The TBR Stack: March 2021
The beginning of a new month and a new stack of books always feels fresh and exciting to me. This month, I can't help but admit I'm particularly enthusiastic about my TBR stack. It's a mix of old and new and includes some titles which have me especially intrigued.
Let's run through the list!
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman received such stellar reviews that I could not resist snatching it up. Originally published in Sweden in April 2019, this novel swept across Bookstagram, Goodreads, and book clubs in the U.S. when the English translation was released in September 2020. In this book, the author of bestsellers like A Man Called Ove introduces readers to 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.
It wasn't hard for this next book to catch my eye with a title like The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. This 2019 historical fiction novel is about a traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter, in 1930s eastern Kentucky. It's not an easy job for anyone and made more complicated by the fact that Cussy Mary is a "Blue," the last in a line of people with a rare genetic condition which gives them 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.
Another work of historical fiction also makes my stack for March. Esperanza Rising is an award-winning young adult novel by Mexican-American author Pam Muñoz Ryan. Esperanza lives on an affluent ranch in Mexico until a family tragedy forces her and her mother to a Mexican farm labor camp in California during the Great Depression. Esperanza must find ways to survive and overcome the hardships she now faces. My older child heard this book as a read aloud in school, and I'm eager to discuss it with him once I'm finished.
Since I've just completed a collection of short stories by Zora Neale Hurston (more on that in a minute), I'm turning to her best known work, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Her 1937 novel is set in Florida in the early 20th century as the main character, Janie Crawford, recounts her life and loves as an African-American woman descended from slaves and forging her own path through it all. This novel found little success when it was first published, but is now considered a classic of the Harlem Renaissance.
My non-fiction book for March wants me to think about thinking. The latest book by organizational psychologist Adam Grant is Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know. Grant argues that all too often we hold fast to what we think we know rather than choose the discomfort of reconsidering our opinions and beliefs. The result is the stifling of our own minds. Instead, Grant encourages a willingness to unlearn, reevaluate, and rethink in the name of finding wisdom in being wrong. My favorite class during my MBA program was organizational behavior so I'm geeking out a little over this book.
Bonus book! I'm marking Women's History Month with Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World by Mackenzi Lee. With colorful and captivating illustrations by Petra Eriksson, Lee profiles women around the world who pushed against the gender norms and social barriers of their respective times. The women featured lived anywhere from the fifth century BCE to the present day, and you probably haven't heard of many of them. I've already started this one, and I'm enjoying meeting all of these fascinating women.
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And now a few thoughts on my February reads.
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward chronicles a Black family in Mississippi just before and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This is not a gentle read. The teenaged protagonist has just learned she is pregnant. Her mother is dead. Her alcoholic father is functionally absent. Her family faces crushing poverty. This book is filled with gritty details including troubling sexual encounters and a lengthy description of a brutal dog fight. However, there is tenderness amid the trauma. The four siblings still mourn for their lost mother, but also find ways to mother each other as they seek to survive their circumstances and the storm. I didn't enjoy this book as much as Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing, but it was an engrossing and emotional read.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is so good I read it in one evening! X is 15-year-old Xiomara who uses slam poetry to understand, explore, and work through the tension in her life and finds her voice in the process. I worried, loved, questioned, raged, celebrated, and grew right along with her in this 2018 YA novel written in verse. Xiomara's relationships with her brother, father, and particularly her mother are complex. However, sometimes hope and change can come along in places and ways you don't expect.
I was really looking forward to Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance, and it did not disappoint! This book is a compilation of shorter works about African-American life by Zora Neale Hurston. These stories touch on issues of race, class, gender, love, migration, and much more through unique characters and in Hurston's unique writing style. It was especially interesting to read some stories which were essentially variations on a theme, with small tweaks to characters or plot points. Some stories were funny, some sad, some simply poignant and beautiful.
I finished the month with the biography Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr. Baldwin was a writer and activist who asked difficult questions about race and the nation during and after the Civil Rights movement. This book looks at how those questions were answered then, and how they might be answered now. Glaude's book felt deeply personal in its exploration of Baldwin's own evolution as a writer and person over the decades. It was also personal in the way it calmly demanded that readers ask and answer some of those same questions about themselves.
Have you read a book recently that had you asking yourself tough questions? Which titles have made you smile? Let me know in the comments. And if nothing seems to holding your interest lately, check out my 4 Ways to Get Out of a Reading Slump! Best wishes for further reading!