I have a lot to cover here, so this might run a little long. Feel free to skip around for whichever pieces of the post catch your interest. I generally try to bold the subject of each paragraph/section of these weekly updates so that it’s easier for you to pick and choose what you want to read- hopefully it helps!
It’s been a busy week, and either I’ve overexerted or am still adjusting to the vaccine or not quite as healthy post-covid as I thought because I’ve had a flare up with a lot of headaches and fatigue again. I’m lining up yet another appointment to make sure it’s nothing new going on, but other than needing to rest my brain a lot I don’t feel like I’m dying or anything, which truly feels like something to be grateful for these days, so I’m coping all right.
Even though it’s been a bit of a struggle (and my reading has definitely suffered for it but I’ve made my peace with that), there’s been a lot else going on, too. Planting season is in full swing on the farm- all of the corn is in the ground now so we’re onto soybeans. There’s a picture in this week’s 365 updates of the planter being refilled, with my dad making a little bonus appearance.
Also in The 365 is a puzzle I’ve been working on for a while and finally finished this week. It’s a cool concept- the specialized ‘birthday edition’ New York Times puzzle, depicting the NYT front page on the day I was born. I love the idea but unfortunately I got some pretty disappointing content on my front page. The articles include: US effing up in Iraq and fatally attacking own helicopters, mismanagement of a railroad line that left thousands stranded in bad weather, tobacco companies testifying in Congress that cigarettes aren’t addictive, a hospital settling on insurance fraud and patient abuse charges, and a Navy top admiral granted full pension in a 20 to 2 vote after a sexual harassment scandal (only one woman was on the panel). This last one was actually pretty grim to read in 2021; apparently something happened in 1991, when naval aviators sexually assaulted “scores of women” and then the investigation was bungled thanks to this admiral; this article goes on to say that “it was not clear” why the one man against giving full pension voted no. (Like, it couldn’t possibly be that he didn’t want to reward a man for allowing a lot of women to be violated without recourse for justice, right?) There’s also not a single woman in the bylines at all. One piece about the Vatican approving altar girls might seem like a victory, but then the article goes on to note that while the Vatican officially accepts them, many churches still oppose allowing girls this role and ultimately each bishop gets to make the choice for his own diocese. We are also reassured that women are still banned from priesthood. So. It was a thoughtful gift and fun to assemble at least, if not to read. I hope others who try this ‘birthday edition’ puzzle have better luck.
Cat of the Week is actually not my cat anymore; Fran(cis) was born on the farm, and is a brother to Heath (who featured in last week’s update) and Fuzzbutt (who featured several weeks ago), but I gifted him to an irl friend in need a few years ago (he’s 4 and a 1/2 now). They’re a perfect fit and I’m so glad they have each other. I don’t get to see them in person often so when I made contact this week I had to get a picture!
I had a bit of a TV binge while my brain was mush this week; I downloaded all 8 of the Shadow and Bone episodes from Netflix so I could even watch while I was waiting in the fields away from wifi, lol. I’ve actually watched the whole season twice already and can definitely foresee revisiting it again. And thus…
My week in film:
- Shadow and Bone ssn 1  – I just loved this. It’s a great watch. It’s not flawless, but it is possibly the best YA fantasy adaptation I’ve ever seen. The acting. The filmography. The plotting! Combining Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy with her Six of Crows duology was the absolute best idea; I liked the Grisha books but loved the SoC duology so I initially wanted to watch this mainly for the crows, but I ended up enjoying every single minute. I was a little disappointed we don’t get to see more of Kaz as an individual yet (he’s my fave character), but Inej and Jesper are absolutely fantastic and so many hints are dropped for deeper characterization and plotting to come that I’m already so excited for season 2! Yes, Alina is still naive and annoying and self-centered, but I do not have a problem with unlikable characters and I find her believable enough that it works for me. She fits the story. And…I’m team Malina, apparently against the grain. To be clear, Malina has nothing on Kanej for me, but I’ve always liked Mal and I think the show does him more justice than the novels. I also (please do not cancel me) like his actor better than the Darkling’s. Sorry, Ben Barnes stans. Barnes is a great actor! And the Darkling is such a fascinating character! I’ve been going around saying “make me your villain” all week! But I have no desire to see Darklina as endgame. Anyway, the first watch was a fun binge and the second time through cemented this adaptation as a real favorite for me. Milo and the crows and Malina (in that order) gave me life this week. I need more. If you do too, you should check out Hadeer’s review, which is more coherent and detailed than my ramblings here and hits the nail on the head about the show’s racism.
My week in books:
- How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones – 4 stars. I thought I’d finish this like, last Sunday, but Ive barely been able to read at all and just managed to wrap it up before the end of the month. It’s a tragic historical fiction tale set in Barbados, very focused on generational trauma and class divides on an island populated by impoverished locals and wealthy tourists, with a huge wage gap between the two groups. I’ll have a review coming very soon, but the tl;dr is that while the characterization could’ve used a little work, the writing is sharp and compellingly readable. I think it’s an apt fit for this year’s Women’s Prize shortlist.
- Consent by Annabel Lyon – ongoing. I’ve barely made a dent, but I already love the way Lyon writes about sisters and I have a feeling I’m going to love the character dynamics and prose going forward.
My week in posts:
Another thing you might have noticed happening this week was the announcement of the Women’s Prize shortlist! In case you missed it, the six books on the shortlist are (with links to my reviews where applicable): The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller, Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones, and No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. That’s 3 titles from my wishlist, and a shocking 5 of 6 from my prediction list! The title I guessed wrong was Ali Smith’s Summer, which I haven’t read yet, though I did include the title I missed, Unsettled Ground, as my runner-up guess, so I came very close! This was especially surprising and exciting for me after also guessing 5 of 6 shortlist titles correct last year– apparently I’m on a lucky streak! (Watch me tout this record as proof of my abilities next year only to get every guess wrong, haha.)
In any case, I’m actually pretty pleased with this year’s shortlist. Unsettled Ground is the only title that made the cut that doesn’t necessarily feel like shortlist material to me, though that’s based on reviews as I haven’t read the book yet myself, so that assessment may change. I didn’t especially like No One is Talking About This but I didn’t hate it either and I think it makes a decent, topical addition to the group. I’m thrilled for Transcendent Kingdom and Piranesi and even more eager now to get to The Vanishing Half. I’m disappointed Detransition, Baby (by Torrey Peters) didn’t make the cut as it sounds excellent, though I’m still planning to read and review it regardless. Exciting Times was a longlist favorite for me, and I would perhaps have rather seen it advance than Unsettled Ground, but that may be down to personal taste. Exciting Times didn’t quite make my prediction list either so while I stand by my high rating I can’t say I’m surprised by the snub. I’ll likely have more to say once I’ve completed my shortlist (and longlist) reading, so I’m aiming to continue through the list in May and share a wrap-up post to conclude the whole experience when the time comes.
Speaking of wrap-ups, April ended this week, which means it’s time to do a quick round-up of my April reading. It was another low month for me, unfortunately. My April stats from Storygraph (you can follow me there @ literaryelephant):
I read 5 books in April, 3 literary fiction and 1 historical fiction all from the Women’s Prize longlist, as well as 1 unrelated nonfiction book. Storygraph is still showing about 100 pages more in my page count than I’ve marked in my bujo page tracker, and I do count the afterword and acknowledgement pages and whatnot if I read them, which I usually do, and I check that I’m logging the correct edition every time, so I’m not sure how Storygraph is coming up with so many more pages than I am. It will be interesting to compare the difference at the end of the year.
The books I’ve completed this month (linked to reviews where applicable) are:
- Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan – 4 stars
- Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers – 2 stars
- No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood – 3 stars
- Made in China by Amelia Pang – 4 stars
- How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones – 4 stars
No 5 star reads this month, although Made in China came close.
I completed only 1 book from my April 5-book TBR, though I don’t feel I was off track, exactly. I read three library books this month, which don’t always make it into my TBRs if they aren’t in my possession at the start of the month though I still need to prioritize them, and even though I didn’t stick to my 5-book TBR exactly, it was filled for April with Women’s Prize books and I was definitely reading along that theme so it wasn’t exactly that I lost focus. I still intend to catch up with my outstanding TBR books as soon as I can.
Speaking of catching up…
Because I’ve read only about half as much as usual the last two months, I am now considerably behind on my reading goal for 2021. I’m not too worried, because I’m still hoping my brain health will even out in the not-too-distant future and give me a chance to binge some great reads. Ideally, over the summer. Of course, the number of books anyone reads isn’t isn’t really important for its own sake, though I’m very competitive with myself and would be frustrated to miss my reading target for the first time since I started setting a yearly goal. It’s only May though so it’s too early to get stressed about it, and I won’t beat myself up about failing a target I’m just not capable of hitting at the moment. All we can do is the best we can do.
For the upcoming week, I should have at least two posts coming up, and this week I say so with more certainty. I very nearly finished a book tag I wanted to post yesterday, but then was called away to help deal with a flat tire before I could answer the last prompt; expect to see it on Monday. I’ll also have my review of How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House coming up very soon, because I borrowed a library copy and generally prefer to write my reviews before sending back my library books, which helps keep me prompt with those. Whether I manage to post more than that will likely depend on how much reading and writing my brain is up to the challenge of completing. I’ve given up trying to guess what will happen, it’s proven impossible. I’ll do what I can.
As for reading, I’ll ideally be finishing Consent and continuing on with my Women’s Prize reads– I’ve got Unsettled Ground, The Vanishing Half, and Detransition, Baby left, and I’ve not yet decided what order I’ll be reading them in so this week’s reading could include any of the above.
I’ve also not entirely decided on my May TBR, because while I am prioritizing my final Women’s Prize reads those have featured in previous 5-book TBRs (or in the case of Unsettled Ground I just don’t have a way of photographing the eARC into my usual TBR photo setup and am petty enough to omit it for that reason) so I won’t be including those books in this month’s list, and won’t start reading this month’s list until I’ve completed those reads anyway.
Furthermore, May is AAPI heritage month so I want to prioritize some books by AAPI authors in my TBR; I’ve chosen my two May BOTM titles to fit this goal, but of course they haven’t arrived yet, and I’ve got another AAPI-authored title on hold at the library that also isn’t in yet. So while I do have some titles in mind, and a few others on hand if these new ones don’t show up in a timely fashion, my list isn’t finalized yet; I’ll aim to sort this out before my next weekly update (this one’s gotten quite long anyway) and share my May TBR then.
Are you reading or posting about any books from Asian American authors for May? If you’ve read any recently or have an exciting title on your TBR, I’d love more recommendations!
The Literary Elephant