March 2017 Reads

I kicked off March with the main Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club selection A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. The book is inspired by Christina’s World, a picture by Andrew Whyeth and attempts to tell what might be the story of the woman in the painting. It was well researched historical fiction, though the conversation between Christina and her school teacher about the poetry of Emily Dickinson was a bit…shall I say, contemporary. I honestly wasn’t sure whether I liked the book or not until I got to the ending which wrapped everything up splendidly so much that I decided I did like it.

The three book flights for the same book club were all good but not exactly compelling.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes starts off as a World War II story which I enjoyed. Then it completely changes gears and skips to the current century where there is a fight over a painting that played a pivotal role in the first part of the book. I just couldn’t buy into Liv’s attachment to the painting, much less her attachment to the guy trying to take it from her. And though the ending was a valiant effort, it didn’t redeem it as with A Piece of the World. Oh well.

Steal Like and Artist by Austin Kleon is something I would have devoured when I was in my 20’s but now, not so much. It’s a very short book and very inspirational if living like an artist is your thing.

Finally, The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a YA novel about children evacuated from London during World War II. Ada and her brother have a horrid English mother and have to lie in order to be evacuated with everyone else. The woman who becomes their guardian is as changed by them as they are by her. Ada and Christina (of A Piece of the World) both have disabilities but their responses to their lot in life are very different, making these two books play off each other well. Of the three book flight selections, this was my favorite.

Gretchen Rubin selects three books every month in her book club, one of which I read in January and loved. This month, her selection Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby caught my eye. It was a perfect “phone read” – something light and funny that doesn’t require focus and can easily be read on the go. Every month he lists the books he bought and the books he read and then casually chats about his reading life for the month. Even if he was talking about a book I hadn’t heard of or a subject I wasn’t familiar with, the way he talked about things made this read thoroughly pleasurable with many a laugh-out-loud comment.

On whim one weekend, I went and checked out a couple books from the library that Hornby had mentioned. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan is about the wedding night of a couple in the age where such things were not discussed and the difficulties that ensued. Very literal – very well done. Fun Home: A Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel is a graphic memoir about her relationship with her father, which sounds innocent enough, except that it revolves around her coming out as a lesbian in college and learning in retrospect that her father was a gay pedophile, even though he was married and never “came out” as gay himself. I think I would have enjoyed this more as a traditional memoir – as a graphic novel it was too choppy and concise for my tastes. I read both books in a single afternoon and returned them to the library the next day as they were things I didn’t want lying around the house for my children to stumble upon and peruse.

Along sort of the same lines, All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg was a March Book of the Month selection. It started out interesting as it was about a single woman surrounded by married people, which was the story of my life when I lived in Maryland for four years before moving to Nebraska where I met my husband and lived happily ever after. Other than having too much adult content for my tastes (certainly not the life I lived when I was single), the book was good. It’s an easy read, which I needed at the end of the month as I was trying [unsuccessfully] to adjust to my progressive lenses (my main difficulty with them being reading, sadly).

Back to more serious stuff.

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebod is a powerful book written by one of the mother’s of the Columbine killers. Tragedies like that are painful enough without thinking about what the families of the perpetrator’s go through. Sue does an excellent job of telling her story and grappling with what happened. She focuses a lot on the suicide aspect of it (Eric wanted to kill and didn’t mind dying if that’s what it came down to whereas Dylan, Sue’s son, wanted to die and didn’t mind killing if that’s what he had to do in order to die). Columbine by David Cullen (read last month) was good, but if I were to choose one of the two to read, I’d pick this one hands down. All mothers should read this book – Sue lends so much insight into mental health, especially during the teen years. Her tale is gripping and she examines the issues from all sides. Very well done. Don’t shy away from this one.

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald as an audiobook read by the author is available for free on Audible for those with Amazon Prime. It’s a quiet book, one good for relaxing when things are calm (aka not good for distraction when things are crazy as it tends to meander and you can easily get lost). She talks a lot about training her hawk and T. H. White, author of The Once and Future King and The Goshawk. The latter book was the guide map for MacDonald’s obsession with hawks, which served as her lifeline as she dealt with her father’s death. That said, hawks play a role in The Once and Future King of which I’ve read parts (and did not like) – this book made me more forgiving toward that book and perhaps willing to give it another chance.

I’ve wanted to read Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee ever since I listened to the Close Reads podcast episode where they argued passionately over whether or not Atticus is a racist. This book has been highly controversial, but I loved it. Scout has moved away and comes home to visit where she is essentially an outsider who wants to set everyone straight. The question is, do they need to be set straight? Are they really what she makes them out to be? Serious questions that are very relevant to our time. Highly recommended. The audiobook read by Reese Witherspoon is fantastic.

I also finally got around to reading (make that, listening to) Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. This is another of the many works of historical fiction set in World War II floating around these days. Not my favorite but still pretty high on the list. It’s worth reading just for the clever lines sprinkled generously throughout the book. The plot is rather weak, and I struggled to like the characters – they all (save Alastair) seemed too flippant about the war. Or perhaps sincere but rather naive. They certainly weren’t practical the like main characters in other WWII books. But then Mary almost dies and I was shocked at how upset I was, so I guess I cared more about the characters than I thought. Word has it Cleave is working on a sequel – not sure whether or not I’ll read it when it comes out.

I finally finished Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman. I like the idea of this book far more than I liked the actual book. It’s full of overgeneralization and meanderings, minus the overly flowery language of Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts). At the end of each chapter, Freeman has a prayer and I would read it and think, “Really? That’s what that chapter was about? Really?” I’m also still (slowly) reading Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist from this same genre, but I think I like it a lot more. It may be a while before you hear my final opinion of it, though.

The Screwtape Letters was the selection for the Well Read Mom this month. I’ve read it previously and loved it. This time, not so much. I was trying to read it with those dreadful progressive lenses and my comprehension was dismal. Thankfully, I got quite proficient at discussing and writing papers on books I hadn’t read while I was in school so I shouldn’t be making a complete fool of myself when our group meets to discuss it.

I wrapped up the month with a serious winner – Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I listened to the audio version (salvation when your vision is compromised). He speaks several languages and it’s much easier to listen to him rattle off those lines than try to try and weed through them myself. If you need something entertaining to keep you awake on a long drive or to get your mind off other things, this book is perfect.

I know it sounds like I read A LOT this month, but so many were short, easy reads that left me with a feeling reminiscent of a sugar high. In part it was because I needed light reads for my desperate attempt to adjust to progressive lenses since my comprehension was so dismal while trying to focus and find that ever illusive sweet spot. I’ve gone back to wearing my old glasses for now and hope to enjoy more serious reads during the month of April. Let’s just say I now have a whole new appreciation for why kids with poor vision struggle in school.