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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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
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?