Reading Challenge 2016

The unabridged list of what I read in March

Picture me scratching my head and trying to figure out where the heck March went. April? Already?

But I digress. I had a solid reading month, and eclectic! A time travel novel, two memoirs in verse, two audiobooks, four of my own damn books, and the fewest book buys of any month this year! And here we go…

Books I read in March:

Asterisk indicates a “Read My Own Damn Books” title.

What I read - A Traveller in TimeA Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley (e-book)

This young adult time travel novel was one of the books I bought last month, so I’m happy to say I’ve read it. Even better: I loved it. Time travel is one of my favorite literary conceits, and this one had a fresh spin on the concept. Penelope visits relatives at Thackers Manor, where her family has lived and worked for hundreds of years, and discovers she can slip through a gap in time. One moment, she’s in the 1930s (her time), the next she’s hearing about a plot to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots. She can’t bring anything from one time into the other except the clothes on her back. Even her memories slip away. So while she feels a creeping sense of doom about how the plot will unfold, she can’t do anything to stop it. It’s powerful and beautifully written.

What I read - Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (hardcover)*

I bought this when it first came out and then … well, you know the old story: Put on shelf. Forgot was there. I’m so glad I discovered it. I loved reading Woodson’s poems. They read like memories feel: images, snapshots, sensory details that slowly accumulate to reveal a pattern. When I wasn’t reading the book, I was thinking about when I’d have time to sit down with it. I predict this will be one of my favorite reads of the year.

What I read - Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (audiobook)

I downloaded the audiobook from my local library on my friend Gabi’s recommendation, and it was as enjoyable to listen to as she said it would be. The story weaves back and forth between before and after a catastrophic pandemic that kills off 99 percent of the earth’s population. Experiences and artifacts connect characters who don’t make it to “after” with those who do. The slow reveal of how they’re all tied to together makes this feel more like a mystery than a post-apocalypse novel. It meditates on memory and nostalgia, loss and renewal, art and hope.

What I read - Help for the HauntedHelp for the Haunted by John Searles (e-book)*

This book landed in my virtual library courtesy of an e-book sale. I liked the title, and it was $1.99. This is to say, I didn’t have many expectations of the book, positive or negative. Sylvie Mason discovers her parents, who work with people troubled by ghosts and demons, brutally murdered in a church. She’s the only witness, but she’s not sure what she saw. Her journey to piece together the evening’s events and the truth about her parents and their work kept me turning the pages to see how things would shake out.

What I read - Red Scarf GirlRed Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-Li Jiang (paperback)*

I’ve had this on my bookshelves for about 10 years. I know this because I bought it at a book signing, and the author signed and dated it. It’s just what the title says: The story of her family’s experiences during the Cultural Revolution. It’s appalling, thought-provoking, and all-around an important book to read.

What I read - Chamber of Secrets
One of my favorite quotes from the book and the series

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling (audiobook)*

Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter = lots of treadmill time. I feel so healthy. Now if I could only forsake baked goods and cheese…

What I read - Enchanted Air
Loved these stanzas from Engle’s memoir

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle (library e-book)

So this is the second memoir in verse I read this month. Please picture fireworks going off around this sentence because me reading two whole books of poetry is so uncommon, I feel it needs to be celebrated with dramatic overstatement. Engle’s memoir takes place during the 1950s and 60s, from her parents’s first meeting to her 14th year. Her poems often revolve around place – visiting her mother’s relatives in Cuba before and during the revolution, California where she grew up, and Europe during a summer trip after she’s no longer able to visit Cuba. As a hyphenated American, I found her articulations of the immigrant experience – never feeling entirely whole in one place, always feeling something essential has been left behind – especially insightful.

What I read - Where the Mountain Meets the MoonWhere the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (library e-book)

One of my young creative writing students inspired me to read this when she told me it’s her favorite book. I can see why! The writing is lush and sensory and the story warm and heartening. Inspired by her father’s stories, young Minli sets off to find The Man of the Moon, keeper of the Book of Fortune, to ask him how to improve her family’s financial situation. On her journey, she hears many new stories, makes many new friends, and discovers what constitutes a treasure. An all-around lovely book.

Books I started but haven’t finished:

You are a Badass by Jen Sincero (e-book)

I have seen this title in so many Instagram photos lately that I assumed it was a new book. Not so, apparently. Anyway, the title appealed to me. Plus I’m always going on about how boring I find self-help books, which sounds terrible to say. So I should quality: It’s not that the books themselves are necessarily boring and/or that I’m not interested in self-improvement. I’m very much so. I think of novels as a kind of self-help, through engagement with characters’s stories. Sharing their experiences makes me feel like I’m figuring things out and witnessing how to put change into effect. On the other hand, I tend to associate self-help books with being lectured, which doesn’t seem very fair at all, especially since I can’t think of a single self-help book I’ve read in the past 15 years. After reading (most of) Sincero’s book, it feels more like an amusing pep talk. I’ll finish it … one of these days.

What I read - When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (hardcover)

This was my book club’s March pick. Things got busy. I got behind. Then the meeting date was upon us, and I’d only managed to read the first two chapters. I’ll be getting back to it this month.

Book I bought:

In March, I only bought three books, down two from January and February. Progress! I’ve already read one of them and started the other two. Though neither has grabbed me by the scruff of the neck with the urgency of a mama kitty, I’m confident I’ll end up finishing both.

You are a Badass by Jen Sincero

I don’t know. I kept seeing the cover (I’m not saying this in a whiny voice at all).

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Purchased for my March book club because the paper and e-book editions at my library had long holds.It was an eclectic month of reading...

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

I just finished this one today. Bud Caldwell, a 10-year-old orphan living in Michigan during the Depression, narrates his story of running away to find the man he believes to be his father. The harsh Depression conditions are lightened by Bud’s winsome attitude and witty voice. The story kept me wanting to read just one more chapter until I realized I’d read the last one and was sad it was over.

So that’s my list. What books did you read in March? Any recommendations?

8 thoughts on “The unabridged list of what I read in March

  1. I always love reading your takes on the books you’ve read/are currently reading, but this month really vibed with me – there are lots here that I’ve added to my own perpetually-growing reading list.

    Bravo for keeping up with the challenge of reading so many books you already owned, and I’m glad that these were pleasant discoveries for you. And that you enjoyed the poetry books, as well.

    As for your question, my March was a tough month, with lots of work, a new venture in my personal life, and getting myself -and my son – through a really awful, lingering flu. I read many articles and short stories in “New Yorker” issues that came in my last month of subscription (a gift from my husband that I asked him not to renew, so that I can devote more time to reading books), but only one and a half books…. I look at your list and feel so ashamed of that! The books were: A day-by-day (non-fiction) journal of an anonymous occupant of Paris during the Siege of Paris in 1870, and Colm Toibin’s “Brooklyn”, which I was surprised to have ended up gobbling up, devouring it in only a few days. I say that because I have so many conflicted feelings about it, very much including not liking the style…although in the end, of course, it worked. I think you said you were going to be reading “Brooklyn” for your book club soon? I hope you’ll write a review of it – whether in a review of the books you’ll have read in April, or a stand-alone piece – I’d love to hear your take on it.

    1. Thank you, Alysa! For perspective, I look at my list of books read, and it seems paltry in the face of people who have read 12 – 15 books this month, especially given how many of the books were for middle grade readers (and thus quick reads for me). So. Just saying. 🙂 Also, I’ve found it’s hard to settle into a book when I have a lot going on. Everything I usually associate with reading (slowing down, turning the world off, retreating to a different place) feels so difficult, even stressful when I feel like I need to be here, now. Ultimately, that really is how audiobooks came into my life. It’s stories for when I don’t feel I can do just one thing. It’s a very different experience of a book, but satisfying in its way.

      Also: I’m fascinated by journals. I’ve read one by a German woman during WWII when the Soviet army occupied her city and one by a woman in Leningrad during the Blockade (also during WWII). Was the one you read in French, or is there an English translation?

      And: I thought of you when I was reading Station Eleven because we have, I believe, talked about the power of and fascination with artifacts. I’d love to hear what you think of it. Yes, we’re reading Brooklyn for our book club. I’ve not read any of Toibin’s books before and am looking forward to seeing what it’s about, especially after your intriguing comments here.

      Regarding my reading challenge, I can’t believe how many amazing books are in my library that i’ve completely forgotten were there. It’s been extremely satisfying rediscovering them. I’m excited to see how many I get through this year!

    1. Help for Haunted was suspenseful – definitely kept me reading, and the ending was a surprise. Station Eleven is one of my favorite books so far this year. Having listened to it, now I want to read it because I know it’ll be such a different experience!

  2. Hi again Sally, whoops – I hope that I didn’t say anything about “Brooklyn” that influences your reading experience. I thought you’d already started, and maybe finished it! I am so sorry about that! And I still hope that when you finish, you’ll share your thoughts on it.

    As for the journal of the siege of Paris that I read, I think it’s only in French but will look into it and I’ll let you know if I find an English version. I’ve been doing a lot of research into the Siege, which is a period that absolutely fascinates me, and most of the English-language contemporary sources I’ve found tend to be more focused on the military aspect (it was during the Franco-Prussian War). But I haven’t even begun to really delve into all the books that are out there about it, and am always discovering new ones. I’ll keep you updated!

    Speaking of seeking out new books, what you said about wondering what I’d think about “Station Eleven” made me have a look, and they do have it in English (I always try to read books in their original language, if possible) at several of the public libraries here…but I read the summary again and am concerned about the post-apocalyptic aspects. I get soooo depressed by most post-apocalyptic books/movies/shows (with the exception of “Zombieland” because that is just a hilarious film and includes a much-appreciated cameo by my own personal chronic illness, IBS), so I don’t know if I could get through it… But it does sound intriguing….I’m going to think about it….

    And even if you’re reading a lot of YA books, the amount you read is still super-impressive, especially because you have so much else going on!

    1. Oh yes, please do keep me updated! And if you know of another book in English on the topic, I’m always happy for recommendations.

      I didn’t read Station Eleven initially because of the same feeling about post-apocalyptic novels. It definitely has sad parts, but it’s also so filled with hope and a fierce commitment not only to surviving but to thriving that I ended up really loving it in the end. I’m actually planning to buy it so I can read it again. And that’s saying a lot from me because I rarely reread!

    1. Thank you so much, Katie! I never quite know whether I should feel happy or guilty for expanding someone’s TBR. 😉 I hope you enjoy and that you’ll come back and let me know your thoughts!

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