Friday, May 06, 2022

April, 2022: So Very Triggered

I'm really pleased with my April reading. A couple of books really triggered me, but like Kafka or someone said (and I'm wildly paraphrasing), we *should* read books that pierce us and chop like axes into where our deepest feels reside. Strangely, those visceral reactions still come as a shock, even more than a half-century after I burst into tears and threw Jane Eyre across the room after reading the first chapter.

1. The Devil All the Time - Donald Ray Pollock. Novel. I'm so annoyed with myself. Five years ago, my friend Mary M. told me, nearly ordered me to read this book. I dutifully bought it and stored it on my main fiction bookshelf in the living room for yes, half a decade. So finally, it jumps off the shelf and into my hands and for the next day-and-a-half, I could not leave it alone. Brilliant hillbilly noir. Like almost everyone else, I was reminded of the Coen brothers and Jim Thompson. The next time Mary M. makes a recommendation, I won't be so skittish.

2. French Braid - Anne Tyler. Novel. Did I walk? No, of course not. I ran to the bookstore. My excuses for buying a book as opposed to waiting for a library copy were threefold: 

First excuse: It's Anne Tyler, duh.
Second excuse: The bookstore almost fell into oblivion and was rescued at Christmastime last year. Use it or lose it.
Third excuse: I was feeling hard done by because of my poor smashed-up car. 

I won't say French Braid is my favorite Anne Tyler, but I'll always remember it for getting under my skin. Like most of her novels, French Braid deals in slightly dysfunctional family dynamics. But what got me was a cat who is in the novel for only about a dozen pages. I adored him, and then. Well, let's just say that one of the characters didn't adore him, and didn't change her mind about him, not ever. I had tears in my eyes. Desmond! For days, I kept grabbing up the Spawn's and my cat, Starman, and hugging him and saying Desmond, Desmond. I recounted this plot point to anyone who would listen and even voiced my dissatisfaction on Twitter. The Spawn's response: Ob-la-di, Ob-la-dah.

3. Ocean State - Stewart O'Nan. Novel. In Rhode Island, a teenage love triangle goes horribly wrong. Lots of atmosphere. Pitch-perfect cadences of modern life. Ocean State reads like a pulpy true crime book and I was also getting whiffs of Joyce Carol Oates, but a more controlled JCO. Another book that I couldn't put down. O'Nan is a master. Now I have to wait another two years for his next book to come out. Damn.

4. Crying In H Mart -Michelle Zauner. Memoir. It was bound to happen: My homesickness for Korea and my grief over losing my mother all came crashing together in a single volume. Zauner, the lead singer for Japanese Breakfast, writes achingly and vividly about taking care of her mother in the few short months between her cancer diagnosis and death interspersed with memories of their trips to Korea to visit family once every two years, and their shared love for Korean food and culture. Then after her mother is gone, Michelle has to negotiate the grief and the guilt and figure out how to deal with it. She travels. She makes a lot of kimchi. She visits family in Korea. She writes. She performs with her band. And it's all so true and exquisite and heartbreaking. Crying In H Mart was my favorite read for April. I want everyone to read it, and I want an H Mart that is closer than Chicago. Yes, I bought this book. Could not resist the red cover and the ramen noodles that make the H in the title.

5. Who Was Charles Schulz? - Joan Holub. Nonfiction. A serviceable, workmanlike portrait of the beloved creator of the Peanuts comic strip.

6. What Was The Harlem Renaissance? - Sherri L. Smith. The Harlem Renaissance was rich, complex, and exciting. That era from the nineteen-tens through the 1930s just exploded with art in all forms. It's too much to cover in one of the volumes in this series. The Harlem Renaissance just cannot be constrained into the 108-page format. Still, Sherri L. Smith provides a great jumping-off point for readers of all ages to learn more about this dynamic time.

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