Books I have read lately (February 2019)

Continued from here. Still planning a post from the lost months last year — sometime. Another very slim month — I just don’t have the available time, and it’s driving me nuts. I may have figured out a new strategy for getting the emotionally necessary reading, though — will report next time on how well it worked. And the lesson of this week: wow, I am on a different page entirely than the literary critics seem to be at the moment.

Strongly recommended

Nothing this month.


Michelle Obama, Becoming. Memoir by the most recent ex-First Lady of the United States, picked up because everyone is reading it. Our library system has more than fifty copies of this book and yet I had to wait three months to get a chance. Loved this, and if you admire Michelle Obama, you probably will, too. Although most books like this are supported by ghostwriters, this book really sounds like the woman we’ve come to know. I identified with her in so many places, as she and I have similar class backgrounds (lower middle class parents trying to move up), and we’ve had some parallel struggles (she was teased for “talking white,” my brother and I were teased for “talking like snobs,” for instance). At the same time, however, no one ever disadvantaged me because of my race — so despite my identifications with her, I realize our experiences are not necessarily comparable. In any case one of the things I really appreciated about her as a public figure was her straight talk (and the way that she didn’t hide that she didn’t enjoy being a politician / politician’s wife), and this book is just like that: straightforward from start to finish.

Stephanie Land, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive. Picked up because of overwhelmingly good reviews, and the subject interests me. Memoir of a young woman whose university plans are derailed by an unplanned pregnancy and a dysfunctional / unsupportive family. She gets through by finding a job cleaning houses until she gets enough college credits together to be able to apply for a scholarship, which she gets (where the story ends, more or less). We learn about her attempts to navigate the welfare system (much more punishing than any of the judgmental people who comment on recipients will ever know), the way that poverty affects her relationship, housing, and parenting choices, and a fair amount about the people she cleans for. Here are some of her observations. I left the book with very mixed feelings because of the last element, perhaps because as someone who has employed cleaners from time to time, I know how I might feel if I recognized myself in a book like this, even if I don’t have a drug habit or a crazy porn collection. In any case, the book is worth the reader’s time.

Masako Togawa, Master Key (originally published as Ōinaru gen’ei (1962). Picked because I read this article on reissued mystery classics and the novel they mentioned by Togawa isn’t in our library, but this one was. A building in Tokyo is scheduled to be moved, threatening the secrecy of a crime committed a decade earlier. If you like really precise, structured plots, you will enjoy this book a great deal, even if it doesn’t really shock or surprise.

Recommended if something about it interests you

Laura Sims, Looker. Picked up off the new book shelf at the library. After her husband leaves her in the wake of fertility problems, a part-time English instructor fixates on one of her happier, more successful neighbors, an actress, with predictable results. This book interested me because of familiar elements (part-time professor, celebrity interest, etc.) but it’s got a very predictable plot.

Daisy Johnson, Under Everything. Picked up due to positive reviews, and because the main character is a lexicographer, and how often does that happen? An adult woman searches for her mother, who abandoned her as a teenager after a year spent living on a canal boat with a mysterious stranger. I went back and forth about this one. The problem for me (I think) was that I identified so much with the main character in the first thirty pages or so that when the plot shifted perspectives, I was annoyed and trying to rush through it in order to get back to the narrator, who then wasn’t as interesting. So I guess you could say the fragmentation of the narrative frustrated me. Also, this is a myth retelling, so if that’s not your bag, this might not be for you.

Meh / not recommended

Lyndsay Faye, The Paragon Hotel. Picked up because of several rave reviews. During the Prohibition, a young white woman is wounded while leaving New York with a bag full of money and is rescued by a (Black) Pullman porter in Portland, Oregon. As the Klan gains strength in Portland, she has to dig up the past and solve some mysteries. Which ones I couldn’t tell you, because despite the promising plot, the prose in this novel was way too mannered for me and I stopped after about 25 pages or so.

Whitney Scherer, The Age of Light. Picked up because the bidding war for a debut novel made the news. A biographical fiction about Lee Miller, a famous artistic photographer and journalist who was also one of Man Ray’s paramours. It annoyed me that the author couldn’t somehow manage to get Miller out from under Man Ray’s aura; there was way too much stuff about the least interesting part of her life, and then a lot of focus on the later damage to her personality without enough detail to make it comprehensible. I can’t believe I read the whole thing, because I was annoyed and bored by turns.

Sandra Newman, The Heavens. Picked up because the novelist is acclaimed. A young woman travels between the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries; each time she goes back, she alters history in some way that changes the present, although how is never explained (or maybe I skipped those chapters). The sixteenth-century chapters are not only silly, they concern William Shakespeare, and I didn’t read most of them. The reviewers thought this was a profound meditation on the nature of reality, I just thought it was dumb. Reading it made me and more impatient.

~ by Servetus on March 9, 2019.

6 Responses to “Books I have read lately (February 2019)”

  1. I was hesitant about Michelle Obama’s biography, but then decided to get it on audio (if I ever finish my current audio mammoth). I haven’t really heard anything negative about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perceptions of her in the U.S. were and probably still are quite polarized. I didn’t love everything she did (her main campaign was for school lunch health, which I had issues with), but I really admire her and this book definitely underlines that. I assume she reads her own audiobook? I think she has a great voice.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the tips — I’d like to read more about Michelle Obama. I love her sense of humor, so I think it would be an interesting and insightful read.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] from here. My plan to read more has not borne much fruit. I was thinking about trying to go to bed an hour […]


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