Reading Better | May.

I added another 15 books to my Read shelf last month, bringing my YTD total to 69 (Goodreads link) – whoa! I felt like I devoured many of these titles – with the exception of Gifts of Imperfection, which I savored over months – finishing most in one, two, or three days. The pace of summer reading started a little early for me, I guess.

Here are a few more stats from May’s book journal summary page:

  • two-thirds (10/15) were words on a page.
  • nearly two-thirds – 60% (9/15) – were borrowed, one I owned, and five were purchased (three of them “new”, and two of them “used” or “on sale”).
  • only two were non-fiction – and they both got five stars.

My Reading Intentions continue to lean toward Connection and Delight, with a lot less Diversity and Growth this month:

Connection – 12
Growth – 2
Diversity – 3
Delight – 13

For the first time this year, none of these books checked all four boxes.

Other ♥ notes from my journal:

♥ Sara Hildreth (@FictionMatters). Two of those 5-star books – This Must Be the Place and Disfigured were her recommendations.
♥ the Women’s Prize shortlist – I read (and loved!) No One Is Talking about This and Piranesi because they’re on the list, leaving me three titles for June.
♥ discovering Claire Fuller and Maggie O’Farrell. I’m enjoying more backlist from both authors (which means plenty of Delight, but not so much Growth and Diversity and that is fine!)
♥ I added both of the non-fiction titles – Gifts of Imperfection and Amanda Leduc’s Disfigured (Goodreads link) to my Must-read shelf. I already gushed about Gifts. and now I’m going to gush about Disfigured.

It’s my sleeper pick for May because except for hearing about it from Sara, I haven’t seen it anywhere else … and I think it provides some helpful and necessary framing around disability. (I had a similar reaction around LGBTQIA+ framing when I read Redefining Realness in 2016.)

From something as simple as learning to say “disabled person” instead of “person with a disability” (Identity-first language, which holds that the disabled identity is an important part of what makes someone a person in the first place) to picking up on ableism in Disney’s Mulan (she triumphs not by getting others to recognize that her own different body is just as valuable as the next, but by making her body fit a constructed idea of what it means to be productive and valuable in society), I learned some useful terminology.

This book is part memoir – Leduc has cerebral palsy and she relates parts of her own story throughout. She’s a beautiful writer and some of my favorite quotations are from her memoir sections:

I filled my soul with blackberries and went back to my cottage.

Some of us don’t dream … of personal transformation as the happy ending. Instead, we find our points of light in others who might look like us, or share our experience of tripping up a flight of steps and spilling a full pot of tea. And together we dream about the transformation of the world.

A small child learns she won’t be able to dance across that stage, not the way she might want. Instead she looks to words – to the warp and weft of a sentence, to the way that punctuation might shimmer on the blank stage of the screen. She finds rhythm in her letters, in the way that this letter paired with that letter pairs with these makes a kind of music, on the page and on the tongue.

It’s also part fairy-tale history (which is completely fascinating) and part very readable text book on the history and current state of disability in society.

The key point for me is that we need to move from a “medical model”, which defines disability as an individual defect that must be cured or eliminated for a person to achieve full capacity as a human being, to a “social model”, which holds that society has a responsibility toward all of its citizens, up to and including the need to consider how best to meet the varying needs of different bodies. (p. 44)

But it is never society that changes, no matter how many half-animals or scullery maids are out there arguing for their place at the table. It is almost always the protagonists themselves who transform in some way – becoming more palatable, more beautiful, more easily able to fit into the mould of society already in place. The intervention is magical rather than surgical.

It’s a hard shift! Ableism is deeply rooted in anti-Blackness, eugenics, and capitalism (p. 99). and yikes – I had no idea that in the US, disabled people are allowed to make as little as one dollar an hour if their work is deemed less than that of their able-bodies counterparts. It’s an exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act and has been in place for eighty years (p. 223).

and the stories we tell are part of the problem … and potentially part of the solution.

Why, in all of these stories about someone who wants to be something or someone else, was it always the individual who needed to change, and never the world?

It is through stories that we give shape to and understand the world – and historically, it has been through stories that we’ve first given shape to difference. Without the capacity of science to understand that which doesn’t fit in line, it only makes sense that stories are the first things to make that space.

What happens when the princess or the childless parent or the half-human boy says instead, Why should I be like everyone else? What kinds of stories might be get to tell then?

It just so happened I had a square on my Bingo card for “author with a disability”. This book could fill a lot of other squares: sub-title on the cover, one-word title, written in the first person, about a person with a disability, about politics, memoir, maybe a new-to-you author or an author from a country you’ve never visited (Leduc is from Canada), and most definitely recommended by a friend!

Bottom line, I hope you pick it up … and if you do, please let me know – I’d love to check the Connection box for this one (which would make this a four box book for me!)

12 thoughts on “Reading Better | May.

  1. I have put Disfigured on my library list. I don’t have a square on my bingo card except maybe one word title. Oh and that center free square. Thanks for the review. I am realizing that the hard thing about rating books for me is that if I don’t LOVE it, I likely will not finish so all of my ratings would be 4.5 – 5 stars. I love these reading posts. So much inspiration.

  2. After you raved about Disfigured in our Zoom, I put it on hold at the library. There’s only one copy available, but I’m the only person waiting for it, so I expect I’ll get it soon. I also just tore through The Hand That First Held Mine in the last few days while I wait for This Must Be the Place. Amazing! I think I need to read Maggie O’Farrell’s entire back catalogue.

  3. I just listened to Ibram X Kendi’s new podcast (Be Antiracist) and the first episode was with Rebecca Cokley and was all about ableism and disability. (which I highly recommend you stop and listen to asap!) I am off to see if I can find this book! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  4. you are my reading inspiration! While packing up a house I am not reading much but I wistfully dream of the day when I have oodles of time to do it!!!

  5. So many good books! I loved Hamnet and after Sarah raved about The Hand That First Held Mine, I’ve downloaded it and am listening now. I’m glad to see that This Must be the Place is also a book worth reading. None of my libraries have Disfigured, but I’m guessing they are all smaller than the Fulton County library system.

  6. PS – I’d love to know what, exactly, you loved so much about No One is Talking About This. I just finished it myself, and I’m still sorting through how I feel about it, exactly. So I’d be interested in your review. 🙂

  7. It looks like you have read some fantastic books!
    Maggie O’Farrell is great! I’ve enjoyed This Must Be the Place and Hamnet and look forward to reading her other novels.

  8. Thanks for the recommendation for Disfigured – it sounds really great and I hadn’t heard of it before now. You have been reading some great books!

  9. I am stuck here: “…in the US, disabled people are allowed to make as little as one dollar an hour if their work is deemed less than that of their able-bodies counterparts.”

    We have so far to go on so many fronts. I really appreciate books like this (and reviews like yours!) that direct my attention to something I’m largely ignorant of due to nothing other than being in the privileged majority. Thank you, Mary.

    (And, wow!! What a month you had!)

  10. Thank-you for your very interesting review and the quotations, which really made me want to read it! It’s not available at our library, but is available in Kindle so I am adding it to my reading list. You are a great book-finder!

  11. Sounds like one of those books you probably want to make notes in and probably re-read. FINALLY caught upon blog reading and it’s pretty much mid-June! Happy Friday.

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