Fiction Read in April:
Nelly Dean: A Return to Wuthering Heights by Alison Case
I loved this companion to Wuthering Heights told from the perspective of Nelly Dean, the faithful servant to the Earnshaw family. I have mixed feelings about Wuthering Heights itself. At one time I though it a beautiful, dark and sad, but romantic story. I haven’t read it in a long time but I think I would see it with a different eye now. I certainly see it with a much different eye after reading Nelly Dean. Similar to how I felt after reading Jo Baker’s Longbourn, I wondered how I could have read the original and not wondered more about the life of the invisible servants. Not that Nelly Dean is invisible in the original, she is the narrator and very much a character. But she isn’t really given the chance to feel or think or be anything other than “housekeeper”. She only has a life in relationship to the life of Catherine and Heathcliff and the rest of the family.
I did a term paper on it in high school so I know the story fairly well but if you haven’t read the original you probably should do that before reading this book. Case refers to events from the original but without much explanation and it would be much harder to appreciate Nelly’s story without also knowing the rest of the story.
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Another beautiful jewel of a book by Strout. Lucy Barton is lying in a hospital bed for weeks recovering from a surgery when her estranged mother comes to visit. The novel is told in short reminisces and stories that weave together to give us the picture of Lucy’s life. Partially about the mother-daughter relationship, partially about surviving abuse and childhood trauma, partially about what it means to be a writer and write your story, this short novel is a joy to read.
China Run by David Ball
Eh. A thriller pressed on me by a friend. It was a good light read when I needed it but just an ok book.
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (audiobook)
For about the first third of this book (shortlisted for the Booker Prize) I wondered what all the fuss was about. It was classically Tyler: well-drawn realistic characters, family dynamics in a Baltimore suburb. Then the structure of the book suddenly changed and I got why I’ve saw this on a lot of best of lists last year. The story could be described as an “epic family drama looking at generations within a family” but the brilliant thing is that Tyler telescopes into the past so we look at the family backwards instead of forwards in time. By structuring the book this way we see how characters memories of events differ from each other and change with time. The theme of memory and what is the “true” story weaves throughout the book but as always with Tyler it is the characters that are like people we all know that make the book so readable.
Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark (read for Newbery Challenge)
I enjoyed this coming of age tale of a young llama caretaker in Peru but still can’t believe that it won the Newbery the year that Charlotte’s Web got an Honor Book.
Non-Fiction Read in April
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My book club was looking for a book to read and someone asked if we could read something not depressing. I started talking about this book that I’d heard about on NPR that sounded really interesting…about a young neurosurgeon who died of cancer. They all looked at me like I was crazy and someone suggested that maybe I didn’t understand the meaning of “not depressing”. In the end we picked When Breath Becomes Air as our selection and everyone loved it and agreed that it wasn’t at all depressing. Sad, yes. It’s not a spoiler to tell you that Kalanithi, a brilliant man, dies tragically young, just as he is about to begin his career. However, his voice is powerful and speaks eloquently about what it means to die with grace and even more to live with appreciation for life. The end is full of redemption and hope, not a small achievement for a book that is essentially a memoir of dying.
In a Different Key: A Story of Autism by John Donvan and Caren Zucker
I didn’t realize this one was going to be 500+ pages when I put it on hold at the library. It’s worth reading every one of those pages though. Donvan and Zucker tell the history of autism from the first description of the disorder by Leo Kanner to the modern controversies over vaccines and the concept of “neurodiversity”. They anchor each new topic or time period with a case study/story. This makes the book very readable. It’s not just a series of interesting stories: their thorough research is evident all through the book.
With the Kids:
Ruth and I finally finished all the books in The Doll People series. I decided to go with a classic for her special book: The Trumpet of the Swan. She and I also read the Ivy and Bean books together during school as her reading practice. The boys and I are almost done with A Pocketful of Murder and looking towards what our next book will be.
I’m listening in the car to the delightfully creepy Dark Coners by Ruth Rendell (her last book, sadly). I think I’m going to read The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs next. Our book club selected H is for Hawk as our June selection so I’ll be reading that soon.