Thursday, June 29, 2023

June 2023 Reads: Summertime and the Reading is Easy

The last time I checked, school is supposed to be out in June, but The Spawn unleashed his inner stern schoolmaster, and set me to reading six books all in one evening. Part of me was thinking, Where did this come from? Why is he getting all Ichabod Crane on my ass? The other part of me was secretly enjoying seeing my yearly reading count rise exponentially. Thank you, Spawn. Midyear finds me at 44 books so far. My goal of 62 for 2023 seems assured.

Ten books for June! Whoo hoo!

1. Ice Cream Man: How Augustus Jackson Made a Sweet Treat Better - Glenda Armand and Kim Freeman. That subtitle says it all. From the description in the book, it seems as if ice cream was more of a cold eggy pudding, and it could often be savory rather than sweet. Some of the flavors come across as vile. It sounds like the dessert part of an episode of Chopped. Augustus Jackson improved on the treat by removing the eggs, creating sweet flavors and using rock salt to make the concoction freeze faster. With beautiful illustrations, this book is the perfect summertime read.

2. Library Girl: How Nancy Pearl Became America's Most Celebrated Librarian - Karen Henry Clark. I first discovered Nancy Pearl back in 2004, and she's been my girl crush ever since. I follow her on Twitter and still swoon when she likes one of my tweets. My very own superhero's origin story was funny and heartwarming. Kudos to the adults that gave her support and confidence.

3. A Perfect Fit: How Lena "Lane" Bryant Changed the Shape of Fashion - Mara Rockliff.  Lithuanian immigrant Lena Bryant was working as a seamstress when one day, a customer asked her to make a presentable dress that she could wear in public that would be designed to expand ...and maternity wear was born! {Pun intentional, of course. I don't know what women did before then...hide out at home during that last trimester?) Riffing off her success, Lena decided to open a business that celebrated women of all shapes and sizes. The Lane in Lane Bryant is an accidental transposition of Lena. I enjoyed this book and would gladly read an adult biography.

4. Blast Off! How Mary Sherman Morgan Fueled America into Space - Suzanne Slade. Mary Sherman Morgan excelled at chemistry in school, so when she graduated right at the beginning of WWII, she found a job in a lab that designed rocket fuels. Later, when the USA decided to enter the space race, Mary went to work at NASA, and through much determination and trial and error, finally came up with the formula to launch a rocket into space. I really liked how the book showed how much work science can be and how it can be worthwhile. At the end of the book, there is a short biography designed for older readers.

5. The Brilliant Calculator: How Mathematician Edith Clarke Helped Electrify America - Jan Lower. Edith Clarke always loved math and puzzles. She was the first female electrical engineer in America, but in those days, no one wanted to hire a woman. Undaunted, she went on to create a calculator on paper that saved engineers valuable time. This innovation led to the electrification of the United States. The female pioneers in the STEM fields are finally getting the respect they deserve. I wonder if we can ever give them enough.

6. What was the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921? - Caleb Gayle. In the early part of the 20th century, the Greenwood district in Tulsa was known as "Black Wall Street". Black businesses and the community thrived. Greenwood was much more affluent than adjoining White communities, and of course the Whites seethed about this. It all boiled over when a young Black man was accused of assaulting a young White woman. A mob gathered, intent on lynching him. A group of 75 men from Greenwood, some armed, showed up to protect him. Violence erupted when a White man demanded that a Black man hand over his pistol, then tried to take it away from him when he refused. Greenwood was invaded that night, people were killed and businesses, homes, and schools were burned. After it was too late, the governor finally got around to imposing martial law. Incredibly, this was all swept under the rug and made to look like the citizens of Greenwood torched themselves. Caleb Gayle, who grew up in Tulsa, used interviews with survivors to give his look at a neglected and shameful chapter of American/Oklahoma history a shocking immediacy not usually found in this series.

7. City of Girls - Elizabeth Gilbert. Novel. Audiobook. I am really mad at myself for side-eyeing and sidestepping this novel for the past four years. I'm sorry, Liz! City of Girls, a historical novel that takes place primarily in the early 1940s is funny and smart and effervescent. Written as a letter from a very old woman named Vivian Morris to a younger woman named Angela, Vivian relates her life story, unapologetic warts and all. Everything is perfect. The setting -- NYC -- is perfect. The dialogue is perfect. Not one character utters even one syllable of an anachronism. There's a musical, from which the book gets its title, written into the novel, and it's --as you may have guessed-- perfection. Even the most minor of the minor characters is beautifully fleshed out. It's even better than my inarticulate description. If you haven't read City of Girls, don't be like me. Read it. If you don't get to it now, I think the perfect time to read it would be during that week between Christmas and New Year. I audiobooked it, and Blair Brown's narration only enhances an already satisfying experience.

8. The Girl Puzzle - Kate Braithwaite. Novel. A frustrating read in the form of a historical novel about pioneer female journalist Nellie Bly. The Girl Puzzle has two timelines: The first one introduces Nellie, brand-new in New York City who is trying to land a job at a newspaper. Since it's late in the 19th century, no one wants to hire a woman. In spite of that, Nellie manages to impress Joseph Pulitzer and his managing editor and they give her an assignment: Get yourself committed to Bellevue on Blackwell Island and write about the conditions there. The rest of that timeline is a rehash of Bly's Ten Days in a Mad-House with slightly saltier language than would have been permitted in the newspapers of the time. The other timeline leaps forward to nearly the end of Nellie Bly's life, and her current crusade is adoption. Her viewpoint is filtered through her secretary, Beatrice, which removes a lot of pep from the novel. The two timelines are juxtaposed, and I found myself impatiently counting pages until I could get back to Nellie in the asylum.

9. Lessons in Chemistry - Bonnie Garmus. Novel. I thought this was a romance novel at first. Wrong! Always look beyond the cover. 93% of the time you'll be right, but you must allow for the other 7%. Lessons in Chemistry is quirky, funny, clever, infuriating, hopeful. I loved it. I wish there really were an Elizabeth Zott and a show called Supper at Six. Six-Thirty, Zott's dog is my favorite animal character since Desmond the cat in Anne Tyler's French Braid. Speaking of Tyler, I kept hearing the echo of her authorial voice in Lessons in Chemistry. Finally, I was reminded a bit of Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. Garmus's book feels like the one I was wanting while reading Bernadette. I want to say more, but I'm still emerging from the love bubble.  At this juncture, all I can do is squeee and strong-arm people into listening to me squeee. But wait! My friend Teresa in San Antonio just texted me that she's got it on hold at her library! Squeee Power!

10. Haven - Emma Donoghue. Novel. Audiobook. Set in 7th century Ireland, a monk with 'a vision from God' travels to bleak and uninhabited Skellig Michael. (This island is now best known as Luke Skywalker's hideout.) Artt, the visionary, brings along two other monks: an older convert named Cormac and a young one named Trion. Together, Cormac and Trion have mad skills for surviving on the island, but Artt isn't any help. In fact, he's not interested in anything but building crosses and altars and chapels and copying The Bible. Unfortunately, he is the leader and the two monks have pledged obedience to him. It's reminiscent of  Donoghue's most famous novel, Room: Two people isolated with an unreasonable captor. Good detail and description of how things were done in that time and what tools were used. In addition to the psychological tension, there's a dark environmental current.  The island is adversely affected in just a few months as the monks struggle to eke out an existence. Rich, dense and rewarding read.

Here's what I'm in the middle of reading:

Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing - Lauren Hough. Essays.
The Guncle - Steven Rowley. Novel (Thank you again, Care!)
The Signature of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert. Novel. Audiobook.

What I'd like to read:

The Secret to Superhuman Strength - Alison Bechdel. Graphic novel.


Sam said...'re all over the map these days - and that's exactly the way reading should be. Two of the books you mention are ones I've been eyeing myself but hesitating on committing to: Lessons in Chemistry (found it hard to peg down and thought it likely that I would abandon it early on) and Haven (seems too much like a book with limited possibilities) but looks like I need to reconsider them. Even saw a copy of Haven on the shelves of my library Friday afternoon, picked it up, and put it back. I'm sure it's long gone by now though.

I had never heard of City of Girls but I read Gilbert's The Signature of All Things a while back and was very impressed by it, so I'll definitely be looking for it now. Thanks for that.

Have a great July. Looks like you are in the groove right now.

Bybee said...

I'm just as impressed with The Signature of All Things as I was with City of Girls. The only difference is that I went into City of Girls with zero expectations.
Eager for you to read Lessons in Chemistry and see if you get an Anne Tyler vibe as well.

Sam said...

The "Anne Tyler vibe" reference is enough to get me to commit to "Lessons in Chemistry" all by itself.