Bookends: January 2021

January brought us cats.

That makes it sound like I had a lot less responsibility for this turn of events than I did. I’ll rephrase: After months of looking at the humane society adoptable pets listings, we finally made the leap and adopted two adult cats. Here they are:

Their names are Camille and Silo, and they’re 3.5 years old and likely siblings. They’ve been with us for almost four weeks and are gradually getting used to the place—and, more challenging, the people. They still aren’t sure how much they can trust us, and the fact that they arrived with upper respiratory infections and needed twice-daily eye ointment made for a somewhat sub-optimal introduction. I don’t know how far we are from my vision of reading with cats on my lap, but they each took a treat from my hand today instead of batting it away first, and Camille curled up next to me when I went to comfort her after we vacuumed yesterday, so we’re making progress.

We really like them, and with any luck, the feeling will be mutual within another month or so.

Despite cat excitement, I did get a few books read this month:

Finished in January (10):

Afterland by Lauren Beukes

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

Day of Tears by Julius Lester

Lyddie by Katherine Paterson

The Mighty Mars Rovers by Elizabeth Rusch

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy by Yanis Varoufakis

Votes for Women!: American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot by Winifred Conkling

These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card

I Hold a Wolf by the Ears by Laura van den Berg

The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi

All but one of the books I read this month was “for” something. The one that was just my choice was Afterland by Lauren Beukes. It’s about the United States (and, to a lesser extent, the world) in 2023, three years after a novel flu-like illness appeared and wiped out most of the male human population. It’s an interesting premise and I love when there are enough women characters in books that they get to be goodies, baddies, and even nuanced characters, but the execution wasn’t as adept as it might have been.

Next up is my Agatha Christie for the month, The Man in the Brown Suit. I fear that I’ve almost forgotten this one already. I remember that there’s an amateur orphaned lady detective with an excellent sense of smell and a penchant for unpleasant men, and there’s a ship. I enjoyed this one okay, but I felt like Christie’s lady detective didn’t live up to what I had hoped for her.

I read two books this month from my daughter’s Build Your Library booklist. Talking to My Daughter About the Economy is perhaps the most accessible book on economics I’ve read. Not that I’ve read many, but the fact that this one didn’t put me to sleep puts it head and shoulders above the other 2.5 economics books I’ve worked my way through. I’m going to have my spouse, who’s much more interested in economics read it so we can all three talk about the ideas in it. Winifred’s Votes for Women! was an excellent choice for an Inauguration Day read. It highlights the risks of letting those who oppose us cause us to turn against our allies, as Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton did with Frederick Douglass, how the exact same arguments are used against those demonstrating for social change today, and how frustratingly LONG it takes for things to change. Well, if it’s a change I want it seems to take a long time; unwelcome changes seem to happen much more quickly.

For my son’s Build Your Library booklists, we had some heavy reading this month. Day of Tears, Julius Lester’s fictionalized account of the largest slave sale in United States history, my son and I listened to on the full-cast audiobook. It’s intended for a young audience, but it’s pretty intense, especially on audio. I had a conversation with my son about words we hear in some books that we never, ever, ever repeat (and why), which I hope made an impression coming from his mother who swears creatively, fluently, and frequently. Lyddie by Katherine Paterson is lighter in comparison, but still challenging as the plucky but impoverished title character labors in the service industry and later in the textile mills of 1840s Lowell, Massachusetts. Along the way we learn about worker’s rights, poverty, the limited options available to women at the time, racism, sexual harassment, and how it’s possible to change one’s opinions based on new information, a very valuable lesson at any time but especially at our current point in history. Last for his books is a big pivot: The Mighty Mars Rovers by Elizabeth Rusch. Filled with photos and quotes from the actual scientists and engineers who built and guided the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, this book makes Mars a much more real place than it was for me before. Next up for the family: the movie version of The Martian. I don’t like the ending of that one, and Matt Damon is a bit of a tool, but it’s enjoyable and I think my son might like it, especially after the nonfiction about the Red Planet.

That brings me to the one book I read this month from my Book Riot Tailored Book Recommendations: These Ghosts are Family by Maisy Card. I struggled a little with the dialect (I always struggle with dialect), but once I got the hang of it, I really enjoyed this novel about how history (our personal and family history along with the wider cultural/societal history) sticks with us and interacts with us, whether we’re aware of it or not.

I Hold a Wolf by the Ears by Lauren van den Berg is a collection of short stories my spouse included in the annual stack of library books he gets for me for my birthday and Christmas. I enjoyed the often weird stories—some were reminiscent of Shirley Jackson, not “The Lottery” so much as the stories about women on the verge—and related to several of them, but I suspect that like so often happens for me with short stories, I won’t retain much about any of them.

And here we are at the last book I finished in January, The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi, which I read as my Afghanistan selection in the ReadingAsia2021 challenge on Litsy. I read this as a combination of audiobook and e-book. The novel is set entirely in one room in which the main character is caring for—and gradually unburdening her soul to—her apparently comatose husband. This arrangement makes it feel very much like a production I could imagine seeing on stage on a college campus, maybe at UNC Chapel Hill or a small liberal arts college, probably in Ohio. Oberlin, maybe.

To-Read for February:

I’m not sure if it’s just wanting to hang out with my cats (who so far refuse to just sit and read with me) or the emotional aftereffects of the attack on the Capitol or the malaise of starting a new year in a pandemic peak, but I’m feeling awfully slumpy about reading as February dawns. I have my #bookspin list, as has become my custom, but I don’t feel much for any of the titles on the list. I left myself a hefty five free spaces for #bookspinbingo, and we’ll see how that treats me this month.

You can see my Litsy profile for status updates throughout the month and my Instagram (@ImperfectHappiness) for mostly not-book-related photos.

What’s on your TBR stack for February?

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