January 2021 Reads

As I’m writing this set of mini-reviews, I’m already 18% of the way to my 40-book goal for 2021. I have loved getting back to reading this much again, and my social media scrolling time has decreased dramatically. I already have 4 books planned for February, too, so this year has gotten off to a great start as far as books go.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

I finally finished this with my book group. If you’ve been looking for something to read about the antiracist movement but haven’t known where to start, this is a great one to pick up. It’s part memoir and part social commentary, and it’s a pretty quick read once you get into it. But there’s a LOT to think about in here, too.

Kendi starts each chapter by taking the reader through his life. His philosophy on racism has had a really interesting progression; he goes from understanding racism as a child, to antagonistic feelings towards white people in college, and back around to what we understand as an intersectional antiracist viewpoint. Throughout the book, he stresses that there aren’t really racist and antiracist people; it’s instead that people make racist or antiracist choices. Often, racist or antiracist choices lie in the policies we support. Something I am coming to understand is that while change on the individual level is absolutely powerful and necessary, we will never have change on the societal level unless we support antiracist policies. The intersection between making individual antiracist choices and making societal-level antiracist change depends on whether we support antiracist policies or not. Kendi describes what it looks like to support antiracist policies by topic, covering things like class, behavior, gender, space, success, and failure.

This is quick to read, but sometimes difficult to absorb. Kendi is an academic and admittedly sometimes I found myself way in over my head. The concepts he discusses are so broad that it can be hard to visualize how it would apply to everyday life. This is one I will have to revisit for sure, but I came away from it feeling like I have a better understanding of what antiracist policies look like and how I as an individual can support them.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name. 

I feel like maybe I was too excited for this one, because while it was good I didn’t think it lived up to the hype it’s gotten in the book-blogging world. But I’m definitely glad I was able to pick this one up. It was a fanciful, escapist retreat with interesting world-building. The language was a bit too flowery and ephemeral at times for me; it sometimes took me out of the story a bit by trying too hard to be pretty. The writing also got a little bit repetitive – Addie “didn’t remember deciding to” do something but “found herself doing it anyway” a few too many times. However, those are nitpicky things that didn’t take too much away from the reading experience. It was kind of fun to see Addie living across so many decades, and the characters were interesting. This definitely wasn’t AMAZING but I’m glad I took the time to read it.

Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel

A harrowing story of breakdowns, suicide attempts, drug therapy, and an eventual journey back to living, this poignant and often hilarious book gives voice to the high incidence of depression among America’s youth. A collective cry for help from a generation who have come of age entrenched in the culture of divorce, economic instability, and AIDS, here is the intensely personal story of a young girl full of promise, whose mood swings have risen and fallen like the lines of a sad ballad.

It’s hard to criticize a memoir, especially one that’s said to have kicked off the modern memoir genre. But I read this with my sister as part of our tiny book club, and for us it was a total flop.

It wasn’t that the writing was bad. It was okay. It was passable. One thing about the writing annoyed the crap out of me, though, and that was the long, random, italicized passages that are interspered within the chapters. Normally, when authors do this, it’s meant to signify a separation of some kind, like a dream sequence, or a flashback. But in Prozac Nation, the italics sections weren’t different or separate at all from the main narrative. I have no idea why Wurtzel decided to do this, but it didn’t work.

Aside from that, she does tell her story well. If you want to get inside the head of someone with debilitating chronic depression, this is a good book. Wurtzel explains how she ceased to feel or care about anything, and how she turned to questionable and dangerous activities to either try to feel or to distract herself from the fact that she couldn’t. The story reminded me of a lot of people I know, to be honest. But as you’d expect from a book about depression, it was depressing. It was not fun to read, and it didn’t make me like or feel sorry for Wurtzel at all. In fact it made me really dislike her. Maybe that’s not fair to say, since so much of her personality was wrapped up in her depression. But it just wasn’t an enjoyable or enlightening read, and I think there are other authors (like Allie Brosh) that can write about depression in a way that doesn’t make you loathe the author more than the illness.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

I usually don’t like audiobooks that much, but this is one that would almost certainly be better in audio form (if done right!). Sadie is written in a dual narrative, with Sadie telling her own story and the podcast script telling the rest. Putting this story in podcast format was a fantastic and creative twist on what can be a really formulaic genre. I didn’t really find this suspenseful or even thrilling, to be honest, but it was a good, un-put-down-able story with morally gray characters you can’t help but root for. Macmillan Publishers also recreated the podcast from the book. I haven’t listened to it, and it’s gotten mixed reviews, but it’s a fun layer to add to an already enjoyable reading experience.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Through six turbulent months of 1934, 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain keeps a journal, filling three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries about her home, a ruined Suffolk castle, and her eccentric and penniless family. By the time the last diary shuts, there have been great changes in the Mortmain household, not the least of which is that Cassandra is deeply, hopelessly, in love.

I am so glad I picked this up! This was just an utterly charming, captivating read. I loved diary-style stories as a kid, but you don’t really see that format much anymore. It was nice to get back to. This is full of Jane Austen-esque values dropped into 21st century England and it’s just so sweet and small. I adored reading this. It’s a good one too because there’s a lot to talk about with regards to a woman’s place in society, and what art means or should mean, and the concept of courtship, but you can also just sit down and enjoy it.

And there was so much to enjoy – with a character-driven novel like this one, the family relationship themes are strong, especially Cassandra’s relationship with her sister Rose. I LOVE reading about siblings, and this was a beautiful and heartbreaking sister arc. I also loved seeing a stepmother who was loved as part of the the family. Cassandra talks about growing up, grieving, testing different religions, and ultimately making do with what she has. There’s just so much to adore here. I borrowed this from the library on my Kindle, but I’m definitely going to have to buy it, because it seems like the type of book that you get something new from every time you reread it.

It didn’t end as neatly as a Jane Austen novel would, and I really wanted it to, so that was a little disappointing. It went a tad off-the-wall at the end too, with what Cassandra and her brother did to their father to jump-start his creativity again. That weirded me out a little. There were also a few scenes and dialogue with some rape-y undertones that were very much glossed over, which was uncomfortable. That’s one thing I’d love to talk about with someone else who’s read it (maybe I’ll suggest it to my sister). Overall, though, this was a sweet read that started really charming and ended really melancholy and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Cover images and descriptions from Goodreads.

One comment

  1. I finished Addie LaRue back in November, and I found the whole thing to be kind of a slog. It was a brilliant concept, but the execution kinda left me wanting.

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