2015: March Reads
March was a good month for reading — spending many hours on a plane will do that to a girl — and I’m excited to share my five favorites with you today. Even though I have been traveling a bit more, I have been much more tied to the West Coast than in previous years, so all of the novels I read this month took place in other places to feed my need for travel and adventure.
I lucked out because the books I picked were comprised of beautiful prose — some sparse, some rich and descriptive, and one a little bit fantastical.
For you nonfiction types, I did read one very practical book about running this month that I enjoyed. Without further ado…
The Book of Unknown Americans (Cristina Henriquez): As the story begins, we learn that there is something wrong with Maribel, the 15-year-old protagonist of the book. Her parents are leaving their small Mexican hometown to a run-down building in Delaware hoping that she will attend a special school and get better. They do not plan for her to meet Mayor, a neighbor boy who quickly falls in love with her.
This was my first introduction to Henriquez — and hers is my favorite book of 2015. She creates a vivid tableau of these “unknown Americans,” of legal and illegal immigrants living together. She intersperses their stories by inserting short “introductions” into the text, and through these we get to meet the neighbors and friends surrounding this family. Unlike other books that are simply snippets, the story continues to develop towards a surprising conclusion.
&Sons (David Gilbert): As neither a father nor a son (nor am I likely to be either — ever) I wasn’t sure about this epic-feeling novel at first. A.N. Dyer, a famous novelist, brings together his three sons (two legitimate, Richard and Jamie; one not, the young and heartbreaking Andy) following the funeral of his best friend. As a reader, you’re filled with a sense that something bad is about to happen, but you’re not sure entirely what that thing will be.
Told by Philip Topping, son of the recently deceased, you start to see the complex relationships not only between father and sons, but between brothers, lovers, and friends. Where The Book of Unknown Americans is literary but accessible, sparse, and enduring, &Sons is obtuse and at times feels unaccessible, as if you are just not quite smart enough to understand it. If you like to throw challenging books across the room instead of read them, skip &Sons, but if you like a challenge now and again, it is a great read.
The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath): There is nothing like experiencing madness than to read about it and feel yourself slip into it as the book continues. Esther Greenwood, the novel’s protagonist, spends a glorious month in New York City interning for a womans’ magazine. At some point the book begins to tilt, and, if you’re like me, you’re not sure at first if it is you or Esther who is slightly mad.
There is not much that can be said about Plath’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece that has not already been written in much more concise language. If you make it through the madness of &Sons, perhaps continue on to The Bell Jar. That is all.
Maya’s Notebook (Isabel Allende): If I’ve lost you, come back. Maya’s Notebook is a rich, well-woven story that, while at times rather dense prose, is accessible and filled with complex characters you want to cheer for. Maya is a young woman shipped off to a remote Chilean island called Chiloe to escape the FBI — now that is a book jacket that catches one’s attention! Allende is a brilliant author — she juxtaposes Maya’s experiences as she settles into Chiloe with snippets of her past (how, exactly, did such a young girl come to be wanted by federal authorities?).
More than anything, Allende makes Chiloe, its people, and its culture come alive, as well as introduce us to the multicultural spaces of Maya’s upbringing and the love and hope that surrounds her, even in dark days. In that way, Maya is all of us and none of us together, and her story is both magically foreign and achingly familiar.
Ready to Run (Kelly Starrett): Runners, rejoice — you don’t have to be in pain any longer! Kevin, my trainer, recommended Starrett’s book to me and I devoured it. Starrett, a CrossFitter and physical therapist, shares twelve critical practices for runners to stay healthy and provides detailed exercises to stay healthy. I’m no CrossFitter myself, but his mobility workouts-of-the-day (WODs, in CrossSpeak) have kept me in better shape as I have increased my mileage this spring. I appreciated his no-nonsense attitude and practical tips, though a few of them seemed a little extreme. Take his advice with a grain of salt, but devote yourself to running maintenance and you won’t be sorry!
That is all for this month, reading friends. But I’m on the road most of this month and devouring several books as I go. You can expect a summary of my April reads a bit earlier in May, I promise!
P.S. We’ve been enjoying our time in Mexico! It’s hard to believe that this is our tenth day in the country, but we’re going to enjoy every last bit of it. I’m working on a blog from our trip to Chihuahua last week to visit S’s family, so here’s a photo teaser from an afternoon of sightseeing!