Books of April to…Now

This year didn’t go so well for posting, or, for some of it, reading. I deleted Twitter for most of March through May, checking in once in a while at lunch to make sure it didn’t delete entirely, and in that time period, I was mostly watching the daily Cuomo update instead. I missed people a lot, though I was getting all the same news from the media instead of social media. You might be feeling it too–how much more social media used to be social and often about your circle, and less about trying to juggle personal and professional at once. My personal slid over and while I won’t apologize for telling fools off on the internet, I do miss having a place that was friends-only, behind the scenes, hair down.

That’s neither here nor there (nor hair!). Some of the books I read, and notes! I’m up to 98 completed, which is both weird and not weird–during the social media hiatus, and, well, overtime hiatus, I easily spent evenings reading. Typically nonfiction and fluffy romance, though not exclusively. If you’re having brain fatigue, do try a hiatus, because I don’t know that I would have made it through those couple of months at all if I hadn’t, as much as I fretted about the disconnect. I think another hiatus might be coming up.

25. Severance by Ling Ma: This is about a pandemic, and about a woman who works in a publishing production department, which I read just as my company sent us all home. Hilariously, my copy was missing the penultimate signature, so I don’t know what happened at the climax.

31. Untamed by Glennon Doyle: I didn’t know what this was about when I picked it up, and I don’t think it’s fair to summarize it as “one woman who’s been known for repairing her marriage after her husband cheated on her ran off with Abby Wambach,” but that’s your hook. I liked the essay parts more than the self-help-ish parts (because I loathe self-help), and I had a lot of thoughts when I read this that have since slipped my mind. I did really like a couple of things–one, the assertion that it is okay for women to want things from their relationships, and two, that women have been given little chance to imagine what they could have, in order to assert those wants. Though I’m certain someone has wanted Abby Wambach before.

32. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner: I’m so late to this! The kickoff of this series is old-school YA. I appreciate how the protagonist is an asshole but not outright framed as an unreliable narrator. He is the narrator, to his best ability. Not a lot happens at first and then there’s a part with tunnels that fill up with water that trap you inside–and it’s one of the most heart-pounding things I’ve ever read. I haven’t managed to get back around to the rest of these; they’re a little tricky for me to get into, I think, but engrossing once I am ensconced.

36. The Perfect Predator by Stefanie Strathdee and Thomas Patterson: Nonfiction about bacteriophages–viruses that attack bacteria–and how they saved a guy’s life. Startlingly, we know very little about what could be an effective therapy because back in the day, countries we didn’t like were doing the research. Like, people are too snobby for science.

42. Empress of Salt and Fortune by Ngai Vo: Don’t miss this novella that’s both a fantasy story about revenge, in a way, and about who tells your story in another.

48. Not going to name it but a non-mainstream romance (from a big publisher) that had characters so determined not to cross any lines that there was no chemistry and if I remember right, no sex. It’s clear that this area of the bookshelves has a long way to go before people stop freaking out.

50. Dragon Pearl, Yoon Ha Lee: I’ve read nearly all of this book several times while visiting a friend, and, well, podded quarantine gave me the chance to finish! I loved this middle grade gumiho in space adventure.

[I’m leaving out all sorts of things from board books to literary fiction to contemporary YA.]

55. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins: I wrote a long review of this juggernaut of the summer here.

60. Goldilocks by Laura Lam: I read a couple of books this year about people determined to do what they thought was right–and what they wanted to do was wrong. This makes a great contrast with #55, actually, and gave me a lot to think about.

62. Actually I don’t really talk about romances unless we’re reading the same ones, but this had sailing in it, which I don’t know that I’ve ever seen! It also had a very wide age gap, which is never my thing. It was a different publisher’s one not-quite-mainstream nod. I’m kinda tired.

Crap, let’s take this list down to 97; I read a book twice.

70. National Audobon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky. There was a comet this summer and I made the house get up and look at it at 4 a.m.! Thanks for coming in the summer, little comet, because I’ve wanted to see one for a while but I hate standing outside in the cold to mayyyyybe see an astronomical event. I’d do it for the northern lights, but I wouldn’t hang out in the backyard waiting for meteors while a slug crawled on me in the middle of a damp Pacific Northwest night ever again. Yes, I’m still bitter.

73. The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue: This was not an easy Emma Donoghue, not that she writes easy–it’s set in a specially isolated maternity ward for people infected with the flu in 1918 and as you can imagine, no detail is left undescribed. And then not a lot of people get happy endings, either. Realistic but a tough read at the time I read it.

[a couple of YA thrillers that both had interesting structures!]

[a couple of YA fantasies that took on different angles to interrogate women and power in their societies, some of which were interesting and some of which didn’t work for me]

82. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Ellison: In my head, I read this directly after The Pull of the Stars, but that’s obviously not true. This is a speculative take on what might happen if a plague wiped out 98% of men and 99% of women. (Non-binary people are mentioned and validated, but I don’t recall any having a storyline–though almost everyone is dead here, and due to events that are horrible to everyone, things get pretty binary.) The story is told by one woman–whose name we never get to know, because from the start of her journey as a nurse, a midwife, waking up and finding that she didn’t die, she strips away herself, moving between names, gender presentations, US states, outward jobs and beliefs, and more in a bid to survive. There is a LOT of violence and assault, some of it detailed. And there are things that I questioned in the concept and telling, but I feel like this is a more specific cousin to The Handmaid’s Tale, in some ways, and even with my uneasiness, I found a lot of things in this book to discuss, or to want to discuss, and I admit that I’d often rather an imperfect book that stays with me than one I forget soon after I close the cover….

85. Bomb by Steve Sheinkin: I am so late to this party!

95. 1924: The Year That Made Hitler by Peter Ross Range: A chronicle of some of the reasons–and coincidences–that allowed Hitler to rise to power. Eye-opening, and terrifying, because there is so much that parallels recent events and so many people have turned away from confronting any of it.

So, 97 it is. I took a few days off this year just as COVID-19 came upon us, with vacation expiring from last year, and now I will try to burn through as much as I can between now and the end of the year (as not much of it will roll over). I don’t think this is going to be a 150-book year, but I’m pretty sure I can make it to 100. If I don’t make it, well, eye strain prevented me….

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