I’m surprised by how quickly I hit a reading slump this year. I think the ‘Winter Blues’ hit harder than normal given the general unease of this year. I had high hopes for this month in terms of reading goals, but that fizzled pretty quickly. Thankfully I read SOMETHING this month and most of the books I read were engaging and entertaining. Here’s my quick write up of the books I read in February!
Hood Feminism– I’m a feminist. That shouldn’t be too surprising, I hope. For me, feminism is, at its best, a movement dedicated to eradicating oppressive systems that harm everyone, but especially those most vulnerable and on the fringes of society. This book perfectly captured how I feel about feminism, mainstream feminism and what I think can and should be done to make this world better for everyone. It also calls out some of my personal blindspots that I fail to see because of my privileges as a cis-gendered, abled bodied woman. It’s a book that is deeply invested in caring for marginalized communities and shining a harsh light on those who weaponize their privilege and power against others. As Mikki Kendal writes: “Feminism is the work that you do, and the people you do it for who matter more than anything else.” It’s an accessible text that leaves the academic jargon behind and speaks to you with clarity and frankness that’s necessary in our times. I also appreciate this book for tying many issues and failing systems back to the feminist movement and the fight to improve things. Honestly, while I recognize that there is a housing crisis in the USA and that our healthcare system doesn’t work for most people, I rarely considered how these issues are specifically feminist issues. Again, Kendall states, “We rarely talk about basic needs as a feminist issue. Food insecurity and access to quality education, safe neighborhoods, a living wage, and medical care are all feminist issues.” If you’re a feminist and/or interested in engaging with complex issues with no clear solutions, I suggest reading this book from cover to cover!
Little Fires Everywhere– I struggled to enjoy this book. It was beautifully written, with great introspective character moments. But there was a lot of setup in the first half that I didn’t find entertaining. I was actually close to abandoning this book. But the second half was enjoyable and I was deeply sympathetic to most of the characters and their journeys. The only character I didn’t care for was Mrs. Richardson, though I found her backstory deeply interesting. Having partially grown up in a neighborhood similar to Shaker Heights, I could imagine the issues the characters dealt with were quite similar to issues my neighbors dealt with inside their own home. I also enjoyed the depiction of privilege and how blinding it can be to other people’s suffering. I think it’s a theme that still (sadly) rings true to this day. I read this on the heels of ‘Hood Feminism’ and my sympathies lay mostly with the women who didn’t have as much privilege as the other characters. I also found Mia and Pearl’s relationship genuine and heartfelt and while their origins are tragic, I love that they had a strong mother-daughter bond. And I love how sharply their relationship contrasted with Mrs. Richardson’s relationship with her children. (Weirdly, I’m reminded of that episode from season 4 of the Crown where the Queen struggled to connect with her children.) This book wrestles with motherhood and what makes someone a mother. There are no clear, easy answers. I can’t say that any of the women depicted in this book are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ mothers. They all make the best of their situation with what they have. Some were given a better hand than others, but that doesn’t take away from their love for their children. This book infuriated me at times, which is an indication that the characters are realistic. I can’t say I’ll read it again, but I understand why so many people love it.
(Content warnings include: period typical homophobia, instances of sexism, racism, internalized racism, underage drinking and smoking and sexual references.)
Last Night At The Telegraph Club– A soft, quiet, historical, queer narrative, ‘Last Night At The Telegraph Club’ plants the readers in the heart of a bustling San Francisco in the 1950s. It’s a tender story that delves into the budding relationship between Lily Hu and Kathleen Miller amid the rise in anti-Communist rhetoric and investigations that eventually ensnares Lily’s father. The writing is nothing short of immaculate and contains such beautiful, immersive descriptions of San Francisco. I was left with a deep desire to visit this city and tour some of the places named in the novel. The relationship between Lily and Kath was tender and sweet and one of the strongest features of this story. I loved watching them grow and become comfortable with themselves the more they visited the Telegraph Club and I loved that it culminated in them eventually acknowledging their feelings for the other. There was great tension between the expectations of Lily and her actual desires, not just in terms of her relationship with Kath, but also with her wish to study astronautical engineering and learn more about space exploration, in a time when women were limited in their roles within the scientific field. The author did a great job humanizing the different side characters. Though I was irritated by Lily’s family and best friend towards the end of the story, I vaguely understood why they reacted so harshly towards Lily. And the book is filled with hope and the possibility for a better future. From Lily and Kath’s relationship, to Lily’s relationship with her family, there’s a sense that the story’s end doesn’t mean a finality to their journeys. My only gripe with the story was the immigration papers side plot. It’s introduced fairly early in the story, but it wasn’t a constant source of tension like I expected. Overall, I loved this story and I loved that it navigated the complexities of lesbian culture in an era of high purity policing without delving into highly traumatic scenes. I hope more historical, LGBTGIA+ fiction follows this model!
Well-Read Black Girl– A collection of personal essays from Black women, this book examines the literature that inspired, moved and encouraged Black women. Each author tackles the question of when they first saw themselves and their lived experienced reflected in a book and which author or book left a significant impression. By far one of my favorite essay was written by actress Gabourey Sidibe where she talks about the trauma and pain inflicted on Black women, but how despite it all, we rise above it. I also thoroughly enjoyed the essay by N.K. Jemisin, partially because she’s currently one of my favorite authors and I enjoy anything she writes. But she also focuses on myths, why we love them and why they matter. Her essay is filled with an optimism that’s deeply imbedded in her fiction. The entire anthology is worth a read, especially for Black girls and women who were seeking to find themselves in books. It’s also filled with lists of works by Black women who shaped the anthology’s contributors. And I appreciate the anthology tapping a diverse group of Black women to contribute or pay tribute to. There are many harmful stereotypes of Black women and I love that this anthology acknowledges the many shades of Black girlhood and womanhood. I listened to the audiobook version, but I plan to purchase a physical copy in the near future so I can easily return to this collection of essays when I need a reminder that I belong to a diverse, imaginative group of writers, poets, playwrights, essays and creatives.
Since I read exactly TWO books off my planned ‘TBR’ list for February, March will be spent playing catch up and hopefully scaling down that mountain books that sit on my nightstand. (I have dreams that it will teeter and I’ll wake up with books scattered around my bed.)
- A Memory Called Empire
- A Desolation Called Peace (I’m excited for this!!)
- Harrow the Ninth
- Lady Hotspur
- A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
- Bad Theology Kills
- Honey Girl
- How to Be an Antiracist (audiobook)
- Illiad (audiobook)
- Children of Virtue and Vengeance (audiobook)