Monday, May 1, 2017

April Reading Wrapup

April was a busy month for bookishness.  National Poetry Month, National Library Week, World Book Day, and Independent Bookstore Day all happened this month.  I was also able to squeeze in two author events.  All of this, and I read a total of 13 books!  April was a rather winning month, indeed.  Here are the books!

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay (poetry)

This book exists in the Venn diagram of "humanity" and "nature".  Whether it's a fig tree growing miraculously in Philly's Italian Market, a bird hitting a windshield, or lying on the grass during a sunny day, the author beautifully captures the joys and sorrows of when the natural world and the human experience come together.

Never Caught: The Washington's Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar (non-fiction)

It may come as no surprise that, being wealthy Southern farmers, the Washington's held slaves.  Hundreds of them worked the fields, kept the house, and served the owners of Mount Vernon long before our first President was elected.  This book presents the biography of one of those slaves, Ona Judge, and her experience serving Martha Washington until her escape near the end of George Washington's presidency in Philadelphia.

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin (short stories)

This is a fascinating collection of short stories that were compiled posthumously by Stephen Emerson.  What is particularly fascinating about them is that, although the individual stories were published in various places during her lifetime, when put together they feel linked.  It's almost as if there is a larger story that the author was trying to tell - the story of her life.  The editor graciously includes background information on Berlin, and after reading it (which I would recommend doing AFTER finishing the collection) the reader can clearly see how the characters in the stories were inspired by her own life experiences.

In Spite of Everything by Curtis Robbins (poetry)

The poet lost his hearing at age 1, and has gone on to a successful academic career - teaching deaf culture and American Sign Language.  This poetry collection entirely centers around the deaf experience, the ways in which it is similar and different from hearing experiences, and profiling some prominent, deaf writers.  If you are interested in learning about deaf culture and perspectives, I would highly recommend this collection.   

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker (poetry)

One of the most ambitious and amazing poetry collections I've ever read.  It's surprising in its scope and also the depth and breadth of emotions it evokes.  It brilliantly mixes pop culture, social justice, and inter-sectional feminist topics with a deep rhythm and bright energy.  The wordplay is whip smart and packs a serious punch.

Greenery Street by Denis Mackail (novel)

A novel (originally published in 1925 and republished by Persephone Books in 2002) that gives readers a glimpse into the first few months in a generally happy marriage.  There are no issues of infidelity or any other serious temptations that might draw partners apart.  Instead, Ian and Felicity represent a devoted couple who are still figuring out how to be adults and how to live with each other successfully.  It's light, delightful, and very sweet.

An Age of License: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley (graphic memoir)

During this graphic memoir, we follow the author on a whirlwind European trip that turns out to be so much more.  She is initially asked to attend a Comic Con in Norway, to talk about her experiences as a graphic artist and memoirist.  She decides to dovetail trips to Sweden (a love interest), Germany (friends' honeymoon), and France (mother's holiday with her friends) onto this trip.  We follow her as she stresses about making arrangements and packing, and dealing the unpleasant people she has to sit next to on flights.  She's also experiencing that ennui that many mid-20's aged people feel; she's between relationships, uncertain about her career, and constantly comparing her situation to those of her friends.

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli (novella)

In this book, we are introduced to Gustavo Sanchez Sanchez (aka "Highway"), a factory worker-cum-auctioneer in a suburb of Mexico City.  He is also a collector - of objects, educational courses, stories, and ideas.  He has an ex-wife, Flaca, and an estranged son, Siddhartha.  This son appears later in his life, in a very sinister and surprising way.  Highway narrates 1/2 of the book, and tells the audience his story.  The next 3/8 of the book is narrated by Highway's "dental autobiographer", Jacobo de Voragine.  The final 1/8 is a chronology of historical events (called "The Chronologic") written by Christina MacSweeney.

Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe (non-fiction)

What the author does masterfully is to take complex, often technical, ideas and explain them in the most simple language.  This allows people of all language and education levels to learn and appreciate the concepts.  You won't need an advanced degree in engineering or chemistry to be able to understand this book.

Big Mushy Happy Lump by Sarah Andersen (graphic novel-comics)

A hilarious and completely self-conscious look at modern, female life.  Whether it's stealing your significant other's clothes, posting cat photos on the internet, or dealing with your monthly issues, this book covers it all.

Footnotes From the World's Greatest Bookstores by Bob Eckstein (non-fiction)

This is a beautifully crafted book, and would be a lovely gift for a lover of books, but especially for a lover (and visitor) of bookshops.  The author has curated a collection of diverse bookshops around the world, provided a brief overview (at most, a few sentences), some testimonials from authors or other bookish people, and a beautiful drawing of the building.  I found myself flipping through the book, picking out the ones I've visited and noting the ones I want to visit.

Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli (essay)

For those who aren't well-informed about the realities of immigration, this essay will be an awakening.  The dominant political rhetoric in the US does not at all reflect the truth, and actively avoids admitting culpability in the root causes for this immigration...which should really be called "seeking asylum".  These children are fleeing their home countries because there is no future without violence and poverty.  They are willing to risk everything for a chance at a better life.  If that isn't the American Dream, then I don't know what is.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (fiction)

The book centers around the modern day Black Lives Matter movement, but also gives some history and background information of what came before it.   It doesn't shy away from the hardships experienced by disadvantaged people, but gives those people the humanity that media outlets often don't. People are people; we all deserve justice, fairness, and truth - no matter our outward appearance.  That is the message of this novel, and this message is vital for us all to hear.

I'm looking forward to what May has in store!  Happy reading!

Librorum annis,