This month I read a lot more nonfiction than usual, and it was all so different. This was a diverse reading month for sure.
- The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb – I LOVED this book (5 stars for me!)! Ray is a young Black man who loves music when we meet him. Most of his family does not support his desire to play the violin, but his grandmother does. She gifts him a family fiddle passed down from when her great grandfather was enslaved. As we follow Ray’s study of the violin, we are also fast-forwarded to the present, where we learn that Ray’s very expensive violin was stolen. The story in the present goes back a few months, while the story in the past, tells us a lot more about Ray, his family, this violin, and the greed that comes with a valuable possession. I played the violin in middle school and I wished I had continued my studies. Reading this love letter to classical symphonies was a joy. It was also hard to read all of the very real racism that Ray faced, as only 1.8% of orchestra members are Black today.
- Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy by Gholdy Muhammad – I heard Gholdy speak at last year’s San Diego County Office of Education Equity Conference. She is a passionate teacher who helps us see the necessity in using historically responsive literacy to reach all students, especially our Black students. Her book is a lesson on the history of Black joy and literacy and a framework for educators to reach students of all identities.
- The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan – Anne Bogel, of the podcast What Should I Read Next, recommended this series as being good for fans of Louise Penny. While I am waiting for my next LP book to be available in my library, I got started on this Rachel & Esa series. This is aptly described as a cozy mystery, where you are slowly learning about the characters (both police people Rachel and Esa and the crime they are investigating). This takes place in Canada, but focused on refugees and the history from Bosnia, and specifically the Srebrenica massacre, which was genocide of Muslims. I knew nothing about that, so being immersed in the characters and their culture was eye-opening. I also loved the storyline of creating a museum dedicated the mixing of cultures in Andalusia, SPAIN (Toledo, Grenada, my favorite places!)! I enjoyed this and will continue on in the series.
- Tales from My Uterus and Other Undiscussables by Fabiola Bagula – My friend, who helped me with the questions I needed to ask to make the decision to have a hysterectomy, self-published this book about her stories and memories being a girl, an adolescent, and a woman who was gaslit by many doctors before her health was taken seriously. I love her brutal honesty!
- Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho – These two Taiwanese-American girls because friends as children, and we follow their friendship as it ebbs and flows across decades. We jump from one girl’s journey to the other and back, experiencing snippets of their failed relationships, complicated relationships with their mothers, guilt, cultural experiences, and more. This was an interesting story, with a unique structure, as I felt like we never went deep into any one part of the story, yet by the end I was invested in both of their lives and wishing the best for their futures.
- Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain [audiobook] – I loved Susan Cain’s first book, Quiet. When I heard her on a podcast talking about her new book, I was intrigued, though not as excited by this topic as I am by the study of introverts. In this new book, Cain explore why she has always loved funeral music. She explores the research on bittersweet – why we cry and when, how sometimes when we cry with joy there is also sadness mixed in. She shares her love of Leonard Cohen and sad music, and why it has an impact on us. I personally usually do not like slow or sad music, but I did listen to some of her recommendations off her playlist, to feel the mood she was describing. I could appreciate the celebration that crying is a good thing, as I am known for welling up with tears over the slightest emotional topic and I cry at commercials, books, and movies!
- I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet by Shauna Niequist [audiobook]- I have never read anything by this author before, but Laura Tremaine has been friends with her for decades and speaks so well of her as a person and an author. I enjoyed listening to her read these essays, most of which were written during the first year of the pandemic. I love her love of NYC, which she has only moved to in the last few years after a life in the midwest. She speaks about her family, her writing, her faith, and vaguely about family and church crises from the recent past. I had to google to learn what she was referencing, but it wasn’t necessary to know the specifics to feel the pain and longing and growth she described. I am finding more and more that I enjoy essay collections.
- Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice – I read this for Laura Tremaine’s Secret Stuff book club, and that was the only reason I finished it. If I wasn’t reading it for a book club discussion, I would have abandoned it before page 50! While I heard of this series decades ago, and my brother told me LOVED the movie, which I never saw, I never knew much about it beyond the movie trailer. I did not enjoy the writing style, as there were practically no chapters, with TONS of overly written narration that just went on and on – not my cup of tea! I was annoyed by all the characters and I wasn’t even satisfied by the ending. My least favorite reading experience in a long time. ** I did, however, enjoy the book club discussion. I’m always fascinated to hear other people describe what made them love a book that I did not enjoy reading. I realize that the writing style was too much for me to overcome, despite a semi-interesting plot (of crazy vampires!). It also seems that all vampire writing is derivative of Dracula, which I have never read.
- Bath Haus by P.J. Vernon – Another disappointing read here. In this story, Oliver is bored with his life with his older partner Nathan. When Oliver visits a Bath House, to cheat on Nathan, he is choked and almost killed by Kristian, the stranger he meets there. As Oliver tells lie after lie to Nathan and the police, Kristian begins to stalk Olive. This gets messy and I didn’t like any of the characters nor all their ridiculous lying. I only finished it to know how it ended.
- Vox by Christina Dalcher – This was horrifying and propulsive and truly a dystopian world we never want to see come true! In a post-Obama world, a new regime has taken over America. As they work to get us back to a Pure society, all women are forced to wear arm bands that count how many words they say – and they have a limit of 100 per day. After 100, they get shocked. Dr. McCellan is a neurolinguist who was studying aphasia (second book I’ve read about this in a week!) and she is brought in to help the government. Everything that happens next is tense and propulsive and I loved it!
Favorite book(s) this month
Fiction: The Violin Conspiracy
Nonfiction: I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet