March 2, 2023
My reading month started well and ended well, and in between the books were uneven.
In an earlier post I wrote about Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng. https://wordpress.com/post/livingonlifeslabyrinth.com/1721 A glowing report of a book exquisitely written and a story powerfully told. While visiting a small new bookstore, I heard another customer say she had just finished a book that she loved and was so well-written. She was talking about Our Missing Hearts, and I joined in the conversation, agreeing completely. I have yet to meet anyone who has read the book who did not love it.
The last fiction book I read this month was Gone Like Yesterday, a debut novel by Janelle Williams, and I think this writer has the potential in future novels to attain Celeste Ng’s status. Of course, that is impossible to know, but I hope nothing gets in the way of Williams’ writing and growing and perfecting her skills. Her writing is lyrical and the plot, while involved, is interesting, as are her characters. Zahra is a young black woman who helps privileged high school students write their college admissions essays. She is introduced to Sammie, a another young woman, black, bright, nurtured by her uncle and grandmother, and also applying to colleges. When Zahra learns her brother is missing, Sammie and her uncle pose driving Zahra to Atlanta to look for him. Here’s the tricky part–the presence and sound of moths. Surrounding the car, floating above their heads. hovering in their ears. Are they real? What do they mean? A touch of magical realism. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. I think Williams tries to do too much in this book, but still I am glad I read it.
Three of the other books are mysteries: # 2 and #3 in the series by Ausma Neharat Khan about Canadian police detective Esa Khattak and his colleague Rachel Getty. Although I like, but don’t love these books, at some point I will read more in the series. The third mystery I read is part of the British Library Crime Series, Crossed Skis, An Alpine Mystery by Carol Carnac, which was published in 1952. A well-known trope in British mysteries is the house party concept and this one is similar–a group of young people who don’t all know each other go on a skiing vacation and…. well, read it to find out.
I read two books I truly did not like, and I wonder why I finished them. I usually make quick decisions about whether to finish reading a book or not. Oh well. The first is O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker and even after reading my summary of the book in my book journal, I have little memory of the book. The other book is historical fiction by the popular writer, Marie Benedict. Perhaps I finished this because she is a writer often recommended by others, and I kept hoping I would find something redeeming in the book. The book is The Mitford Affair about the English Mitford sisters, especially Nancy, Unity, and Diana. Set on the brink of WWII, Unity and Diana are big supporters of Hitler, and they manage to become part of his inner circle. Nancy eventually and hesitantly shares with Winston Churchill — the Mitfords are distant relations — some of her sisters’ plans and efforts. I need to like at least one of the main characters in any book I read, and I didn’t like anyone in this book.
I can recommend all four nonfiction titles without hesitation–depending on your own personal interests.
- Memoir as Medicine, The Healing Power of Wiring Your Messy, Imperfect, Unruly (but Gorgeously Yours) Life Story by Nancy Slonim Aronie. I try to read books about the craft of writing frequently, and a writing friend recommended this. Wonderful prompts. Great examples from her own memoir. This book inspired me to establish Writing Wednesdays for myself. Yesterday was my my fifth one, and I plan to continue that schedule.
- A Friend Sails in on a Poem by Molly Peacock. I am not a poet, but I loved this memoir of the friendship between two women who are poets, Peacock and Phillis Levin. Peacock is the author of two of my all-time favorite books, both biographies, The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 and Flower Diary: in Which Mary Hiester Red Paints, Travels, Marries and Opens a Door.
- Prayer in the Night, For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren. Using the words of the compline prayer (Several months ago I wrote this prayer on a small card that sits on my nightstand. Even on mights I don’t pray the words, the intention of those words lives in my heart.) Warren’s writing is simple and clear and at the same time profound, “We need practices that don’t simply palliate our fears or pain, but that teach us to walk with God in the crucible of our own fragility.” Warren shares her fragilities and encourages us to open to our own and to share them with God.
- Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned by Brian McLaren. I actually owned this book before I bought McLaren’s previous book, Faith After Doubt, Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to do About It, but I quickly realized it was important to read Faith After Doubt first. I did that in January. Do I Stay Christian? builds on Faith After Doubt, and wow, there is much to process. Part I answers the question, “No.” Part II, “Yes,” and Part III, “How.” Part I is the most upsetting, and Part III is the most challenging. Chapters in Part II include “Because….Where Else Would I go?” “Because I’m Human,” and “Because of Our Legendary Founder.” McLaren is such a good writer (and speaker–I often listen to his podcast, “Learning to See.” ) In the Appendix to the book he writes
We are all friends around this table. All equals. All unique. All welcome. Who we are is who we are. There is no need to pretend. Some of us have a lot of beliefs and very few doubts. Some of us have a lot of doubts and very few beliefs. Some of us love God, but we’re not sure about Jesus, and some of us love Jesus, but we’re not so sure about God. Some of us aren’t sure about anything, and others feel very sure about almost everything. Some of us gladly call ourselves Christians. Some of us barely call ourselves Christians. Some of us once were Christians, but not anymore. Some of us aren’t sure we were ever Christians, or aren’t sure what that means, or whether it matters. But this we share: we welcome one another to this circle just as we are, for we all are part of one web of life on this precious planet in this amazing universe.p. 229
See my post on books by Brian McLaren here: https://wordpress.com/post/livingonlifeslabyrinth.com/1658
One last note: My husband and I visited a new bookstore in town recently and if you live in the Minneapolis/St Paul area I encourage you to stop by. The name is Comma, and it is the Linden Hills area of Minneapolis.
Anything to recommend from your February reading? I would love to know.
8 thoughts on “Book Report: February Round-Up”
I love your book reports, Nancy. Thank you! I’ll recommend three books, two fiction and one non-fiction.:
The first two books in planned trilogy by Norwegian author Lars Mytting: The Bell in the Lake and the Reindeer Hunters. The books are set in Gulbrandsdalen, the part of Norway near Lillehammer where my forbears emigrated from. I could see it, feel it, and hear it. Compelling stories, complex characters, lyrical writing (even in translation), and just enough magical realism to add wonder. I’m eager for book three!
I’m reading the non-fiction book for one of my book groups and much of it has spoken to me so clearly that I bought a copy (and do have two of my friends). It’s by Parker Palmer: On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old.
I have not heard about these Norwegian books and they sound intriguing. And a big YES to Parker Palmer.
I want to read Memoir as Medicine … it sounds terrific. I’ve started listening to Season 4 of Learning How to See, and I’d like to read Brian McLaren too – I’ve not yet actually read him although I’ve loved the podcast.
As a recommendation, I loved Joy Harjo’s memoirs, Crazy Brave and Poet Warrior. I was sick for a few days a couple weeks ago, and having the chance to just lie there and read them nonstop almost made it worthwhile.
Nice to discover your blog, I look forward to exploring more!
Welcome to my blog and thanks for reading. I throughly enjoyed Poet Warrior, too, and need to read Crazy Brave. I am taking a course on Native American spirituality through my alma mater, St Olaf College, and I just recommended Jo Harjo to the group.
Thank you for these conversations about books! My 2 February recommendations/reviews:
1-The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse, and Their Last-Chance Journey Across America (Elizabeth Letts) — A 63-year old nearly-destitute ailing woman, Annie, rides a horse from Maine to California in the 1950s – a marvelous, fascinating story. The author expertly provides a complete picture of the time, the places, the current events, and the goodwill of many people along the way.
2-Belonging: One Woman’s Search for Truth and Justice for the Tuam Babies (Catherine Corless, Naomi Linehan) — Ireland had a number of mother and baby homes where unwed pregnant women gave birth, stayed for a year, and then had to leave without their child. The author uncovers the truth about conditions in one home run by Catholic nuns that were dreadful. Nearly 800 children died and were placed in what seems to be a sewage tank. The author’s determination for years to get this story and then to get it to the right individuals is admirable, her voice is strong and heartfelt, and the damage to those children and their families must be addressed.
Such fascinating titles. Thanks so much for sharing.
Some wonderful recommendations here, both from you and your readers! Our Missing Hearts was the best fiction book I read in Feb. I also read Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and We All Want Impossible Things and neither of those was for me. I’m currently reading The Wild Edge of Sorrow (non-fiction) but it’s taking me awhile to get through it. I’m also reading Billy Collins’ latest book of poetry, Musical Tables.
I’ve decided not to read Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, in spite of all the positive reviews. You have affirmed that for me. Happy reading.