Kara C White
The TBR Stack: February 2022
Updated: Feb 11, 2022
Is this too much?
So my to-be-read list for February may be more aspirational than realistic for me this month, but once I started pulling these books I couldn't stop! My TBR stack includes some backlist titles from favorite authors, newer releases, and a nearly 100-year-old book which is finding a new audience.
I'm captivated by the writing of Jesmyn Ward in her novels Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing. This month I'm reading her 2013 memoir, Men We Reaped. Her work here focuses on Ward's own personal history and the deaths of five Black men in her life over a five-year span. She writes powerfully about the risk of being a Black man in the rural South. Men We Reaped was named one of the Best Books of the Century by New York Magazine.
Silver Sparrow will be the third book I've read by Tayari Jones. In this novel, we trace the family histories of two daughters born to a bigamist father. One daughter knows about her sister; the other has no idea her father has a second, secret family. The book is told from the dual perspectives of the sisters, first one-- then the other. When the teenaged girls meet and become friends, no one is prepared for the reckoning to follow.
One of the most celebrated books of 2021 (not to mention its gorgeous book cover art), Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge explores issues of freedom and identity. The title character is the daughter of one of the very few Black women practicing medicine in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn. Her mother wants Libertie to follow in her footsteps, but she has other interests and hopes for her future. When she accepts a marriage proposal from a man from Haiti, Libertie discovers she has not yet found the freedom she seeks.
For a nonfiction title, I'm reading the bestselling (and Modern Mrs. Darcy recommended) How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith. This book traces the history of slavery in the United States through the monuments, landmarks, and holidays now scattered across the country. Smith delves into how the story of our past is told and how the legacy of slavery still leaves its physical and figurative imprint on our nation.
Two authors came together to weave another story told in alternating perspectives. Christine Pride and Jo Piazza co-wrote We Are Not Like Them. This 2021 novel is the story of a deep friendship between two women, one Black and one white. Their lifelong bond is strained when one woman's husband, a city police officer, is involved in the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager. That tragic act forces both women to examine the depths and limits of their understandings of the world and each other.
Two friends are also at the center of Nella Larsen's 1929 classic which is now finding new relevance and a new audience. Passing details the reunion of two childhood friends. Now adults, one of them is passing as a white woman while the other is married to a Black doctor and thinks herself happy in her life and community. They become increasingly fascinated by and entwined in each other's lives until this short novella reaches its famously ambiguous ending.
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And now a few thoughts on my January reads! I didn't have a firm plan for the first month of 2022, but this uncharacteristic circumstance left room for some surprises!
Easily my favorite book of the month, Intimacies: A Novel by Katie Kitamura caught me by surprise. This is a short, introspective book written from the perspective of an unnamed narrator. The tone is brooding. The novel follows the young woman employed as an interpreter for the International Court in the The Hague. She seeks connection, but has few friends and a married-but-separated boyfriend. It's like the woman has lost context for her own life and is drifting through her surroundings. She becomes increasingly fascinated (obsessed?) with the victim of a violent crime and befriends the victim's sister. Eventually, she will have to confront what she truly wants. I found myself thoroughly caught up in this complex, character-driven work.
I was also wowed by Louise Erdrich's latest novel, The Sentence. It's almost hard to say what this book is about because it's about so many things! Tookie, an indigenous woman, has landed a job at a Minneapolis bookstore after years of incarceration. Now that bookstore is being haunted by the ghost of its most annoying customer. The mystery behind the haunting is set against the backdrop of the real life events taking place in Minneapolis in 2020-- the Covid pandemic and the protests following the murder of George Floyd. I thought this book was excellently written with unique and memorable characters. Erdrich takes on all too timely social questions while also confronting the long-standing effects of past injustices. The result is a compelling story of flawed, but ultimately hopeful, people doing the best they can with the challenges of their lives.
Explorations of motherhood and womanhood are at forefront of this forthright novel by Torrey Peters. In Detransition, Baby, three women, trans and cis, confront (and sometimes avoid) their own dreams and limitations as they consider creating an unconventional family to raise a child. Reese is a trans woman whose ex-girlfriend Amy, another trans woman, detransitioned and became Ames. Ames begins a relationship with his boss Katrina, who is now pregnant with their child. This novel is blunt and messy and holds little back. The author lays out every aspect of these characters, for better and for worse. The entwined stories of these three people are told compassionately, but never sentimentally. We see them with a rawness that never veers into callousness. This book is likely to provoke some strong and varied emotions from readers. I still can't fully articulate all of my thoughts about it. Perhaps that's one sign of a good book... that you're still thinking about it and mulling it over long after you've closed the pages.
I'd been intrigued by the title and cover of this book for so long that I was a little afraid to pick it up and actually read it! However, a nudge from the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club finally coaxed me into it, and Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni did not disappoint. This story of three generations of mothers and daughters unfolds to show how their dreams, loves, and losses unite them and divide them over the course of decades. There are so many poignant moments. At times the point of view shifts to peripheral characters as they interact with the three women, but instead of being distracting, this allows the reader to gain new insights into who these women are when seen from the outside looking in. Beautiful!
The celebration of the Lunar New Year seemed like a good time to enjoy Spirits Abroad, an expanded edition of Zen Cho's short story collection. The science fiction and fantasy stories blur the lines between the lands of the living and the dead. Rooted in Malaysian folklore and mythology, these stories are dark but often funny and always hopeful. I laughed out loud more than once, and nearly came to tears over one tale.
What are you currently reading? Let me know in the comments. If you need some ideas, check out my list of 9 Cozy Winter Reads or see how I'm Rethinking Reading Goals for 2022. Until next time, best wishes for further reading!
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