April 2017 Reads

April was a tough month for reading. We had family in town for about a week, which puts a squeeze on reading time. Then Holy Week with lots of extra musical performances at various services. My reading for school (which I don’t talk about much here since the books are read over months, not days) suffered the most. But the last couple weekends of April were quiet which allowed some catch-up time on lighter reads.

Streets of Laredo by Larry McMurty is the first book I finished. Another epic saga and follow-up to Lonesome Dove (a favorite in January), it was great read for when I had family in town and couldn’t focus on more serious stuff or getting to know new characters in a new book. It wasn’t quite as good as Lonesome Dove, but I still intend to read the last two books in the series at some point.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Ron Jonson is a relatively short book (especially after Streets of Laredo) about the hazards of the internet and those who have lost their livelihood over seemingly inconsequential statements that went viral. Jonson compared it to the public shaming of the 19th century – public floggings or the wearing of the scarlet letter A. While I’ve had my bad moments in forums where people misinterpreted what I said and attacked me like hornets (I simply left those forums – I don’t need to spend time with people like that), I haven’t done anything on the scale of the instances Jonson recounted. That said, I had only heard of one of the stories he told. This book was definitely interesting – I wished at the end it had been a bit longer.

I read Miss Jane by Brad Watson in one sitting at the public library in Grand Island. The boys had an all day class at the Stuhr Museum so Caroline and I went to the library. It’s a great library, but we cannot check out any books (it is over 90 miles from our home) so what we read must be read there. Our lunch was a little late, but I finished Miss Jane before we left (I feared it might be checked out or disappear while we were at lunch). This book ran along similar veins to A Piece of the World where the main character has a physical deformity before there were means of fixing such things and how they dealt with their malady and the life they were able to lead on account of or in spite of it. A well-written, satisfying read.

The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon was the main selection for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club in April. I started it (and loved it!) before company came, then it languished until after Easter. I loved the characters in this book and immensely enjoyed learning about their various situations and relationships to Judge Crater. I am not keen on how the author “solved” the mystery at the end, but that detracted only a little from the book as a whole.

I started reading Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson a couple months ago on my phone as my when-distracted read. Then I saw someone online mention that the audiobook was really good so I checked it out on Overdrive. Let me put it this way – the audio greatly improved on a really good thing. It’s not a heavy read (think: great listen while at the grocery store or driving around town running errands). A couple years ago I read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir (also by Jenny Lawson) and loved Victor’s reaction to things she’d do or say. This book was more of the same and once again, fun to read.

I found What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes on Audible Prime Channels. It wasn’t what I was expecting. Yes, there were stories about what it is like to go to war (Marlantes served in Vietnam). However, the book is a very thoughtful reflection on the ethics of war and how we prepare our young people to serve as well as the challenges they face when they come home and how we can best support them. A great read for anyone who has gone to war or knows someone who has gone to war or has a child who may go to war or whose spouse may go to war. It was also a great way to process many of the things I’ve read in other books like Unbroken (Hillenbrand) or Everyone Brave is Forgiven (Cleave).

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns was another find on Audible Prime Channels. I’d seen it recommended, and I’d read reviews where some loved it and some hated it. The audiobook was great. Sadly, Audible removed it from their Prime Channels before I had finished it. I had asked previously if that might happen if I had listened to books on their channels and been assured that they would give me the book so I could finish it. So when it disappeared, I contacted customer service. They gave me a $17 credit I could use to buy anything I wanted. Even though I was using a credit, I hated to buy a book I’d mostly listened to so I used the money to buy something else. I had the book on my Kindle so I read a couple chapters there. Let me just say that reading it on my Kindle helped me understand the people who didn’t like it. The charm was lost. I found the audio on Hoopla and finished it there. Great audiobook. Perfect summer read (if you’re looking for those…).

I finally go around to starting one of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club flight selections the third weekend of the month – The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. I had a hard time getting into it. The writing style got under my skin. I felt like I was being told over and over that there was great suspense without actually feeling it through the story. I pressed on, though, because I trusted my source. Once I got about 40% through the book, the writing didn’t bother me anymore and I enjoyed all the different storylines as they intersected. Anne (of Modern Mrs. Darcy) had said that it was a mystery with a very surprising twist at the end. I was pretty sure I had it figured out. Even when there were 20 pages left, I was positive I had it figured out. Then the author really did turn the story completely upside down and all the pieces fit splendidly. Oh, what fun it was rethinking the story and fitting them all together! And talk about a major book hangover! This was a good one!

We actually went to Grand Island for classes at the Stuhr Museum three times during April. The first visit is when I read Miss Jane. When we got back from our late lunch, I perused the fiction section, reading a few pages of books I’d seen but hadn’t read. [Have I mentioned that the collection at the Grand Island Library is phenomenal? They have the really good classics (that Lincoln so often discards) mixed in with really good new stuff. Fabulous library.] One of the books I picked up was A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. I’ve never read anything by her before but that book cover always catches my eye. I liked what I read so I checked it out electronically when I got home. Oh, it was a glorious read! There is nothing better than a good family drama. I loved how she developed the characters and brought everything together. I loved Commonwealth (Patchett) for similar reasons, but I would say this was much better. I will definitely be reading more Anne Tyler.

I’ve dabbled in Book of the Month selections before. This month I put a library hold on The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel and was patiently waiting for my turn when I saw the book on the shelf with the new reads at the Grand Island Public Library. The class we were there for that day was a short one, but I managed to read half the book before we left. My turn in the library queue came on April 29th so I checked it out immediately and finished it. Being an introvert, I often long to get away and not talk to anyone for a while. This guy did that for 27 years. He lived as a hermit and stole various essentials from cabins and campgrounds in order to survive. The story begins with their capturing him and goes from there as they learn about his life of solitude and how he survived. Quite the tale.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu was mentioned in passing in The Stranger in the Woods (something about where he choose to have his campsite, if I remember correctly). It’s a short book, only 67 minutes of audio on Audible Prime Channels. Reviews talk about how it applies well to working in corporate America, but I read it mostly in terms of survival after reading The Stranger in the Woods. We study quite a bit of history in school – it also stimulated connections along those lines. Interesting little book. One I’m sure can be read again and again.

On the last day of the month, I finally got to the other book flight selection for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club – The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. I’d read it previously but over the course of twelve weeks (as scheduled in year 7 of Ambleside Online, the curriculum we use for school). It was fun to revisit it in a single sitting and compare what I thought about it with each approach.

I also finished Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor which I read along with the Close Reads Podcast from Circe Institute. I wasn’t freaked out by O’Connor as some people were in the Facebook discussion group. I found her commentary pointing out the absurd on racism and religion in the South during the first half of the 20th century quite fascinating. Where it resounded with me the most, however, was in terms of how people treat each other today when discussing politics. You have people with holier-than-thou attitudes telling others how it should be and what is good for them. I’d love to see someone write some O’Connor-esque stories about that!

What I failed to read this month was Till We All Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. I mention it only because it was the Well Read Mom selection for April. I started out the month listening to a chapter a day and was bopping right along just fine until company came and all the things that go along with Easter. I tried listening to a couple chapters after Easter, but I just could not wrap my mind back around it. I’ve heard it is quite good. I may revisit it during the Tour de Fleece in July when I’m spending lots of time at the spinning wheel, a venue where I’ve successfully read several tough books I might not have read otherwise. [The Tour de Fleece is a challenge spinners do during the Tour de France – spinning on days the cyclers ride, doing challenges on the challenge days, and resting on days off.]