Good morning! Yes, I’m back! Between work and trying to write more and winter break, February was pretty busy! It also meant that most evenings I was too tired to crack open a physical book, so I went on an audio binge! This helped me get through some recent bestsellers that I’d been looking forward to, much quicker and with more engagement than if I’d been struggling to pay attention when all my eyes wanted to do was stare at the wall!
So here’s a rundown of what I listened to in February!
Maid by Stephanie Land. “Maid” first came to my attention as the new “It Girl” series for Netflix. It’s the memoir/true story of the life of journalist and activist Stephanie Land, who struggled in poverty for years after having her first child, when she chose to flee an abusive relationship rather than stay with an explosive partner. Despite the fact that many people would see this action as responsible, Land was constantly belittled and shamed by social workers and lawyers — the very people who should have been cheering her decision and helping her get her infant daughter to a safe place — and stuck her in a broken system of halfway houses and welfare that barely provided enough money to live on. Though Land never specifically states it, it was clear to me she suffered from depression and intense anxiety when her daughter was a baby, and frankly, it is remarkable that she managed to keep going, keep pushing, keep trying; she wouldn’t stop until they made it out of the halfway house, to their own apartment, away from another abusive boyfriend, into a cleaning job that led her to being nearly self-employed. Land describes in vivid but still relatable detail some of the friends she made while cleaning their houses, how the setbacks nearly did her in, but how her friends’ and bosses’ confidence in her ability, in her toughness, bolstered her self-esteem. The short version is that eventually she secured a couple of different grants to get into a Bachelor’s degree program at a university in Montana, and she and her daughter moved there to pursue their happily ever after. Although parts of this story were very difficult to sit through, it’s important to read/watch/listen to her tale. A lot of people don’t realize why the cycle of poverty is so trapping, and bringing the broken system into sharp focus is necessary if our society is ever going to properly fix it.
You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty by Dave Barry. Not a recent release (2016 or so, if I remember correctly), and certainly not very serious, this was absolutely the hardcore sarcastic, witty, pun-and-satire-filled humor break I needed. In this book, Barry covers bringing his daughter to a Justin Bieber concert (oy vey), what it takes to be a writer (not really), the differences between men and women’s verbal communication patterns, and a long fantastic travel log on his family’s trip to Israel. I laughed so hard that my stomach literally hurt at the end of the last disc, and it was utterly worth it. Barry is an icon from my youth that, by some miracle, has maintained his cool factor and not turned out to be a massive jerk (something a lot of us are experiencing with celebrities these days), so the fun just keeps coming. As always, I was struck by Barry’s ability to seamlessly weave truth and necessary food for thought in among even the silliest jokes and nonsensical meanderings. Thank you so much, sir, for still being worthy of my admiration.
A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins. This is the first title I’ve tried by this author (though I think I watched a movie version of one of her books?). Anyway, this rather chilling, down-spirited who-dun-it with unreliable narrators was by turns interesting, depressing, and intriguing. There were chapters that made me ache for the suspect — who did turn out to be wrongfully accused — as she was a disabled woman still suffering from the effects of a car accident that happened in her childhood. The other likely candidates for murderer were a divorced couple, each with their own secrets and intense baggage, and a very, very strange woman who lives on a houseboat in a canal near the divorced couple. The story was a little convoluted throughout, and while I appreciated the first twist that revealed the real murderer (I did guess right!), I had a lot of trouble with the other twists. The second twist indicated the subplot — which was the houseboat woman accusing the ex-husband of stealing a book she wrote about her life — actually had very little to do with the main plot, and after a lot of buildup, that was disappointing. The final twist makes the audience think the motivation for the murder was actually completely wrong, and that definitely turned me off. I won’t be trying anything else by this author; unreliable narrators who in fact invalidate the entire story are a deal breaker for me.
Harry’s Trees by Jon Cohen. My only DNF in this post, “Harry’s Trees” was 110% worth the DNF. It’s supposed to be a heartwarming tale of Harry, who loses his wife, and meets a young widow with a daughter, and how he rebuilds his life while everyone involved deals with their grief. So sayeth the blurb. This book is just STUPIDLY WEIRD. It can’t decide whether it’s being almost satire or just plain whining; within the first several chapters, it makes fun of Quakers, grief counselors, librarians, and even the main characters. The daughter is a precocious child named Oriana (hearing the audio narrator enunciate this ridiculously pretentious name over and over just made me grit my teeth), who is of course smarter than all the adults. There are hints of magical realism, but it’s also not treated as a serious subject, and this route just gets too irritating. So I stopped after the second CD.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead. Also the first title I’ve finished by this author, “Harlem Shuffle” is amusing and poignant, a little long-winded in places, but it’s still worth the read. The story follows a black man in New York City in the 1970s, trying to make his way without falling into crime, in the midst of the civil rights movement and things changing all around him. I liked the often serious, sometimes tongue-in-cheek reflections on race and gender roles and stereotypes, and whether we believe them or whether we choose to alter them. This was definitely a title made all the more enjoyable by the narrator; his voice was distinct and fitting, he didn’t attempt silly accents or overdramatize the dialogue. I could imagine the characters and setting very well through his reading, and that certainly helped me make it to the end of this little-too-long novel.
And that’s all for now! Have a great weekend, everybody!