Reading Better | May.

I added 23 books to my shelves in May (all my 2022 books are shelved here on Goodreads):

  • Only two were 5-stars – a marked decrease from previous months and maybe the first time I can remember that all my 5-star reads were non-fiction. As I was reviewing the month, I was reminded just how subjective these star ratings are … so much depends on my expectations going into the book, my frame of mind when I’m reading, what books I read shortly before or after, and – if I’m lucky – the conversations I have about the book. In other words, many of those 4/4+ star books might be 5 stars if I’d read them under different circumstances (and Violeta might well be a book I’d love, if I didn’t have such high expectations!) I shared short reviews of the two 5-star books on Instagram, and have shared those reviews below (I love having my whole month of books and reading in one place … here!)
  • 14 (61%) were paper, 9 (39%) were audio, and none were ebooks (I have since recharged my Kindle and expect a few more ebooks for the summer).
  • 16 (70% – same count as last month, but a higher percentage) were borrowed, one I owned, and six were purchased (two new and four used).
  • 18 (78%) were fiction, two were memoir/essay, one was spiritual growth, and two were short story collections. I haven’t read many short stories this year, but these two collections were notably excellent. I think I’m late to the party on George Saunders’ Tenth of December, but Objects of Desire is newish and deserves a shout out (see below).
  • My intentions were rather sparsely represented – only five check marks for Diversity, six for Growth, and eight for Connection. I did have plenty of Delight … but I don’t want to lose sight of those other important reasons I read.
  • Only one book – Romance in Marseille, Novel Pairings May bookclub selection – checked all three boxes.

Now for those short reviews:

Graceland, At Last, by Margaret Renkl – the jacket copy says this is “a patchwork quilt of personal and reported essays.” I’d read most of these as they were published in the New York Times. Having them collected and organized into a single volume I could re-read in a few days, with the hindsight of all that’s happened the last six years was amazing. I was born in Georgia and have lived here most of my life. Being a Southerner can be hard; Renkl’s writing speaks so eloquently to that challenge. “To love a person is always to love in spite of the faults that intimacy reveals, and so it is with a place. To love the South is to see with clear eyes both its terrible darkness and its dazzling light, and to spend a lifetime trying to make sense of both.”

Days of Awe and Wonder, by Marcus Borg – next up for my church’s small group, and our first time reading Marcus Borg. This collection of sermons, articles, excerpts from previous books, and even interviews, was carefully curated and compiled by his wife Marianne, following his death. She says “This volume is an opportunity to meet Marcus” and what a lovely introduction. The subtitle is “How to Be a Christian in the 21st Century” and I think it lives up to that. He also writes compellingly about the wisdom of other faith traditions, recognizing that Christianity is most credible when it’s seen as one of the, instead of the only, great religions. “…for me the Christian tradition feels like home in a way that no other tradition could…” Borg helps me see my Christian faith with loving eyes, much like Renkl helps me see my Southern home.

Objects of Desire, by Clare Sestanovich – I picked this up because Anthony Doerr selected it for the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 and he compared Sestanovich to Amy Hempel, one of my all-time favorite short story writers (check out The Collected Stories). He says “The precision of her observations, the intense care taken with the language, and the generous intelligence pulsing behind the narratives makes me believe this is a writer with immense promise.”

Indeed. She says this is a book about loneliness: “I am very compelled by the way that aloneness can produce both an intense narrowness in perception and existence but also a real expansiveness. To feel that you’re locked in your own life is so claustrophobic, and there is nothing more insular and terrible. And yet at the same time, self-consciousness furnishes us with an entire universe.”

I loved that these stories were about women … at different ages, with different life experiences, wanting different things. and of course, I loved the words she used to tell those stories. “For a few days, they kiss in places they will one day reminisce about. The library, the quad, the roof of the chapel, where no one is supposed to go and everyone does. She wonders why there isn’t a word for the anticipation of nostalgia.” (happy sigh. and see that first ♥ below. I listened to these stories and then downloaded the ebook.)

More qualitative ♥ notes from my journal:
♥ I much prefer to read beautiful writing with my eyes (not my ears); audio works great for plot and character-driven books, but I need to see the words on the page to savor them.
♥ Maisie Dobbs. still. A Sunlit Weapon is #17 in the series!
♥ Finally reading Akwaeke Emezi (Dear Senthuran). Wow!
♥ More authors to explore further: Marcus Borg, Mary Lawson, Penelope Lively (welcome suggestions if anyone has good next titles to share!)
♥ Growth. I learned about non-binary sexuality; the impact of the church on colonialism in the American Southwest; Southern culture; infighting among and influences on the authors of the Harlem Renaissance; post-colonial literary theory; Cuba’s culture, geography, and role in the war in Angola; and Jesus scholarship.

My TBR continues to help me curate and prioritize. Here’s a look at May’s results and June’s plans:

A few books carried over from May to June (that’s typical) and I did decide to abandon one (no regrets!)

Finally, I’ve settled on the book project for my 60th (first mentioned in this post)! I’m calling it Bookshelf60 and my goal is to read sixty books I already own (as of May 16) in these last six months before my birthday. I’m off to a very slow start with ONE for May 🙂 The Beet Queen. June’s TBR includes 11. We’ll see.

Whew, if you’re still reading this … thank you for sticking with me until the end! What books are you planning/looking forward to this month? do we have any in common? I do love to connect about books!

12 thoughts on “Reading Better | May.

  1. Phew! I am always in awe of your commitment to your TBR and your goals. And I love that you share them here so I can tag along. I just finished the Krista Tippett Zoom and of course have added a few more authors to my list. I am hoping to read Bittersweet this summer and I see some books in your stack that I read and loved so more bookish chat in our futures.

  2. So many books! I also read French Braid and The Fell, Bittersweet, Quiet, and Lessons in Chemistry. They were a mixed bag for me, so I’ll just keep quiet and let you form your own opinions!

  3. I love how you wrap up your reading month so sweetly. I wish I could wrap my head around how to do something like this!

    Love your thoughts on Graceland, At Last. Being from the south is complicated and infuriating sometimes!

    (Just borrowed Tenth of Dec through Libby. My summer reading plan has already been shifted way off kilter and I am thrilled!)

  4. You always inspire me with not only the breadth of your reading but the depth — you read a lot and you read a lot of books that, as Kym would say, are “chewy.” I really like your plan for your 60th, and I’m trying to read from my bookshelf as well this summer. I seem to be acquiring books like I’ve acquired yarn in the past — just to have them but not necessarily reading them right away. I’m trying to keep my bookshelves filled with books I’ve loved, so once I’ve read a book, it gets passed along if I don’t think I might want to read it again one day. But lately there are too many that are unknown because I haven’t read them yet!

  5. It’s hard for me to imagine reading 23 books in one month, and I consider myself a reader! I love Marcus Borg, and one of my favorite books of his is Convictions.

  6. Still sooo close to finishing Go Tell the Bees. Obtained a paper copy of Woman of No Importance so I can keep it until I’m done. Hoping those will be finished by the end of June so I can tackle my night stand stack!

  7. This month we have several books in common, as they’re past reads for me. You read faster (and more books overall) than anyone I else I know.

  8. I love these posts Mary! I’m waiting for Lessons in Chemistry but that’s it – other than Lonesome Dove which I read a couple of years ago and loved. I think I’ll take a cue from you and try to at least read a book I own in June, July and August. I know I’m in with The Painted Drum! 🙂

  9. I always enjoy seeing what you’re reading and your thoughts on certain books. I just put everything I was planning to read aside because my request for Horse by Geraldine Brooks came in at our library and I’m starting it this afternoon.
    I’ve read or plan to read several of the books that you noted above. Lessons in Chemistry was a DNF for me and I tried twice! I’m in the minority and I hope you have better luck with it.
    I look forward to talking about the Erdrich books!

  10. Mary you always amaze me! What a great month of reading, good for you! I added quite a few new books to our bookshelves to read, and looking forward to them. Just about finished with The Killings At Kingfisher Hill and plan to start reading the Bloomsbury Girls next.

  11. You read a lot and you have ambitious goals which I love. I’m an avid reader, but not that fast. I did try to read French Braid by Anne Tyler, but just could not connect (the characters annoyed me way too much). I told Katie in a comment the other day that I have no summer reading plans other than to enjoy what I read. I’d like to read some stuff I have on shelves that I’ve never touched…but I’m like a Magpie and easily distracted by (or attracted to) the next shiny object. I always enjoy your posts about books Mary.

  12. I read and LOVED Violetta… which I know many did not. I have French Braid on my TBR list…so maybe this month? 🙂

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