The month of March was Women’s History Month (#WomensHistoryMonth), and is also the month the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction is announced. Generally, my reading is predominantly women authors already, but for the month of March, I specifically chose books by women to read. As I’m sure many of you are feeling, this Women’s History Month felt more pressing, urgent and necessary to celebrate and acknowledge.
Below is my wrap up of the 10 books read in March. Themes throughout this selection of books included loss, pain, suffering, death, murder, kidnapping, isolation, abuse, love, hope, marriage and motherhood.
The first book I pulled from my shelf to start this special month of reading was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I haven’t formally reviewed this on the site, so I can share my thoughts with it here. Pachinko was a perfect book to kick off Women’s History Month, as it was filled with many female characters – a multitude of women ranging from strong, weak, suffering, resigned, and hopeful. Pachinko started this theme of women’s suffering, one that seemed to continue through many of the books I read for this month. Indeed, in one particular section of Pachinko, Sunja’s mother declares that it is a woman’s plight in life to suffer. Pachinko checked off many of my reading kryptonite boxes, as it was this big, sprawling, all consuming generational saga containing plenty of sorrow and sadness, but brimming with hope and love too. It covers the period of the Japanese occupation of Korea, with much of the story taking place in Japan, where the ethnic Koreans are considered second-class citizens. It was an all-consuming, sweeping read, worthy of a 5-star rating, however, at the end, when the story should have and could have been nicely wrapped up, there was the introduction of two additional characters. Their stories only extended a similar story for most of the characters already read about, so the new additions only took away my overall love for it. I felt they were unnecessary and the story could have come to a satisfying close without their inclusion. It left me feeling like I did when I came to the eventual end of A Little Life byThank you so very much to Grand Central Publishing for sending a copy, I am most appreciative!
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain is another one I have not separately reviewed on the site. This was one I eagerly anticipated, couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, and went ahead and ordered from the Book Depository so I could read it before its release in Canada. I completely anticipated seeing this one on the Baileys Prize longlist (and it’s been on many other prize lists this year as well) so when the longlist was revealed, and it was on it, my desire to read it straight away was definitely fanned. Sadly, and with deep sighs, The Gustav Sonata was not the read I had longingly anticipated it to be. The first part – where Gustav and Anton are young boys – is fascinating and all kinds of wonderful. In this part, one of what seems to be three individual novellas, we hear of Gustav’s unhappy, cold and distant mother, with details of Gustav’s life contrasted starkly to Anton’s. Sadly, it then veers way off this delightful path, jumps forward in time almost 40 years, giving no discussion or details on their lives in between their 10-year-old selves to their almost 50-year-old selves. Here in this second part we also hear the reason for Gustav’s mother’s unhappiness, the start and end of her marriage, her birth to Gustav and how his father died. But…this part with bits about Gustav’s father read as though it’s an erotic romance novel. It’s a real turn-off (heh heh!) when reading overly described details about sex – especially when the style of writing is so vastly different from the first part of the novel. Then, it breaks into a third part and this is even more disappointing and disjointed than the second part. We’re brought back into Gustav and Anton’s life when they are in their 50s. Gustav also meets his father’s mistress, Lottie. This section contained so much silliness for me with the relationship details between Gustav and Lottie, and the too many mentions of how fat Lottie has become (repeated details about her thighs rubbing together, her ample bosom, etc.) are ridiculous. Tremain then rushes in hints of a homosexual relationship between Gustav and Anton and then… it ends. A wee bit touching in the ending, but overall, it was nothing what I was anxiously anticipating. I’m left only with great dissatisfaction with the reading experience. I was therefore pleased to see it not make the Shortlist for the Baileys Prize.
Big Little Lies was a wonderful surprise! What an unexpected page-turner! I think Liane Moriarty may be wrongfully categorized, or shrugged off perhaps into the chick-lit genre. Big Little Lies, with its meaty topics and page-turning thrills was certainly not a light and breezy read (if that’s how you would categorize the genre – you know, something light hearted and enjoyable to read, a palette-cleanser after heavier topics- that’s where it falls for me.) Similarly, I’m hearing (from men more than anyone) that the HBO-series being shrugged off as merely being about “women’s problems” (read silly and unimportant). We read this one for our book-club with the expressed intention of binge-watching the series. Now, after closing the book, I cannot wait to watch the series! I’ve heard from friends that have already watched that the casting is perfection. I burned through this one and couldn’t wait for the reveal at the end, which was a surprise for me and many parts leading up to this reveal, left me gasping with fear and anxiety. A fantastic page-burner that I highly recommend. It was another total all-around hit for our book club too.
The House on Selkirk Avenue, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Himself and So Much Love were all reviewed, with links to those reviews attached. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane and So Much Love were very different reads, but were the ones that I liked the best out of that bunch!
Glaciers and The Swan Thieves were both audiobooks. Glaciers was a lovely little read. One of those lovely little palette-cleansers you come across every once in awhile that you’ll always remember fondly. The Swan Thieves was a wonderful audio production. It’s multi-cast included narrators like Treat Williams, Anne Heche and John Lee. There were many musical interludes sprinkled throughout which added to that grand production feeling, and the story was intriguing and kept me interested all along. I’m eagerly anticipating Kostova’s new novel out in May (The Shadow Land), and Alexis M. Smith also published a recent one that seems far different than Glaciers, but I’ve marked Marrow Island down to read as well.
Finally, from this list, I read Invisible North: The Search for Answers on a Troubled Reserve. A gut-punching, rage-inducing but highly important read. Astonishing and disgusting. I think it’s an absolute must read. A short book, seemingly could be read in one sitting, but was near impossible to do so. The Indigenous experience is one of crisis. Full stop. Invisible North appears to be a slight read, something that feasibly could be read in one sitting. I could not. It took close to a month to finish, for I had to set it aside after completely one chapter, let it rest, sink in, before I could return to it. The despair, the rage, so much rage. I could only feel rage and disgust. My copy is littered with yellow sticky notes, truly every page, every paragraph could be underlined and a sticky note applied. It almost feels coy doing that. For what will my tags on a page do for this horrific situation? I read this at the same time as Canada Reads was being debated. I found myself watching this year’s debates with disdain in a way. How could I get behind many of the fictional stories in the running for “The one book Canada needs to read now” (or something like that), when Invisible North was not included, and in my opinion is so indeed the book every Canadian should be reading now. Thank you to Dundurn Press for sending. If I could press this book into every Canadian’s hands I would be doing so.
So there are the 10 books I read in the month of March, for Women’s History Month. My reading into April has me reading books authored mostly by women again, but these choices for March were expressly ones authored by women to fit the month’s theme. Forgive me if I haven’t connected each of these books under one theme – I feel they could all be explored using that idea, but I know I haven’t truly done that any justice here.
Did you focus your reading in March to go along with Women’s History Month? Do you select your reading along themes such as that one? Let me know, I’m always interested in hearing from you!