This is a digest of the books I read in February. A few I’ve already published reviews on, but others have pieces in the works. Today was an okay month. Some of what I read was truly excellent, while others were less moving. I honed in on some nonfiction pieces that relate to current events, as well as some relevant poetry and fiction. Every month I feel a little disappointed that I couldn’t finish my entire list, especially when I deviated as much as I did this month.
(If a book is hyperlinked, it takes you to my review of the text).
- Black Movie by Danez Smith (BR #21)
- Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry
- Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
- Lazaretto by Dianne McKinney-Whetstone
- Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
- Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
- We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (BR #16)(Classic)
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (BoTM)
- On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
Unlike January, I only read three truly exceptional books this month: Black Movie, Citizen: An American Lyric, and The Handmaid’s Tale. The last wasn’t originally included in my February list, but with the miniseries coming out, I wanted to read it before watching the adaptation. I’m hoping to get a review-essay combo out soon, but I loaned my copy to my sister. I’ll need to get it back before I attempt the response I feel I need to write. I will give you a teaser, though: This book challenged my assumptions about the banality of my faith in the public sphere. I’ll leave it there, for now.
If you read my review of Black Movie by Danez Smith, you will understand why I call it exceptional. Smith is part of a small group of minority poets doing incredibly interesting things right now. I’m privileged to have a poet-mother who periodically hands me chapbooks and manuscripts without comment, but I also find much of my poetry through Button Poetry’s social media sites. I highly recommend checking them out.
Claudia Rankine’s poetic essay is the final standout of the month. I’ve been sitting on this one, like The Handmaid’s Tale, pondering and contemplating before I set word to paper in a review. I have never experienced a written piece that uses illustrations and images as effectively as Citizen. I read it in two sittings, being emotionally and spiritually unable to finish it in one. If I were to assign required reading to all American adults, I think I would probably choose this piece. Perhaps it is not the most accessible, but somehow its unique and sometimes confusing form does not detract, but adds to the overall effect.
There are two books you absolutely should not read: Milk and Honey and Lazaretto. Both are painfully awful. I have no idea how Rupi Kaur’s rambling, nonsensical, and juvenile collection of “poems” has a 4.36 (of 5) rating on Goodreads. It is truly awful. As I mentioned in my review, there are better poets, doing better things, in better (and more interesting) ways. Lazaretto is also so underdeveloped it reads like a list. I got it as a BookBub deal for $1.99 in the Apple iBooks store, so I’m not overly upset. I just wish I could get the time I spent reading it back. If you’re looking for better narratives of slaves or servants around the Civil War, read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl or The Underground Railroad. Don’t read Lazaretto.
A Pachinko review is coming, but the Min Jin Lee novel of a twentieth century Korean family living in Japan fell at the head of the middle of the pack. I will say this now, however: it is an important story for our particular moment in history. Koreans in Japan are still drastically discriminated against. Could it be that a story about a colonized people living in another country could give us insight into our own American Imperialism and our treatment of racial minorities? I believe so.
Finally, this evening I finished a tiny book my father handed me yesterday during dinner: On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder. The author is a historian by trade and writes this book (really a long form essay published as a book) as a kind of historical guide to our political moment. He drives home the point that we are not living in ordinary times, and the threat to our democracy is real and very much internal. For anyone looking for a practical guide to resisting the alarming changes happening in America today that takes into account historical precedent, this is the book. If I have one critique of the book, it is that Snyder has the opportunity and historical parallel to address the condition and threat to minorities today but doesn’t.
Overall, an okay month. Certainly it was not a month wasted. I learned a great deal in my reading and could feel my critical thinking muscles flexing again, which felt good. I will be publishing my March reading list tomorrow once I know what Book of the Month books I’ll be ordering with my subscription.