Another month, another wrap-up. Because of my Reading From Home challenge, in which I’m trying to pick up my own books rather than borrowing from the library, this post will again be divided by source: library books above, owned books below. (Spoiler alert: I did not maintain a very good balance this month). In February I also embarked on a monthly challenge: to read books by and about people of color. Books that met this challenge are marked with an (*) asterisk.
The Power by Naomi Alderman (2017). The buzziest book I’ve read in a while, all puns intended. Alderman’s speculative novel imagines a world in which women have the upper-hand over men, after developing the power to shock (and kill) at will. Alderman’s book explores the structure of the resulting world, in which women quickly begin to censor, punish, and even rape and kill men in retribution for past injustices. This book was sleek, intelligent, and endlessly thought-provoking, with a plot that kept twisting in new and surprising ways. A great work of fiction, but don’t take my word for it: The Power won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize in 2017.
*Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose (2017). This collection of essays from a Montreal-born writer was highly lauded in 2017, and I can sort of see why: Chew-Bose can write. Actually, she writes a little too well. These essays were beautiful, lyrical and unexpectedly insightful, but they often felt a bit heavy-handed. Her subjects loop around and fold in on themselves in a way I normally love, but it didn’t feel effortless; I saw too much of the puppet-master and not enough of the show. I connected to several passages deeply, but then whole pages would leave me cold. Still, this writer’s talent is undeniable — the definition of a hit or miss book, I suppose.
*Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016). [Audiobook narrated by the author]. A book I picked up in audio format, and liked much more than I expected to. Noah’s narration was a big factor for me; his various accents and dialects made the story come alive. Noah had a fascinating albeit impoverished childhood, and he relates his memories with a degree of insight that surprised me. This memoir has sparked my curiosity about Apartheid in South Africa, a topic I hope to read more about. Also, on a side note, one of the daily doubles on Jeopardy this week featured a question about townships in South Africa, and I totally got it right. Thanks, Trevor.
Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell by Alexandra Horowitz (2016). [Audiobook downloaded via Hoopla, narrated by the author]. A quirky, intensively-researched book that is ostensibly about dogs, but really explores the sense of smell as many different animals experience it, including us. Horowitz is a hands-on learner, and takes on several experiments in this book that I wouldn’t recommend replicating (though I did stare at my dog’s nostrils with alarming intensity one night). Still, this was an enjoyable listen and I learned quite a bit. I already knew that dogs were amazing, but the studies here confirmed it: canines are simply too good for this world.
*Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (2014). After reading Ghost of the Innocent Man by Benjamin Rachlin last November, I was interested in learning more about incarceration in the US. This book, a highly-lauded recent release, fit the bill. While Stevenson’s stories are clearly and sympathetically presented, I found the experience of reading this book incredibly frustrating — not because of any failing on the author’s part, but simply because the stories are so relentlessly bleak (I was also shocked to discover that six states are still using the electric chair). Stevenson, a lawyer who works to combat prejudice in death penalty convictions, presents a moving testament to these victims of our justice system.
Germinal by Emile Zola (1885). One of the longest-standing books on my TBR. I picked this up in February because many of the books I had picked up were simply not working. Germinal tells the story of a group of coal miners living in extreme poverty in industrial France, who fall under the influence of an upstart revolutionary named Etienne. Together, they embark upon a daring strike to demonstrate their value to the penny-pinching fat cats who run the mines. I haven’t technically finished this one so I’ll hold off on a rating, but so far I am really enjoying this. It’s long –just over 500 pages–but it moves quickly. Despite its age, this is an immensely readable classic and one that I regret putting off for so long. I should wrap this up in the next few days.
Reading From Home Challenge
Books Read in February: 6
Owned Books Read: 2 (5 total)
TBR Remaining: 88
February was a difficult month for me, reading-wise: many of the books I’d planned to read were DNFs. I hope March goes a bit more smoothly, but I’ve given myself plenty of leeway to abandon books that just aren’t working. I’m also starting a course in children’s and young adult literature this month, which will definitely effect the TBR. We’ll see what happens.
My first monthly challenge went…okay. Two of the books I’d planned to read never arrived at the library, and a few others were abandoned partway through, so I had trouble getting this off the ground. I still like the idea of having a monthly focus every so often, though, so I plan on trying again in the spring.
Best Book of the Month:
That would be The Power, surprisingly. It reached me at the right time. What were your favorite reads in February?