April Reading in Review

So. April. The first full month of isolation at home. I’ve been working at home since mid-March, leaving only for (almost) daily walks, weekly-ish trips for food, one vet appointment for Natasha (important blood work to monitor her post-treatment FIP status), and monthly-ish shifts at my church’s food pantry.

I’m a homebody at heart, so I mostly haven’t minded staying put, but last night I got a huge desire to see a movie in a movie theater. Watching movies at home just isn’t the same. And I can’t bring myself to think for very long about how long it’ll be before I can see a live play. The three theatres I go to have more or less cancelled their remaining season, although in its last communication, one of them hoped to still be able to put on Hair this summer, just a bit later than planned. I’m skeptical. Even if businesses are opened up by summer, large gatherings like that might not yet be feasible.

But I said I’m trying not to think about that.

And like just about everyone, I’m fretting about the short- and long-term effects of the pandemic, on people’s physical and mental health, on jobs for myself and others, on schools, on people’s housing and food, on churches, on arts organizations, on … all the things.

It’s a lot. But at least I have a bookcase full of books if I can quiet all the worrying enough to read. I had somewhat better success at that this month than in March. So here’s what I read.

The Mirror and The Light by Hilary Mantel: The final book in Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy was (of course) brilliant. It took me a little while to get fully immersed into it. But once I got into it, I was pretty hooked. And it gets better and better as it goes. The sense of doom!

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride: This novel is the story of Onion, a young black man who gets wrapped up in John’s Brown’s mission to end slavery (all while disguised as a girl). The sort of irreverent style of Onion’s storytelling was not exactly my thing, but I liked it better as I got used to Onion’s voice and the story reached Harper’s Ferry. I read it because it’s one of the contenders in the TOB Tournament of Champions this fall (and I’d been wanting to read it anyway). It won’t be at the top of my list to win, but I can see why others would root for it.

Black Rock by Amanda Smythe: The Good Lord Bird was the last library book I checked out before my local library closed. So I’m using the time to read books that have been on my bookcase for ages. This is a pretty good book about a girl from Tobago who flees to Trinidad to escape abuse. It takes some predictable turns, but overall, it’s a solid read.

Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light by Brian Kolodiejchuk: My Lenten reading. The book draws on Mother Teresa’s letters to show her struggle with spiritual darkness throughout her life. I could appreciate reading about her struggle to feel loved while also continuing to serve, but honestly, it felt like a shallow treatment. I think Kolodiejchuk’s purpose is to pay tribute to Mother Teresa, and there is value in that, but, for myself, I would have appreciated a more analytical approach, putting her struggles in context of others’ similar struggles and general theology of God’s presence and love in spite of one’s personal feelings.

The Book of the People: How to Read the Bible by A.N. Wilson: This is a strange book. It’s not so much about the Bible and how to read it but about Wilson’s relationship with a friend writing a book about the Bible and how to read it. Along the way, Wilson presents a compelling vision of the Bible as an imaginative and transformative work that is more powerful than the fundamentalist vision of the Bible as literally true. I also appreciated his point that both Christians and atheists (at least some of them) read the Bible in a fundamentalist way and end up missing the point.

Seed to Harvest by Octavia Butler: I reviewed this already, so I’ll just say here that I enjoyed this series, although it’s not at the top of my list of great books by Butler.

Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp: I reviewed this already. It’s just such a nice book. And my edition had the most wonderful historical artifact on its flyleaf.

Cool Water by Dianne Warren: Also published under the title of Juliet in August, this quiet novel follows a day in the lives of the people in a small Saskatchewan town. It’s beautifully written and so sympathetic to everyone’s day-to-day quandaries, big and small. It reminded me very much of Kent Haruf’s Plainsong.

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells: I read the four novellas in this series (All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy) last weekend. The main character, who calls itself Murderbot, is a security android who has gained control of its own actions. Now, instead of murdering, what it really wants to do is watch its shows and be left alone, but it keeps getting drawn into the problems of those annoying humans. The plot gets a little convoluted at times, but getting to know Murderbot is such a joy. I’m looking forward to the full-length, Network Effect, coming out next week.

The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker. This was the one book I couldn’t finish this month. It’s the story of an island off the coast of North Carolina. One timeline, set in the 1810s, follows Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr, who ends up stranded on the island. The other, set in the 1970s, follows the island’s sole three remaining residents, two white descendants of Theodosia and a black man. The writing style and the slow pace didn’t really work for me. But I think it could appeal to others who enjoy books with a strong sense of place and florid language.

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15 Responses to April Reading in Review

  1. Jeanne says:

    I love the Murderbot stories so much!

  2. Rohan Maitzen says:

    What a varied month! I haven’t read any of the Murderbot stories: they sound like great fun. I only just finished The Mirror and the Light this morning. I agree that as the end nears it gets more gripping. The last 100 pages or so were riveting. The first 700 pages or so? Only intermittently, but I still think it’s a better book than most! It’s just that she set such a high standard with the first two.

    • Teresa says:

      That last part of the book was as good as anything in the whole series, for me. Mantel had a lot to accomplish in this volume, and I’m impressed that it turned out so well.

      • Rohan Maitzen says:

        Now that I’ve finished it I can say that I completely agree: that last section was absolutely brilliant and completely gripping even though I knew how it would end (at least literally, though not literarily).

  3. Great post and great list of books too!

  4. Marg says:

    I am planning to read The Mirror and the Light at some point! Maybe even soon.

  5. writerrea says:

    I loved The Mirror and the Light. Even though I knew how Cromwell’s story ended, Mantel still made a very tense read. And I finally understood and appreciated why she referred to Cromwell as “he” all the time, with the first book “he” is kind of a nobody, but he begins to gain stature (he, Cromwell), and then all the titles (he, Lord of the Privy Seal). It was a slow burn and a great one.

    I’ve often wanted to find a book that talks about the Bible as a cultural document–is the book you talk about here kind of like that?

    • writerrea says:

      Also, The Mirror and the Light has become a bit of a talisman for me. It was my last “normal” outing before beginning isolation. The virus was just becoming a concern in my area. I went to a favorite local bookstore, bought my copy, and sat in their customer area to start reading it, but felt somewhat uncomfortable. My calendar shows that every other outing I had that week, I ended up canceling.

    • Teresa says:

      For me, knowing how Cromwell’s story ended made the book even better, because that sense of doom overlaid every single thing that happened, including his changing titles. I hadn’t given much thought to the “he” question, but I like your read of it.

      The Nelson book does talk some about how people in different cultures and times interpret the Bible differently and how that is part of its power, but so much of the book is about his friend that the Bible content feels thin to me. I liked Rachel Held Evan’s book on the Bible (Inspired), but it might be more spiritual than you’re looking for. I haven’t read Karen Armstrong’s Bible: A Biography, but I like her books, and it might be the kind of thing you’re looking for.

  6. YAY MURDERBOTTTTTTT I am so excited for the last in the series.

    It looks like you had a wonderful April! I read very few books in April but am hoping to get my act together in May. I hate not reading! It makes me question everything, like who even am I if I’m not reading loads of books? But I have two shiny new Netgalley ARCs to get through, and a couple of assigned reads for Booklist that look interesting, so hopefully that will sort me out.

    • Teresa says:

      April was great for reading. May has been less great as far as quantity, especially now that I’m back to a five-day workweek (was on partial furlough for some of April). But I’m enjoying what I’m reading so far, so that’s good.

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