2021, Books

What I Read in May 2021

Happy Pride month, friends! May was sort of all over the place for me, reading-wise. I didn’t read as much though that could be due to work being busier than before. I picked up a couple of books during my recent trip to Charleston that I am excited to read so I hope I get to read more in June. Here’s everything I read last month:

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson – 4.5 stars

The Warmth of Other Suns was one of my favorites reads from 2020 so I had been looking forward to reading Caste! In Caste, Wilkerson draws parallels between the unofficial unspoken social hierarchy in America to the caste systems in Nazi Germany and India. While it may seem extreme at first glance, the similarities are astounding (just wait until you read about how Nazis thought Americans were too brutal with the one drop rule). Caste makes everything make sense.

Following 2016 election, a lot of us couldn’t understand how so many white people could vote for Trump since racism wasn’t a good enough explanation on its own. And why so many poor whites vote for the Republican Party which seemed to be against their interests. It just clicks. Those white people vote for Trump and the Republican Party to reinforce the American caste system which has always put them above all people of color and placed Black people at the bottom.

While reading Caste, I was disheartened by some of the historical events. I know I shouldn’t be shocked but after reading The Nickel Boys and The Warmth of Other Suns (and taking an entire course on lynchings in college), I thought perhaps I might have read about all of the violence and cruelty now–that is still not the case. On another note, it was incredible to read about researchers who described the social stratification in America as a caste system decades ago. Wilkerson begins the book by comparing the caste system in America to an old house that needs repairs or a virus residing in a body–a problem we must acknowledge in order to fix it. Having a dialogue is always a start, and Caste instigates one.

The Magical Language of Others by E.J. Koh – 3 stars

This book was a lot more personal than I had expected. Of course, it is a memoir so I knew that Koh will be sharing her story–beginning with how she lived with her brother when her parents leave California and return to South Korea for what was supposed to be a short contract work, which in a way ends her childhood and forever changes her relationship with her parents. She shares several of the letters her mom wrote her while they were apart. She translates the content of the letters but also includes photocopies of the actual letters. Reading handwritten letters intended for someone else made me feel a bit strange. Additionally, Koh tells the story of her family, particularly her grandmothers. While I didn’t love The Magical Language of Others, I am interested in reading her poetry.

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel – 4.5 stars

As most of you, I have a very long list of books I want to read. Whenever someone tells me their favorite book (ever or of the year), that book gets bumped up to the top of the list. That was the case for Betty! Historical fiction based on the life of McDanie’s mother, Betty tells the story of Betty Carpenter. Betty is the sixth of eight children born to a Cherokee father and a white mother. Set in 1960s Ohio (once the family settles down), you witness the racism Betty and her family experience from the community but you also see the beautiful ways in which Betty’s father passes down the traditions and values of the Cherokee people to his children, especially Betty who he endearingly calls Little Indian. There is a lot of heavy stuff in the book–sexual violence, deaths, drugs. Betty is resilient and strong as these events happen or as she learns about them.

I am not sure exactly how I can describe Betty but I couldn’t stop talking about it while reading it. I imagine I’ll continue to talk about it for a while.

Romancing Mr Bridgerton by Julia Quinn – 4 stars

Okay–this might be my favorite Bridgerton book so far! It is just cute. You become pretty invested in the relationship between Colin Bridgerton (the third Bridgerton child) and Penelope Featherington (a dear friend of Eloise Bridgerton aka child #5) if you watch the Netflix show. Spoiler alert: Penelope’s unrequited crush on Colin is requited—eventually, some time after she and everyone was convinced than Penelope will be a spinster forever. I enjoyed the book not just because of two cute people becoming an item and doing sexy things together but also because Penelope is an interesting and intelligent woman who really is equal to and complimentary to Colin. I am already excited for the Netflix adaptation of this book.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman – 3.5 stars

I recently read a couple of books by Fredrik Backman and enjoyed them. He has a very distinctive voice and style of writing, but for some reason, I didn’t get much of that from Beartown. Beartown is a hockey town where there really isn’t much of anything left—jobs, schools, or hope. The junior hockey team has been a success, and their potential national championship win could mean a new future for Beartown. Living up to the reputation of being a hockey town, almost everyone is passionate about hockey from the players to the coaches to the parents. The anticipated final game is halfway through the book as the second half of the book revolves around an act of violence inflicted by one of the hockey players.

While I liked and respected many of the characters, I feel like I didn’t get to know them the way I did the characters in A Man Called Ove or Anxious People. One of my favorite parts about Fredrik Backman are the ways in which he creates characters with personalities that you understand and love despite their flaws. Beartown was missing the subtleties that make big impact for me while reading Backman books, and it just didn’t do it for me.

What is your favorite book from this month?

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