Updated: May 2, 2019
I know it's only April, but this month I think I may have read some of my favorite books of the year. As usual, I read plenty of nonfiction, but I'm trying to expand my horizons a bit by dipping my toe into nonfiction - and let me tell you, it was totally worth it!
So without further adieu, here are the books I read this month:
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World -- And Why Things Are Better Than You Think - Hans Rosling (Rating: 5/5)
An American Marriage - Tayari Jones (Rating: 4.5/5)
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone - Lori Gottlieb (Rating: 5/5)
Theft by Finding - David Sedaris (Rating: 3/5)
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World -- And Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling
My favorite part of this book is this: “Things can be bad and getting better.”
This is not only the main idea of Rosling’s book, but it’s an idea that I’m trying to live by. The older I get, the more I realize that life isn’t so black and white, things aren’t always all good or bad, and sometimes determining the good from the bad isn’t so cut and dry. Rosling’s book, co-written by his son and daughter-in-law, explains all the ways in which our world is actually improving and dispels the fears that plague us daily in the media.
Rosling doesn’t gloss over issues, however. He acknowledges that things remain bad for far too many of us - and I do mean “us.” Rosling points out that nothing improves as long as we continue to divide the world into “us” vs. “them,” “Westerners” vs. “the rest,” “European” vs “other,” etc, and provides tons of examples of ways in which our world is becoming safer, healthier, wealthier and more educated.
Even though this book is about the world as whole, it has messages that I can apply to my personal life. As someone who tends to catastrophize situations (“I’ll never lose this baby weight,” “I’ll never feel rested again,” etc.), it’s important to remember that even though I’m not back in my skinny jeans, I’m not in my maternity jeans anymore either. I would love to wake up and actually feel energized in the morning, but at least I’m actually sleeping more than two hours a night now.
Another takeaway from the book is that “[t]here’s no room for facts when our minds are occupied by fear.” It’s hard to acknowledge the progress you’ve made when you’re so terrified you’ll never get there. “Factfulness” encourages us to put aside our fears and look at what’s really in front of us - all of us. Once we do, we may even see that our fear has already been conquered.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
This book was so layered, a short review wouldn’t do it justice, so a more in-depth analysis is coming soon.
To sum it up, on its surface, “An American Marriage” is about the relationship between Roy and his wife Celestial. After only 18 months of marriage, Roy is arrested for a crime Celestial is sure he didn’t commit. But while Celestial initially promises to wait for Roy and remain his loyal wife, the time apart and the change that inevitably happens as we all get older, takes a toll on their marriage. Add in their mutual friend Andre, who was the impetus for their meet-cute, and things become even more complicated.
But the novel goes deeper than simply telling the story of a love triangle between a woman and the two men that love her. It’s also a story about black masculinity, the racial profiling that got Roy arrested and sentenced in the first place, and the institutionalization that results from incarceration. It’s about how complicated being young, gifted and black can be, how life can look different depending on if you’re using a lens from black or white America.
I loved all the inside jokes peppered throughout the story. As a black woman, I loved being in on the joke for once. “An American Marriage” provided a perspective of black America that isn’t seen nearly enough, but demonstrates both the commonalities and differences between us all.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
This book combined all of my literary loves: nonfiction, narrative, self-help, and memoir, which resulted in me loving it far more than I thought I would.
One part memoir, another part self-help, and yet another part psychology, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” is psychologist Lori Gottleib’s life both in front of and on the therapist couch. This book could so easily have turned into a preachy book full of lots of psycho-babble about what we all should be doing. Instead, Gottleib talks about her own stops and starts in life, and her experiences getting therapy after a difficult and confusing breakup.
As I mentioned in my Harry Potter post, I struggle with where I am in life and often feel like, at 35, I should have it all figured out by now. So I can’t stress enough how good it felt, how seen I felt, to read about Gottleib’s own career struggles. She does use some psychological terms, but they are provided in way that’s more helpful than shameful. Gottleib is never condescending, and although she is a doctor, she always sounds like she’s on my side.
Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris
The first book I ever read by David Sedaris was Me Talk Pretty One Day. I remember reading it on the beach on my honeymoon, cracking up as I drank my margarita. Ever since then, I’ve had a special place in my bookshelf for David Sedaris. But maybe I’ve judged him too soon.
I recently read Calypso, also by Sedaris, which I enjoyed though it’s definitely darker and more exaggerated than Me Talk Pretty One Day (btw, for some excellent articles about Sedaris and his “stories,” check out these by the Washington Post, Slate, and New Republic. I personally love the drama his amplified stories bring, but others understandably aren’t so fond of it). But I just couldn’t get into Theft by Finding. The book is a series of journal entries David has kept from 1977 until 2000, and while I appreciated the personal bits - his drug addiction, eating disorder, odd jobs, financial struggles, and meeting his current partner Hugh - I don’t think the journal entry style of storytelling worked for me.
As I mentioned, Sedaris is known for overemphasizing parts of his life. But when written in quick bursts, as if he’s just jotting down memories before he forgets them (which is exactly what journaling is), the stories lose some of their luster. For me, it became hard to distinguish between what was real and what wasn’t.
I think my issues with Theft by Finding are more format related than plot related, but either way, this is not one of my favorite Sedaris works. I just hope I haven’t placed him in that prime bookshelf position too soon.
That's it for April guys! I definitely plan on stepping up my book game in May.
What did you read last month? Have you read any of the books I mentioned here, and if so, what were your thoughts? Have you ever read something you didn't like by an author you thought you loved? Share your thoughts below!