April was for reading up on seasonal eating (which influenced the return of Savory Sunday!), a bit of light non-fiction, and the beginning of a self-challenge to re-read 34 or so of my favorite books.
Here are the books I read in April:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (2007) by Barbara Kingolver
I had heard a lot of buzz about this book online, but what really made me want to buy it right away was listening to this podcast interview with the author. I knew the premise: one family of four moves to Appalachia and eats (almost) nothing but what they could buy locally or grow themselves for a year. I also knew that it isn’t just an anecdotal memoir: it is part journalistic local eating reporting too (and part recipe book!). I had already decided that we were going to be attending our local farmer’s market a ton in 2013, and I knew that reading this would give me ideas on seasonal eating as well as provide motivation. And it so did.
I completely ate this book up. The way Kingsolver describes food and gardening is amazing. It moved me to grow more. It made me confident that I could take more on. It turned me from an herb dabbler into a gardener. And it made me crave the taste of Spring. Obviously it’s been a great influence around here.
I’ve gotten some feedback from folks struggling to get through the book: if you’re not a good non-fiction reader, there’s nothing that says you can’t skip the journalism parts (though I love those parts) and go straight for the stories.
Fresh from the Farmers’ Market (2008) by Janet Fletcher
This cookbook was also picked up in preparation for eating more local, seasonal produce. If you’re new to farmer’s markets, there’s a lot of great information and tips on how to get the most out of them, as well as some persuasive bits that’ll motivate you to seek out going to farmer’s markets more often.
I didn’t really buy this for the recipes: they’re mostly too frouffy for me (though I might try a few). What’s been REALLY useful to me is the introduction to different types of produce in each seasonal section. There’s descriptions of each type of produce, how to choose the best produce, and how to store it / how long it keeps once you get it home. I’ve had it open every weekend as I’m putting veggies away. And I use it to write down how long things will keep as I come up with menu plans. It has been a great reference.
A Man Without a Country (2005) by Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite author, and I try to only read a new-to-me work of his every few months, so I won’t run out quickly. This one is a series of personal essays, which I loved so much because it feels like sitting down and having a (quirky) conversation with him. I read it in a day and now I want to go back and highlight things because there were so many fun quotable bits.
This was his final work (excepting one book published post-humorously), and I think it’s the perfect one: it’s a final look into what he thought of the world circa 2005, honest and plain and side-splittingly funny.
Full disclosure: This book my only be enjoyable if you’re already a Vonnegut fan.
Make the Break (If You Can) (2012) by Dr. Reginald J. Exton
I love reading about theology (though I took a big break with it after reading a whole textbook on the subject). This concise book is an atheist perspective on religious history and the conflict between religion and science. It was much more basic than I thought it would be; it was more of an introduction to the topics presented. Since I’ve had higher level religion college courses, there wasn’t a lot of new information for me here (though there were some cool science factoids that I didn’t know). The book was written as a persuasive text, though I would have liked it more if it wasn’t.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee
I started my project to re-read my favorite books with To Kill a Mockingbird: a classic coming of age novel set in the South during apartheid, which breaks down ideas of race, class, gender, and justice in 1930s America. Part of my 34 Books Project is to write essays about each of the books I re-read, and the essay for this is by far the longest. There are so many themes to explore, and I’m sure I’ll never tire of trying to map them all out.
I’ve read this book probably a half a dozen times in my life time, twice of those as school assignments. Each time I re-read a book, I try to focus on something different in the work, like a theme, a specific literary theory, motif, or repeated technique used by the author. This time, I spent a lot of time focusing on the theme of sexual violence in the book. This is partially because the theme ran through all of the books I re-read in April, and partially because it was at the forefront of my mind (April is Sexual Violence Awareness month). Some things I noticed: this may very well be the only book including rape as a subject matter that some high school students in the US read in school, and it is a falsely reported one (though there is an implication that there may be a case of unreported incestual rape as well). There is a tendency in America to not believe rape survivors, and I have to wonder if this book helps to perpetuate this. In addition, the only definition of rape given is a confused one from a child, and it is a definition that sadly many adhere to (that rape is not any non-consensual sex, but is only rape if the victim fights). These views on rape are problematic, and though this is a small part of a larger amazing work, the fact that it is the only academic introduction some students may have to the subject of rape is troubling.
I also paid particular attention to the parenting rolls in the book, but I’ve already dragged this on for too long.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999) by Stephen Chbosky
This was book 2 of the 34 Books Project: a novel focusing on the trials of high school from a quiet observer, trying to participate and find friendship. I wish so much that I had found this as a teenager instead of waiting to read it until I was an adult; it is certainly the most accurate portrayal of high school as I experienced it I’ve ever read.
This time around for this book, I paid attention to the way the author moved through time, and how the “normal” aspects of teenagerhood–parties, football games, dances, first dates, quarrels with friends–were used to move the plot of the book forward. These plot devices also serve to juxtapose the serious topics in the book–suicide, relationship abuse, sexual abuse, misplaced love, and mental illness.
P.S. Jake and I watched the movie for the first time after I re-read this, and I cried through the whole thing. It was an amazing translation. And I love Emma Watson madly and deeply.
Girl (1994) by Blake Nelson
This is Book 3 in the 34 Books Project, and I actually don’t like it anymore. Girl is yet another coming of age novel (I promise that I’m reading some books starring adults this month), about a suburban girl trying to find herself. I remember liking it in high school because it was the only book I’d read that described an alternative teen lifestyle that I could relate to. I remember the parts about going downtown and to concerts clearly, and I remember thinking that the main character was a poser (this is 14 year old Megan speaking), but I didn’t remember much else.
This time around I was just thinking that this is a book about a girl as only a sexist dude could write it. Ugh.
**34 Books started as 31 Books. The number may or may not keep changing.
You can see all of my other reads posts here.
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Have you read any of these? What did you think? What are you reading lately?