The TBR Stack: March 2022
March is Women's History Month!
In celebration of women's history month, all of my selections in March were written by some amazing women authors.
The premise of Matrix by Lauren Groff intrigues me so this novel is jumping to the top of my TBR list. This historical fiction came out late last year and is based on the life of Marie de France. In the novel, the teenaged girl is sent to medieval England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey. Within the sisterhood of women, Marie de France finds purpose in her role as leader and protector and holds conviction in her own divine visions. The outside world is less certain of her ideals. Matrix was a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction.
The prolific and beloved Chilean novelist Isabel Allende offers life lessons from her nearly 80 years in The Soul of a Woman. This autobiographical work captures difficult moments from her childhood, as when she saw her mother struggle to care for three small children after being abandoned by her husband. She describes coming of age in the late 1960s and the second wave of feminism. Allende's book explores progress made and work yet to be done by the daughters of tomorrow.
I feel like I've been hearing about this next book for so long that I was surprised to learn it actually came out in late 2020. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is a literary fiction short story collection written by Deesha Philyaw. The nine stories in the book introduce us to four generations of Black women discovering who they are and how they fit into the world around them. These women find their own paths between the sometimes competing demands of their church community and their own passions. This debut collection won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award.
Poet Elizabeth Alexander turns her lens inward in the memoir The Light of the World. The author lost her husband suddenly when he was just 49. This book meditates on the immensity of love and loss as well as the comforts of home and family. It is Alexander's personal story with a universal message of healing in heartache. I'm reading this memoir as part of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club.
Finally, you may have seen the saying Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History on social media, but did you know it is the title of a book? Historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich first coined that now famous phrase in a 1976 scholarly article. In her 2008 book, Ulrich examines how those words became a pop-culture sensation by looking back at the women who challenged history and how history is written.
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And now a few thoughts on my February reads! I read some backlist works from favorite authors and discovered new writers I enjoy.
I've loved everything I've read by Tayari Jones, and Silver Sparrow was no different. 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. This was a heartbreaking book because you can see and understand the point of view for all of the women involved in this complicated secret. You can also see the ways in which some characters are complicit in maintaining this secret while also seeing when those same characters try desperately to do the right thing. No one in this book comes out unscathed, and neither does the reader.
Love and loss are at the heart of Jesmyn Wards 2013 memoir, Men We Reaped. The book focuses on Ward's own personal history and the deaths of five young 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. Grief-soaked and despairing yet defiant in the face of the odds stacked against her and the people she loves, Ward explores the tangible and intangible reasons her community suffers such staggering losses. A dissection of love and pain superbly written. Every word carries terrible weight.
Readers question what it means to be truly free in Kaitlyn Greenidge's Libertie. The title character is the daughter of a Black woman 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. Instead, she marries a man from Haiti and leaves her home for the island nation. This historical fiction is beautiful and richly detailed. The story is a meditation on the mother/daughter relationship, the weight of dreams, and freedom. The book also deals with issues of race, colorism, and racism. I liked this book, but I thought it got a little slow in the middle, and I expected a bigger climax to the story. Still, I thought it was ultimately a hopeful novel about a young woman discovering herself.
Nella Larsen's 1929 classic, Passing, details the surprise 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. This book is astounding! It reflects the cultural transformation of its time while recognizing the limits on women and Blacks during that era. This is an obsessive, psychological drama which draws you in deeper and deeper. The women are friends, rivals, and literary foils whose story remains relevant and captivating today.
For a nonfiction title, I read the bestselling How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith. This book traces the history of slavery in the United States through the monuments, landmarks, and markers 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. Smith's writing is clear and evocative, and he writes with the language of a gifted wordsmith. His descriptions of places and people capture their essences, not just their characteristics. He offers his own personal observations and reflections when they serve the message of his work. I found the book to be enlightening, thought-provoking, and well worth the reader's time.
What books are making you ask some big questions lately? Which titles have made you smile? Let me know in the comments. And check out my post on the Best Kind of Book. Find out if you agree with me! And best wishes for further reading!
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