Hops and Skips

Reading Roundup: April in Review

Life lately feels like it’s been a mad dash with hardly any time to stop and catch my breath. Our household has been sidelined this past week with a bout of cold, and I partly believe it hit so hard because my body just gave up, forcing rest. We’ve just got three weeks until summer break, and it can’t come soon enough!

Last month’s book stack looks deceptively large. I spent 2/3 of the month reading a single book; one was technically an audiobook; and the rest were easy, breezy graphic novels. I have a two-per-month goal from the Read Harder Challenge, and I only checked off one; and I didn’t get around to my Read the World selection for April, which is Australia/New Zealand. (I’ve picked Colleen McCullough’s family saga The Thorn Birds which I’ve wanted to read for a while, but as much as I love them, I’m a little family saga-ed out, so I’ll go back to it this summer.)

Here are April’s reads:

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell ★★★☆☆
Once again having a work commute, I went back to my pre-COVID routine of audiobooks in the car and, having enjoyed The Tipping Point immensely, decided to continue with Gladwell’s sophomore book. It’s about the power of snap judgments and how right – or wrong – our first impressions can be. He again attempts to explain a human phenomenon we barely give a second thought by applying rules and explanations, but, to me, this one felt like a stretch. (Not to mention, the structure, with chapters and section headers, was downright confusing to follow aurally.) The examples provided felt repetitive – and though they were interesting, it seemed like the author had more trouble finding overlying patterns to the explain them. A statue that experts immediately classify as fake; a psychologist who can identify couples whose marriage will last based on mere seconds of an interaction; a musician that wows industry professionals but fails the market research test. Ultimately, I gathered the conclusion to be that it’s expertise and experience that leads to accurate snap judgments…so this was a lot of pages for that summation. However, the section on the 1999 police shooting of Amadou Diallo exemplifies how the lack of those two things can have catastrophic consequences – a scenario that has unfortunately played out again and again; this section should be read widely as it’s even more relevant today.

Some Luck by Jane Smiley ★★★★★
Read this as “book set in the Midwest” for the Read Harder Challenge. The Langdons are a farm family in Iowa – Walter the patriarch, Rosanna the matriarch, their five children. Their life unfolds slowly, the years chronicled chapter by chapter. We don’t get the full details of their lives, but we get enough to see the big picture – each chapter is an annual check in, a vignette of their individual experiences with just enough information to trigger inferences as to how things play out. The children are wildly different, each a delicate balance of the influence of their upbringing and their own unique nature. I thought the narrative slow at first, but the more I read, the more beautiful I found it. A quiet, graceful, yet stunning peek at one family and the million little moments, so critical yet so inconsequential, that build their lives. Above all, we’re reminded time marches on.

Guts by Raina Telgemeier ★★★★☆
It was testing week, and I grabbed this off the shelf when my group was done. I’ve read Telgemeier’s other books, and they’re always popular in my library. In this memoir of middle school, the author shares her tummy troubles; she thought to be just a stomach bug but it hasn’t gone away. And it seems to keep popping up alongside worrisome thoughts in her head. An easy read that gives voice to common fears and anxiety among its young audience. Often, it’s just enough to hear of someone else’s experience and gratefully recognize that you are not alone.

Aya: Love in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie ★★★★☆
Had to finish the series; this anthology covers volumes 4-6. Whereas the first anthology introduced us to the characters, this one was more about where their lives are going and the struggles in getting there. For the first time, we got a bigger peek into Aya’s own life as well as the lives of those around her. It felt a bit heavier – more serious – like there’s an urgency and ache as these people are desperate to build the futures they want, but I still laughed out loud FREQUENTLY, because the situations are often just so ridiculous and the dialogue so sharp and witty. The author has done a wonderful job juggling the stories of so many; the storytelling has felt easy, like it’s just flowed, never forced or contrived, despite the absurdity in which the characters sometimes find themselves. A satisfying conclusion to a worthwhile series.

Go with the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann ★★★★☆
Another post-testing read from my library’s shelves. On the surface, it’s an upbeat young adult graphic novel with pleasant characters and a joyful art style, but it actually covers a lot more ground! Where it starts is with a new girl, Sasha, getting her period for the first time at school. Where it ends is with four friends building a campaign around period awareness and advocacy. After their high school claims there’s not enough funding for feminine products in the girls restrooms but simultaneously fully funds new football uniforms, the gender inequities in their teen world are laid bare. They (mostly one character, Abby) channel their frustrations into a vision for a “menstruation revolution” that gives voice, with an open directness and a normalizing tone, to an experience that has too long suffered behind hush hushed whispers of shame. A great book for young girls that gives information and normalcy to an experience 50% of the population shares, and one that boys should read to understand, too, because the feigned (or even real) squeamish act about periods won’t cut it these days.

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