stack of books

June 2020 Book Reviews

I dove deep into my bookshelves last month, but it wasn’t for reading. The Black Lives Matter protest rocked me to my core. A frightening online conversation that revealed the way people deal with strangers shoved me way off balance.

My way to cope and contribute was amplifying Black voices via an excavation of my bookshelves that yielded 32 books by Black Authors. I shared them and my thoughts on my Instagram account and Facebook as well.

Now to the books. I realized that half the books I read this month were either audiobooks or library books. While I’ve skipped them in the past, I’m going to include them this month. In case you don’t want to read the whole post, here are some links you can use to jump down:

William Faulkner: Sanctuary
Dalton Conley: Honky
Steven Pressfield: Do the Work
Niel Gaiman: Anansi Boys
Karyn Parsons: How High the Moon
Jonathan Harris: Colorblind
Toni Morrison: God Help the Child
Anthony Horowitz: The Word is Murder
Erin Hortle: The Octopus and I
Anthony Horowitz: Stormbreaker

William Faulkner: Sanctuary

This book has been languishing in my “books to read” pile for years. I’ve read a number of Faulkner novels over the years and picked this up second-hand, sure it would be a good read.

I wasn’t wrong. It was very complex and revealed itself slowly. It was like watching a film through a camera angle that slowly gets wider as the film goes on. So, in the beginning you are focusing on individual characters as they speak and move. You move on to interactions between characters and then groups of characters start to crystalize and you realize you are watching a symphony of characters all performing one piece together.

It’s an astounding story of a white college girl who gets stuck in a house out in the country when her ride’s car runs out of gas. There follows one big crime and then the slow crumbling of lives and justice. It’s a read for these times.

Dalton Conley: Honky

This was a book club selection and I felt resistant right at the title. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be about, but I’m a faithful book club member, so got my copy and read it.

My misgivings were quieted on the first page of the prologue. Dalton writes that his childhood as a white kid in a New York City housing project where almost everyone was Black or Hispanic made his youth a study in whiteness and privilege. Dalton is a sociologist and he examines his childhood through these glasses.

He is candid about when and how his race gave him privileges despite the fact that his surroundings seemed to exclude them. He writes about the pain of exclusion and the relief of privilege equally.

I’m so glad I read this book and that Conley shared his experience with us. He may have lived in a situation where his privilege was blatantly apparent, but his stories give us a way to think about our own privilege more deeply.

Steven Pressfield, Do the Work

This is the little bossy companion book to Pressfield’s already fairly direct The War of Art. Basically, he wants you to know that your mind is going to come up with a zillion reasons why you shouldn’t respond to your creative calling. Then he wants you to ignore your mind and get to work.

I read this for a kick in the patoot before I started on my super-secret-very-exciting creative project. It helped. Mainly, though, I love that someone wrote a book as bossy as my mind can be.

Neil Gaiman: Anansi Boys

I listened to this on audiobook and it was absolutely a delight. I love Neil Gaiman’s work and the worlds he creates are fabulous. They are just magical enough to transport and just real enough to draw me in.

In this case, it’s the story of two brothers who are stuck with each other until they can figure out the magic and myth that are the undercurrent to their lives. There is a lot of international travel and self-righteous anger involved.

British comedian and actor Lenny Henry read the audiobook and he is incredible to listen to. I enjoyed this book thoroughly.

Karyn Parsons: How High the Moon

A few weeks into my Black authors Instagram series, I realized that my children lacked Black authors on their bookshelves. This realization led to research and lists. Then I saw How High the Moon at the public library here in the Netherlands, grabbed it, and told my son it would be required reading for both of us.

How High the Moon is the story of Ella, a girl who lives in South Carolina with her grandparents, nephew, and an orphan girl her grandparents took on. Ella only wants to finally live with her mother in Boston. This is the story of what happened when her dream came true.

This book touched on more topics than I could have imagined and did it from a child’s perspective. My 11-year-old son read it and identified with Ella’s longing to visit Boston. He likes big cities, too. Karyn Parsons also acts. She starred as Hillary Banks in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I hope she writes more books.

Jonathan Harris: Colorblind

I bought this book to stock my kids’ shelves and to see how it tackled the problematic issue of colorblindness, or claiming that one doesn’t see color in order to site-step talking about racism or privilege.

The book is a graphic novel memoir about Jonathan. He lives in Long Beach, California with his parents and three older brothers. He has a close relationship with his uncle, who has been in jail since Jonathan was born. The story is about how Jonathan’s uncle helps him cope with discrimination.

This book didn’t talk about color blindness the way I expected it to. Instead, it takes the position that sometimes (often) you have to ignore the fact that people mistreat you and treat them well in order to win their friendship. What I hope my kids see is that some people don’t have the option to worry about whether people are treating them right or wrong. They just have to keep trying. And that may just be wrong.

Toni Morrison: God Help the Children

The best part about listening to a Toni Morrison audiobook is her voice. She’s got a rich, beautiful, full voice that I could listen to for… well, a whole book.

The story is about Bride, a woman with blue black skin whose parents rejected her because of her dark color. Her father left and her mother rarely touched her. Bride learns to love her skin, wearing only white clothes and working in the makeup industry. But she needs to endure a particular physical trial as an adult to learn to like herself.

This was a nice story and one that dives deep into an issue that I didn’t know much about, namely the issues surrounding life as a dark-skinned Black woman and how much ostracism can come with it. It’s Morrison’s only book set in the present and a good read.

Anthony Horowitz: The Word is Murder

This was my yummy audiobook murder mystery and a meta as well.

The story is about an author who’s more or less told to write the story of a detective solving a mystery. Horowitz writes himself into the story, the characters are fully 3-D and he falls over his own mistakes.

It was lovely to listen to. I enjoyed it so much, particularly when the narrator is falling over his own ego and deciding, like we all do, that he will no longer be taken advantage of, only to be shown that he had no idea what was going on.

Erin Hortle: The Octopus and I

This is the debut novel by a Tasmanian author I would have never found on my own. These kinds of books are the reason we should all join a book club, preferably an international one.

The book is mainly the story of how Lucy, a young woman who’s moved from the mainland to Tasmania, copes with losing her breasts to breast cancer. There are some interesting animal interludes that have permanently changed the way I think about octopi and weals. There’s also some nice intergenerational relationships that help both parties along.

I enjoyed the Octopus and I very much. Author Erin Hortle is doing events these days on a virtual book launch, so see if you can catch one!

Anthony Horowitz: Stormbreaker

I was excited to listen to this one after The Word is Murder. It was the only Horowitz audiobook available from my library, so I went for it.

The book turned out to be young adult fiction about Alex Rider, the first in a series. Alex’s uncle has died and turns out to have been a spy. Alex gets recruited by MI-6, goes to training, and quickly ends up on his first mission. His task is to save, well, most of the country.

While this wasn’t what I was looking for, I listened to it anyway. It was entertaining and I think my 11-year-old should give it a try after he finishes his young James Bond books!

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