March was mostly a good reading month. I dug into some books and absorbed them pretty quickly. I did have a week or so where it was hard for me to want to read, but that tends to happen here or there when I’ve been reading endlessly.
1. The Good Daughters – Joyce Maynard. This was one of those subtle books that seeps into your bones and stays there. Maynard’s writing flows and is beautiful, and she weaves the story between two young girls, Ruth and Dana, born in the same small town on the same day, intricately from their youth through their adult lives. There was a bit of a predictable revelation partway through the book, but the ending adds another little twist that I didn’t see coming.
2. Letters to a Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke. Rilke… Rilke gets life. This book is a short collection of letters the poet wrote to a young man who was at a military school that Rilke once attended. He advises the young man mostly to turn inward, to be alone and resolve his values and beliefs and direction in life. He writes gems such as:
“Go within and scale the depths of your being from which your very life springs forth.”
“If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.”
I vote for following Rilke’s advice.
“To love is also good, for love is difficult. For one human being to love another is perhaps the most difficult task of all, the epitome, the ultimate test. It is that striving for which all other striving is merely preparation. For that reason young people – who are beginners in everything – cannot yet love; they do not know how to love. They must learn it. With their whole being, with all the strengths enveloping their lonely, disquieted heart, they must learn to love – even while their heartbeat is quickening.”
“We must embrace struggle. Every living thing conforms to it. Everything in nature grows and struggles in its own way, establishing its own identity, insisting on it at all cost, against all resistance.”
3. In the Body of the World – Eve Ensler. I listened to a podcast interview with Ensler – probably best known as the creator of the Vagina Monologues – about her diagnosis with cancer and some of the other philanthropic work she’s done, particularly in the Congo. This book is a memoir, and I really enjoyed the way it’s written. The chapters are mostly short, sometimes little lists, and it’s a mix of her struggle with cancer and parts of her past and how they are linked. My only complaint is that sometimes she mentions things from her past, and if you haven’t read any of her other works (I haven’t) then it’s just a snippet, and not an actual explanation or expansion on that topic. I was also relieved to some extent that her book didn’t talk too extensively about the violence in the Congo – though she does touch on that – because I was not in the frame of mind to read graphically about it, and it would’ve been too much for me.
4. Mother, Mother – Koren Zailckas. This is the book I struggled to get through this month. It’s not a bad book, but I went in with the expectation that Zailckas’ writing would flow like it did in Smashed. Smashed is Zailckas’ beautifully written first book, a memoir about her binge drinking. Mother, Mother is her first non-fiction book (she has another memoir), and it took me a little while to get into it. It reads more like a screenplay to me – I could definitely see it being turned into a movie – because the plot is suspenseful, but the writing is a bit bland. It’s not bad, but it’s not a book that draws you in and doesn’t let you leave. It follows a family and what happens to the two oldest children and it’s a bit of a psychological thriller. To her credit, I couldn’t exactly figure out what was happening. I’d still recommend it if you’re looking for an easy read.
5. Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Strayed. I read this book last summer for the first time, and it’s been stuck in my head ever since. It’s a collection of Strayed’s advice column that she originally wrote anonymously as a woman named Sugar on a website. Strayed is amazing. She has a way of weaving stories about things that happened to herself or someone she knew to answer people’s questions, and they are usually dark stories, the worst parts of human experience. Despite that darkness, she has a way of providing uplifting advice or guidance, a way of stepping into the light. She doesn’t bullshit. She seems to be the most empathetic, rational human being, and she has a tendency to address the people who write in as sweet peas. I actually bought this book, and it’s the first book I’ve bought in a few years. It’s THAT good. I’ve been going through a bit of a rough patch recently, and re-reading this book has made me feel infinitely better, like there is no struggle that can’t be fixed with a bit of hard work, smarts, and love.
As a bit of a preview of what’s coming in April, I’ve been scanning The Complete Works of Maya Angelou. I didn’t even realize at first that April is National Poetry Month, but my craving for poetry will coincide nicely with that.
Have you read any of these books? What are you reading this month? What would you recommend?