April 2019


Okay, I have read six books in April, and blogged about none of them. Some of them were pretty terrible books, I can tell you, I think you can skip When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri. I stupidly thought that this book was related to a short story I read in The New Yorker (The Prairie Wife) because I mixed up Cassidy and Casey and was kind of looking for something a little lighter. This was too light. And honestly, I’m not in the LGBTQ community personally, but this book really seems to deal in stereotypes. It is basically a not-great romance novel, but happens to be about lesbians.

I’ve also been reading a lot about pregnancy, birth, and child raising, so if that’s of interest to you, you might like Motherless Mothers by Hope Edelman or Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin. Edelman’s book really deals with everything from pregnancy to having teenagers, and if you’ve lost your mother, I definitely recommend at least skimming this book. I found it really helpful just to hear other stories somewhat like mine. Gaskin’s book is kind of like the bible of the drug-free “natural” childbirth movement, so I’ll just say, even if you are, like me, somewhat skeptical about a group of people who live at a place they unironically call The Farm, this book is worth some of your time if you’re having a baby. (You can skim, I read it all, and you can definitely skim). It’s a little out of date (although it was updated around 2012, things just keep changing), although some things she’s been pushing since the 70’s really now have the backing of the scientific community (for example, routine episiotomy is actually a terrible and harmful idea).

On to the main event – I also read Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward, and it was well worth your time. It’s a memoir of her life, but it’s also the story of five African American men she lost, including her brother. The book works forward through her life, but the different men’s stories are interspersed in the story in reverse chronological order so the man who died last is discussed first. This works perfectly, because she works her way both forward and backward towards the loss of her brother.

Ward is from a small town, DeLisle, Mississippi, and here we gradually learn about these five men who are lost to drugs, accidents, murder, and suicide. I kind of went into this thinking their deaths would all be related to police brutality or drug overdoses, but it’s a more complicated story. As Ward weaves the narrative, she shows you how these five different lives and deaths were all connected — all five of these men died because of different disadvantages that really stemmed from their skin color (as well as poverty, the place they were from).

And the book also does a beautiful job highlighting the thankless job that many African American women have, talking about her mother, Ward writes:

This was what it meant to clean. This was what it meant to work. This was what it meant to forget whatever she had dreamed before and to stand up every day because there were things that needed to be done and she was the only one to do them.

I am not African American or southern, so some of this book was just an education for me. But, I was kind of blown away by one thing — after my Mom died, she felt just gone. I knew, in a powerful way that is hard to explain because maybe we overuse the word “know,” I just knew that I would never see my mother again. Which might sound horrible to you if you think we’ll all meet again in heaven, or obvious if you think this is all there is and then we’re worm food. But finally, what helped me start to feel a little better was the idea that if nothing in this universe is created or destroyed, then my Mom has always been here, and she always will be, just in a different way. I guess this is a more common coping strategy than I thought? Because Ward puts it so beautifully when talking about trying to find the right words for a sister at another funeral:

What I meant to say was this: You will always love him. He will always love you. Even though he is not here, he was here, and no one can change that. No one can take that away from you. If energy is neither created nor destroyed,  and if your brother was here, with his, his humor, his kindness, his hopes, doesn’t this mean that what he was still exists somewhere, even if it’s not here? Doesn’t it? Because in order to get out of bed this morning, this is what I had to believe about my brother …  But I didn’t know how to say that.

This is a beautiful and sad and powerful book, and you should read it.

Coming soon – blog posts about Warlight and The House of Broken Angels.

Currently reading: Women Talking and The Happiest Baby on the Block (yeah… I should do a post at some point of all the pregnancy/kid books that are worth your time).

I remain very behind in blogging… and well, behind on any chance of reading 100 books this year, but hey, 75 wouldn’t be bad right?

At the end of March I finally read My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, which I’d been thinking about reading for a while (come on, that’s a pretty intriguing title!), but ultimately felt like, well I HAVE to read this once it became the Zombie in the Morning News Tournament of Books and went to the championship round, and (SPOILER) WON. Really, can I spoil a book tournament for you? I’m not sure. So the Tournament of Books is over for 2019 😦  But, the good news is I’ve read some books I really enjoyed as a result (Washington Black and The Golden State), and I still have some that I’m excited about on the “To Read” pile.

I wanted to love My Sister the Serial Killer, mostly because it won TOB, although sometimes the winner of TOB just means it was the book that challenged or surprised judges the most. And maybe that was a little too much pressure for such a slight book. I definitely still recommend it, if only because it’s an insanely quick read — I think it took me a day?

Essentially, as advertised, this is the story of Korede whose sister, Ayoola, has killed several boyfriends, maybe in self-defense, maybe not… And Korede has become maybe TOO good at cleaning up her sister’s messes:

I bet you didn’t know that bleach masks the smell of blood. Most people use bleach indiscriminately, assuming it is a catch-all product, never taking the time to read the list of ingredients on the back, never taking the time to return to the recently wiped surface to take a closer look. Bleach will disinfect, but it’s not great for cleaning residue, so I use it only after I have scrubbed the bathroom of all traces of life, and death.

It makes this SLIGHTLY less creepy when you learn that Korede is a nurse. But really, the novel very quickly asks you to accept that Korede is already DEEP into helping her sister cover up serious crimes. There are flashbacks, where we see more about how this started.

Ultimately, this was such a page turner! You just have to keep reading to find out whether Korede will be able to stop Ayoola from additional murders and what’s going to happen. Which is maybe why I didn’t love it, because the ending doesn’t completely deliver what you’re expecting.

Currently reading: Warlight (the other TOB championship round book!)

Last week also found me indulging in a novel by Meg Wolitzer – The Interestings. I didn’t like it quite as much as The Female Persuasion, but well, I’ve never disliked anything by Wolitzer. I read a fair number of books that challenge me, that make me work as a reader ( I see you Fever Dream and The Supernatural Enhancements). Wolitzer doesn’t really make you work, she just lets you get completely wrapped up in the characters. Admittedly, many of her characters are young-ish white women, who I find it pretty easy to relate to, so maybe this isn’t true for everyone.

The Interestings is the story of a group of friends who meet at a sleep-away art camp as teens and the novel follows them into their fifties. The main(ish) character is Jules, who comes from a middle class family and comes to camp for the first time right after her dad has died. She discovers she likes acting, and does try to make a go of it as a career for awhile as an adult. We also meet Ash and Goodman, wealthy twins from NYC, Ash is always praised by her parents and writes and directs plays, Goodman is always dismissed as lazy by his parents. Then there’s Jonah who is the son of a fairly famous folk singer (think Mary Chapin Carpenter maybe) and who is himself very talented at singing and playing the guitar but actively chooses not to make his living that way. And Ethan, also from a lower/middle class background, with amazing talent as an animator. Another character Cathy is technically part of The Interestings, as they christen themselves, but falls out of the friendship group after something traumatic happens. We start with their first summer together, and follow them for decades, slipping back and forth in time a bit.

The central themes of the book are really about, what does it take to ‘make it,’ why is it that some of these teens go on to be really famous for their talent, while others simply transition to other things? It isn’t just talent. But also, that magical time in your teens and twenties when you form these intense friendships. Jules’ husband argues with her on this point:

[W]hat was so great about this place wasn’t this place. … This camp is a perfectly fine place, Jules, but there are a lot of other places like it, or at least there used to be. And if you’d gone to another one, you would have met an entirely different group of people and become friends with them. That’s just the way it is. yeah, you were lucky you got to come here when you did. But what was most exciting about it when you were here was the fact that you were young. That was the best part.

Jules disagrees, but I kind of agreed. Places feel special, but ultimately what was special was the fact that you were young and everything was so new. This isn’t to say I would trade the experiences or the friends I actually have, but certainly, I think some of the power of our relationship is because we formed those relationships at this specific time in our lives.

Of course, I also really identified with Jules because she loses her dad so young, and because I have the same feeling that she described often, I don’t know what my Mom would have thought or loved, she didn’t know me as an adult:

Warren Jacobson was so rarely thought of by her as “Dad.” He was “my father” or, even more often, “my father who died when I was fifteen.” It was better to keep him at a distance, and when her mother said [Dad would have loved to be here at your wedding] in the tavern, Jules had no idea of what he would have loved. He’d never known her as a grown woman, only as a somewhat out-of-synch girl with ridiculous hair. .. It was too sad to think about him today of all days, when she was joining her life with the life of a man who was vowing to stay beside her over the years.

Ah Meg Wolitzer, you twist the heartstrings, but I love it.

Currently reading: Men We Reap