Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book Log: March 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

11) 3/3: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I listened to an audio version of this story via CraftLit. Herland was unfamiliar to me before, but you may recognize the author from "The Yellow Wallpaper" fame.

Imagine a feminist utopia that three men stumble upon, and you have the premise for Herland. Being written in 1915, before women had the right to vote, leads to some interesting conversations and scenarios. Not my favorite by any stretch (and at times dull), but I don't regret listening to it.

12) 3/3: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
This was a tome to get through, and I admit it felt like a slog. I have several friends who enjoy the Outlander series and I was able to nab a Kindle deal for the first seven books in the series (amounting to nearly 8,000 pages) for a whopping $1.99, so I picked it up.

I was trying to pinpoint my meh attitude. I knew the basic premise going into the story (woman suddenly finds herself 200 years in the past, and there's a love triangle of sorts).

Much of the issue might be due to the setting; I'm not against historical fiction, but I have limited interest in 18th century Scotland. There are slow-moving sections, which doesn't help when I'm not invested (I adore classics, so slow-moving is not necessarily a turn-off, but I didn't find the writing or story gripping enough to keep my interest when plot slowed). Add the regular violence, both of a physical and sexual nature, and I find myself not sold on continuing past this book. We'll see if setting the series aside makes me curious to find out what happens with the principal characters, but I'm not yet convinced I'm returning. This series has been made into a popular television series, and I can't decide whether watching episodes would make me more or less likely to get invested in the books (a moot point now, as I don't have access to the cable channel).

13) 3/21: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This was our March book club pick. I had been hearing murmurings of it the last few months and knew there was a fantastical component, but for those who believed it to be strict historical fiction (as it is often wrongly described as), they had very negative impressions of the book when the book deviated from traditional historical accounts.

However, going into the book I knew there were some liberties taken with the traditional accounts of the underground railroad, and so I wasn't expecting everything to align with true accounts. We primarily follow Cora, a black slave, as she decides to escape north; the states handle slavery differently, so we see her in different geographical locations - some safer, some far more dangerous - as she weighs the benefits of staying versus the opportunities further ahead.

I appreciated the book as a story, even if the periodic asides could be confusing to me when the author would highlight one of the characters by giving additional backstory (the final aside got me in the feels and was the most important and poignant of them all, though). It's been a well-received book when it comes to being honored with awards - it had been an Oprah book selection (for what that's worth) and was a National Book Award winner, and it was also recently announced as winning a Pulitzer.

14) 3/24: Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
I read Peace, Locomotion last year, only realizing afterwards that it was a sequel to this (see my reflection in the December 2016 book log). I relished Peace, Locomotion, but since that book filled in the gaps to this one, I felt like this didn't connect with me as much as the sequel had, even though it's still a solid book. I'd be interested to hear how someone who reads them in the published order responds to them, though.

I still found several passages that spoke to me - there's a constant theme of loss, grief, and finding peace. We see Lonnie wrestling with the death of parents, the separation from his sister, and even his observations about war after witnessing his foster mother struggle with a son overseas.

15) 3/27: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This is a timely book, just published, and it's an exceptional debut novel. The title is a nod to Tupac's definition of Thug Life, which I'll let one of the characters explain: "The Hate U - the letter U - Give Little Infants F***s Everybody. T-H-U-G-L-I-F-E. Meaning what society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out."

Starr is a black teenager, living in a black neighborhood but attending school in a white neighborhood. Early on she happens to be the only witness when a black friend of hers is shot and killed by a white police officer.

This book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the author has an agenda to humanize the victims of similar police shootings, but Thomas tries to keep it from being too one-sided by balancing out that even though there's much anger in Starr's neighborhood, her uncle is a cop and she attends a white school and is dating someone who happens to be white, so various reactions and perspectives are given some time to be shared, even though it's through the lens of the teenage protagonist and people on the extremes of either side aren't portrayed well.

Thomas touches on systemic racism, the legal process and investigation after such a shooting, and some of the visceral reactions people of color experience as they process grief, especially when the system seems to continually take advantage of them and justice isn't served.

This could be a great conversation starter, as it mimics many conversations and reactions after police shootings (Does dirt in the victim's past somehow excuse their wrongful death? Does rioting discredit the cause of minorities? When do you stay in a dangerous neighborhood to try to improve it? Can you ever leave without feeling guilty for those you've left behind? etc).