The TBR Stack: May 2021
Do you find yourself reading more at certain times of year? Sometimes the seasons of our reading lives match up with seasons on the calendar. Some readers make more progress on their TBR list during the winter when cold weather curtails outdoor activities, creating just the mood for curling up with a blanket and a book. Others read more when they can fly through the light and sunny books that feel just right during the summer months. I find that I tend to start the summer with great expectations, but don't always read as much without all of the normal routines of work and school. Still, as we head into May, I'm staying optimistic with a full slate of books in my TBR stack.
With the recent celebration of Shakespeare's 457th birthday, this month I'm reading Hamnet, a fictional account of the bard's real life son who died when he was just 11 years old. This novel by Maggie O'Farrell won the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction and the Fiction Prize at the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Awards. Hamnet is described as a devastating exploration of grief and marriage. I've heard such wonderful things about this book and the beautiful writing that I'm eager to begin.
I had the superb author Tayari Jones on my mind recently (you'll see why below) so I decided to pick up one her backlist titles, The Untelling. This work of psychological fiction was Jones' second novel. The main character, 25-year-old Aria Jackson, begins to uncover secrets about her family, her past, and the car crash which killed her father and baby sister many years earlier. The Untelling is a story of how buried pain can take root in a life and in a family.
My nonfiction read for May is A Black Woman's History of the United States of America by Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross. This 2021 NAACP Image Award Nominee: Outstanding Literary Work-- Non-Fiction centers the stories of African American women throughout America's history to show their role in shaping and changing American life. These are stories not likely told in the history books I've read before, and the book celebrates the particular power of Black women to build their communities.
I'm going way back with Wide Sargasso Sea by Dominica-born British author Jean Rhys. The 1966 novel is both a prequel and a postcolonial response to Charlotte Brontë's classic novel Jane Eyre. Wide Sargasso Sea is largely told from the point of view of Antoinette (Bertha) Cosway, a Creole heiress who becomes Mr. Rochester's first wife. The book details the time before she becomes the infamous mad wife in the attic. This short novel is now considered a classic in its own right.
My middle grade novel comes from a recommendation from my own son... A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. This historical fiction is set in 12th-century Korea and won the 2002 Newbery Medal for excellence in children's literature. A Single Shard is about an orphan boy who lives under a bridge but dreams of learning the potter's craft for making delicate pots. He becomes the potter's helper but is tasked with a long and difficult journey which will test him in ways he cannot imagine.
Finally, another look at grief with A Grief Observed by the renowned C.S. Lewis. I've read Lewis' fictional work in The Chronicles of Narnia, but I'm less familiar with his nonfiction. A Grief Observed is brief, about 150 pages. In it, Lewis examines his own loss and bereavement after the death of his wife in 1960. His reflections are personal, but the book explores one of the most universal of all human emotions.
Coming Soon! Later this month I'll be sharing my Tips for Summer Reading Success-- and releasing my first FREE printable! Find out how to encourage your whole family to enjoy reading throughout the summer months. You will also get early access to my FREE printable before it releases to everyone by signing up to receive email alerts today. Just use the Log In/Sign Up button at the top of the page!
Now a few thoughts on my amazing April reads!
The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson was an engaging, sometimes uncomfortable look at race, motherhood, and family as well as the choices we make-- and the choices made for us. Set in 2008, Ivy-League educated Black engineer Ruth Tuttle returns to her hometown in Indiana to deal with a secret from her past and the family members she believes can explain the truth. She befriends a lonely and motherless white boy. Many of the chapters alternate between their perspectives as their stories unfold, and collide. I enjoyed this book, but felt like some of the passages and dialogue were clunky, which bogged down the pacing. While reading The Kindest Lie, I felt I could hear echoes of Tayari Jones' An American Marriage (even though they are very different stories) so I was not surprised to see her name in the acknowledgements to Johnson's novel.
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong is a major achievement. This is a collection of 7 essays by the Korean American poet which explores her personal story alongside and within the larger context of race in America. This book is deeply personal, raw, and exquisitely crafted. One of her essays in particular, "Portrait of an Artist," was stunning in structure, storytelling, and emotion. Hong's book couldn't have come at a more important moment as the nation grapples with the recent (yet also longstanding) incidents of attacks and hate directed at the AAPI community.
The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel is a historical novel about a young woman who helps save hundreds of Jewish children from the Nazis during World War II. Using her newfound skills as a forger, graduate student Eva creates fake identity documents for children fleeing France to Switzerland. It's difficult not to compare this book to Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale, in part because both are told from the perspective of the main character in old age looking back and remembering her life in France during the war. For me however, The Book of Lost Names seemed to move much faster, and I read it much more quickly than The Nightingale. Readers are thrust into Eva's story and the action didn't seem to wane, even when Eva is mostly sitting in a hidden room forging documents. Beyond the love story which unfolds for Eva, The Book of Lost Names is also a love letter to the power of books in our world and in our lives.
"Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself." That's the famous opening line of the Virginia Woolf classic, and it was virtually all I knew about one of her most well-known novels. The book centers on the title character, a high-society woman in post-World War I England as she prepares for a party, but takes us inside the minds of multiple characters. It took me a little time to acclimate to the quick-moving shifts in perspective within this introspective work. However, the result is a beautifully told story of choices, consequences, and reflection.
Adventure abounds in 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. I can easily see why this novel has stood the test of time for children and adults alike. I have to admit that I enjoyed the first half of this book, when they are sneaking around the museum at night, more than the actual mystery they endeavor to solve.
I breezed through How to be an Artist by Jerry Saltz in one sitting. This book is a collection of 63 short reflections on art and creativity. My main takeaway from this book is that I don't know much about art! Still, Saltz's book doesn't require an art history degree; it's full of insight that can be applied by anyone aspiring to lead a more creative life.
What kind of inspiration are you finding in books right now? Let me know in the comments. And check out my post about how it's not just what you read but how you read that affects the quality of your reading life. Best wishes for further reading!
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