April is such a fun month — spring is finally within our grasp as the days get longer and the temperatures warm enough to go outside without a jacket. It seems a little odd to be so excited about reading when the weather improves, but I find there is no better way to end the day then with a book and the window cracked open just a bit to let in some fresh air.
April was a great month for reading — 14 books, including a few whoppers (see Ken Follett epic, below). I also indulged in a Pride and Prejudice re-read because of a beautiful Christmas book that Sergio bought for me. It includes 19 letters from the book that you can unfold and read — see the photo of the infamous Mr. Darcy letter, above. I’m sure it will make my favorite books of the year list, given that it’s my favorite book of all time!
I hope this month brings you new and exciting books — or even some old, comfortable favorites!
The Exiles (Christina Baker Kline): This book was fantastic and once it really got going I couldn’t put it down. Baker Kline’s book weaves together the story of three marginalized females — two convicts, Evangeline and Hazel, on a transport ship to Tasmania from England, and Mathinna, a young Aboriginal girl taken away from her family and treated as a plaything by a colonist family. What really drove this story forward was the strong female characters and how they used creativity to get through a variety of trying situations, even at times when they were shown no kindness by the sailors or the captors. I thought I had a good handle on the book, but there were some very surprising twists and turns, making it hard to put down (but don’t worry — I won’t reveal them!). I’d highly recommend this book for any historical fiction fan.
Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier): I’m not sure I have the right words to describe this novel. It has an eeriness to it that is hard to describe and reading it gives me discomfort in the pit of my stomach. Rebecca is narrated by the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter (we never know her first name!). The book opens with her in Monte Carlo as a companion to an older American woman. One day she happens upon Maxim de Winter, a forty-ish man that thrills and excites her with his attention. Before long they are married and she is whisked away to the English coast to his mansion, Manderley.
What overshadows their newlywed life is the first Mrs. de Winter, the titular character, who overshadows Mrs. de Winter, the second, in every way, shape, and form. The narrator is concerned that her husband doesn’t love her, that the housekeeper and servants mock her, and that the townspeople think she is too young and immature.
What is really going on here? That’s the question I kept asking myself. This book is a slow burn, but it picks up as you start to ponder what is truth and what is perception — it’s no wonder that Hitchcock made it into a film (and I hear there is also a new adaptation). If you like psychological books, this is for you.
The Evening and the Morning (Ken Follett): Is it possible to get this excited about a 900-page brick of a book? You can when it’s another in the Kingbridge series! The prequel to The Pillars of the Earth, The Evening and the Morning takes place between 997 and 1007 as the town of Kingsbridge comes to be. We follow young Edgar, third son of a boatbuilder, whose life is torn apart by a Viking raid, as well as Lady Ragna, a young Frenchwoman who travels to the district to marry an ealdormam (some sort of local ruler — many new terms in this book!), Wilwulf, who is, of course, a colossal ass. Follett’s epics work so well because the writing is simple yet elegant, the plot moves along, there are heroes and heathens aplenty, and there’s enough history that you didn’t know about to keep you curious.
Did I start Pillars of the Earth again? Yes, I did! Expect a review next month.
Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park (Conor Knighton): As someone who is (slowly) working her way through the National Parks, I was really excited to read this book, and it didn’t disappoint. Knighton’s book actually felt *too short* to me because his style was engaging and there was so much more I wanted to learn about specific parks. Instead of listing each park individually he groups them in themes (“Water,” “Caves,” “Diversity,” “Disconnecting”) and helps to draw through-lines between different places. The writing was accessible and easy to read, perfect for a travelogue. If you like the outdoors (or, if you, like me, aspire to like it a bit more), I recommend this book!
The Zookeeper’s War: An Incredible True Story From the Cold War (J.W. Mohnhaupt): I enjoy books that tell different stories from well-known time periods, and The Zookeepers’ War is an excellent example of this type of book. Mohnhaupt tells the stories of the two Berlin zoos — the Berlin Zoo in West Berlin, and the Tierpark in East Berlin. At times rivals and at times friends, these zoos competed by acquiring better animals, newer enclosures, and trying to attract more visitors. This book displays an interesting intersection of zoo culture, Cold War Culture, and the cultures of the GDR and Federal Republic. If you enjoy quirky, under-appreciated history, you might enjoy this book!
Under the Banner of Heaven (Jon Krakauer): This was a reread for me, and Krakauer’s book had an impact on me during the second read that was similar to the first. Though it centers around the murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty, the book is ostensibly about the history of the Mormon Church and the subsequent fractures where different LDS fundamentalist groups left the mainstream church over doctrinal differences. Since I grew up with lots of LDS kids I had one picture of the faith that was certainly more complete after reading this book. If you are looking for an in-depth history of any part of the LDS church (eg; Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, the FLDS) this book is more of an overview but it is very well-referenced and will give you other books for further exploration.
Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety (Judith Warner): Even though this book was written more than fifteen years ago, much of it seems to be true today. As a not-yet parent, I was drawn to this book because I’ve noticed a lot of competitive over-parenting these days, and as someone who did well despite not having helicopter parents I was curious to understand why this was the case. I appreciated how Warner examined parenting trends and practices from the 1950s to the early 2000s, and was disappointed to learn how many “conventional” parenting practices are not based in research (such as the myth of how bad daycare is as well as the role of attachment parenting).
This book provides more insight into the problems than solutions (but Warner isn’t a policy-maker, so I can give her a bit of a pass). One criticism some people have is that it is centered on middle and upper-middle class women (primarily white), which Warner herself calls out. Written today I would be more critical, but her narrower focus broadens near the end of the book where she admits that if women with all of the opportunity and choice cannot make motherhood work, what about everyone else?
I always look forward to hearing your reading recommendations as we read our way through the years together!
P.S. I took the last week off from work and was able to catch up on many projects, including finally scratching off the books I’ve read from the Top 100 poster that my friend Gretta sent me for Christmas. I’ve read 50/100! My goal isn’t *necessarily* to read them all because some of them might be boring, but I did find some new books on this chart that I haven’t encountered but am very excited to read!
Nerd friends are the best friends!