Reading Better | March.

March’s reading took me to some new places (literally – Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy is a trip!), introduced a few new-to-me authors that I’ll be following (Caleb Azumah Nelson, Eva Ibbotson, Alice Munro), and confirmed my commitment to Maggie O’Farrell, Katherine May, Louise Erdrich, Kate Clayborn, and Ann Patchett. I continued to read more with my eyes (14 books) than my ears (6) and I think that trend will stick. Audiobooks encourage me to multi-task (The Amber Spyglass got me through that epic ironing session last week) and some books are just better without that. So it’s interesting that two of my favorite books of the month – Hamnet (a re-read) and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry were both audiobooks.

Connection continued to be a strong point; I had conversations about 12 of those 20 books. Diversity continued to lag with only five (ugh. I’m disappointed about this). Five books (25%) didn’t tick any of my Intention boxes ; one of those was Enchantment, so clearly those Intentions aren’t everything.

I loved reading about memory, stories and the power of storytelling, place, and art from so many different perspectives.

I also loved the storytelling itself, “creative structure” in literary fiction-speak:

  • The Bingo Palace alternates between first and third person narration, and those third person chapters are narrated by the indigenous community. Those peeks into the narrators’ “we” were so good!
  • In Taft, the first person narrator imagines his way into a third person story. Patchett does it seamlessly and it totally took me by surprise. (this book is likely to gain another star as I reflect more on it)
  • The Twyford Code relies on the reader reading a transcript of a voice recording (not really a spoiler) … genius!
  • Open Water alternates between a second and third person narrator. I don’t often love second person narration, but it felt almost necessary here because the “you” is a young Black artist living in London … something “I” can’t actually be, and even a close “he” is simply too distant.

Here are the short reviews I shared on Instagram for those three 5-star books:

🎧Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell – first read (5⭐️) on paper in January 2021. Since then, I’ve read/re-read ALL of O’Farrell’s book and knew I was ready to re-read for a bookclub discussion. I loved the audio; it really brought O’Farrell’s stunning prose to life. and I’m glad my first experience was on the page. It was easier for me to follow the back & forth timeline, and I definitely appreciated the structure more in that format. One of our members teaches AP English and gave us his Intro to Shakespeare to start 😊.

📖Enchantment, by Katherine May – In 17 personal essays (4 each grouped around Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, with a final one for Aether), May explores wonder, time, memory, place, and how our everyday encounters with the world around us can be a place of enchantment. Wintering is a book I’ll be revisiting to remind me how to winter, and that seasons are cyclical. Enchantment is one I’ll revisit to remind me how to live “More often than not, I find that I already hold all the ideas from which my enchantment is made. The deliberate pursuit of attention, ritual, or reflection does not mystically draw in anything external to me. Instead, it creates experience that rearrange what I know to find the insights I need today.”

🎧Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor – for Novel Pairings Classics Club. This book was published in 1976 (and won the Newbery Medal in 1977), so I missed it as a kid. This audio recording – for the book’s 40th anniversary – includes an introduction written and narrated by Jacqueline Woodson. Hearing her talk about how this book made her feel seen was a perfect opening. Taylor’s novel (based on her family’s stories) – about a Black family living in rural Mississippi during the Depression, centers on 9-year-old Cassie. Seeing the racism, violence, injustice, poverty, and also the strength and love of Cassie’s family, through a child’s eyes is powerful. And the lessons are so important; I would love to see this book in a middle-school curriculum.

My TBR continues to be a good way to decide what to read next – here’s March’s done … and not.

Those two X’s are books I intentionally Did Not Finish (DNF). I often pick up a book, read a few chapters, decide it’s not for me (or not for me right now), and simply move on. These two DNFs I want to record:

The Need to Be Whole is Wendell Berry’s new non-fiction book about “Patriotism and the History of Prejudice” (the book’s subtitle). I didn’t even know about it until Nick Offerman talked about narrating it on his recent On Being podcast with Krista Tippett (in late February). I listened to the first five chapters and was uncomfortable … with Berry’s portrayal of slavery, his family’s history with slavery, and some white people’s experience living in Kentucky during the Civil War. I wondered why I hadn’t heard more about the book. I google’d reviews and found one (on Slate) that put into words exactly what I was feeling … of course I only read five chapters, not the whole book. I’m linking it here in case you’re curious, too. I’m disappointed on so many fronts. First that Wendell Berry wrote the book (I will continue to read his poetry, but I’m done with his other books), second that it was published, and third, that Nick Offerman read it out loud and then talked about it (to Krista Tippett – I can only think she hasn’t read/listened to it because I’m not ready to be disappointed with her, too).

Tinkers is a Pulitzer Prize winner (admittedly, I have a complicated relationship with that prize – topic for another post) and it was on my TBR because the author says Housekeeping (a favorite from January) was an influence. I wanted to love this. I spent a day with it – nearly halfway done! and then couldn’t make myself pick it up again. Some of the prose was stunning, but it wasn’t enough to keep me reading. maybe because it was written by a man about men? y’all know how I feel about white men writing about white men … even if they do write beautifully 🙂 I wish the Pulitzer committee felt the same!

and here’s April

The top row are my personal reading plans for the Carol Shields (first two) and Women’s Prize long lists. Since I took this photo, the short list for the Carol Shields was announced and both books are on it! I finished The Sleeping Car Porter this morning and cannot recommend it highly enough. Thank you, Margene, for recommending it! The rest are buddy reads, bookclub selections, hopefuls, and year-long reads. After last month, I’m loving that only three of these books are written by men.

How about you – what are you looking forward to reading this month?

8 thoughts on “Reading Better | March.

  1. You had such a great month of reading! I love how many people are rereading (or experiencing for the first time) His Dark Materials right now. I love that series so much! And I’ve also read the first book in Pullman’s The Book of Dust series — set in the same world as HDM. I really enjoyed it!

    I’m also disappointed to read about the newest Wendell Berry — and can’t help but wonder if our earlier conversation colored my read of Nathan Coulter last week? I certainly didn’t enjoy it as much as I had the other Port William books. Either way — I am soldiering on with that series unless I hit another dud sooner rather than later.

    I’m hoping to tackle a few books on the Women’s and International Booker Prize longlists in April — many of the same that are on your top row. I can’t wait to hear what you think about them!

  2. I said I wasn’t going to try to read all the Women’s Prize long list, but here I am having read four already, started a fifth, and getting ready to start a sixth. I guess I just have to hope that the books selected for the short list are among the ones I’ve read!

    I’m curious what happened to Ring Shout; do you still plan to read it? I’m really intrigued by it but also a little scared of it, so I was hoping you’d read it and tell me if I could handle it!

  3. your reading is an inspiration! Love the books, I have never read his dark materials…I think I have a copies somewhere in one of the guest bedrooms, I’ll have to look around.

  4. I don’t think I will try that Wendell Berry book. It might be taking the coward’s way out, but I fear it might also ruin a lot of people I like and enjoy – Berry himself, Nick Offerman, and Krista Tippett.

    Roll of Thunder is the first book in a series of five, and there are also three prequels. Our school district used the whole series in the 6th grade curriculum (or they did many years ago when my kids were in school) and we all read them one year.

    I’m looking forward to Transit of Venus later this month and hoping I am smart enough to get through the book after a couple of false starts!

  5. Lots of good reading planned. Once there were wolves will be the only one. Sometimes new to me authors a mixed bag, and am glad that many of my favorites are coming out with new works so I can balance the not so good with definitely will not disappoint. Happy Friday.

  6. I so enjoy your posts about reading. I couldn’t agree more with you about reading white men writing about white men. Wendell Barry writes thoughtful poetry but I don’t want to read any more of his ideas. I tried one of his novels but it wasn’t for me. The Slate review was interesting. I hope you are right about Krista Tippett. Right now I’m looking forward to Fresh Water for Flowers and a reread of The Island of Missing Trees. I have Signal Fires on hold but it might be a bit of a wait.

  7. Yep on the white men. Enough already. I didn’t care for Ring Shout. Just couldn’t get into the voice. (Horror isn’t my strong suit). I’m looking forward to Caleb Azumah Nelson next book. It’s out in early May. Wandering Souls is up next for the Women’s Prize reads.

  8. Thank-you for your very interesting book reviews and I always enjoy your perspective. I’ve downloaded The Transit of Venus and ordered The Sleeping Car Porter (not available in the UK yet). Yes! to Hamnet, and I have also enjoyed several times Philip Pullman – there was a great television adaptation last year here too. I’m pondering Enchantment – I did not enjoy Wintering as much as I’d hoped …

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