March Reading in Review

So, we’re three days into April and the beginning of March feels like another world, doesn’t it? Yet despite it seeming like the longest month ever, I ended up doing very little reading, and when I did read, the results were not great. The call for self-isolation hasn’t really put much more time in my hands because I’ve been working at home on my normal schedule, but with more to fret about.

My March books were ones that in a different time, when my mind was less overwhelmed, I might have liked better. But right now, I think a strong narrative and absorbing story was more necessary that I realized. And the less concentration required, the better. By the end of the month, I was spending my time watching an old season of Project Runway—OMG, the twins!—and movies I’d seen before. And my favorite book of the month was a reread.

 

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. This is a fascinating account of the medical history of a Hmong girl in California who developed epilepsy at a young age and the medical establishment that couldn’t navigate the language and cultural barriers. Fadiman is both generous where people were making honest mistakes but trying their best and critical where people were letting stereotypes get in the way of giving good care.

The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick. Vivian Gornick’s memoir of her life in New York City is a book that I might have liked better if I’d read it at a different time. As it was, the meandering style failed to really draw me in. I liked bits and pieces of it, but it hasn’t stuck with me at all.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. The first part of this western was a little too episodic for me (again with the wanting a strong narrative arc), but it got much better toward the end, when the brothers finally meet the man they’re supposed to kill.

 

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. This may be the biggest disappointment of the month, only because I could imagine liking it so much more than I did. But, as it was, each story that made up this novel in stories wasn’t quite exciting enough on its own, and my brain was too distracted to hold onto the connections between the characters so that I could see how it all fit together — and I think that the novel’s brilliance is in how the pieces fit together. I did think the story in PowerPoint was clever and surprisingly moving. Thinking about this in comparison to Girl Woman Other, I can see where Evaristo succeeds in making a novel where each individual story is great on its own and the connections are fun to pick out. For me, Egan only succeeds on the latter front, and I was simply unable to appreciate that aspect of it.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. This was my second time reading Mantel’s second book in the Thomas Cromwell series, and it’s just as good as it was the first time. One of the things I love in this series is how portentous every supposedly triumphant moment is. In Wolf Hall, we saw Anne Boleyn’s rise alongside plenty of clues that it wouldn’t last. Now we see her fall, as Cromwell’s rise that began in Wolf Hall continues. And Anne’s arc is full of portent for Cromwell himself. These are such delicious books.

As for April, I received my copy of The Mirror and the Light from my local indie, which is relatively new to the neighborhood and now struggling after having to close for COVID-19. I’ll probably finish reading it today. I’m also continuing to read Come Be My Light, about Mother Teresa as my Lenten book. I managed to get to the local library the day before it closed and pick up The Good Lord Bird, which I had on hold. That will be my last library book for a while, unless I decide to borrow some ebooks.

Natasha, one month into FIP remission

I hope to do more reading in March. My work schedule has changed, giving me more time off, and I’ll probably take a full week later in the month. As worrying as this time is, in a lot of ways, I’m very lucky. I have a comfortable home and a cuddly cat who herself is in remission from a bout with FIP, a mutated version of a feline coronavirus that was previously fatal. (If she makes it to the end of May, she’ll be considered cured.) I have a whole bookcase full of books and plenty of entertainment to stream. And social media makes it possible to reach out in a way that would have been inconceivable 20 years ago. As it happens, my mood this month has swung between really appreciating social media and really wanting nothing to do with any of it. But I’m glad the option is there.

I hope all of you are doing well in these strange and difficult times. Stay safe and healthy everyone.

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14 Responses to March Reading in Review

  1. I love some vintage Project Runway – those twins were mad! Stay safe and well x

    • Teresa says:

      I only watched the first two or three seasons in the original run, and then I didn’t have cable anymore. So now I have a feast available on Hulu if I’m so inclined.

  2. I’m glad you’ll have more free time. I’ve had a lot more free time than I normally do (not able to work from home) but I also live with an eight year-old and a husband, so I don’t have long stretches of time to read or binge watch. But I too have a TON of unread books in my house and thank god for technological capabilities to allow us to connect with others. Stay safe!

    • Teresa says:

      The free time is kind of a mixed blessing, but my employer is really trying to keep everyone on enough hours to remain full-time with insurance and a minimal pay cut, which I appreciate. So I really can’t complain much, and I do think the down time is a good thing, with all the stress.
      I’ve been musing off and on about whether it would be harder to be staying at home alone or with people, and I’ve concluded that they’re equally hard, but in different ways!

  3. I completely agree with you about The Sisters Brothers and Visit from the Goon Squad — both of those I wanted to like more than I did like. I’ve heard Patrick Dewitt’s latest book is really good though? But I didn’t like The Sisters Brothers to try another one of his works, so maybe you can read it and then I can see what you think. :P

    • Teresa says:

      Both of those books had such potential and so many great elements. I wish I’d been in a frame of mind to enjoy them more. But I’d read either author again, even if I’m not going out of my way to.

  4. Marg says:

    I am planning to listen to the third Mantel book. I loved the first book’s narrator, but then it changed for the second book. I don’t know who is the narrator this time around.

  5. writerrea says:

    I reread Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies earlier this winter in preparation. Buying The Mirror and the Light was one of my last “fun” outings before everything collapsed; I went to a local indie bookstore that has a coffee and wine bar, and had a glass of beer while beginning to read the book. But as much as I was enjoying it, I was also uneasy, because the news around COVID was getting worse. I remember there was a mom’s group with a bunch of infants in the events room at the bookstore, and I worried about them. I still haven’t finished the book, although I’m enjoying it, because my concentration has dwindled considerably. I did an online one-day read-along of Mrs. Dalloway last weekend, and got through that. Yesterday I was able to read for a couple of hours, and that felt great. Hadn’t happened in weeks. I’ve been buying books online from my local indies (we have a strong indie bookstore presence in my community, hopefully they’ll all survive), so I’m not exactly lacking things to read.

    • Teresa says:

      It has been so hard to stay focused. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to follow Mirror and the Light well enough, but once I got through the first couple of chapters, the story (usually) held me in pretty well. I finished last night, and the ending is gorgeous and haunting.

      I hope my local indie survives. There are a couple of used bookstores in my neighborhood and an independent children’s bookstore with a pretty good small adult section, but this new store is a little gem, perfectly curated for its tiny space. My book space is pretty limited, so I don’t buy books nearly as much as I use the library, but I do appreciate having a good shop close by, and the owner is really trying to create a nice community space. If it opens up again, I may take advantage more.

  6. alison41 says:

    I share your feelings about social media – since our national 21 lockdown started on 27 March I’v’e also seesawed between appreciation for the contact, followed some hours later by exhausted overload!

    • Teresa says:

      It’s been a challenge to figure out the balance. I’m finding that texting, video chats, and other forms of contact with people I know well is the best kind of contact, but social media has its place.

  7. Ruthiella says:

    It’s been a few years since I read Good Squad, but I agree with you, the links between the stories were tenuous. GWO was so such more satisfying.

    I loved The Sisters Brothers when I first read it. I read DeWitt’s French Exit last year and liked it too.

    I went to pick up The Mirror and the Light from my library in March…I had called on Monday to be sure they were open and BAM on Tuesday, they closed because of Corona Virus. Oh well. I have lots of books to read at home. But still…so close, SO CLOSE!

    Hope you and yours are staying safe and healthy!

    • Teresa says:

      Oh no about The Mirror and the Light! SO CLOSE!
      I waffled over whether to buy it or wait for the paperback to buy and just read from the library, but my local indie store is struggling and I decided to help them (and me!) by buying it.

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