Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Books I Read in April

Well, hello there! Happy May! How was April for you? I know everyone made jokes about March lasting an eternity because every day in quarantine felt ridiculously long, but let me tell you what, April seems to have just blazed by for me. Something about the sameness of each day blending in to each other made it feel like a blink, at least for me. Also, as predicted, it was a stressful and busy month work-wise (there's a joke in academia that April is the cruelest month, and that was as true in quarantine as in any other year). I just had a ton of deadlines and grading and online course production work. It was busy.

Then I went and tweaked my back stretching after yoga one morning, and it flared up my old neck and shoulder issues, and I ended up in the chiropractor by the end of the month. But that's a story for another post (or, maybe not, because who cares to read a post about minor back and shoulder issues?).

Anyway, all that preamble is to explain that, as predicted, April was another pretty off reading month for me. I got six books in, which honestly, without my commute, is surprisingly high. I've got a couple more weeks of the grading grind before I'm off for the summer, and I'm hoping my reading numbers improve drastically then. We shall see.

But for now, what I did read covered everything from the super fluff puff to the profoundly serious and important, and I can't wait to talk about some of these books with you. Let's dive in.

The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz

This one was recommended to me by my dissertation advisor, of all people. He said it was patterned after Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and he had read it to his kids and they loved it. Recommendation enough for me! And yes, while the narrative structure has many similarities to Canterbury Tales, it is thankfully a much more complete story (which actually stretched the narrative point-of-view to the unbelievable, but just embrace it). This story takes place in medieval France, and deals with all sorts of interesting questions about miracles, religion, diversity, and book love. It follows the tale of three misfit children who seem to be able to perform miracles... or is it witchcraft? The ending surprised me, and I found the religious discussion surprisingly deep and beautiful. The book had all sorts of very accurate historical detail in it, and so I was not surprised to learn that Gidwitz's wife is actually a professor of Medieval history with a PhD from Yale. Legit. In short, I loved it, and I highly recommend it. As a content warning, there is a recurring joke employing Biblical swear words (ass), which I might feel slightly uncomfortable with my own young children reading, but if I ever do this as a read aloud (and it would make a great read aloud), I could just edit those parts.

Emma by Jane Austen

This was my book club's pick for the month (because we can't check books out from the library here right now, we had to pick something everyone could access for cheap or free elsewhere). Despite being my least favorite Austen heroine, I love reading this book so much. The way the plot unfolds is just so clever and so fun. It took everything in me not to immediately dive into the rest of Austen's books, as they would've made the perfect comfort reads during quarantine, but I didn't want to upset my tradition of re-reading these in the fall (and I have a feeling I'll be just as in need of comfort reads come fall). So I restrained. But goodness, I could just reread Austen for ever and never get tired of her.

Would Like to Meet by Rachel Winters

So instead, I dove into the comfort of super fluffy romcom reads. This one was rather adorable. There were a lot of homages to all the classic romcom movies of the 90s and early 2000s, which was fun, and it managed to remain fairly clean (especially in comparison to other contemporary romances of this genre). In short, if you like fluffy romances, this one is a recommend. Nothing earth shattering, but cute.

The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

This one was quite a bit fluffier and less smart than the one above. I found it on a list somewhere comparing it to To All The Boys I've Loved Before because there is a fake dating story-line. It's not nearly as good, but it was cute enough to satisfy. And it was quite a bit cleaner, which was honestly surprising. Anyway, still not particularly memorable for me.

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

This one was recommended to me by a trusted friend a few months ago, and I've had it on hold since then (it took forever to come in). But what a book! This book made me feel so angry. Like, seething frustration. The premise of this book is that there is gender bias against women in some of the most fundamental ways that our society is designed, some ways that are obvious, but other ways that we don't even realize because we've all been taught for so long that the male body is the standard so we don't even think about these things. I'll try to give a few brief examples. One thing she brings up is that there are fewer female concert pianists than male concert pianists, not because females are inherently less good at the piano, but because the standard piano keyboard width was designed for male hands that have on average a bigger reach. If piano keys were less wide, women could have better reach and more could be better pianists. Or the one that infuriated me, seats in cars are designed for male bodies and tested with male crash dummies, which means that women tend to die at a higher rate in car crashes because seat belts and cars are not designed for female bodies (and this seat design might also contribute to why women suffer more from car sickness!!!). Now, one or two of these types of facts might be dismissable. But Perez just keeps bringing up example after example after example in this flood of evidence that just felt overwhelming... the world is designed for men and not women. I won't say here that I agreed with absolutely everything Perez says, or with all of her data, or assumptions, or even goals of what gender equality should be, but I absolutely appreciated her overall argument that women's bodies are different and should not be ignored. Women are not men, and women are just as deserving of having tools, jobs, cities, cars, medications, and schedules designed for them as men. I also agree that women should be part of governing bodies making decisions. I could go on and on about this book (and maybe I will some day), but for now, I'll leave it with a high, high recommend. Everyone should read this and talk about it.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Okay, so when I read really good books, I usually talk my husband's ear off about them. So when I started telling him about this one immediately after the last one, his comment was, "What, are you one some kind of men-are-evil reading streak right now?" I've had both these books on hold for a while and did not intend to read them concurrently, but yes, by the end of both these books, I really did feel depressed about the work feminism still has left to do. Okay, if you haven't heard of this one, you need to read it. Required. Absolutely. Except, it is a hard, hard read. If you don't know yet, Chanel Miller was previously known as Emily Doe, or the Stanford Rape Victim. She was sexually assaulted by Stanford swimmer Brock Turner back in 2015. While her name was kept anonymous throughout the trial, her victim impact statement went viral in 2016, and I remember reading it then and being super impressed with it. Chanel eventually decided that her story needed to be told in full, and that people needed to know her name, instead of just knowing her as "Brock Turner's victim" (thus the title of the book). Here's the thing, Chanel is a beautiful writer. I mean, stunningly beautiful writer, and it is absolutely a shame that this is the book we have to get to know her through. I wish with all my heart her story, her book, could be a different story, but this is the one she gets to tell now, and I think everyone needs to read it. I want to push this book into the hands of every freshman on my campus, I want everyone to read it. It is incredible, and heartbreaking, and super powerful. It's not just a tragedy about what Brock did to her, but a tragedy about what the justice system did to her, how hard she had to work to be the "perfect victim." I don't have answers, but I know that people need to read this book and we need to keep talking about this. Absolutely, 100% recommend.

Alright, that was my reading month. A little bit of everything in there, from super fluff to heartbreaking serious, from classic to middle grade. It was a good month, and I'd love, love, love to talk more about these books to anyone willing to chat!

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