An Open Book: What I Read in May

For as long as I can remember, I’ve used reading as a way to escape. To learn, yes. To be inspired, yes. To challenge what I know and believe, yes. But in all these ways, I escape.

Within the first hour of my day, I read. The very last thing I do at night is read. And each minute in between that I get to read takes me somewhere new. Reading stretches this time and place. It invites in different voices and perspectives, ideas and imaginings, histories and stories.

And for that I’m thankful.

The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir by Samantha Power (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: Buckle in for the long haul; this book is a beast at 592 pages, but every single one of them is worth reading. Power’s memoir follows every footstep from her childhood in Dublin through her days as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and I found it equal parts inspiring, invigorating, and infuriating. I particularly appreciated that Power lifts the veil on foreign policy and administrative decision-making that doesn’t make sense when considered from the “outside” without the full story of the politics at work within.

Far Far Away by Tom McNeil (2/5 stars)

Three-line review: This dark, weirdly fantastical YA novel doesn’t know what it wants to be or achieve. While I liked the main character and the ghost who kept him company, an editor needed to step in to stop another eye from “twinkling.” I kept reading to see where it was going, and it wasn’t worth the journey.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: Grief manifests itself in different ways for different people, including grief itself. Touching and lyrical, this story is like an open wound that heals with time. This book can easily be read in one sitting, but savor your time with it.

About the Night by Anat Talshir (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: Like star-crossed lovers, Elias and Lila are both meant to be together and destined to be kept apart. I felt deeply for both characters as their story unfolded, bouncing back and forth between the years of conflict in Israel and after Lila has passed away. As invested as I was in their relationship, the story was sometimes slow and tedious.

Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: This creative book features the intertwined stories of two young lovers on an adventurous road trip. There are lots of clever details buried in the word choices and formatting, like 90 words on each page, flora references for her and fauna references for him, and a running timeline next to the story that dates references in the text. According to reviews, lots of people think Only Revolutions is gimmicky, but I think it’s a work of linguistic art.

The Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: I feel like this book perfectly encapsulates the complex tension between Mexican immigrants in the United States and the Americans who live in the neighborhoods where they settle. It’s humiliating and ego-driven, precarious and overzealous, dangerous and selfish. Well-written and important in the modern day context, this book should be widely read and discussed.

Getting the Words Right: 39 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Theodore A. Rees Cheney (2/5 stars)

Three-line review: While there were a few hints sprinkled throughout this book that might prove helpful in my career, most of this book’s 257 pages are drivel. Too much of this book is ego-driven, punctuated with notes like “this is my preference.” There are far better books available for people who want to fine tune their writing skills.

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: In an attempt to understand why Tea Party supporters advocate action against their best interests, Hochschild does what others have not: She gets below the surface to understand how they feel, which can’t be calculated in a “rational” way. I appreciate how much time and effort she put forth to listen to and try to understand people who live and vote differently than she does, and her findings are insightful. The only that I didn’t care for was the weird way she inserted herself into some of the scenes, as if the editor suggested she add these in as an afterthought.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: This not-so-far-fetched dystopian re-imagining of present-day America that should scare the shit out of every woman. Zumas immediately got my attention and kept it, page after page, as the stories of the five women featured tangled up with each other. This is a must-read not only as a high-quality, interesting book but also as a warning of what could be.

One Response to “An Open Book: What I Read in May”

  1. Jill

    Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle was very popular years ago when it was first published….many colleges and universities used it as their “Freshmen Read” book for all incoming students. (I don’t know if that program even exists anymore). Soon after, a few communities selected it for “Community Reading” programs that were sponsored by local libraries. It’s an excellent book for these events because it is a very “readable” book for all levels with a tight storyline and a relatable social issue. Our book group read it, and it did lead to a very interesting discussion.

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