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 It’s a little out of date (although it was updated around 2012, things just keep changing), although some things she’s been pushing since the 70’s really now have the backing of the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).