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February 2020 Wrap-Up


Despite February being the shortest month of the year, I somehow broke my own record by reading ten books this month. Granted, most of them were pretty short, which made me realize something about myself: I much prefer thicker books. Most of the issues I had with the books I read this month was that I needed more ---- I didn't feel satisfied with the pages I was given. I love a long, minimum 400-page book that I can get lost in and sink my teeth into. Maybe it's also because I read so fast that when a book is short, it feels like I didn't spend adequate time with the story. Regardless, let's get into the wrap-up (I'm going to attempt to be as succinct and short as possible since there are so many books to get through).

 

I've made a conscious effort over the last few months to diversify my books, and Black History Month is a great time to make sure I'm picking up books by black authors. If you follow any bookstagrams, you'll have seen that niche offer up hundreds of choices, which has only made my TBR list grow longer. Although February is over, I still want to make sure I include more stories about the African American experience every month.




First of all, can we just oogle at this amazing cover?? Marketing at its finest, I must say. Now, this was one of the books of the month that ended up being disappointing because of how short it was.


Red at the Bone is a multi-generational story of an African American family in Brooklyn who come together to raise Melody, the daughter of two teenagers, Iris and Aubrey. The book switches narratives between each of the characters, from the daughter to her parents and then to her grandparents, and spans almost two decades. It is a beautiful story of loss and coming-of-age and sacrifice.


I think Woodson is an amazing writer. She paints a palpable story, with each character very tangible and real. She sets each scene with wonderful detail, and I was able to imagine the story with incredible structure.


However, it is because of all these wonderful aspects that I was disappointed with the length of the book. I wasn't able to dive into the story because of how short each chapter was and how quickly the years went by. I desperately wanted more from each character because they felt so real ---- I wanted to know more about them and their stories, and things happened so fast that by the end of the book, I was left feeling rather empty. At around 190 pages, I almost wish Woodson had doubled the length because I felt like there was so much more to learn about the characters, but it was definitely a conscious decision to make this book short and succinct.


If you're a lover of a quick read with a powerful story, I would definitely recommend Red at the Bone. However, I wish I could have spent more time diving into the world Woodson created, especially because she switched between so many points of view and I felt like each character had much more to them then I was able to experience.

Rating: 6/10

 


This nonfiction book details the policies and behaviors of the American housing market that inevitably robbed African Americans of decent mortgages and ownership. It goes into the nitty gritty specifics on just how systematically unfair the industry was and still is, and it is clear that Taylor is an expert on this topic.


This is an incredibly academic book ---- I wouldn't be surprised to see it on a college syllabus. If anyone were to write a thesis on racial discrimination in the mortgage industry, this would be the book to reference. However, I definitely struggled through it because of its density and vernacular. It is not a casual book to pick up, it is an in-depth look at the events and policies in the twentieth century that led up to the reality of today. It demonstrates that laws may attempt to fix an industry, but only enforcement of policies and tangible punishment of racist behaviors can begin to grapple with an unjust system.


This is a meaningful book with powerful details, but it might not be the most accessible.

Rating: 6.5/10

 


This short book is actually more of a letter/essay rather than a traditional book. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes a letter to his adolescent son about the struggles of living in a black body in America. He details his reality of growing up in Baltimore, how his life changed when he attended Howard University, and his attempt to raise his son in New York City.


Coates is clearly a prolific writer. His words cut like knives through the pages, and his anger and terror comes through in full force. His prose is poetic and he utilizes metaphors in almost every paragraph. This book and his story are important. However, I sometimes struggled to grasp what he was saying because he used so many metaphors. He weaved in and out of history, which confused me at times, and because this is not a traditional book, there wasn't any organized chapters or ideas. I think I tend to struggle with books that lack a typical design because I'm honestly not the most creative or sophisticated reader. The description of this book also mentions that Coates "offers a transcendent vision for a way forward" but if he did, I must have missed it. If the description hadn't mentioned that, I would not have expected for Coates to offer up any ideas on what America can do to work on its systematic racism. To me, this book was about Coates' personal experience and his anger and I do not think he has to offer up any ways forward. I especially enjoyed the last part of the book, when Coates speaks to the mother of a slain black man, and she details her life's work to nurture and protect her son, all to have it end in tragedy.


I doubt I will forget this book or Coates' story, and while I may have struggled with it a bit, I still believe it is critical in its unflinching ability to show readers just how terrifying it can be to be black in America.

Rating: 7/10



 


After reading and loving The Strength in Our Scars by Bianca Sparacio last month, I was eager to pick up Your Soul is a River because I heard that the two books were similar. However, while the book cover is absolutely gorgeous, the poems and essays inside were not as dazzling. The ideas were incredibly repetitive and not very satisfying, and the prose felt flowery instead of substantial and moving. If you're looking for a powerful collection of healing words, I say go for The Strength in Our Scars over this book.

Rating: 4/10

 

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I picked up a few books in the romance category, a genre I don't typically dive into. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill has been popping up here and there, so I decided to give it a try.


It is pretty easy to discern what this book is about from the title ---- a bookish woman who works at a bookstore has a simple life that gets turned upside down when she learns the father she never knew she had has passed away. Throw in a cute guy from trivia and you have a pretty basic romance story.


While I thoroughly enjoyed the details of Nina's bookish life (because there were many similarities between her and I, clearly), Nina as a character was pretty annoying and frustrating. She's extremely stubborn and Type A, to an abnormal and unrealistic degree, and I found myself rolling my eyes a lot. The ending was also ridiculously predictable, but I suppose that can be said of most romance books. I don't always mind a predictable ending if it feels appropriate and the journey towards the conclusion feels real and not rushed ---- but I don't think I can say that for this book.

Rating: 5/10

 


Here's the thing ---- I might not be the ideal role model when it comes to digital minimalism (I honestly just love scrolling bookstagrams too much), but I do spend a significant amount of my free time reading books instead of watching TV or falling into an internet wormhole. I still enjoyed Digital Minimalism and I think Newport gave great suggestions on how to decrease your screen time. One of the biggest concrete recommendations he stresses is to do a 30 day digital detox. Depending on what is essential to your livelihood, he explains the importance of cutting out all unnecessary technology for a full 30 days, and then reintroducing only the most enjoyable apps, rituals, and scroll-worthy tendencies.


Honestly, I might have actually done this 30 day detox had I not just started this book website. But considering my desire to mold this new hobby of mine, I felt I couldn't follow Newport's procedures properly. I still found his tips very helpful, and the chapters are short and to the point, with anecdotes and lots of footnotes. At times, this book did feel like a college thesis, written as if Newport is attempting to convince a professor of his practices, but it feels approachable and doable.


If anyone is looking for concrete ways to decrease their digital time in order to increase other productive hobbies or simply because you feel your time is being swallowed by your screens, I definitely recommend this book.

Rating: 7.5/10

 

Another romantic read I picked up to compliment Valentine's Day, this one was significantly more enjoyable than The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. Although it is still a typical romance book with a predictable ending, I definitely had more fun reading it. The main characters, Lucy and Joshua, work together and are competing for a promotion, with a volatile relationship full of pranks and bitterness. Of course, you learn they don't actually hate each other when they get to know one another, and the journey towards the end is comedic and fun.


I would definitely recommend this book if you're a fan of the typical romance comedy genre ---- nothing groundbreaking but thoroughly entertaining.

Rating: 7.5/10

 

The last year and a half, I've been super into books about running and athletes. If you haven't yet read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, you absolutely need to, it's one of my favorite books of all time.


Books about running can definitely be hit or miss for me because I want an inspiring story while also some motivation through concrete tips. Running to the Edge was a great read about the infamous running coach Bob Larsen and the athletes he trained. It was engrossing to read about how the sport of running has changed over the last few decades, especially the attitudes towards Americans vs. African runners. I love that Futterman included very specific details on how each runner looked, what their life was like growing up, and inevitably, why they became great athletes.


With spring just on the horizon, I signed up for a 5k here in DC, and this book was the perfect companion for my training inspiration. If you've got some races coming up or want to get back into running, definitely check out this book.

Rating: 8/10

 


I spoke about this book in depth in my Top Books About Love post (linked here), so I won't go into too much detail. However, I think this book is so important if you're looking to improve your relationship with your self, and I know many of us struggle with that relationship. I especially have had a rough few months and this book has helped so much in my journey towards forgiving myself, finding self-compassion, and moving forward.


I spent my February mornings with a cup of coffee and one chapter of this book and it was a wonderful way not only to start my day, but also to really absorb what Dr. Shapiro recommends. I know it will be a book I come back to time and time again when I need a little reminder of how to be more mindful and compassionate towards myself.

Rating: 8.5/10

 


This book has been adored by the bookstagram community for almost a year now. I've had it on my TBR list and it finally came off the hold shelf at my library this month.


Wow, this book is powerful. Although it says it's fiction, I learned through some internet research that it really is more of a memoir of Ocean Vuong's very difficult, very painful life. The son of a Vietnam immigrant with an unknown American father, Vuong beautifully crafts his story through poems, details about his early life and adolescent days, and glimpses into his mother and grandmother's history. It is a bleak look at immigration, the opioid epidemic, and being queer in America.


I will warn you, this is not an easy book. It is vividly detailed, with scenes of abuse, drug-use, and death. It is a difficult read. But it is so beautiful. Vuong actually has his roots in poetry, and he has had several of his collections published before this first novel. It is clear that poetry is his strength as there are some chapters that are sewn into the story through poems. Vuong found a way to turn his pain and loss into something astoundingly powerful and breathtaking ---- I literally felt breathless reading his words. He takes readers deep into his psyche, with moments of profound pain, pleasure, and grace.


On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a heartbreaking novel filled with the harsh realities of a young, queer, immigrant Vietnamese boy, but his journey is unforgettable and deeply moving.

Rating: 9/10

 

If you have read any of these books or decide to pick one up and want to discuss further, I am always down to have a conversation. Feel free to shoot me a message through the 'Personalized Recs' page, on Instagram or on Facebook, or you can send me an email at brianasbookshelf@gmail.com. Happy reading!

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