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Quarterly Reading

Jacquelyn Bengfort

This post contains affiliate links, and I may receive a small commission for purchases made by clicking through to merchant sites. I'm a marginally-employed writer so I won't apologize for this half-hearted attempt to monetize my website. I'm clinically technophobic,* but I'm glad that my husband convinced me to join Goodreads. I really like scrolling through and seeing what I've read in the couple of years I've maintained an account. I've been dedicated to scanning in books, even the picture books I read to my daughter. So I thought it could be fun to do a quarterly summation of what I've been reading, with some very short reviews.

And here we go.

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

  • A beautiful novel, and one that I may not have picked up but for joining a bookclub that first convened this past January and meets monthly. In many ways it's like a Forrest Gump for North Korea, and perhaps the strongest endorsement I can give it is that it got me reading a bunch of nonfiction books about North Korea--and I don't usually read nonfiction.

A Postcard Memoir by Lawrence Sutin

  • I read this after taking a flash nonfiction course through the Eckleburg Workshops. It pairs the writer's postcard collection with short reflections on his life. I enjoyed dipping into this one over the course of a few weeks, and was excited to see postcards from places I've been on a few of the pages.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

  • This was February's bookclub selection. I enjoyed it--it breaks rules while still succeeding. Still, it was not the most popular choice with many of the other readers. I left our meeting, though, wanting to read it all over again.

BANG! The Great Somali Goat Bubble by Julian Gough

  • More a long short story, this book was provided to me by DailyLit as part of a promotion of their latest round of DailyLit Originals. It's a terribly clever attempt to try to explain certain excesses of the market in terms of livestock being chopped up by plane propellers. I very much enjoyed it and felt smarter at the end.

Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson

  • I was introduced to Moomintroll and the rest in a review in an old issue of the literary journal Post Road. This series of Finnish books is a cult classic, and I will probably return to them when my daughter is old enough for chapter books--they would be fun to read aloud.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

  • Thus began my foray into nonfiction about North Korea. Demick based her book on interviews with defectors she met while covering the Korean peninsula from Seoul for the LA Times. I cried at times, I laughed at times, I got angry and I pestered my husband by sharing information gleaned from these pages. Highly recommended.

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden

  • Another incredible nonfiction account of life in North Korea, this time focussed on the prison camps. A great companion to Demick's book.

Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis

  • I write mostly short things. Sometimes, very short. I thought this might be a problem. Lydia Davis's work is a revelation. She writes short stuff too, and it's unforgettable. Are they essays? Are they observations? Is it fiction? I don't know, but reading her made me value my own work more, and also challenged me to do short better.

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

  • Gorgeous. This was the March bookclub selection and it was gorgeous. I had previously only read a short story by Danticat, and I'm so glad that the bookclub has already pushed me in new directions and toward authors I may have overlooked. In some ways this novel is really a series of tightly-linked short stories, all centered around the title character, and it works so well.

The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea by Charles Robert Jenkins with Jim Frederick

  • The last in my trifecta of nonfiction books about North Korea, this one is the memoir of an American soldier who defected in the '60s thinking he would be sent home to the United States (and avoid serving in Vietnam). Instead he ended up spending most of his adult life in North Korea--teaching English, occasionally acting in films, and eventually marrying a Japanese abductee and having children. I couldn't miss such a unique perspective on that country.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

  • I had read the first chapter of this book at least twice before, but this time I kept going and I'm so glad I did. Rachman weaves the history of an American newspaper based in Rome with stories from the lives of those working at it during its last gasps for relevance and profitability. My favorite character was the reader, Ornella de Monterecchi, a sort of Miss Havisham character with a happier ending.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

  • A completely engaging novel set in Adichie's native Nigeria. I will be starting her latest novel, Americanah, for next month's bookclub but having only read one of her longer short stories previously, I wanted to get a fuller feel for her work. My library shelves it in YA Fiction, but even if you don't generally read young adult lit, this book is worth the time.

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

  • This is the follow up to Kleon's bestselling Steal Like an Artist. He's just at the start of his book tour and I picked this one up at his reading at Politics & Prose here in DC. It's a quick guide to the opposite of self-promotion, and full of awesome quotes and Kleon's own doodles. As a writer/doodler myself, I enjoyed it. Probably my favorite piece of advice is to read obituaries.

Sanctuary by William Faulkner

  • English major shame alert. Sanctuary is the first book by Faulkner I've ever managed end to end. (I tried Absalom Absalom in high school and As I Lay Dying in undergrad. I failed.) And it was a struggle for me, which adds to my shame since Faulkner essentially said of it that it was smut he wrote for money. I didn't enjoy it exactly, but it did pick up pace in the second half, and there were passages, like the one where three old madams sit around commiserating, that stood out for me in their brilliance.

And Now Tomorrow by Rachel Field

  • The first book in my New York Times Bestseller Project! And Now Tomorrow follows the fortunes of narrator Emily Blair, the daughter of a family grown wealthy through the family business: running a textile mill. Initially I thought the story was going to be about the loss of her mother, or the family's experience of World War I, but finally I discovered, around a third of the way through, what it was really about--hearing loss, love, and labor rights during the Great Depression. I won't say more since I'll be giving a more detailed review in a post coming soon.

Additionally, you can check out my Goodreads profile (link above) for a full accounting of this quarter's picture books. (There were more than 50. I usually let her pillage the board books section at the library and we bring home sacks and sacks of stuff, pretty much anything that she pulls off the shelf.)

*"clinically" may be too strong if not inaccurate entirely