Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Recent Reads | April

Much like March I hit a groove reading-wise this month, finishing 16 books. Most of the books I read this month were shorter in length - typically less than 300 pages - so it was easy to speed through so many. I have also finally checked out the last of the books on my "hold" list at the local library and hope to finish reading them all in the coming month.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
I read and adored Eugenides' Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex, so I was excited to read his other works. The Virgin Suicides, upon which Sofia Coppola's popular movie is based, tells of the short lives of the five Lisbon sisters who all commit suicide. Much of the book seems to contribute to the MPDG (Manic Pixie Dream Girl) trope, but the narrator reveals that the story is about breaking that idea and realising that girls are just people too. It's not as excellent as Middlesex but still nevertheless good.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Hamid's newest entry about a couple - Nadia and Saeed - who live in an unnamed country on the brink of civil war and escape as refugees is one of the year's most anticipated releases. Exit West reminds me a bit of Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, as both take a very real event and add a unique twist to it: in Whitehead's book, the underground railroad is a literal railroad tunneled deep underground, and in Hamid's story, the passage a refugee must take to escape is a doorway that leads to another country. It's beautifully written and the bittersweet ending feels like a natural progression of plotline rather than a disappointment.

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I've mentioned my love for Adichie several times, so naturally when I heard she was publishing an essay about how a friend should raise her daughter as a feminist I jumped at the chance to read it. It's just as hard-hitting and compulsively readable as her other published essay "We Should All Be Feminists" and is full of truths about how parenting girls is (usually) unintentionally pushed into sexist grounds.

A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie
I'm continuing to work my way through the Miss Marple series, and I've yet to read a bad one. A Murder is Announced is yet another great one, where the main mystery lies in what appears to be a fun murder mystery game gone awry. Miss Marple features more prominently in this one than she has in other series installations, and it enables me to care more about the characters as she provides a tangible link between them all.

They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie
Another Miss Marple installation... It's my least favourite of the ones I've read so far, most likely due to it being set in a giant old house with a snobby family rather than a cosy village with gossipy old women. Even so, I didn't guess who the murderer was by a long shot, so Christie once again surprised me.

Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie
I took a break from Miss Marple to read another Hercules Poirot entry, and while I prefer the Miss Marple series, I was still amused and surprised by this one. Dumb Witness follows Poirot as he investigates a message he received from an old woman in fear of her life weeks after her seemingly normal death. As usual, I was way off the mark with the murderer, and though it did seem repetitive in spots I still enjoyed it.

Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion, and Truth in the Immigration Debate by Matt Soerens and Jenny Hwang
I borrowed this book from work months ago and never read it, but with the end of my internship this month, I needed to read and return it. Welcoming the Stranger discusses immigration issues, covering both documented and undocumented groups from intertwined legal and religious perspectives. The most vocal religious voices on immigration tend to be vehemently anti-immigrant, which has always been a strange view for me to see, so I was thankful to read a perspective from a pro-immigrant standpoint that clearly explained my own views on immigration much more eloquently than I could ever hope to.

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible With Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin
I picked this book up off my library's shelves on a whim, not really sure what the book was but thought it was a book about women in the Bible. Instead, it was a guide to how to get more out of the reading the Bible, a guide to encourage a deeper approach than just a quick read and reflection, but thinking about the words differently to see more revealed. I'm guilty of taking the quick approach more often than I should, so this was a great book to find to encourage me to take it more slowly.

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
Anderson looks at the phenomenon of "black rage" - the angry response of African Americans to historical/social issues - and instead reframes the idea as one of "white rage," or the angry and often violent reaction of white people to the advances African Americans have made in the US from the Civil War onward. Anderson pushes past the easy excuses people put up about the end of Jim Crow and the victories of the civil rights movement of the 60s by looking at what actually happened and how states pushes back against the federal mandates. It's such an important read, particularly as it faces its most common criticisms head-on.

Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst
I read this on the recommendation of someone at my church, and while it was interesting, I don't think this book was written for people like me. TerKeurst spends most of the book talking about her own experiences of being left out (accidentally and purposely) and how she was able to move on from them, but as someone who's not particularly comfortable with emotions, I found this book edging on whiny and overdramatic. I know a lot of people really like this one so I don't want to talk it down too much, but if you're anything like me I'd give this one a pass.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Unaccustomed Earth marks the last of Lahiri's fiction works that I hadn't yet read, and it's just as incredible as her others. It's a short story collection, but unlike Interpreter of Maladies where each story stayed around 20 pages, Unaccustomed Earth has longer stories that ultimately end up hitting the reader much harder. Additionally, this collection strays a little further from her norm of staying with notably Bengali characters, as in some of the stories the characters pay no attention to their cultural heritage.

When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett
This book is required reading for all staff members at the refugee resettlement agency where I work and I finally dug into it this month. When Helping Hurts corrects many of the misconceptions and assumptions people in the West have about poverty alleviation and those in Third World countries and provides the starting point to creating more holistic methods of help. I've long been skeptical of short-term missions work, and this book backs up these concerns and provides better ways to get involved without hurting those the missions are supposed to help.

Rule Britannia by Daphne du Maurier
Rule Britannia was du Maurier's last published work and has the reputation of a strange, at times macabre novel about an attempted American takeover of Great Britain and a Cornish village that resists. It's strange, but I found it right in line with several of her other works that contain unusual storylines like The House on the Strand and The Scapegoat.

Brazilian Tequila by Augustus Young*
Matador, Publish date: 28 September 2016
Brazilian Tequila is a wandering tale of traveling through Brazil and how preconceptions about a place can be changed once seeing it for real. The book's protagonist spends much of the book fighting internal conflict over the things he sees to be true in Brazil versus what he assumed it would be like, specifically widespread corruption and people's complex motives for their actions. It's a short but moving story of cultural differences changing one's own opinion and a reminder to stay open-minded when in new territory.

The Great Passage by Shion Miura*
AmazonCrossing, Publish date: 1 June 2017
The Great Passage has a seemingly boring plotline - three generations of publishing house staff create a new dictionary and encounter difficulties along the way - but is actually an amusing, interesting story. The tale goes through the inner workings of how a dictionary is created, and is a good one for those who love books about books. I don't know if this was a problem with the translation or unnoticed editorial changes that needed to be made, but the characters seemed immature and shallow for being supposedly in their 30s, but I still found The Great Passage an engaging read.

Beloved by Toni Morrison
I've had this one on my tbr list for years now, but it's such a heavy book that I never felt like I could dedicate the time and emotional energy to it. Beloved tells of slavery and a house haunted by the ghost of a baby, and every page is full of hopeless sadness. It's poetic and dark, and I can see why it's so highly recommended but it's not one I'm likely to ever pick up again.

*I received a copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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