Happy new month, readers! My May reading goal was to smash my stack. I haven’t so much smashed as gently nudged it. To be fair, though, it’s a gargantuan stack. On the plus side, I promised to read at least 80 percent of my own books this month, and I exceeded that goal. I read 10 books, nine of them my own. Thank you to JMill Wanders’ Take Back Your Stack Readathon for the final push!
Books I read:
* Indicates a #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks book
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi (e-book) *
An allegory about storytelling, Mr. Fox is the story of a writer torn between his life with his wife and his muse and the stories they spin together. This book challenged me to keep reading even when I don’t know what’s going on. I wouldn’t have necessarily known how to appreciate it earlier in my life, when I felt overwhelmed with the need to know and understanding capital-E-Everything. I’m happy I read it now, when I could allow Oyeyemi’s gorgeous prose to carry me through, even when I clung to a tenuous grasp of what was happening.
How to Write a Novel by Melanie Sumner (e-book) *
I acquired this book because it featured a child narrator and (say it with me, now) was $1.99. The story is told by 12-year old Aris, who wants to write and sell a novel to help her family’s financial situation. Aris, her younger brother, and their widowed mother, who teaches writing at a local college, moved to Georgia from Alaska after the father’s death and are struggling in more ways than financial.
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (e-book)
My book club’s May pick, Toibin’s novel about an Irish girl, Eilis, who immigrates to America was the only title that wasn’t already on my bookshelves. Reading the first page, I worried that the clipped, interior storytelling, with its simple sentences and emotional restraint, would be off-putting. I needn’t have. It was very hard to pull myself away from the fascinating construction and narrative, with gaps as significant as what we’re told. They create the impression that Eilis is blown about by fate and chance, by other people’s actions and choices. It’s a thought-provoking read.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (e-book) *
This was a reread for me, and it is perhaps one of the most cunningly plotted books I’ve ever read. It begins in a hotel in France, where a captured young Scottish girl is telling the Nazis her story. She tells them she is a wireless operator. She gives them wireless codes. She says she loves pretending. She shares the story of her friendship with Maddie, a pilot. It’s confounding and confusing. It’s also dead boring. But I encourage readers to make every effort to power through to the second part. Read every word very carefully. Do not try to understand but instead to decode. Question everything. This book is a sucker punch, a brain teaser, and very, very clever.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling (e-book)*
I stumbled into a social media frenzy on May 2; apparently, it’s the anniversary of The Battle of Hogwarts. This sent me to reread that chapter from Deathly Hallows. This, in turn, gave me a hankering for a good Dumbledore scene, and one of my favorites is at the beginning of book six. One chapter turned to more and, well, you know how it goes: I found myself at the end of this novel. Funny how that happens…
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (paperback and e-book) *
I promised my friend Jessica I’d read this since a) it’s one of her favorite books and b) it has been on my shelves forever (give or take). A picaresque novel of 1960s New Orleans, it follows the appalling misadventures of Ignatius T. Reilly, a 30ish layabout who lives with his mother and has excellent academic credentials and a gas problem. If you were a mad scientist and could make Vladimir Nabakov and Kenny Powers into one person, you’d get Ignatius.
Though it’s hard to find a likeable character, it’s a brilliant novel – witty and cutting and overflowing with literary references at multiple levels. The wordplay begins with the title, which plays on a quote from Jonathan Swift: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” The books is also set in the South (“confederacy”) and populated by a cast of dunces (in the extreme) and Ignatius, who thinks himself quite the genius. This book acquires more layers the more I think about it.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling (audiobook) *
This is my fourth audiobook of 2016 – a major record for me earned with lots of walking (and considerable driving).
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (e-book) *
I picked this one up during an e-book special pricing because I love World War II novels. The story of two sisters’ experiences in France – Vianne’s on the homefront and Isabelle’s in the resistance – kept me reading obsessively to get from one end of the book to the other. The narrative had its inconsistent moments, and the writing at times unnecessarily over-determined the reader’s response. Overall, though, the interplay of these women’s war experiences outshone the bumps. I especially valued how it gave me an opportunity to reflect on the impossible choices women had to make, whether they were at home or actively resisting. Being inside these difficult choices reminds me to respect how others may struggle and not to judge what I don’t understand.
Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff (paperback) *
Lily’s Crossing takes place at Rockaway Beach during WWII, where Lily is spending the summer with her grandmother. Her widowed father has headed overseas for the war effort, and her best summer friend has moved to Michigan. Lily makes a new friend in Hans, a Hungarian refugee and orphan. The moving and heartening story follows their adventures and deepening friendship.
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Book 2) by Douglas Adams (e-book) *
Book two in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series finds Arthur Dent still pining for a perfect cup of tea. His attempts to acquire one lead to hijinks and adventure across the time-space continuum.
Books I read parts of:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (e-book) *
Like I said…
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling (audiobook) *
It’s been blessedly sunny, and my Harry Potter audiobooks have been carrying me through long walks to the beach.
The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe by Ann Morgan (e-book) *
I realized earlier this week that this book reads, for me, like a dissertation’s Review of Literature section. It may be triggering traumatic flashbacks, which would account for why my hair starts falling out when I think of picking it back up again.
Traveling with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski (paperback) *
Though I don’t remember where or when I bought this, I remember why: I love reading memoirs about reading. I read the first chapter of this, and the writing is enchanting, beautifully crafted as well as thoughtful. I can feel the presence of a mind turning over ideas in an intelligent, reflective way. Paperbacks are challenging for my eyes, but I’ll do my best.
Books I bought:
I had a wee backslide this month. Or … more like a landslide, as you’ll see as you scroll down this endless list. In my defense, my birthday was May 15, which means I had Barnes and Noble gift cards to spend and $2.99 and under deals to splurge on … and splurge I did…
One Evening in Paris: A Novel by Nicholas Barreau (e-book)
Because I enjoyed his lovely previous book.
An Accidental Greek Wedding by Carol Grace (e-book)
I was about 12 before I met a Greek-American (like me) character in a book, and I still get a little excited when I find books set in Greece and/or that feature Greek/Greek-American characters. This one advertised both. So.
Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin (e-book)
This month’s book club pick and already read. Boom.
Despite having no aptitude for science, I was intrigued by the phrase “brain science” in the title and the idea of using science to learn about writing. Science!
Miranda’s Big Mistake by Jill Mansell (e-book)
Jill Mansell’s romantic comedies make such wonderful pick-me-ups. She crafts these very whole worlds that make me want to jump inside the story’s world. Her plots bob and weave in unexpected ways as well, which makes the inevitable happy ending feel hard won, in a good way. I have a few of her novels saved up, and this one joins the list.
Proust’s Overcoat: The True Story of One Man’s Passion for All Things Proust by Lorenza Foschini (e-book)
I cannot be expected to resist books about book lovers when they’re $1.99, and it’s my birthday.
The Revolving Door of Life (The 44 Scotland Street Series Book 10) by Alexander McCall Smith (e-book)
This is the next book in the 44 Scotland Street series, which I adore. It came out in February, and I waited three whole months (and part of one birthday gift card) to buy it. By book lover calculations, this counts as restraint.
Strong Opinions (Vintage International) by Vladimir Nabakov (e-book)
A collection of Nabakov’s interviews, articles, and editorials seemed like something I needed in my Nook.
All I Need to Get By by Sophronia Scott (paperback)
I picked this up at a local author event. Paperbacks are almost always too difficult for me to read (the larger font in children’s books makes them the exception). But I couldn’t resist the cover or the opportunity to support a local author.
Cocktails for Book Lovers by Tessa Smith McGovern (hardcover)
This one came home with me from the same event as above, and it’s so much more fun in hardcover.
How was your month of reading? Any stashes smashed, shelves retaken, or read any great books lately?