Classic Books · Reading Challenge 2016

The unabridged list of books I read in April

April readAm I really already talking about the books I read in April? Yes, the same incredulity that possessed me at the beginning of last month. This year is flying by at the speed of sound (or is it light?).

This month saw my highest “read” tally all year, thanks in large part to Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon. My titles included the usual mix of middle-grade and adult fiction and memoir. I also read a classic I’ve been meaning to read for a few months (or years…whatever) and finished a book that has been languishing on my “currently reading” list for a few weeks.

Books I read:

Reading Challenge-wise, I’m not doing too badly: 60 percent of the books I read this month were books I already owned. Although … When I look at it that way, I’m barely passing. I will have to keep working on this!

* Indicates a #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks title

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (e-book)

I finished this treasure at the beginning of the month. Bud Caldwell, a 10-year-old orphan living in Depression-era Michigan, narrates his story of running away to find the man he believes to be his father. Bud’s endearing optimism breathes hope into his achingly sad story and kept me turning the pages right to the end. This would be an excellent read aloud with middle-grade readers.

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty (e-book)*

I acquired this because a) I enjoyed the humor and voice of Moriarty’s two most recent novels, Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret, and b) because it was $1.99. (Oh. That again.) Though not as intricately plotted as her later novels, it’s a pleasure to read owing to her lively and engaging prose and winsome characters. Even the annoying ones made me chuckle. The story: Sophie Honeywell stumbles into high drama and family secrets when she moves to Scribbly Gum, a fictional Australian island. The tourist trap’s claim to fame is a decades-old mystery of a couple who apparently vanished during the Depression, leaving behind their newborn daughter.

The Unmapped Sea (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, #5) by Maryrose Wood (e-book)*

Here’s another read aloud to enjoy with 8 – 12 year olds. The hilarity, wisdom, and whimsy of Wood’s series about a young nanny taking care of three children who were raised by wolves charmed me from the first book. If my memory isn’t mistaken, I pre-ordered this one when it came out in 2015. Each book has ended on such a cliffhanger that I put off reading this latest for fear I’d be gnawing my fingernails waiting for the next one. Well, it has happened anyway. The publication date for Book 6 hasn’t been announced yet. I’m waiting with bated breath.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (e-book)*

I read this memoir in books around the time it first came out in 2003. Nafisi writes about her experiences teaching literature (American, British, and Persian) in the Islamic Republic of Iran, both at universities and at her home to a hand-selected group of students. I love the way she writes about literature, with an illuminating blend of a scholar’s insights and a lay reader’s passion for stories and ideas. Those of us who love books have, at some point, felt the power of literature to confer meaning to our experiences, to shape how we read the world. That power becomes acute against the backdrop of the literal and ideological assaults she and her students survive. I don’t know what possessed me to get the digital copy when I already owned the paper one, but I’m glad I did. It gave me an opportunity to reread this thought provoking memoir.

On Cats by Charles Bukowski (e-book)

The paradoxical pairing of beauty and vulgarity sums up Bukowski’s writing for me. Each is heightened through their co-existence. In this collection of his pieces about cats, we see it not only in individual pieces but also in their arrangement. A long, meandering piece meditates profoundly on the dignity of these majestic creatures. This is immediately followed by a short, blunt poem about how his cat pooped in a box of his poems bound for a university’s archives. It’s brilliant. And I don’t usually enjoy vulgarity. I find it wearying, depleting. In this collection, though, vulgarity provides meaningful counterpoint, a reminder of our limitations as humans and our poignant efforts to transcend them. If I were to compare the narrator of these pieces to a fictional character, I would say the narrator is Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities.

El Deafo by Cece Bell (paperback borrowed from a friend)

My friend Jessica recommended this graphic memoir for middle grade readers (and lent me her copy!). El Deafo is the superhero alter ego Bell crafts to cope with the challenges being hearing impaired and being in elementary school – navigating friendships, managing the Phonic Ear she relies on in school, her first crush. This was my debut experience with a graphic novel, and Bell’s witty, affecting, relatable writing and illustrations thoroughly charmed and engaged me.

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

I finally finished this during the first hour of Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon. It’s a witty pep talk about how to create the life you want and not feel badly about it. Sincero shares funny anecdotes from her own life and experiences coaching others as well as tips, suggestions, and exercises.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (e-book)*

Here’s another book I bought when it first came out. True story: I meant to download a sample but accidentally hit “purchase” instead. Ha. That is so me. I wanted to polish it off before the movie comes out, and Readathon gave me the perfect opportunity. The eponymous “girl” is an alcoholic who suffers from blackouts and is obsessed with her ex-husband, his new wife, and their baby. The tension of the story hinges on her unreliable narration. What did she do during her blackout, and will she (and readers) ever get the true story? The book kept me guessing until the very end.

Death of a Prankster (Hamish Macbeth, #7) by M. C. Beaton (e-book)*

Beaton has written 31 Hamish Macbeth mysteries as well two shorter stories. My Nook holds the first seven and another four or five (or six – I may have lost count) from later in the series. These books are the best: beautiful descriptions of Scotland, charming and hilarious characters, a wry, observant narrator, and plot excitement. Since my goal is to read them in order, I’ll be saving up to buy the next few.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (e-book)*

I stocked this one for the Gilmore Girls reading challenge and have been meaning to get to it for a while. The narrative hovers around the edges of the precise relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, whose truth is revealed in the final chapter. It’s a chilling exploration of the duality of human nature, what we are capable of and what we cannot escape about ourselves.

Books I read parts of:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling (audiobook)*

Just when I got into a groove with audiobooks and walking, my treadmill broke! Doesn’t it just figure? When it’s not raining, and I’m not pressed for time, I walk to the beach. But it’s been raining a lot, and I’ve been very pressed for time. So I’m not getting in as many miles (or chapters) as I’d like. I’m only about halfway through this. Still enjoying it, though!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling (e-book)*

We watched the movie recently, which tends to make me want to reread the parts left out of the film. I’ve been revisiting my favorite chapters between books.

New Enlarged Anthology of Robert Frost’s Poems by Robert Frost, with an introduction by Louis Untermeyer (paperback)*

I took a walk recently when the buds were still new on the trees, and Frost’s beautiful poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” strolled through my brain. It’s the only poem I know by heart. When I got home from my walk, I revisited a few of my favorites from this collection.

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi (e-book)*

A writer is torn between his wife and his muse, who is annoyed with him for killing off his female characters. The two begin writing stories together, and … well, I’m not sure what’s going on, to be honest. I’ve only one chapter to go, so I’ll be interested to see how this comes together.

Books I bought:

I’m holding steady here, having bought only three books (yay!), all of the “e” variety. Each was $1.99 and discovered through e-book specials.

On Cats by Charles Bukowski (e-book sale)

I love cats. They’re hilarious. I haven’t read much Bukowski, but the little I’ve been exposed to has struck me as heartbreakingly poignant. You’ll notice I’ve already polished this one off, so that’s a win!

Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon (e-book sale)

This book has been on my radar since it came out, and I couldn’t resist taking advantage of the reduced price. World War II novels are one of my genre soft spots.

The Polish Officer by Alan Furst (e-book sale)

Because WWII. Again. Also Alan Furst. I adored his novel Mission to Paris. Finishing it left me feeling so sad to be parted from the world he created. I don’t have a definite plan for when I’ll read this one, but I’m happy knowing it’s waiting for me when the time is right.

How did your April reading go? Anything you recommend for to-be-read-at-some-point-in-my-life list?


8 thoughts on “The unabridged list of books I read in April

  1. Yay! I was so waiting for this post – but what about “Brooklyn”? I thought you were reading it for your book club? No, I promise I”m not stalking you…. I just really, really want to know what you think of it, as my favorite book blogger and all.

    Your list, as always, was so impressive and eclectic. And I love the fact that Bukowski wrote about cats! I had no idea! So, there’s another book for my must-read list…Thanks for that. 🙂

    “The Girl on the Train” is already on there….

    I was also excited for this list because you’ve inspired me to try to read more each month. I have to admit, I never thought I’d say that about anyone, since I used to be a bookworm of epic proportions, but life sort of blocked some of that, for good and bad reasons. I still always have a book I’m reading – even several at once – but I don’t always have time to really sink into them or read a lot at once. Or maybe I’m just too tired a lot of the time….

    At any rate, this month, thanks to your inspiration, I read “The Lion is In” by Delia Ephron, a Dollar Tree find in the States that was weird and disappointing but also fun. Plus, there was a lion and just as you have a soft spot for WWII books, I tend to like books that involve lions somehow, especially if it’s in an odd, comical, or surreal way.

    I’m slogging through the French translation of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” but having trouble with its repetitiveness and also with my instinct to frequently call out the sexism and rail against the patriarchy (John Grey, maybe women don’t wear uniforms to work (a huge generality unto itself) because of so many centuries of oppression and of being forced to be on display in order to seem desirable and marriage-worthy, and not because we just like looking pretty all the time -ARRRRGGGGH!). I’m just trying to put my judgment aside and see what the book is all about, and there is some interesting advice. But ARRRGGGH!!!!

    I gulped down an ebook (a cheap one like many on your list – oh, how alluring those small price tags are!) called “Toddlers are A**holes: It’s Not Your Fault” by Bunmi Laditan (okay, so the title actually seduced me even more than the price). It wasn’t absolute perfection, but it often had me guffawing, and I definitely relate to it a lot more than “Men are from Mars…” over there.

    And I’m about halfway through “The Hidden Life of Dogs”, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, whose “The Tribe of Tiger” (about my preferred pet, cats) I’ve read twice. I’m loving the writing and learning some things about dogs and wolves along the way – so I am thoroughly happy.

    And I’m also trying to get through “Tableaux de Siege” by Theophile Gautier, another non-fiction, first person account of the 1870-71 Siege of Paris. But this book has much more purple prose and digressions and less interesting, hard facts and observation – interestingly enough, since Gautier is a famous writer, unlike the anonymous person who penned the journal I read and enjoyed in a previous month.

    You’ve really inspired me, also, to read books I actually already own – only the toddler book was purchased this month; the rest have been on my bookshelf for a while, so thanks for that motivation, as well.

    That’s my list – sorry it’s so long, but so much of it is thanks to you!

    1. Thank you for sharing your list, Alysa! I love seeing what books you read, even though lists like these are so dangerous because I’ll end up wanting to read everything on them. Not Women are from Mars, Men are from Venus, though (ha). I do, however, want to read that toddler book (Even though my son is past that stage) because it sounds hilarious.

      I love that you’re on board #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks. It’s genius, isn’t it? Andi at Estella’s Revenge came up with it for 2016 (here’s her original post about it: http://estellasrevenge.blogspot.com/2015/11/reading-my-own-damn-books.html). I can’t believe the books I’m finding in my collection (and sometimes finding doubles of – argh, exactly why I needed this challenge). I also love hearing that you’re reading more and happy about it (that last part is the crucial part! :). I found it difficult to find time to read when my son was your son’s age. I think that’s why I got so into children’s literature: Because I was reading it aloud to him and enjoying it myself. We read picture books, but those were more for bedtime. I read children’s literature aloud to him starting around 2 1/2 -3. I’d read while he was playing and doing his thing. It kept him contained to within the range of my voice, ha! I don’t know how much he retained, but he definitely enjoyed listening. Those were fun times – thank you for reminding me of them!

    2. Oh! In my excitement, I forgot to mention “Brooklyn.” I haven’t forgotten about it – just haven’t gotten to it yet. Our meeting is May 13, and I’m saving it to read next week so it’s fresh in my mind for our discussion. 🙂

  2. *Sorry, it’s John Gray. I think I got him confused for a minute with Jean Grey – I needed a badass woman to counteract what I’ve been reading, I guess.

  3. That’s a great list! I had trouble getting through Mr. Fox, but maybe I’ll give it another whirl. Readathon was awesome for getting us through our challenges, wasn’t it? I got through 7 of my own books – only 11 to go!

    1. Thank you, Katie! You’re rocking the challenge! I did love Dewey’s for that. About Mr. Fox, admittedly, it’s a slow read for me. Her prose is beautiful, and I’m curious to see how she’s going to wrap it up. But I can see why some readers could find it hard to get through. The plot is very fragmented, and at times, it’s not immediately clear who’s narrating.

  4. You ROCKED it! April was an unplanned break from #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks so I’m getting back to it in May. I have The Girl on the Train on my TBR and I’m saving it for when I need a quick romp. Probably sometime during grading final essays this month. Also, this made me LOL, because isn’t it the truth? You wrote: (Oh. That again.) LOL

    1. Thank you, Andi! Haha, I’m so ridiculous with those book deals, though I wouldn’t have the massive e-library I have without it, so I won’t complain. 🙂
      I’m in the throes of grading right now, and a quick romp is the perfect break!

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