I didn’t really set any official goals for 2019 beyond writing as much as I can, but I’ve been thinking about my reading life and what I want it to look like. So much of what I read and how I read has changed in the last few years, especially since i started writing seriously a year ago. I used to burn through multiple books at a time and always had a book in hand or an audiobook in my ears. I set goals for how many books to read, increasing that number every year to challenge myself, and I’d try to read a certain number of classics or books about certain topics.
But now my reading revolves around my writing. I’m slow and picky and have a hard time with audiobooks because I want to study the language. I pick books that I think will inspire or teach me, searching for authors that explore similar topics to what I write about or will inspire me with their gorgeous prose. And I always read with a pen in hand and take things really slow.
I guess my reading goal for 2019 is to spend a lot of time reading, but to ignore numbers or challenges or the many many books I’m curious about but just can’t seem to keep up with. Of course I want to find joy in my reading, but I also want to be inspired. I want to learn. I want to grow. If that takes more time and means I finish less books, that’s alright by me.
So, without further ado, here are the books I read this month.
PURE: INSIDE THE EVANGELICAL MOVEMENT THAT SHAMED A GENERATION OF YOUNG WOMEN AND HOW I BROKE FREE - LINDA KAY KLEIN
hauntingly relatable, dispiriting, but too surface level.
I picked this book as research for my writing, but also to witness women’s upbringings that are parallel to my own. Klein explores the Evangelical purity movement and how it impacted women and their futures, self-esteem, and relationship with God. She sits down with women to ask them about their experiences as young women in a patriarchal culture that believed women were temptresses who needed to be sexually pure in order to be worthy of God and future husbands. The stories these women told were heartbreaking and a little too relatable.
But unfortunately the writing suffers. Klein begins with personal experiences, but fails to disconnect herself when she investigates further through interviews and surface-level research. She basically transcribes the interviews, including her own comments and related experiences, where they met up, what they ordered, and how they caught up on their pasts together; most interviewees were old friends or friends of friends.
However, some of the interviews hit me hard. I related to the women's experiences of struggling with purity after being married and how that impacts your own self-esteem. There were many women that suffered through faith crises and subsequently left but suffered through the trauma of trying to function afterward when your entire belief system no longer makes sense. She gave me some great terms for my own experience and helped me to see it wasn't exclusive to my faith or experience. If she writes another book on a similar subject, I hope that's it.
A COMPLICATED KINDNESS - MIRIAM TOEWS
inspiring, clever, and funny, yet sorrowful and crushing.
I’ve been obsessed with Miriam Toews since reading Women Talking in November. I was told this earlier novel explored similar themes in a more contemporary way and so I went out and got myself a copy. It didn’t disappoint. Toews wrote a beautiful and poignant tale of family and the unique ways we sacrifice for and love them, despite differences and disagreements and complete confusion about one another. Though slow and brooding, I never grew bored of main character Nomi’s descriptions of her town, her family, the life she’s grown so bored of, or the vague but cherished dream of leaving. From the very beginning, she fills you with questions then gives you the background and clues to come up with your own answers as she ponders her own.
Toews’ writing, in terms of characters, pacing, plot, imagery, and humor, is such an inspiration to me. She speaks volumes about patriarchy, religion, family, and loyalty yet always provides room for grace and forgiveness. I particularly loved and learned from the way she interweaves flashback with present tense, illustrating the huge change in main character Nomi’s disposition and beliefs after her mother and sister both leave her, her father, and their Mennonite community.
EDUCATED - TARA WESTOVER
gripping and horrifying, but gracious and uplifting.
I finally read the buzziest book of 2018, the one EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER recommended I read. Though it took me a while to give in, I’m glad I didn’t read it until this month. I’m not usually one for memoirs as, in my (probably wrong) opinion, they often come across as indulgent or directionless. Educated was neither. From the beginning, Westover speaks purposefully and eloquently of her experiences growing up on a mountain range in Idaho, raised by a paranoid and exacting father and a subservient mom. Though Westover grew up Mormon, the religion I, too, was raised in, she made it clear that her parents rendering of the religion was exaggerated and extreme. I did not relate as much to her conservative Christian upbringing as I expected.
But it didn’t detract from the power of this book and the complete hold it had on me. Through the help of family, friends, and her detailed journals, Westover recalls events from her childhood with gracious eyes, never casting blame or hate on family members that abused her mentally, emotionally, and physically. Some of my favorite moments (and ones I related to in small measure) were when she examined her own opinions and beliefs in her youth, the way she held so tight to everything her dad told her and how those teachings influenced her actions and judgements of others. She does not blame him for this, but rather looks back on herself with fresh and forgiving eyes, looking at herself the way roommates, kids at church, teachers, professors, family, and friends may have looked at her. She managed to imbue so much feeling into each experience and reflection, yet never steers into rage, recrimination, or crippling regret.
Another aspect of the book I loved was how she owned up to not fully remembering details, particularly those from long ago or ones clouded by extreme emotion. I’ve wondering how memoirists can confidently relay events so vividly without conceding their memories might be flawed or hazy, so I found Westover’s candidness about her storytelling very refreshing. That being said, I don’t doubt what happened to her or that this is the way she remembered things. I gave me a lot to think about in terms of the stories we tell about our lives and what people might remember differently. She tells her story in the only way she knows how.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think?
BOOKS I PURCHASED THIS MONTH:
I was doing so well at not buying too many books for a while. I should’ve known that moving back to Utah would be bad for my to-be-read stacks. When we lived here before, I collected many gems I found for incredibly low prices at the wonderful thrift stores around here. Four months back and I’ve already gotten back in the habit of regularly perusing the books at my local thrift stores and my collection is slowly and steadily growing. I’m trying to practice a certain level of self-control, only buying books already on my wishlist or ones I know I’ll read very soon. But those $2 or less price tags are oh-so-tempting.
TALENT- JULIET LAPIDOS
This was my first preorder of the month for 2019, part research for my novel that features a main character with a similar problem, but it also looked like a fun and light read.
BRIGHT DEAD THINGS - ADA LIMON
I need more poetry in my life and I’ve been staring at a poem of Limon’s for much too long that I cut from the pages of a New Yorker magazine and pinned to my bulletin board. It’s about time I bought her collection and I am LOVING it so far.
A LITTLE LIFE - HANYA YANAGIHARA
This one has been calling to me for much too long, but I’ve been too afraid to take it home from a bookstore because it’s quite the beast I worry I don’t have the time to invest in it. Seeing it at the thrift store was the perfect excuse to finally take it home. Now hopefully it doesn’t haunt me for too long on my TBR shelf.
DEAR COMMITTEE MEMBERS - JULIE SCHUMACHER
I’ve been in the mood for a quick, fun novel that will still tickle my writer brain and this looked like just the ticket. I bought it on a whim but I think I’m going to read it as soon as I finish Talent.
GOLD FAME CITRUS - CLAIRE VAYE WATKINS
This is a book I see floating around on more obscure “best of” lists and have had on my wishlist for too long, so I jumped when I saw it while thrifting.
EDUCATED - TARA WESTOVER
I listened to this one on audiobook but wanted a hard copy, so I kept my eye out at the thrift stores, knowing it would turn up eventually. And it did. Huzzah!
GILEAD - MARILYNNE ROBINSON
I need more religious-centered novels and have heard great things about this one.
BELOVED - TONI MORRISON
I preordered her new collection of essays and figured it’s time to read her novels. I am a bit embarrassed I haven’t read any of her fiction yet.
JANE EYRE - CHARLOTTE BRONTE
in the lovely Modern Library Classics edition that I’d like to start collecting. Don’t you dare shame me for having not read it yet. I always thought I’d read all the classics in college so I put them off, but, oops, I dropped out years ago.
See any you love here? What should I read right away?