Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for February, 2017…
Pomfret Towers (Barsetshire #6), by Angela Thirkell – Continuing with my recent binge on comfort books, I had to include a visit to Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire. (I’d have liked to squeeze in Trollope’s version of the county, too, but no time.) In this installment, Lord Pomfret – one of the region’s preeminent aristocrats – is giving a weekend party at Pomfret Towers, in honor of his wife’s temporary return to England (Lady Pomfret is usually in Italy for her health). Among the invited guests are Guy Barton, son of a prominent and wealthy local architect, and Guy’s painfully shy sister Alice. Alice is the focal point of the story, and her blossoming under the kind attentions of her hosts – even the gruff and proudly rude Lord Pomfret seems to adore her – is a delight to witness. Also present are Mrs. Rivers, a popular and prolific – if tone-deaf and obnoxious – romance writer and her two children, self-centered artist Julian and freewheeling Phoebe; Guy and Alice’s friends Roddy and Sally Wicklow; and Mr. Foster, Lord Pomfret’s likely heir. Lady Pomfret and Mrs. Rivers both attempt to “matchmake” for Mr. Foster, Alice fancies herself in love with Julian, Guy and Phoebe share a mutual attraction, and everyone eats lots of delicious food and has a delightful time. Loved it.
Mom & Me & Mom, by Maya Angelou – Having read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in high school, I somehow only recently discovered that Maya Angelou wrote a stack of other memoirs. Mom & Me & Mom was one, and it was powerful and joyful. Opening in Angelou’s early childhood, during which she was raised by her grandmother, Angelou discusses returning to her mother’s side at age 13 and spending her adolescence in San Francisco, living with a mother she barely knew. Angelou’s relationship with her mother, whom she calls “Lady,” is – of course – the focal point of the book, and it’s beautiful to watch her love for, and trust in, Lady blossom and grow over time. Lady, for her part, explains that she is a terrible mother to young children but a great one to young (and not-so-young) adults, and that does seem to be the case. From a foundation of mistrust and resentment, a beautiful mother-daughter relationship blooms.
We Love You, Charlie Freeman, by Kaitlyn Greenidge – The Freeman family is proud and honored to have been selected as part of an experiment at the Toneybee Institute, a scientific foundation studying the communication of apes and other primates. The Freemans will leave their home, move into the institute, and live in an apartment there with Charlie, a young chimp who was abandoned by his mother. The purpose of the experiment is for the Freemans – who all speak sign language – to teach Charlie to sign, and to fold him into their family and overcome his feelings of abandonment, first by his mother and then by various institute staff as they turn over in the normal course of business. Soon the stress of the experiment begins to overwhelm the family, who all deal with their emotions in various – mostly unhealthy – ways, and what was a close family starts to unravel. Against this backdrop, teenaged daughter Charlotte – the main protagonist – discovers some unsettling facts about the early history of the Toneybee and its racist beginnings. The novel, on the surface about the undoing of a family, is an interesting allegory about – as the jacket copy describes it – America’s failure to find a language in which to talk about race. So, I liked this. It was well-written and thoughtful. I found it hard to connect to the plot, though, and couldn’t love it – that’s probably my own thing, since this book is getting raves from everyone else. “Undoing of a family” stories aren’t really my jam, and that ultimately couldn’t overcome my interest in reading a story about the language of conversations about race – but it’s a book very worth reading, and I do recommend it.
You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, by Phoebe Robinson – Robinson is a stand-up comedienne, a podcast maven, an all-around hilarious lady, and a black woman. In this memoir, she describes her experiences and encounters with race during her childhood and young adulthood – and she folds quite a lot of thought-provoking introspection and wisdom in with some truly hilarious material. Whether describing the hours she spent sitting on the kitchen chair while her mother took pains over her with a hot comb so Robinson wouldn’t “go to school looking like Frederick Douglass,” or recounting awkward encounters with tone-deaf white people’s unconscious racism, Robinson is real, and thoughtful, and smart – as well as funny. I’ve long been a fan of stand-up as a way to tell truths about our current society, where we need to go and how we need to get there – in a light-hearted but intelligent way, and Robinson seems like a comic that I’d really love. You Can’t Touch My Hair was an uncomfortable read at times, but should be required reading as it takes on big issues and pulls no punches while doing so.
Emily of New Moon (Emily #1), by Lucy Maud Montgomery – I won’t get too into detail here, as you’ve already read my thoughts about re-reading my childhood favorite book here. Suffice it to say, I’d been long looking for an excuse to dive back into Emily Byrd Starr’s world of Blair Water, PEI, and I’m beyond grateful to Naomi for providing the perfect opportunity with her #ReadingEmily event. The Emily books are, for the most part, darker than their better-known cousins, the Anne of Green Gables series, but I love them all the more for it. Emily is a strong, confident character, touched by deep tragedy but never abandoning her love of wild beauty or her writing ambitions. She begins the story bereft, losing her beloved Father, but gradually time heals her wounds and she grows into herself, nurtured by kind Aunt Laura, understanding Cousin Jimmy, and even strict Aunt Elizabeth at New Moon Farm. #ReadingEmily is continuing in March with the next book in the trilogy, Emily Climbs, and I will certainly be continuing on as well – now that I’ve been back to Emily’s world for the first time in five years, I’m remembering how much I have always loved it there.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, by Frederick Douglass – I’d been meaning to read this classic for awhile, and had been eyeing it as a perfect pick for Black History Month, when a certain tone-deaf and evidently uneducated world leader (#notmypresident) referenced Douglass in a manner that suggested he had no idea who Douglass actually was. (Has been doing a very good job? Getting recognized more and more? Are you KIDDING ME?) Since reading is apparently how I #resist, my first stop on the internet, after reading that embarrassment, was my library website to put Douglass’s memoir on hold. It came in shortly thereafter, and I blazed through the slim but incredibly powerful volume. As expected, it’s far from an easy read – the events it recounts are nothing short of horrifying. Douglass’s powerful voice comes across in a ringing attack on the very system of slavery – I can only imagine how astonishing he must have been as a speaker. If I was to create a list of books that I think should be required reading for all Americans, this would have to be on it.
1984, by George Orwell – Another one I added to my library holds after seeing it in the news, dystopian novel 1984 started trending – actually selling out on Amazon – thanks to Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and their “alternative facts,” which seemed right out of the regime of Big Brother. Orwell’s classic focuses on Winston Smith, a 39-year-old bureaucrat in the superstate of Oceana. Winston works at the Ministry of Truth, which is concerned with “rectifying” publications so that they reflect the desired standpoints of the ruling elite – whatever those happen to be at the moment – and in the process, obliterating history and memory. Big Brother, the unseen leader of the regime, is always watching through mandatory “telescreens,” which are everywhere. Love, sensuality, memory, and any questioning of authority are prohibited acts of “thoughtcrime.” I read Orwell’s other well-known dystopia, Animal Farm, in high school, but had never made it to 1984, so I jumped on the bandwagon with everyone else and read it this month. It was distressing, upsetting, engaging and frighteningly relevant to today’s political climate.
Seven books in February is darn decent, I think, especially when you consider the grueling work schedule with which I’ve been contending all month. I’m pleased that four of those books were written by African-American authors – a good showing for Black History Month, which I always like to observe in my reading! The other reading highlight of the month was having an excuse to dust off Emily of New Moon for Naomi’s #ReadingEmily event. The event is continuing in March and April, so expect to see Emily Climbs on here next month – along with lots more library goodness, because my willpower in the face of library holds continues as poor as ever.