I tend to read more fiction than nonfiction, but month seven of the twelve I read were nonfiction. I read more than one book at a time–generally one that is nonfiction and the other, fiction. This month I read a long, 900+ page novel, and by the time I finished that I had several nonfiction books finished or underway.
In earlier Thursday Book Report posts this month, I have written about three of the books I read this month: The Wild Land Within, Cultivating Wholeness Through Spiritual Practice by Lisa Colon Delay (2021), Crisis Contemplation, Healing the Wounded Village by Barbara Holmes (2021), and The Story of Ruth, Twelve Moments in Every Woman’s Life by Joan Chittister (2000). I benefited from reading each one.
Here are two more to add to your own TBR (To Be Read) list.
- Late Migrations, A Natural History of Love and Loss by Margaret Renkl (2019). This collection of brief essays goes back and forth between reflections on the nature and portraits of her parents and her own personal history. The two threads enhance each other. At times I felt I was peeking into her own journal, although the writing was far more accomplished than what is normally found in a journal. One example might be a list, “Things I Didn’t Know When I Was Six,” which may have grown from one or more journal entries.
The God you believe in acts nothing like the God other people believe in…
No black people live in your neighborhood even though black people work in every house in your neighborhood…
Your mother wants to work too, but there are rules that don’t let mothers work…
Your mother’s tears are not your fault.pp.36-37
I have so many favorite lines–too many to note here–but I can’t resist one more:”Everyday the world is teaching me what I need to be in the world.” p, 126.
The book moves chronologically in time, beginning with her mother’s birth to her mother’s death and also the author’s life from childhood to adulthood with the loves and losses along the way. A bonus in this book is the gorgeous artwork by the author’s brother Billy.
2. All That She Carried, The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles (2021). Rose was a slave in 1850s South Carolina and when her daughter Ashley was going to be sold, she packed a cotton bag for her with a few items, a tattered dress, three handfuls of pecans, a braid of her own hair. The sack was also filled with love. Decades later, Ashley’s grandmother Ruth in 1921 embroidered the contents and the briefest of family history on the sack itself. Sounds simple and charming, doesn’t it?
But first, consider how Ruth even came to have the sack in her possession.
When I first heard about this book, I was reminded of one of my favorite books of all time, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (1990), a novel, about the possessions soldiers carried during the Vietnam War and about what is important to hold and cherish.
But remember, slaves weren’t allowed to have many possessions nor did they have the ability to maintain family ties.
Yes, this is a book of remarkable scholarship and a book of enlightened history (Did you know that many slaves were required to wear a badge made of copper or tin that said “Servant” or “House Servant” to indicate which slaves had permission from their owners to do errands in town, for example? p. 82, or did you know that South Carolina was the only state in the union that didn’t have a two-party system or popular elections for the presidency, the governor, or other state and local positions, p. 174?), but it is also a book of heart-wrenching emotion.
Consider how the battle continues for how history is presented and learned in this country.
I’ll just mention two.
- Transcendent Kingdom by Yea Gyasi (2020). The main character Gifty is a Phd candidate in neuroscience at Stanford. She has been drawn to the field because her brother who was a star athlete died of a drug overdose, and she wants to understand how that happens. Her mother, who immigrated from Ghana, is suicidal and moves in with Gifty. Her father returned to Ghana. The story moves back and forth between past and current storylines and includes many reflections about science vs religion and the role of the church in the lives of these characters. Excellent book.
- The Eighth Life (for Brilka)by Nino Haratischvili (2019) This book at 900+ pages took commitment, but I am glad I read it. As often is the case in a book this size, it is a family saga. Beginning with the Russian Revolution the story extends across a century. One Georgian family is highlighted–a family who owes its success to a delicious chocolate recipe passed down through the generations. Love, loss, war, ghosts, joy, massacres, tragedy, hopes, dreams. It is all here, and I can’t quite believe I read this as once again we are witnessing Russian imperial ambitions.
What did you read in February? I would love to know.