I read quite a few pages during the month of April. While the books I read were all good and all had aspects of them that I liked, only one was a really good story. The rest were pretty thought provoking. I guess April was a month of pondering for me and my reading picks. So here are the six books I read during April.
1. On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery by Robert M. Poole
I could write a very long blog post on just this book. If you are interested in U.S. History you should read this book. I was lucky enough to visit Arlington National Cemetery when I was 14 years old, 8 months after 9/11. I think my love for our country was solidified on that trip and my visit is Arlington, and the Tomb of the Unknowns in particular, was a huge part of that. This book takes you from Arlington before the Civil War, when it was a plantation belonging to Robert E. Lee, all the way through modern times. The history of Arlington, and its ties to George Washington, is a rich before it was a cemetery and grows more sacred with each passing year. This book discusses the uniqueness of the American military burial standards and how fallen soldiers were brought back from the far off lands in which they fell protecting freedom. I learned that during the Civil War 42% of the dead were unknowns, a number that is staggering. I learned more about the Spanish-American War than I ever have before. I was amazed that it was a huge help in repairing the damage between the North and the South because everyone had a common enemy. I learned about the slaves on the Arlington plantation and the role they were set to play in the recreation of the Lee House. I was reminded that America does things with purpose and that is something to be thankful for. I could not recommend this book ore highly.
2. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
I have been reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my class all year and this book is my
current favorite. I have always loved voyage stories. The sea is so mysterious and the
images of the never-ending water make for great adventures. Since the book is set on a ship, there are a limited number of characters that are only increased when new lands were discovered. This made my voice game extra strong when reading it aloud. I love the places the characters go and the courage their journey takes. Reepicheep is awesome. I love that we get more time with Edmund and Caspian, who are particular favorites of mine. Eustace, is of course entertaining and gets to have a story line similar to Edmund’s in The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe (my 2nd fave) but it is different enough to be interesting and educational. I love this story and so did my students. If it has been awhile since you read this one, I think you should pick it up again.
3. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
I have seen this book all over the place and finally decided to pick it up. I read The Secret Life of Bees by this author a long time ago and loved it but have never found another of her books to be as good. This book got close. It is written from two points of view. One is a young girl, Sarah, whose parents own a plantation and slaves and the other is a slave, Handful or Hetty, who belongs to the Sarah. Sarah reminds me a bit of Anne Shirley from Green Gables, very idealistic and passionate. She does not like slavery and wishes she could free Handful. She is always getting in trouble for her ideas of having a career as a lawyer and freeing all slaves. Her journey to find her place in the world is interesting and her character is based on a real woman who fought for woman’s rights and for abolishing slavery. Handful is a completely fictional character that lets us in on what the life of a slave may have been like. At one point she discovers a ledger that shows that her mother is worth more than all of the other slaves and she “feels the pride of a confused girl.” That scene really stuck with me. I liked the story but I think it could have had more depth and would have been better if it was a little longer.
4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
I have a love hate relationship developing with Dickens. His characters and themes are amazing. His word count is bordering on indulgent. I understand he was writing serials and was paid by the word, but seriously, this was a long book. Maybe if I read it in its original form I would feel differently. I think this is an important book to read and I am so glad I finally did. I am most impressed with the love and friendship demonstrated between men. I don’t read a lot of literature where male friendships are the center so I pretty much loved all of the characters surrounding Pip. I feel like Little Women is an adolescent girl’s must read book and I want to put Great Expectations up there for the boys. One great quote was, “I’ve been bent and broken, but I hope into a better shape.” So good. At times, Pip’s journey was aggravating but I just thanked my lucky stars that is was from his point of view and not his love interest, Estella’s. Yikes. Miss Havisham was cray-cray and actually reminded me of someone I know which was even scarier. Overall this was a terrific read and I will probably try more Dickens in the future, but for now I need a break.
5. City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
This author got a lot of money to write this 911 page novel. I think he was advance 2 million bucks! Because of this, I had to read it. I will tell you, I slogged through this. There are quite a few points of view which I loved. But I did not love the chapters written from the points of view of characters I did not find interesting. This books is set mostly in the 70’s and the main plot surrounds the shooting of a girl in Central Park on New Year’s Eve. This is not a murder mystery though. It is the story of how unlikely paths cross. It is full of sex and drugs, so be warned. I loved this quote, “A funny thing about charisma: the same people who can make you feel an inch tall can also make you feel huge, fortified, sometimes almost simultaneously.” There was a lot of detail, most necessary, and it was definitely well written. I can’t say I’d read it again but if you like books about real people facing real problems like infidelity, drug addiction, coming of age and loss its worth the read.
6. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
This book is a compilation of articles Ann Patchett has written during various points in her life and writing career. I have been warming up to her writing and have read two other books by her, Truth and Beauty and Bel Canto. Upon reading this book I realized I have probably been reading her writing unknowingly for years because she wrote a bunch for Seventeen magazine; which was totally my jam as a teenager. I related to these essays in many ways and found tons of valuable nuggets. I aspire to develop a writing style more like hers. Here are some of my favorite bits: “Whereas fiction was singularly mine-I would never change a short story to reflect and editor’s experience-nonfiction was collectively ours.” I loved this because it reminded me of my thoughts on writing this blog! When she was talking about growing up with a crazy childhood she had this to say, “Clearly, we are not all ruined, and if we are, at some point it becomes our own responsibility.” This is such an important statement. We all need to remember that our life is our responsibility and we have a choice in how we live it. These are just two of the many quotes I wrote down. I enjoyed this memoir immensely and could see myself picking it up again to read an especially poignant essay.
That is it for Book Banter this month! I am apparently on a Civil War kick right now and have a few more books with settings in and around that time period on the horizon next month, but mostly I am in search of a really good plot driven story. So help me out in the comments! What have you been reading that you can’t put down?
Until next time,
I love you more than sea adventures and real life memoirs,