Back in December, I looked ahead to 2018 and decided to make a few changes related to reading and blogging. One of the biggest ones: no more monthly roundups detailing what I read each month.
After reading several articles about how tracking reduces enjoyment of an activity, I decided to drastically scale back how I tracked my reading. I had found that I let the monthly roundups put pressure on me to read faster, read more, and choose shorter books–just so I could include them on the roundup.
Discontinuing those monthly posts has been so good for my reading. Rather than mentally counting up the number of books I’ve finished each month, or scrambling to finish one last book to include in the roundup, I’m reading with no pressure.
I’ve been meandering through my shelves and library checkouts, taking my time, and maybe not finishing quite as many books, but some of the joy that got lost when I was doing too much tracking is back. I’m also enjoying thinking about different ways of including the books I read into posts. A couple other recent reads were included in these posts:
For those below, though, it felt like time to give an update on what I’ve been reading. So, on to the books!
This is the strangely compelling story of Selin, a freshman at Harvard in the 90s--significantly, at the advent of email. A high school overachiever, Selin now finds herself uncertain, sometimes flailing, and searching, both in her academics and her social life--a state relatable to many a college freshman. Language becomes her means of searching for connection and truth, both through her linguistic studies and through writing. Deadpan and sometimes very funny, Selin is also an innocent. She starts a friendship with a compelling student named Ivan, unavailable but charismatic and irresistible, eventually following him to Hungary for a summer teaching program.
But this is less about the events--it will drag, if you like a plot-heavy novel--than about the disorientation that sometimes seems inevitable at 19. I love Roxane Gay's Goodreads review where she says, "Several times, I thought, “I am not smart enough to understand everything that is happening here,” but I kept reading." This is exactly how I felt, but I also sensed that Selin and Ivan often didn't understand what they were talking about either, in that way of college students who think they know it all and desperately need to keep up the facade, both to each other and themselves. I really liked this for its unflinching peer into those years of uncertainty, poor decisions, and total inability to remove ourselves from any of it. It's so different from anything I've read that it's hard to recommend to any particular kind of reader; approach it with patience and an open mind and you'll be rewarded with some insights and great humor, but I wouldn't be surprised if many readers didn't finish this either. More info →
Ada finds solace in a pony, crutches, and a physical freedom she'd never had, all while building relationships and a new confidence. But she struggles with the trauma of her past. Is she worthy of being loved? Will she be rejected again, or forced to go back to her mother? Could her foot ever be fixed? These uncertainties weigh, until the war comes to their doorstep and the stakes are raised. This was an amazing middle grade book, full of history and realistic, flawed characters. I was enthralled and I can't wait to read the sequel. More info →
The family isn't immune to the losses wrought by the flu and World War I, and in their grief they grasp for hope and purpose in different ways, keeping secrets to protect themselves and one another. This is a heartfelt, engrossing look at a little-discussed historical event that had a profound effect around the world. Certain elements of the story are somewhat predictable, but that didn't affect my investment in the fates of the family members, who are flawed but sympathetic. More info →
This is an illuminating look at the lives of slaves, cognizant of our modern ideas that the people who were slaves must have been tougher than people now, somehow superhuman in their ability to endure. But the wounds from the whips and chains and inhuman disregard for their lives and families were real, and Butler sensitively examines the ways in which the people were beaten and worn into submission. Light on the sci-fi aspects (sudden unexplained time travel is the only element) and a fast, worthwhile but difficult read (due to the subject matter). Highly recommended. More info →
On another note, as I read The Heart’s Invisible Furies, I found the history of homosexuality in Ireland fascinating.
I lived there in 2002, just a stone’s-throw from two prominent Dublin gay bars (both mentioned in the book!). I had a number of openly gay friends and acquaintances and never gave much thought to how recent it was that they could live so openly.
I was shocked to realize as I read this book that homosexuality was illegal in Ireland in 1987–only 15 years before I was there, and 28 years before gay marriage became legal in Ireland. After decades of shameful treatment of gay people, it is at least somewhat encouraging to see faster progress toward total acceptance.
It is, however, another piece of an ongoing lesson for me to never assume that people who are part of a marginalized group have it just fine, just because it seems like they do on the surface.
No matter what country they’re in, no matter how it seems *to me* that they are accepted, and no matter how happy they seem day to day, I can’t know and be sensitive to the struggles they face until I 1) pay attention and 2) understand the history.
Anyway, off my soapbox for the moment! Have you read any of these? Tell me what you thought!