Before I jump into a look back at the reading I did in May, I want to let you know I’m sharing a book a day by a Black author on my Instagram account. Please follow me and send book recommendations if you have them.
Given that I’ve been reflecting on the things like systemic racism and the things we can do in our own homes to make change, it was a relief of sorts to check my May readings and find it was far from monochromatic. On the contrary, I was mildly surprised by the breadth of voices represented in this little pile.
In the order that I read them, then.
Ocean Vuong: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
I first encountered this book in a bookshop in Chipping Norton in the UK last fall. It’s one of those rare books that grabbed me from the first page. When a friend asked me to join a discussion about the book, I jumped on the opportunity and couldn’t be happier.
This book is a three-part journey through loss and discovery and loss. It’s about being an immigrant and being gay and being always on the edges until you’re deep in the middle. It’s about life when your difference defines your relationship to the world.
Vuong’s narrator is Vietnamese in the United States and gay like he is. There’s something tentative about the writing that kept me aware that I was an observer as I read. It seems to parallel the narrator’s position as the always-outsider. This is a wonderful book and I enjoyed it very much.
Abby Wambach: Wolfpack
I listened to this book on audiobook and then bought the hardcover edition because I want it in my personal library. It’s based on Abby Wambach’s commencement speech at Barnard College in 2018. Wolfpack is an astounding and beautiful call to action. It’s inspiring and powerful and vulnerable all at the same time. I found myself nodding along to her words as I walked through the forest and I feel like it should be required reading.
Abby was a warrior on the soccer field and is finding new ways to share that spirit with the world. Where she once used it to win games, she’s going to do everything she can now to share that fire with us. And oh, we will burn brightly when we’ve had our dose. I liked her before I read the book. Now I’m a wholehearted fan.
Mircea Eliade: Bengal Nights
This book was written in 1933 by a Romanian man and was based on his experiences in India. It’s based on the author’s experience in his twenties living in an Indian family home and having a rather torrid love affair with their teenage daughter. The writing is dripping colonial tropes from beginning to end. The complications in writing about this book are endless. What I know is this: it’s a part of the Romanian cannon. Kids read it in high school and Eliade is a well-respected author. It was written for a literary prize and Romanian writers often used liberal fantasy to write about sex.
40 years after it was published, the daughter in question, Maitreyi Devi wrote a response. It is undoubtedly worth a read.
Bernardine Evaristo: Girl, Woman, Other
9 chapters. 9 Black women. 9 lives intertwined. Bernardine Evaristo wrote an amazing novel that digs deeply into the desires and pains these women experience as well as the circumstances they come from. Evaristo makes each character come fully alive in her writing and you’re so fully invested in each character that the new chapter with the new character comes as a jolt every time.
I particularly liked reading about how the characters misunderstood each other and how some of these misunderstandings were mundane and some of them were, well, not. We live our lives trying to figure out who we are and do it so often by trying to figure out what other people are about. This balance, the relationship we have with ourselves versus the relationships we have with others - this is what makes Girl, Woman, Other a remarkable read.
Agatha Christie: A Pocketful of Rye
I listened to Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz early in the month and loved it. It was just a great story. One of the characters, a mystery author, had read all of the Agatha Christie novels to learn how to write a great mystery novel. When I saw this in the shop, I couldn’t resist.
The last time I remember reading Agatha Christie was in the 9th grade, so it’s been a while. It was a nice little read and I particularly liked the way the whole story wove in and around a nursery rhyme, “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie…” I won’t go and read all her books, but it was fun to be reminded of what they’re like.
Marie Forleo: Everything is Figureoutable
Marie Forleo is a business coach who believes that anything is possible and this is her book to share that mentality with her reader. If you follow Marie, you’ve probably heard a version of most of the stories she shares here and most of the pep talks are familiar as well. But there are personal stories from others and reflection exercises in this book that can be valuable.
It’s been hard for me to look at life as figureoutable and to be rah-rah about my business during a pandemic, so it took me a while to get through this book. But it was good to sit down and do her exercises to examine some of the things in my head that hold me back. Her spirit is large and powerful. I hope to take some of that energy with me as I move forward.