It was a good month for reading, you guys! In April, I was a little all over the place with my book selections. I read books I’d selected for Black History Month and Women’s History Month, but didn’t have time to read then. I picked a book for National Poetry Month. (The theme of this year’s reading is letting monthly cultural celebrations guide my selections, apparently.) Some selections were chosen by friends: I read a book for my local book club and read a book written by a friends’s mother. I also read a zine by a friend because I needed some pep talks (don’t we all)? Lastly, I squeezed in a book I’ve been sort of hoarding–because book hoarding is silly.
If you want to hear me talk books, I’m over on the podcast That’s What She Read today, which you can listen to on Podbean or on iTunes. I’m chatting with fellow guest Amy of Lemon and Raspberry along with hosts Serena and Ravena. I talked about the first three books in this post, as well as what I was reading and what I planned to read. (Though, because it was recorded two weeks ago, almost everything I mention is in the “read” pile now. Hah!)
Here are the books I read in April:
My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) by Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass was an abolitionist, amazing orator, and spokesman for slaves and oppressed free black people in America. He grew up in the bondage of slavery but was able to escape and live as a freeman, afterwards fighting for the freedom of all and exposing the true horrors of slavery. My Bondage and My Freedom is one of three autobiographies written by Douglas. Of the three, this book gives the most detail of his life in slavery.
Even if you’re not a fan of reading historical non-fiction or primary sources, Douglass’s work is approachable. He wrote in a conversational tone, as the goal with his writing wasn’t a simple autobiographical account, but yet to use the horrors he had faced to persuade readers against the arguments for slavery contemporary to the time. His experiences and logic were used to shed light upon the cognitive dissonance required to believe in the institution of slavery while also believing in Christian morality and the United States constitution.
Face (2009) by Sherman Alexie
April was National Poetry Month, so I picked up a book of poetry by one of my favorite authors, Sherman Alexie. Alexie also writes short stories and novels, but this is the first book of his poetry I’ve read.
I highly highly recommend this book. If you are only going to read one book of poetry in your life, let it be this one. Whatever assumptions you have about poetry: this crushes them. It’s classic Alexie but in a different format: dark, lyrical, human, and side-splitting hilarious. I also give it the made-up-by-me “Best Use of Footnotes” award.
Gone Girl (2012) by Gillian Flynn
This was my book club’s pick for April and I’m so glad it was! Gone Girl is a missing person mystery told in multiple character perspectives: it begins with the current perspective of Nick (who may or may not be guilty of something heinous) and with the past diary entries of his wife Amy.
It is so interesting to watch the investigation unfold–I had to continually reassess what I though had happened and would happen in the plot. It also takes the inter-workings of marriage to the extreme, which is really fun to talk about. (So, you know, read it and talk to me about it in the comments so I can say spoilery things.)
If you need characters to be likable, you might not like this one, fair warning.
Also cool: Gillian Flynn is from Kansas City, which is pretty cool. (And, in case you’re wondering: the rural Missouri described in the book is nothing like the city here. I promise.)
White Teeth (2000) by Zadie Smith
This book is in my top five favorite novels of all time. It centers around three families over three generations with three different cultures, thanks to the unlikely war-time friendship of Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal and the Englishman Archie Jones. The bonds of their families become intricately woven despite the characters’ flawed views of the world and each other.
Watching the lives of these characters unfold is fascinating. Because of Smith’s beautiful crafting of such a diverse cast of characters, you’ll come away from this novel with stronger abilities of empathy. “Can’t say fairer than that.”
(I’m working my way through re-reading some of my favorite books).
The Meaning of Names (2014) by Karen Gettert Shoemaker
This novel was written by my friend’s mother, Karen Gettert Shoemaker, and is a fictional account of her actual ancestors. Knowing a bit about how the novel was researched and written beforehand made reading it such an interesting experience!
I love how detailed this period novel, set in Nebraska during the first World War, was. It made it so easy to sink in and understand what “normal” people in the Midwest experienced during WWI. Through a German American farming family and a doctor facing a culture skeptical of medicine, this book explores the specters hanging over the America at the time: the xenophobia of German immigrants and the impending flu plague that was the worst in recorded history.
The plot did take a little while to pick up, so if you start reading this and don’t fall in love right away, give it a bit longer. I was bawling by the end, I was so attached to the characters. I can’t wait to get to meet Ms. Shoemaker next weekend so I can tell her how amazing her work is.
American Gods (2001) by Neil Gaiman
I’ve loved some of Neil Gaiman’s other works (and the episodes he’s written for Doctor Who!), but have been strangely hoarding this one. I’m not sure why: several friends have assured me I’ll love it. Maybe I felt like I was saving it for just the right time. But last month I decided that was silliness and hopped right in.
I loved it. There’s really not a whole lot I can say without giving too much plot away, so I’ll leave you to look up a synopsis if you want to ruin the first third of the book for yourself.
I was surprised by the writing style: I’ve read some of Gaiman’s shorter works and graphic novels, but this book felt more like Stephen King’s prose than Gaiman’s to me. Maybe he’s a master chameleon of writing styles! One thing remains consistent: Gaiman grounds fantasy in reality so well. This novel, as well as his other works, show an amazing force of imagination and I’m so impressed that, however fantastic the plots become, I still feel like this crazy stuff could really happen. (Except not really, because science.)
*There are some intensely weird over the top scenes in the book, so squeamish readers need not apply.
Kara of I Just Might Explode and karahaupt.com wrote herself a pep talk each day for 45 days, then created a fantastically designed zine from the content. It kicks ass, is like to make you cry a little, and is a good thing to have lying around when you need Kara’s awesome voice letting you know just how awesome you really are. I read it in one sitting, but I’m planning on reading one pep talk a day starting in June to see how that effects my creative work. It’ll be a fun experiment.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Make sure to put a big SPOILERS warning in your comment to warn others if you have ‘em.
We are Powell’s Books affiliates. Purchasing anything through these links helps to support the Nerd Nest.