Hops and Skips

Reading Roundup: March in Review

Here’s one of the hardest adjustments of life with two kids: there’s never enough time to do all the things you want to do. Somehow, I was doing okay with this before the newest entered the picture; I could carve out time here and there to accomplish what I wanted, whether they be personal or professional tasks. I had found a balance, but since Tiny One joined the family, I find both my time and energy to be utterly depleted. I may be able to find time here or there, but then I don’t have the capacity to do very much; downtime is for mindless recovery, not active engagement.

This is taking a serious toll on my reading. I’m way behind my Goodreads goal – not that I place much importance on the number of books I read in a year, but it’s uncharacteristic. Usually, March graces us with Spring Break which I use to recharge and breeze through light reading. This year, I barely finished half a book and I ended the week of break more tired than I began it.

So far, I’ve at least stayed on track with my two reading challenges for the year: I’ve read 6/24 books for the Read Harder Challenge, and I’ve kept up with each month’s country of focus for #readtheworld21. Here’s what I read in March:

Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India by Madhur Jaffrey ★★★★☆
I found this on a list for the Read Harder Challenge’s “food memoir by an author of color;” Jaffrey is a well-known actress, chef, and award-winning cookbook author, though I had no prior knowledge of her. The author grew up in Delhi prior to WWII and the partition. She writes of childhood memories, often invoked by a simple flavor or scent, with her extensive family, often sharing the family and gender dynamics that defined her everyday life. I’m woefully uninformed of India’s complex history, but Jaffrey’s experiences borne of her uncontrollable environment were the most compelling parts of the story. Speaking to genre, I’m not entirely sure what a “food memoir” is supposed to be, but if it’s this – a narrative that links history with food and place – then it’s a wonderful way to share an experience.

Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie ★★★★☆
I liked Aya (the first of this graphic series) so much when I read it last month that I decided to read more, and this is an omnibus of volumes 1-3. The characters are hopelessly, entertainingly flawed, and the author states clearly her purpose is to write a story about life in Africa, NOT to write an AFRICA STORY as it’s so often stereotypically represented. There are love affairs and extramarital affairs and discouraging gender stereotypes. I’m not sure it’s meant to be a statement of a particular place so much as a statement on the author’s perception of a particular and time, which adds a component of universal nostalgia for the places that raised you. There are big issues present, but it’s not a social commentary, rather a snapshot of an everyday experience. As I said before, Aya is more of a lens than a protagonist, but to see life play out through her eyes, a character whose vision and perspective we trust, makes us feel Aya’s sense of affection for these people and this place.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee ★★★★☆
Korea was March’s country of focus for the #readtheworld21 challenge. This saga spans generations of a Korean family throughout the 20th century, from rural life in a small seaside town to the turmoil of war and resettlement in Japan. It’s a historical experience of which I’m ignorant – Koreans who were led to Japan for promise of a better life and safety from war, but instead suffered hardship and discrimination. As war tore their native country apart, split into two separate nations, they were left without a home to which they could eventually return. It’s not a dark, depressing novel by any means, but it definitely carries some emotional weight. (Stories that detail the nuances of parent/child dynamics usually gut-punch me now.) On one hand, this is a multi-generational dramatic sagas (which I love); on the other, it’s an expansive, fascinating historical fiction (also a box I can check). Together, it’s a portrait of everyday people whose lives are swept up by the history that is unfolding around them.

Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez ★★★★☆
Selected as a “realistic YA book not set in the US, UK, or Canada” for the Read Harder Challenge. Set in Argentina, it’s the story of seventeen-year-old Camila who’s “la Furia” on the football pitch but must hide her double life as an athlete from her traditional family. At home, under the watchful eye of her abusive father and submissive mother, Camila must play the role of careful daughter while her brother gets to be the soccer star. But Furia has dreams of playing professional soccer in the States and will take whatever risks necessary to make it. There’s a lot of pieces to this story – there’s Camila’s fight against expectations for the life she wants, the role that gender plays in society and a young person’s future, and how those dynamics define the relationships of family, friendship, and romance. These various aspects to the story made it feel more thorough and, in turn, more compelling. Furia is a character easy to champion; her story is an important reminder that many young women around the world are still fighting for equal opportunity.

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