Monday, May 2, 2016

Books I Read in April

Well, hello from the land of end-of-term paper writing. May 9th, guys. That is the day. The final day, when all these papers will be finished and the library books will be returned and the pain and torture and late nights will be over. One week from today. I just have to survive one week, and then I'm done. (And by done, I mean done-done. As in, I'm graduating! Who-hoo! But more on that later.)

Until then, this is probably the only post you're going to get out of me. But hey, look at that! Despite the torture of the past few weeks, I managed to read (and by read, we all know I mean listen-while-I-commute) a decent number of books in the month of April. And there were some good ones too, so let's jump in.

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

This was my first Wendell Berry book, but sign me up for more, please! I would put this book in the same category as Peace Like a River or Gilead, which is a type of book I love but can definitely see is not for everyone. This one is definitely character driven, heavy on thoughtful reflection and light on plot. Oh, but it is beautiful. This is the fictional auto-biography of Jayber Crow as he reflects back on his life as the barber of a small town in rural Kentucky, his rejection and later re-engagement with God, and his completely chaste one-sided fantasy marriage to the already-married love of his life (sounds weirder than it is, I promise). This was slow and lovely and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Sigh, but I do enjoy Shannon Hale, and I really need to read more of her (I've only read this and Princess Academy). I inhaled this one in only two days (a real indulgence, I should've been writing papers!). It is light but not too light, fairly well written, a little predictable but still good, just plain delightful fun. Hale's princess stories are the best (and in case the title confuses you, yes, this is a princess story).

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

So, this one was not what I was expecting. Somewhere in all the buzz and glowing reviews, I'd picked up this was a fantasy-ish, magical realism-ish YA type book, and somehow I interpreted that as being light and happy. No. Not so much. The book was quite a bit heavier than I was expecting, dealing with some really terrible issues and situations, and full of more language and sexual content than I anticipated. Also, I've come to realize that magical realism is not for me. I STRUGGLE with this genre, which is so weird because in theory, it sounds exactly like something I would love. But when I read these type of books I just keep thinking, "This makes no sense!" or "For crying out loud, why is everyone acting like this is normal?!?!?" or "Why do the rules keep changing!!!!" Maybe I'll write a post about this some time, because I've left several magical realism books unfinished. I actually did finish this one, which is saying something, and I can definitely see why people like it. It offers a very interesting discussion about the theme of beauty (although early on, the comments on beauty or physical appearance actually annoyed me, until I realized what the author was trying to say about it). And I actually did end up recommending this one to my husband, because I suspect he would enjoy it quite a bit. So it's still a recommend, just with caveats.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Well, I've been hearing a lot of buzz about this one too for a while, but I didn't actually expect to love it (not sure why). So I was surprised at how delightful I found this. The writing style was just so very British, and I LOVED that. However, and this is a big however, I feel like Atkinson missed out on the opportunity to do something really spectacular with this book. The premise is so interesting: how would you make your life different if you had the chance to live it over and over until you "get it right"? But in the end, I'm not sure I was satisfied with how the question was answered (or not answered, depending on your view). I feel like it could've been much more meaningful than I found it to be. Then there were some nit-pickier issues I had, like just how the rules of this reincarnation thing seemed to work (sometimes she could remember things from past lives, other times it was vague impressions, sometimes it was other people who had changed, and it felt arbitrary and not satisfactorily explained). That being said, this is worth a read for the beautiful prose and incredible plot structure. I'm just astounded at how well Atkinson managed the plot, managed to tell the same life story over and over again keeping all the facts and events straight for what things changed and what stayed the same, and tell this repetitive story yet still keep it edge-of-your-seat engaging. Really, really masterful plot structure. I definitely recommend.

Have you read any of these? What are your thoughts/opinions?


  1. If you love the character and not plot-driven books, look into Kent Haruf. He has a beautiful, unassuming voice (but also delves into some unsavory [ie inappropriate] topics too often). His characters certainly decide the plot and not the other way around.
    Although I also love those "literary" types of novels, I find that I can't consume too many of them without needing a break to something lighter and/or with action. So I'm definitely putting Jayber Crow on my to-reads list, but it might be a month or so until I get to it. I usually take much longer reading those types of books as well.
    Last point I like your review of Life After Life. Sometimes it was confusing why Ursula would remember things exactly and other times would just get a feeling of dread. Although I kinda liked that Atkinson didn't delve too deep into the philosophical ideas of a "perfect" life. It was more like she was focused on the Todd family's relationships and less on the fantastical events. But I loved seeing the same stories happen from the same person's different perspectives. It also made me think about how delicate our lives are and the importance of seemingly insignificant choices or experiences. As I understand there are a few others in this series, so maybe those books will explain the various questions.

    1. I will definitely look into Kent Haruf (Our Souls at Night is on my to-read list already, actually). So, I agree with you that I didn't necessarily want Atkinson to define too neatly what a "perfect" life is, but I will say that I expected more progression in the character from life to life. Or at least, a different kind of progression than she experienced. *Spoilers* Yes, she grew into a strong, independent woman who protected herself from sexual assault and an abusive marriage, but that independent woman never seemed to have a truly healthy/loving relationship (because I'm sorry, being someone's mistress is not the same thing as having a good relationship). She just seemed to always end up alone, and I found that kind of sad and unfulfilling. But maybe that's just my personal opinion about what makes a life good. Other people could define it differently.