Bookends: February 2021

Going by my middle name is getting a rocky start. I decided to ease my way in by introducing myself by my middle name to people who don’t already know me and letting people who already know me as “Charity” keep calling me that.

First challenge: Remembering to introduce myself by my middle name. I got a fair amount of practice doing this in February because one of our cats urinated in the middle of our digital piano keyboard so I was in contact with several repair places, piano stores, and animal behavior specialists to try and resolve issues related to that event. I managed to introduce myself by my middle name to about three of five people. Which led to the…

Second challenge: Remembering that I’d introduced myself by my middle name. I managed to do that one and a half times, so I currently have one person calling me by my middle name, one person totally confused as to what to call me because I keep forgetting how to sign my emails, and everyone else calling me “Charity.”

So, not going so well. I need to talk to people who go by their middle names or who started calling themselves something different in adulthood and see how they managed it. It doesn’t help that I feel very self-conscious about the whole thing, and maybe a little selfish about the idea of asking people to call me something different than what I’ve always gone by. Why others’ convenience should be a major concern for me, I’m not sure, but I blame social conditioning.

Whoever I am this month, I read a fair number of books in February:

Finished in February (15) (read aloud, that has a lovely alliteration to it):

Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II by Albert Marrin

Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes

The Race to Chimney Rock by Jesse Wiley

Midsummer’s Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca

As Long as the Rivers Flow by Larry Loyie

Eliza’s Freedom Road by Jerdine Nolen

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

The Searcher by Tana French

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

My daughter is taking a break on her Build Your Library assignments until she gets a handle on the workload for the college course she’s taking this month, so I’m reading less for her level than I usually do. There was just one this month, and it was an excellent one: Uprooted by Albert Marrin about Executive Order 9066 and the imprisoning of almost 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent in concentration camps during World War II. I listened to it on audio on Libby, but I liked it so much, I ordered a hardcover to own. “Like” is perhaps the wrong word for it, but the book gave me a new appreciation for the legacy of bigotry against Asian Americans in the United States. I was especially shocked to learn about the blatant white supremacy practiced openly in California during that time.

My son is still going full steam ahead with his Build Your Library curriculum, and I read several titles with him in February. Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes is about a girl who spends the summer with her grandmother in New Mexico and tries to learn about the father who died before she was born. The Race to Chimney Rock by Jesse Wiley is about the Oregon Trail and is the first choose-your-own adventure I’ve read since the 1980s. Inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Rajani La Rocca’s Midsummer’s Mayhem tells the story of a girl who loves to bake who’s caught up in an argument between fairy royalty. The beautifully illustrated As Long as the Rivers Flow is inspired by the author Larry Loyie’s childhood with his family in Alberta, Canada, before he and his siblings were taken away to residential schools for Indigenous children. Loyie chooses to focus on the beauty of his early childhood and the lessons he learned then, which makes his separation from his family at the end all the more powerful. Then there was Eliza’s Freedom Road by Jerdine Nolen, written in the form of the diary of a young girl who has to make her escape from slavery on her own. Eliza connects with the mother from whom she was separated by remembering and retelling the folktales her mother used to tell. A similar theme but from the perspective of a boy growing up in a Canadian community populated by refugees of the United States’ institution of slavery and their children is Elijah of Buxton. As usual Christopher Paul Curtis has written a story that portrays the innocence and joy of boyhood alongside the very real, very grown-up dangers that the main character has to face. This was perhaps my favorite book of the month.

Last for my son’s reading, and last from his astronomy unit, was Team Moon by Catherine Thimmesh, which is a short but detailed nonfiction account of all of the effort and skill that went into getting Apollo 11 to the moon.

I did manage to read a few books for myself in February. My Agatha Christie for this month was The Secret of Chimneys, which was the first I read in book form alongside the audiobook, which is how I discovered that some offensive ethnic slurs in the original had been culled from the audio version. I had heard about Christie’s bigotry, but I hadn’t seen much of it besides some pretty stereotyped Jewish characters, and I wonder now if it’s because I’ve been sticking with the apparently sanitized audiobooks. Aside from this unpleasantness, I found the story more satisfying than many of the others I’ve read. The characters were more likeable to me, especially the main female character. I just need to make sure I get the print versions of her books in the future. I don’t want to risk praising her without knowing the possible ugly side of her language.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is the delightfully uncomfortable story of Keiko, who’s not quite sure how to interact with other people without some sort of structure, so she immerses herself in her part-time work at a convenience store despite social pressures to marry and/or start a full-time career. Keiko reminds me a bit of Eleanor Oliphant, but Keiko’s story went in a different direction than Eleanor’s.

Mariana Enriquez’s Things We Lost in the Fire is a collection of creepy short stories set in Argentina about people disappearing or changing form or acting under someone else’s will. She touches, too, on how violence can pervade a culture, both those who are directly involved and those who aren’t, until it turns us into something we might not have intended.

The Searcher by Tana French is about an American expat, recently retired from a career in law enforcement and trying to settle into his new home in a small town in Ireland. The novel deals with classism, the pros and cons of small, close-knit communities, the discomforts of being an outsider, and trying to break free from what others expect of us. This might be my favorite Tana French novel so far.

When I finished Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home, I immediately recommended it to my teenage daughter. Although set closer to my teenage era than hers, it addresses many of the same questions she’s asking about identity, relationships, compromise, grief, and the nature and responsibilities of talent. In addition to an excellent coming-of-age story, it gives a glimpse into the AIDS epidemic in the days before AZT. Although I co-founded an AIDS awareness club in college in the mid-1990s, I hadn’t thought about those times in years and I’d almost forgotten about the fear, uncertainty, and hatred in those early decades of the virus. Most of the stories about that time center on the experience of adults, but this one more closely paralleled my experience as a teenager during the late 80s and early 90s.

And that brings us to Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, which I don’t know quite how to describe. On the surface, it’s about a man dealing with the loss of his father and his community, both of which were both positive and negative influences in his life. It’s racial commentary, social critique, and excellent satire, hilarious and uncomfortably close to the bone. This is another I’m buying in hardcover both because I want to take another look at it and because I kind of want to start a collection of books about California.

The final book I completed in February was Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, which is set in 17th-century Amsterdam. Nella’s once wealthy family has fallen into debt on her father’s death and her mother decides to marry her eldest off to a merchant no one has met before. When Nella arrives at her new home in Amsterdam she finds a knot of secrets and unfriendly people to unravel, aided (or perhaps not) by a mysterious miniature replica of their house that her new husband has given her as a wedding gift. I watched the PBS Masterpiece miniseries of this novel a few months ago and really enjoyed it. The miniseries follows the novel fairly well, with a few changes in detail and motivation, especially at the end, most of which I find make more historical and logical sense in the novel.

To-Read for March:

I have lots of challenges to read for in March, and I’m not sure what my daughter is going to be doing with her reading, so I left five free spaces on my #bookspinbingo card.

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 March?

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