May was a decent month as far as my reading life is concerned. I read eight books/audiobooks, a respectable but not auspicious number. The average star rating I gave them is 3.1/5 stars. There were a few standout reads but there were also one or two major disappointments. So, without further ado, here’s what I read in May.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. Complimentary copies of some of the books mentioned below were provided by the publishers.
This gorgeous book is illustrated using what looks like watercolor, ink, and type, the latter arranged into shapes so that words (often lines from classic books) actually form parts of the pictures. I bought a copy for my niece and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for something to give the bookish child in your life.
In Books for Living, Will Schwalbe reflects on the books that have shaped his life the most, from Stuart Little to The Odyssey and everything in between. “Throughout, Schwalbe focuses on the way certain books can help us honor those we’ve loved and lost, and also figure out how to live each day more fully.” I listened to the audiobook, which I commend to you as the perfect accompaniment to a good old-fashioned bookshelf organization session.
I am not a Star Wars fan, but I decided to read this to fulfill the “juicy memoir” requirement for the 2017 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. Juicy it was, with Fisher revealing, for the first time, (spoiler alert) her three-month-long affair with Harrison Ford on the set of the first Star Wars film. The most interesting thing about that is the insight it provides into Ford’s psyche. The other interesting thing about this book is the contrast between the journal entries Fisher wrote while on the set of the film forty years ago and her current writing style. They could not be more different. She was quite the writer at nineteen. Her writing now is much looser and more conversational. Fisher is frank and brutally honest, both about herself and Ford (though she is kinder to him than she could have been). I probably would have liked this book a lot more if I were a Star Wars fan, so if you are, I definitely recommend it.8 Short Book Reviews - The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher + More!Click To Tweet
Patrick Kingsley traveled to seventeen countries and interviewed refugees, smugglers, coast guard officials, politicians, and citizens in his position as the Guardian’s first ever migrant correspondent. The New Odyssey is the result of all that hands-on research. It provides both a panoramic overview of the refugee crisis and offers an eyewitness account of the deeply personal journey of Hashem al-Souki, a Syrian refugee on a quest to reach Sweden so that he can apply for reunification with his wife and three children. This is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year and it’s the number one book I recommend if you want to learn more about Europe’s refugee crisis. Look for my full review in the near future.
“In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed. The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end to an editor struggling against censorship and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.” Human Acts is characteristic of Kang’s hyper-real writing style and striking, violent imagery. This imagery makes it extremely uncomfortable to read; I almost stopped a few times. I listened to the audiobook and I found it difficult at times to keep track of characters and who was speaking. The story Kang tells is important but this book is not for everyone.
This is a multi-generational saga about a Polish Jewish family’s fight for survival during World War II. It is very closely based on the author’s family and their experiences, which makes it all the more compelling. In fact, Hunter didn’t even change most of the names. It’s a deeply moving, beautifully written story. If you read only one historical fiction novel this year, choose this one.
This is a collection of interconnected prose poems that tell the story an island where women rule and men are second-class citizens. In this fantastical world, men have wings, all women look like Angelina Jolie, and the patriarchal gender dynamics of our world are flipped on their head. Men are valued primarily for their domestic talents, sex appeal, and sexual purity, and are routinely the targets of sexual harassment and other gender-based crimes. The concept is great but the execution is directionless and somewhat muddled. I wanted to like it but it just wasn’t for me.
This is a fictionalized account of the life of Mata Hari, narrated (for the most part) in Mata Hari’s voice as a letter to her lawyer, written while awaiting her execution. This is the second Paulo Coelho book I’ve read (the first was Manuscript Found in Accra) and I have come to the conclusion that his writing is not for me. His characters lack authentic voices because he uses them as mouthpieces for his own philosophical theories and moral ideals. As a result, his writing comes off as preachy and self-indulgent. In this instance, he also runs roughshod over Mata Hari’s life. He paints her as a vain but liberated woman who chose to become a prostitute out of a desire for money and power, when in fact there is considerable historical evidence that she did so only out of desperation.
What was the best book you read in May?