THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN + Book of the Month

I was very honored that Book of the Month posted one of my pictures today on their social media. It was a photo of this fantastic book about J.P. Morgan’s assistant, Belle da Costa Greene, who helped build the J. Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City in the early 1900’s.

THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN is a celebration of art and ancient book manuscripts and Gutenberg bibles. I actually stopped midway through the book to re-watch The Monuments Men, which took place during a different time period but always gives me the same debt of gratitude for those who have gone to great lengths to preserve and uphold the honor in art.

You will stop and Google dates and names and it will spark an even deeper appreciation of the importance of the fine arts. This book will certainly be one of my top favorite books this year. Authors, Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, went to great lengths to research this novel. Each author’s note in the back of the book were fascinating to read in order to see how they went about collecting Belle’s story as well as information about the beginnings and early days of the library.

Extraordinary. Extravagant. Empowering. Thought-provoking. This would make an excellent book club read and discussion. I highly recommend this book about a section of our history you may not know much about. I will be thinking about it for a very long time.

Thank you, Book of the Month, for using my picture but mostly for bringing to the forefront a life story that needed to be told.

Sidenote: I have been a BOTM member for five years and have very fond memories of the catalogs that used to come in the mail to my parents each month. I read the book descriptions in awe and thought that BOTM must be the most grown up thing you could possibly do. What a dream to have books sent to you in the mail, I imagined! I’m so glad I get to enjoy them now. Each month is a new adventure that begins with an exciting blue box waiting for me at my front door.

Another sidenote: the decadently delicious waffles were a new recipe that my DEAR husband was trying out. It very quickly went into the MUST MAKE AGAIN section of our recipe file: whole wheat waffles with bananas and walnuts baked inside. (They’re practically health food.)

SING, UNBURIED, SING

This family drama was true southern prose full of spirits and stories and spells. Sin and family and forgiveness. No one dies quite like a southerner, taking their specific cooking and unique lineage, leaving us our heritage and pockets full of stories to embellish for many generations to come.

“…. sorrow is food, swallowed too quickly, caught in the throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe.”

This was a book with a strong second half. I appreciated the lyrical writing and ghostly references only a southerner could fully appreciate.

THE INVISIBLE LIFE of ADDIE LARUE by V. E. Schwab

What is it about my weirdo brain that says, ‘Oh…this is a really popular book out there in the world? Then let’s be sure and NOT read it yet.’ What? Why??

Whatever mental defect I have, it happens every time a book skyrockets to popularity. But I’ve heard so many fantastic things about this one, maybe it’s time I ignore myself and dive in? What do you think?

Have you read it? Did it live up to the hype?

THE VANISHING HALF by Brit Bennett

I was glad to finally be able to sit down with this Book of the Month feature and all-around popular Bookstagram book, The Vanishing Half.

The concept intrigued me. Stella and Desiree are twins and both born light-skinned Black. Both of them wanting to escape the confines of their small town and to live a fuller life experience, they run away to New Orleans. But one twin, Stella, after easily passing as White, decides to leave her twin and join a race that was not quite her own, but one in which she had fewer limitations. Even Stella’s husband is unaware of her true racial identity.

Negroes always love our home towns even though we’re always from the worst places. Only White folks got the freedom to hate home.

From the 1950s to the 1990s, this interwoven, generational story captured my imagination with thoughts of ‘what if it were me‘ as well as ‘how could she do that?!‘ indignations. Just what the author, Brit Bennett, was aiming for, I’m predicting. What decisions lead us to live lives filled with secrets? Are they our decisions that determine that trajectory or are they the decisions made long before we are born? What masks do we each carry daily?

THE VANISHING HALF was an engaging story that explored racism, abuse, wealth and poverty as well as familial relationships and the ongoing dichotomy of mother-daughter relationships. How do we determine and define ‘family’? While provocative and a page-turner, VANISHING seemed to wrap up quickly and ended fairly abruptly and open-ended.

Perhaps I always think this, however, about characters I’ve invested in…

My May Book of the Month selections

I look forward to my Book of the Month selections every month – the excitement never fails. I’m glad they have added a non-fiction section to the selections. I have found a few favorites from that section including one this month, THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE by Erik Larson, about Winston Churchill’s time as Prime Minister during The Blitz as Churchill teaches the British people how to be fearless in the face of danger. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents and once-secret intelligence reports, Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year as told through Churchill as well as his close family and advisors.

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I also selected (what I’m sure will be) a controversial book by Sue Monk Kidd called THE BOOK OF LONGINGS. It’s a novel supposing Christ married a rebellious and ambitious girl named Ana. The book summary left me with so many questions I had to get it to see what Kidd’s approach might be.

And lastly, (to offset the other two heftier books), I picked BEACH READ by Emily Henry. I certainly didn’t pick the book because of it’s cute cover. I mean…who would ever do that?! *raises hand* It’s a story about two writers living in neighboring beach houses. One writer is a rom com writer, the other is known for killing half his cast in dark, death cult ways. So they make a bet to force them out of their creative ruts: they’ll switch places. The dark writer will write a happy rom com and the happily-ever-after will go on interviews with cult survivors and write a book accordingly.

Three totally different books which will fit perfectly with my varying reading moods! 

The Sierra Mountains are getting snow today which means we are getting the outlying rain. And it’s chilly! That’s okay though. I have new books to delve into and a new kimono robe arriving in the mail.

 Now where did I put those bon bons???

 

A WOMAN IS NO MAN by Etaf Rum

I will admit, it makes me a little nervous to review a book that a) has been popular and critically acclaimed, b) promotes gender equality and c) (most importantly) is about a culture with which I have very little to no connection. So I step into my thoughts very cautiously.

A WOMAN IS NO MAN grabbed my attention very quickly and did not let go. Some reviewers have commented they thought it was repetitive, but I think the repetitivity was a significant part of the overall story. Two common phrases came to mind while reading this book: ‘The sins of the father shall be visited upon his children’ which is the biblical version of ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’.

Short review: I enjoyed the book and felt invested in each of the characters.

The longer version of my review involves a fair bit of cynicism (or is that discernment?) In general, any time I read a book that seems to rail against religious belief, I tend to wonder if the author is simply angry with the people involved in her particular religious story. Could the abuse in this book have happened in any familial situation? I think the answer to that is a resounding yes. We see this generational abuse evident in other cultures as well. But certainly, the Arab community has the reputation of patriarchal dominance and female submission – at any cost. This cyclical abuse is not something that is just portrayed in movies, but we have heard the testimony of it from many who have emerged from its conservative stronghold.

I am certain that many Arab women can identify with the stories of the women we are introduced to in this book. Isra, Fareeda, Deya and Sara lived in the same way their mothers did – in Palestine and even after immigrating to Brooklyn. Many of their customs are based in the pursuit of family cohesiveness. But many are also driven by pride and the protection of community reputation. In A WOMAN IS NO MAN, physical abuse of women is widely sanctioned for generation upon generation. It seems to be an accepted aspect of life for females – another responsibility like ironing, cooking, caring for their children and the occasional beating from their spouse. The yearnings of the female characters to want more for their life and the lives of their children, eventually led to freedom for some. Others, to a deeper understanding.

I would hate for readers to come away from this book with a distaste for the Quran or any form of organized religion and cultural traditions. Mostly, I would regret that any reader walk away with the idea that the traditional family structure is not enough to satisfy some women. And yet I also want to honor the inherent struggles of ancient customs and cyclical abuse. Overall, I hope a curiosity is raised in readers that would encourage us all to research further into what it means to be a Palestinian Muslim woman and or an immigrant from the old country, asking ourselves, Is this one woman’s story or does it mirror many Arab-American stories?

This felt like a quick read and one in which I was engaged to the point of thinking about the characters throughout the day. I applaud all authors that can foster that kind of relationship between reader and character. The book’s ending seemed abrupt. I was left with many questions about what happened after and did they survive. But that’s the point of a good story, right? Do we need to know all the answers? Is our imagination given the freedom to finish the story as we would hope to see it end? I commend Etaf Rum for championing women and allowing the reader to peek inside an unfamiliar world.

I’m glad these stories are a part of my understanding now. They have widened my worldview. I would recommend this book to others with the caveat that you read it as one author’s tale and not a collective assumption that all Arab-American families are the same. Rum will take you gently into a world you may know very little about. Let your curiosity guide you throughout the book and even more so after closing the back cover.

THIS TENDER LAND by William Kent Krueger

I’m reposting this book, This Tender Land, because I’ve been voting for it all over the place lately. End-of-year polls on Goodreads and Book of the Month, for example. It’s been nice to revisit the characters in my mind. ⠀

This Tender Land transfixed me and swept me right into the storyline, feeling as if I lived this epic tale right along with the main characters – four orphans making their way from a difficult school situation up the river toward the Mississippi River. The disparate people they meet along the way will permeate, haunt and forever change their journey – to the Mississippi and beyond. Perhaps it’s my Missouri roots, but this epic tale felt very Mark Twain’esque.⠀

I normally try to give a book review and leave followers to decide if that description fits their reading preference or not. But I’ll take it a step further this time and ask you to please consider this book. It is tender, beautifully written, and leaves me wondering if I have just read the next American classic.

THE GIVER OF STARS by Jojo Moyes

I’m excited to dive into my Book of the Month selection for November. The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes looks like one of those burrowed-into-the-couch, throw-blankets-on, what-time-is-it-anyway, just-one-more-chapter type of read.⠀

Here’s a brief overview:⠀

Alice Wright marries in order to leave her life in England and moves to Kentucky during the American depression era. She quickly realizes this small town was much too claustrophobic for her liking so she jumps at the chance to join a new traveling library team of women, established by Eleanor Roosevelt. A personality potpourri of five women soon learn their own strength and independence as well as their dependence on each other as they confront gender restrictions and relationship difficulties. They are committed to the task at hand: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts and ideas that will forever change their lives.⠀

Team of women – library books – Eleanor Roosevelt – traveling the countryside – female friendships ⠀

*breaks into song* – ‘…these are a few of my favorite things!’

The best part is that it is based on a true story. The description hooked me and I can’t wait to dig right in. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres so I know we’ll get along just grand. ⠀

Have you read this book or are you reading it now? Is it on your TBR list? Tell me your thoughts below. Let’s discover this epic story together.⠀