(All links on book titles will take you directly to the Goodreads page for that title. I love keeping track of what I’ve read on Goodreads, but if you want a full synopsis (without spoilers) you can also find that there. If you chose to purchase selected book, Goodreads will have an Amazon link available, but I would also encourage you to search instead for the book from your favorite local, indie, thrifted bookseller option if that is something you want to do!)
…I’m refusing to talk about this month. Frankly, there has been altogether too much reflecting done on my part, and it has only added to my tension, so I’m going to do what I can to have this be a COVID-free space.
Except to say that I’m tired and high-strung (which isn’t all that different from my every-day situation, to be honest). If you detect a slightly unenthusiastic tone to my writing of this post, I apologize, but I just don’t have the go-getter spirit right now that I usually do. I think that’s understandable.
I completed 8 books this month. It isn’t the greatest I’ve ever done, but it could be a lot worse. Except, I read some books I genuinely loved and got around to reading a few books that had sat on my shelf for far too long. I can take pride in that, at least. Also, I read a few Usborne books PROBABLY over 200 times this month alone; if only I considered board books toward my overall goal.
- Nonfiction: 2
- Fiction: 6
By Star Review:
- ✪✪✪✪✪ : 2
- ✪✪✪✪: 5
- ✪✪✪: 1
I didn’t read any audiobooks this month. Sorry, haters.
Favorite Read: If You Want to Make God Laugh
Most Likely to Recommend: One Day in December
Most Quotable: If You Want to Make God Laugh
Most Important/Powerful/Heavy/Thought-Provoking: I Am, I Am, I Am
Most Fun: Southern Lady Code. For sure.
Late to the Party: Peter Pan (in the most literal sense) and One Day in December (because it feels like EVERYONE was posting about this book a year ago).
Favorite Instagram Post:
- If You Want to Make God Laugh, Bianca Marais
- I Am, I Am, I Am; Seventeen Brushes with Death, Maggie O’Farrell
- Olive, Again, Elizabeth Strout
- Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
- The Accidental Beauty Queen, Teri Wilson
- One Day in December, Josie Silver
- Turtles All the Way Down, John Green
- Southern Lady Code, Helen Ellis
“The only fiction books Zodwa owns are Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan and Beloved by Toni Morrison. She’s read both books multiple times and often looks at the author photographs to remind herself that black women are fit for more than labor, that they can have ideas and thoughts and dreams worthy enough to be committed to paper, compelling enough for strangers to read.”If You Want to Make God Laugh, Bianca Marais
Okay, pals. I’m going to preface this section by saying that if you have not yet read Hum If You Don’t Know the Words, you have to do that. Not because it’s essential for understanding this book (there is literally no connection other than themes, setting, and author), or because I have a weird thing about reading author’s backlist books before reading their new releases (I don’t). I honestly don’t even care if you don’t get to it before you read this one. YOU JUST NEED TO READ BOTH OF THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE THAT GOOD. I wouldn’t lie to you. She’s amazing.
I made it abundantly clear that I love Bianca Marais. Also, she mentioned me on Instagram this month, and that was the greatest thing to happen in all of March.
This book is focused on three women in South Africa post-Apartheid. Don’t even get me started on the lack of proper education regarding Apartheid in American school systems, because (and I kid you not) I never learned about it in the classroom. I was a very good student, I think I would have remembered. SO my entire understanding of this political system is based on fictional novels and the Disney Channel movie, The Color of Friendship. All of this to say, I am not an expert but find it riveting to learn about the things that happened in South Africa surrounding this time.
Two of the three main characters in this book are white women (sisters, lightly past middle-aged, if that matters to you) and one black South African teenager. Their lives intersect around a baby boy and the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic (it feels odd to be writing about this now, considering our current global situation). It’s sad, and I can almost guarantee that you will cry, but it is SO GOOD. You must read it.
“The best way, I am about to discover, is not always the easiest way.”I Am, I Am, I Am, Maggie O’Farrell
Oh man, this book. I already know I will be recommending it to all sorts of different people because it captivated my attention. I was mesmerized by O’Farrell’s storytelling and concept of her memoir in parts.
You know my complicated relationship with nonfiction; I typically either find it fascinating or REALLY struggle to get through reading it. This was completely engaging to read! The whole premise is that in each chapter of the book, O’Farrell chooses to reflect on one of the various times she nearly died. She describes the situations in which she found herself and then also describes how she was capable of surviving. It’s so interesting because you start to think of your own life experiences and how many of them neared death; it’s just a completely different way of looking at your existence. Each encounter is named by the way she nearly died and which part of the body it attacked. For example, (spoiler) the first section is titled “Neck” and describes the time a man tried to strangle her. You know, just normal everyday things.
“‘When you get old…you become invisible. It’s just the truth. And yet it’s freeing in a way…it’s just that you don’t count anymore, and there is something freeing about it.”Olive, Again, Elizabeth Strout
Olive Kitteridge was written in 2008, put I was only introduced to the book ten years later in 2018. I listened to Olive Kitteridge as an audiobook and then watched the miniseries on HBO. Olive is unlike many other characters I’ve encountered– she’s more like Ove (from Fredrik Backman’s famous A Man Called Ove) than anyone else I can think of. Kind of rough and blunt, totally honest and genuinely brusque. She finds relationships with people difficult, even those she is closest to (her son and husband, specifically).
This new addition to the Kitteridge chronicles didn’t miss a beat. Ultimately, it describes Olive’s aging process as she remarries late in life, meets new grandchildren, experiences the death of loved ones, and journeys to a care center. She suffers from bouts of poor health, and she considers the weight of her life. Like the first Olive book, it doesn’t just tell stories from Olive’s perspective; it includes short narratives from those in the Crosby community and those whose lives might intersect with Olive’s, however briefly. It’s perfect. I loved reading it, if only because it took me back to a literary community I didn’t know I’d been missing. It moves more slowly than any of the other books I read this month, but I think that was perfect considering the circumstances of this completely wonky time.
(It didn’t totally sweep me away, or else it would have been given five stars. Nonetheless, I still really liked reading it. And I still love Olive.).
“There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a little boy who was staring in at the window. He had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred.”Peter Pan, J.M Barrie
The February challenge from The Unread Shelf Project was to read the book that had been on your shelf the longest. I can’t say with certainty that this is the book I’ve had the longest, but I can say that I remember buying it on a field trip in high school, so it’s been here for at least ten years. I’m sure there are ones I’ve had longer, but this is the one I can pinpoint as having been with me for the longest time, so I decided it was best to read this one.
Peter Pan was one of my favorite Disney movies growing up; my mom would let my brother and I alternate our Disney movie choices, and there were about four that he would pick from: Aladdin, The Fox and the Hound, The Jungle Book, and Peter Pan. Sometimes, we included Toy Story and Oliver and Company in that mix. We watched A LOT of Peter Pan.
This book is so magical. I loved the way that Barrie addressed the reader directly in his writing, the way that he described the children in ways that were so accurate if you’ve ever had any interaction with kids. He absolutely does not shy away from the fact that children can be beautiful and wonderful and total little monsters at times. I loved that. He descriptions and explanations, the details he gave for places and people, were sublime. I’m really glad I read this; I hope someday my son will let me read it to him.
“I’m still not Meg March or Jane Bennet. I’ll always be a Jo or a Lizzie, no matter what kind of dress I wear or how I style my hair. But that’s okay, because for once, I feel like the heroine of my own story. It’s taken pretending to be someone else to make me realize who I actually am.”The Accidental Beauty Queen, Teri Wilson
Tbh, I just picked this one up because I needed something light and I thought this would be a read that didn’t require a lot from me. I was correct; it was what I needed, and it was just fine.
There are twins! And there’s a beauty contest! And an adopted French Bulldog! And a Prince Charming-esque character who quotes from classic literature! And the main character is a BIG Harry Potter fan. Whatever, it’s cute and fun, but that’s all I was looking for.
“If anyone ever asks if I’ve ever fallen in love at first sight, I shall say yes. For one glorious moment on the 21st of December 2006.”One Day in December, Josie Silver
Started this with vaguely the same mindset as I did The Accidental Beauty Queen, but this one had a bit more depth. I REALLY liked this book. It reminded me vaguely of the first few Taylor Jenkins Reid books I read (I think they were One True Loves and Forever, Interrupted) both of which were really great examples of Romantic Fiction/Chick Lit. This was right up there.
I think maybe my favorite thing is that the story follows these people as their lives reach adulthood and maturity; you think it’s going to be one thing, but it doesn’t just happen immediately like any other rom-com might. Love doesn’t just happen overnight (most of the time); it’s messy and complicated, and this DEFINITELY shows.
But (spoiler) there’s still a happy ending if you’re the type of person to like that.
“Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.”Turtles All the Way Down, John Green
Are any John Green fans reading this right now? I have read three of his books and really liked two of them (Yeah, that’s right. I’m talking about you Looking for Alaska*) I wept like a baby reading The Fault in Our Stars. Remind me to tell you about the time I read that book: in one sitting during my first shift as the university police department dispatcher. Not the ideal setting for a lot of tears.
In reading this book, I was struck once again by how well I feel Green writes teenage characters. Their emotions and fears and actions just feel so realistic, I’m always impressed when an adult pulls that off.
I should warn you: this book has a few triggers. The main character is struggling with the unexpected death of her father, and she also has debilitating anxiety. It infiltrates her every hour of every day, intruding the good moments she is able to find. I was both shocked and appreciative while reading because it was a perspective from which I can never remember having read before. It gave me a greater appreciation and understanding for what those with serious anxiety might be experiencing, and I’m thankful I was able to glean that from these pages.
There are fun moments, too. The main character’s best friend is a real character, and she writes popular Star Wars fan fiction featuring a romantic relationship between Rey and Chewbacca. It’s great.
There’s also a mystery and a love story, but I wouldn’t go into this for those elements; they are definitely not in the forefront of the novel.
*I literally chucked this book directly into my closet after reading about 30% of it (you know what happens) and did not pick it up again for probably 6 months. After that, it was good, but I was too traumatized to enjoy myself.
“If you don’t know what to do with the rest of your life, make your bed. If you’re going to be a couch potato, at least fluff the pillows. If you can’t afford pearls, red nail polish is your best accessory. If you don’t have time to do your nails, smile and stand up straight.”Southern Lady Code, Helen Ellis
Okay, fine. Helen Ellis is joining the league of authors I will always read. I love her voice, I loved this book. So funny, but there are moments of thoughtful commentary, as well.
I adored everything about American Housewife, the short story collection by Ellis published in 2016. It was so clever, and I immediately bought a copy to add to my Keep Shelf (I had borrowed it from the library on my initial reading).
This is every bit as funny as her first work, maybe even funnier. Instead of fiction, this is an essay collection on a variety of topics. There is a common thread, however, of southern lady code (i.e., polite ways of saying a thing that actually means something entirely different). There are also lots of situations plucked directly from Ellis’s own life that give a very memoir, almost-conversational feel. It’s superb.
GOOD BYE AND GOOD RIDDANCE, MARCH.
Gah, what a garbage fire of a month this has been, am I right?
GOODREADS 2020 CHALLENGE UPDATE AND CLOSING REMARKS
According to my Goodreads update, I’m on track! I’m feeling very laissez-faire(ish) about the whole thing. If I meet my challenge, I meet it. If not, oh well. No harm, no foul. Check back again later when I’m reading furiously to get to that end goal. I currently sit at 22/90 books completed.
Good luck with the rest of March– I’ve never seen anything like it, but I’m sending prayers and well wishes to every corner of the world as we battle this international, evil, nondiscriminatory virus. Stay healthy and…
Until next time, happy reading!