June 1, 2023
Five Nonfiction Books.
No duds! Now that’s a good month. I should say, however, that I quickly discard a book, if it doesn’t engage me in the first few pages, so the chances of being disappointed by a book is less and less. I am sure I miss some books because of such fast judgment, but so many books, so little time is becoming more true with each birthday. Sometimes, however, I know a particular book just isn’t the right one at the moment, and I don’t discount returning to it at another time.
Thus, the reading adventure continues.
Three of six novels read in May receive the “I couldn’t put it down.” rating
- The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd. I initially thought of this book as a good “palate cleanser” book after reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, the first book I read in May and highly recommend. (See May 11, 2023 post ). I needed something lighter, but the further I read the more engrossed I became in the story, which focuses around a group of mapmakers, map experts. Much of the story is set in the New York Public Library, but also in a town that doesn’t exist. Mystery, some fantasy. A good summer read–and just out in paperback.
- The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn. I have not seen this on any other list and only heard about it through Minnesota Public Radio’s book newsletter, The Thread. I am so glad I was led to this book–even though there are so many books about WWI and WWII right now. The story is about three siblings (complicated–different fathers, different mothers) who grow up in rural England and are devoted to one another. One day a dead whale washes up on the shore and Christobel, the oldest, claims the skeleton and uses the bones to build an outdoor theater. She later becomes a spy in France. Well, the plot is involved, but I loved the characters and the writing was fresh and even at 50 pages kept moving.
- Homecoming by Kate Morton. I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect this book to be as good as it was. I think I expected a fluffier, more lightweight book, but I was impressed with how the story kept unfolding, revealing new facts, new information, new aspects of the characters. Set in Australia in two times–1959 and 2018. A mother and three of her children ( a 4th, a baby, is missing) are found dead at a picnic site. The same day the visiting sister-in-law, who is pregnant, has her baby early. In 2018 that woman is dying and her granddaughter Jess, who was raised by her, returns to Australia from England to be with her–and the story begins to unfold. Lots of secrets. I like this quote from close to the end:
Being old, he had come to realize, was like being stuck inside an enormous museum with hundreds of rooms, each crammed full of artifacts from the past.. He understood now why the elderly could sit, seemingly still and alone, for hours on end. There was always something else to take out, to look at from a fresh angle and become reacquainted with.
As mentioned earlier, I started the month reading American Dirt. I also read Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club by J. Ryan Stradal, a Minnesota author, and the book is set in Minnesota. The story is about a family, with emphasis on the women, who has owned a supper club for generations. A pleasant read. One other novel on the May list is Private Way by Ladette Randolph. Earlier this year I read and liked her memoir Leaving the Pink House. (March 30, 2023 post.) Set in Lincoln, Nebraska, I liked parts of Private Way very much, especially the references to reading Willa Cather’s books, but I thought the premise of the book–why the main character leaves her life in California and rents a home in Lincoln– a bit of a stretch. She learns much about herself along the way and develops key relationships, and I am not sorry I read it, but it was a bit uneven.
The star on May’s nonfiction book is One Hundred Saturdays, Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World by Michael Frank, which I wrote about in the May 18, 2023 post, but I can easily recommend four other titles.
- South to America, A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation by Imani Perry. A remarkable book. I didn’t always understand each of the references, especially related to music, but repeatedly I felt stunned by her insights and revelations. Perry examines specific states/cities in the South–a chapter on each– and in that way it reminded me of Clint Smith’s How The Word Is Passed (see December 1, 2022 post). No matter how much we know about the terror of slavery, more needs to be understood, along with the legacy of that time. This would be a good book to read in a group, one section at a time.
- Sacred Nature, Restoring Our Ancient Bond with the Natural World by Karen Armstrong. In her brilliance and her exhaustive research, Armstrong’s books are never easy reads, but worth the effort. This book looks not only at the dire straights we are in because of how we have separated ourselves from nature, but also the views of a variety of religions about nature. In Christianity and Judaism, nature hasn’t played much of a role, but that is not true in other traditions.
- Catching the Light by Joy Harjo. I am so attracted to her words, and this little book in the “Why I Write” series is no exception. I loved her memoir and also her book of 50 poems for 50 days. (See post on March 30, 2023.) Harjo writes to remember (“The old ones urge and remind us, remember. Remember to remember.” p. 42)–and we white privileged need to read about and understand the ways we colonizers have traumatized indigenous people.
- Lost and Found, Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness by Kathryn Schulz. This is another book now full of my underlining. At times, I admit, I found the book a bit tedious–for example, when she wrote about how the last letter of the alphabet was not “Z,” but “&”. Interesting, but what most engaged me was the focus on the dying and death of her father and the finding of love. And then the “and” of life; how life goes on. Beautifully written, which is no surprise because she is a writer for The New Yorker. One quote out of so many I could share:
This type of circular mourning, the grieving of grief itself, is perfectly normal and possibly inevitable yet also misguided and useless. There is no honor in feeling awful and no betrayal in feeling better, and no matter how dark and salted and bitter cold your grief may be, it will never preserve anything about the person you mourn. Despite how it sometimes feels, it has never kept anyone alive, not even in memory. If anything, it keeps them dead: eventually, it you cannot stop mourning, the person you love will come to be made only of grief.p. 67.
So now that it is June, summer reading begins. I have started The Postcard by Anne Berest. You can check out my thoughts about summer reading in my May 25, 2023 post. Happy Reading.
Did you read anything this past month that deserves the “I couldn’t put it down rating”? I would love to know.