The TBR Stack: April 2021
I feel like I'm really hitting my stride in my reading life right now. I'm making good progress toward my 2021 goals, and I'm remembering to have fun with the books I'm reading while challenging myself to read more. Heading into spring, I have a great list of titles that I can't wait to move from my TBR stack to my reading journal.
Let's get reading!
Up first is a new novel, The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson. Set in 2008, this book introduces us to Ruth Tuttle. She's an Ivy-League educated Black engineer married to a man who is eager to start a family. But Ruth has a secret from her past that leads her to return to her hometown in Indiana, a town filled with racial tension. The Kindest Lie promises an unflinching look at race, class, motherhood, and family.
With the ongoing horror of attacks and other incidents of AAPI hate, I bumped a planned nonfiction read off my April list in favor of Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong. This is the first autobiographical book by the Korean American poet and essayist. Minor Feelings is a collection of essays that have been described as part memoir and part cultural criticism as Hong explores her own personal past and the state of America today. While reading one book is not enough to learn about the history or current experience of the AAPI community, I'm grateful this book is available at this critical moment.
A historical novel inspired by a true story, The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel is the tale of how a young woman helped save hundreds of Jewish children from the Nazis during World War II. Using her skills as a forger, graduate student Eva creates fake identity documents for children fleeing to Switzerland. She hides and preserves their true identities in The Book of Lost Names. Decades later, will Eva, now a semi-retired librarian, be willing and able to help reunite families torn apart by war?
My chosen backlist book for April is another classic I never read in school. Mrs. Dalloway is one of Virginia Woolf's most well-known novels. This is a work of introspective fiction focused on the title character, a high-society woman in post-World War I England, as she moves through a single day and preparations for a party. Over the course of the novel, Mrs. Dalloway reflects on her past choices and dares to consider the future. My copy is actually The Mrs. Dalloway Reader, edited by Francine Prose. This book contains the text of the novel as well as letters by Woolf related to the book's writing and essays or commentaries on the work. I'm hoping this will give me a fuller picture of this celebrated book and its place in literature.
I somehow got through my entire childhood and young adult years without once hearing of the 1967 beloved classic From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. This middle grade mystery follows sister and brother Claudia and Jamie Kincaid when they run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This book promises to be a fun adventure and a fast read.
Bonus Book: How to be an Artist by Jerry Saltz is a brief title exploring inspiration and creativity. Saltz offers advice and insight to anyone aspiring to be an artist or simply aspiring to lead a more creative life. He breaks it down into 63 short reflections, some funny, some serious, all accompanied by pictures of art and artists through the generations.
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Now a few thoughts on my marvelous March reads!
I thoroughly enjoyed Anxious People by Fredrik Backman! In this book, we meet an eclectic group of strangers who are suddenly taken hostage by a failed bank robber during an apartment open house. It turns out, everyone has their own anxieties and secrets which play out in unexpected ways. Backman's writing allows us to understand the inner emotions and motivations of all the characters. The author even addresses readers directly on occasion. The result is a building of compassion for these strangers who come to have a big impact on each other. You'll laugh and cry while figuring out the mysteries in this novel.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson is a historical fiction novel about a traveling pack horse librarian in 1930s eastern Kentucky. It's not an easy job for anyone and made more complicated by the fact that Cussy Mary Carter is a "Blue," a person with a rare genetic condition which gives her blue skin. The Book Woman faces hardship and discrimination at every turn as she carries her love of books to the home and people she loves. This was an engaging book, but at times I felt like it was trying too hard to do too many things. Characters I thought would be important disappear quickly. Some characters who are important disappear for 50 pages or so before showing up again. An event that is built up for the first two-thirds of the novel passes by with no real impact. I wasn't sure where this book was going until I got to the final few chapters when multiple storylines converge and happen all at once. It felt rushed. Still, Cussy Mary is a wonderful character, and the book is an illuminating look at this little known part of history. One warning: this novel contains sexual assault and violence.
My middle grade novel for March was another historical fiction, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Esperanza Ortega has everything she could want on her family's prosperous ranch in Mexico until family tragedy forces her and her mother to flee to the U.S. They start over with nothing but their own determination and the kindness of others. This book covers so many themes which are important for children and adults alike.
It's considered a classic of the Harlem Renaissance, and now I know why. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is the masterpiece I'd heard it was. The 1937 novel is set in Florida in the early 20th century as the main character, Janie Crawford, recounts her life and relationships as an African American woman descended from slaves and forging her own path through it all. Janie's story is compelling and emotional as we watch her strive for independence and a love worthy of her ideals. There is plenty of hardship, but also grit and determination. The main characters are complex, and Hurston weaves elegant prose with dialogue written in early 1900s, southern, African American dialect. If you didn't read this book in school (or even if you did), it's well worth your time to check out now.
My nonfiction read for March was Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know by organizational psychologist Adam Grant. And I have thoughts! This book is all about unlearning what we think we know so we can evaluate new ideas and perspectives. Grant argues that all too often we hold fast to our unexamined beliefs rather than choose the discomfort of reconsidering our opinions. He also suggests more productive ways to engage others in discussions, not fights, about their own beliefs in the name of understanding and not just persuasion.
Finally, I marked Women's History Month with Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World by Mackenzi Lee. This was a fun and informative book with profiles of women around the globe who pushed against the gender norms and social barriers of their respective times. From warriors to socialites, from scientists to athletes, Lee writes about them all with an irreverent style that is always respectful of the women she clearly admires.
What books have you been admiring lately? Let me know in the comments. And check out my post where I reveal not just a good book, but the best kind of book there is! See if you agree. Best wishes for further reading!