Book Blog: April 2022 Favorites
Spring has certainly sprung in the PNW and I did get a chance to visit my favorite bookstore, Powells, for a maaaajor book haul.
Despite lots of opportunities to read this month, I also had a lot of false starts. Several years ago I decided not to stick with books that I didn’t enjoy but it does feel disappointing to set down a book once you’ve read 100 or more pages. I’m also continuing to learn that it doesn’t matter what anyone else reads — I don’t have to like every classic novel or blockbuster bestseller.
So here are my favorites of the 13 books that I read this month!
The Humans (Matt Haig): Very much in the vein of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and the Rosie series, this book was a very lovely take on a common story: Alien comes to earth and tries to become a human. We meet this particular alien, now living in the body of human Andrew Martin — the real one is dead — and trying to determine that Martin solved a certain math equation. Okay, so that part seems a little silly but it seems that this knowledge could threaten their civilization. Now the “new” Andrew Martin must trace his steps (that he, the alien, didn’t take) to discover who else the previous Andrew Martin told.
The book actually isn’t about all of that, mainly, but about how Andrew the Alien becomes more human and how he tries to balance his mission with what he’s learning about humans. I’m a big Matt Haig fan so his quirky writing does it for me, though you can tell this work isn’t as sharp and edited as the newer ones (yes, I’m talking about the chapter at the end with the life advice, for which I deducted a star because whhhhhhy?) but it’s such a sweet story and hits you in the feels.
Lord Edgeware Dies (Agatha Christie): I quite enjoyed this installment in the Poirot series even though it was a rather classic mystery with Hastings as our narrator. Poirot is engaged by Lady Edgeware to persuade her husband, Lord Edgeware, to file for divorce. Poirot succeeds but the next day he is found dead in his study. Therein lies the problem — his wife was at dinner when he was killed. There are many who might benefit from his death — his daughter, his heir, his secretary — but who actually killed him?
When the Stars Go Dark (Paula McLain): Wow, this thriller was a departure from McLain’s usual work (historical fiction) but it was set in the 1990s so it still had a bit of a throwback vibe. The book follows Anna, a detective who works to find missing (and sometimes murdered) children and teens. As the story progresses, we learn more about the challenges in her life and perhaps why that has driven her to this work. However, she happens to stumble into this particular case when she returns to Mendicino, a place where she spent many of her childhood years, when a local teenager goes missing. This story really sucks you in and navigates through some tough topics. I couldn’t put it down!
The Burning Questions of Bingo Brown (Betsy Byars): I’m continuing to read through my childhood favorites one at a time. I absolutely loved this book when I discovered it in fourth or fifth grade at a book fair. As a nerdy kid who was also in love with puns and very observant, I felt so understood reading Bingo’s tales. I can recall even at the time recognizing the ways that Mr. Mark was showing up and how difficult that would be for a class of kids. Despite being written in the late 1980s it stands up pretty well and would probably be a good fit for a late-elementary school audience.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (John Carryou): WOW, this book lives up to the hype! Theranos, the brainchild of Elizabeth Holmes, was supposed to revolutionize healthcare, making tests more available and less painful for everyone. It sounds too good to be true because it is — and despite all of the promise, Holmes and the other senior executives at Theranos lied, covered their mistakes, dodged questions, fired those who didn’t believe in them, and sued anyone who they thought was a threat. Carreyou’s writing is stellar, taking us on the journey that, even though we know the end, is captivating the whole way through.
Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America (Laila Lalami): This book summarizes so many complicated threads of the American experience for a number of groups of which Lalami is a member — immigrants, women, Muslims, and non-whites. Lalami grew up in Morocco and came to the US for graduate school, later marrying a citizen and becoming a naturalized citizen herself. She is a keen observer of the complex cultural dynamics in the US related to things like belonging, faith, and assimilation. Lalami strikes a tone that acknowledges the benefits and freedoms of her life here (she gives striking examples of what it was like to grow up as a woman in Morocco and the harassment that she endured from men; so normal she never thought to report it) as well as honestly and succinctly calling out the need for change (for example, why is she, a Muslim, asked to comment on Muslim male terrorists as white authors are never asked about white male mass shooters?). This was an impressive and nuanced take in less than 200-pages.
The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail (Oscar Martinez): This book is a fantastic blend of a personal narrative, reporting, research, and history, bringing a spotlight to the experience of migrants traveling from Central America and Mexico to the USA. Martinez himself writes The Beast (the freight trains headed north), walks paths and stays in shelters, meets with police officers and priests and dodges narcos. In doing so we gain a deep appreciation for the day-to-day experiences of migrants, and we experience the heartbreak — the robberies, rapes, murders, dismemberments, imprisonments, and other defeats. If you find yourself judging people who are fleeing their home countries — whether in Latin America or elsewhere in the world — I believe this book is the perspective you need to hear.
Where the Wild Winds Are (Nick Hunt): I enjoy quirky travel books as one can only read so many books about well-to-do white people restoring farmhouses in Tuscany. Anyway, I had no idea that one could write an entire book about finding and following four winds around, yet Hunt has done just that. Wind seems like a funny thing to be interested in, and while the book does explain some wind and terrain basics, it’s primarily a story of walking in the wilderness and meeting people in small towns and cities across Europe. Hunt follows four different winds, hoping to “catch” each of them. It was a straightforward and charming book without any self-importance or humble-bragging — just a nice travelogue to curl up with at the end of the day.
So that’s it! May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian American and Pacific Island heritage month — I hope you, like me, will expand your learning about those communities in the upcoming days.