her ennui. I got that she was tired of the world such as it is. I could see why she was acting selfishly and I could even appreciate the dynamics in her relationship with Reva that led her to be straight up mean to her best friend. (I should add that there are redeeming moments for her, including attending Reva’s mother’s funeral because Reva wants her there.)

The narrator is a little bit spoiled brat and a little bit truth-teller. She’s honest enough to say what she wants and be who she wants and deal with her shit the way she feels best, even if that is via narcotic-induced stupor.

Also, in addition to empathizing with her feelings about life/the world, I think I’m less hard on her than the Goodreads reviewers because, in the end, she ventures back into the world. She doesn’t give up completely. She simply needed time to press the reset button. I can understand that. Though, does that say something about how I am willing to overlook misbehavior as long as one doesn’t give up on becoming a functional member of society? If she had, say, committed suicide in the end, would I have been less understanding and harder on her for giving up? I have a feeling that I would have been disappointed.

And speaking of being less judgmental, I’ll give Joyce Carol Oates a break here too. I can understand that JCO was probably on deadline with the Review and is probably also working on her next novel and probably also editing like 20 new short story compendiums. Sometimes, one only has the brain space for summary. Ask my third grade teacher.

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Fiction, What Shannon Read

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem

1I’m hesitant to say anything about I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by  Maryse Condé because I just don’t think I have anything interesting to say about it. It’s a wonderful book with a strong narrator.

Here’s the Goodreads plot summary:
At the age of seven, Tituba watched as her mother was hanged for daring to wound a plantation owner who tried to rape her. She was raised from then on by Mama Yaya, a gifted woman who shared with her the secrets of healing and magic. But it was Tituba’s love of the slave John Indian that led her from safety into slavery, and the bitter, vengeful religion practiced by the good citizens of Salem, Massachusetts. Though protected by the spirits, Tituba could not escape the lies and accusations of that hysterical time. As history and fantasy merge, Maryse Conde, acclaimed author of TREE OF LIFE and SEGU, creates the richly imagined life of a fascinating woman.

And my (somewhat disjointed) thoughts:
The book asks several important questions, which had me ruminating as I read, including, what does it mean to be a witch? Is being a witch necessarily bad?

In this story, Tituba is a witch in the sense that she practices healing rituals and talks to the dead. But she maintains the validity of these time-honored traditions and feels they aren’t harmful, though she’s constantly challenged by white men and their fear of them (and her).

I love that she talks to her dead mother and grandmother, drawing strength and seeking advice from them. There’s a certain comfort to knowing your loved ones are just beyond the veil, watching and supporting you.

I also liked Tituba’s take on sex. At one point she says to her Massachusetts owner’s wife, who asks her not to speak of sex, does it not bring forth new life? (I’m paraphrasing.) And throughout the book, she connects with the men in her life through her body, and seems to need them physically as much as she craves their love.

At the same time, Tituba sees that men and women face different consequences for their carnal attachments, especially when she meets adulterer Hester in prison. Hester’s lover is walking around free while Hester is imprisoned and pregnant with his child, proving Tituba’s point that “Life is too kind to men, whatever their color.”

So there are some feminist issues taken head-on throughout book. And Condé’s prose is dense with meaning, though totally readable—it pushed me along through the story quite quickly.

This book just has so much to dig into, I don’t feel I can write a blog post that does it justice. But I do strongly recommend it. I’m still thinking about it days later and I’m sure I’ll read it again at some point. I liked it that much.

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Fiction, What Shannon Read

The Perfect Nanny

38330854I love books about nannies so, despite the fact that The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani is billed as this year’s Gone Girl*, I picked it up at the library. I had to put it on hold though because when I went in hoping to grab a copy on the fly, there were two other women who’d gotten there just ahead of me and were asking for it. So, get ready for some movie options. This thing is popular.

My first impression was that it’s much better written than I expected. And, to my enjoyment, it’s set in Paris.

The story is about a couple, Myriam and Paul who hire a nanny, Louise, to look after their children when Myriam returns to work. Bedraggled Myriam feels driven a bit mad by motherhood and the care of two small children, expressing feelings with which I imagine many mothers out there will sympathize. I know I did.

Nanny Louise enters their lives and she’s an odd bird but an excellent nanny who loves the children and cleans obsessively. Of course, lurking just below the surface, is the crazy. We get a lot of Louise’s very sad background. She had a verbally abusive husband who died and left her with debt and a daughter, Stephanie, who Louise neglected in favor of the children she care for as a nanny.

While the story goes on, we meet some various members of the different French classes and hear what they have to say about their station and others’. That’s a background conversation, however, which I appreciated. I was in it for the murder.

Now, we’ve already read the end of the story at the beginning. The climax is in the first scene and we spend the rest of the book figuring out what led to the tragedy. It’s not a plot trajectory I usually like. I want the action to build to a rollicking apex. But Slimani’s tight prose and knack for getting inside her characters’ heads lured me right along from the start. Also, when tragedy happens, aren’t our first questions “why?” and “how?”

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and read it in a single day.

*I know this is good marketing. I’m just getting tired of it.

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