Spring is here: storks on the electricity poles, calves in the fields, and suddenly a million things to do around the house and garden. Full-time travel around the 50 countries of Europe was, in some ways, less consuming of time and energy than living in a small cottage in rural Serbia.
In any case, after a cold, dark winter exacerbated by Covid-19 restrictions, I’m not complaining. My reading time this month has been limited, but I still finished some excellent books:
Kindred by Octavia E Butler
This was my first book by Octavia E Butler, but I have a feeling it won’t be my last. This was a powerful exploration of race in America through the medium of one woman’s involuntary time travel between 1970s California and an old Maryland plantation in the days of slavery. When I’ve come across time travel in fiction before, it’s mostly been done voluntarily by white characters who are able to exist as human beings in the era they travel to, suffering only a few odd remarks about their clothes and speech. But when a black woman does it against her will and instantly becomes a piece of property to be brutalised at will by anyone with white skin, it takes on an entirely different dimension.
Island by Alistair MacLeod
Island is a wonderful collection of stories set on the rugged Canadian island of Cape Breton amid small, isolated communities of fishers, farmers and miners, mostly descended from Irish and Scots refugees fleeing English brutality on the other side of the Atlantic and still carrying their ancestors’ traditions and speech patterns with them. You can get a flavour of the book by reading my review of one of the stories, The Vastness of the Dark, or by checking out the more in-depth reading project over at Buried in Print.
Trauma: Essays on Art and Mental Health
I chipped in to the crowdfunder for this book last year some time and then forgot to update my address, so my copy bounced around the world for a bit before finally finding its way here. It was a nice surprise to receive it, and I enjoyed reading these essays on multiple different facets of trauma, art, and mental health. I plan to write a full review soon, but in the meantime, Lisa at ANZ LitLovers wrote a good one.
The Archipelago of Another Life by Andreï Makine
I read this one for a readalong being hosted by Words and Peace and Cas d’Intérêt. It’s the story of a young man who follows an older man into the Siberian wilderness and hears that, when the old man was young, he tracked a gulag escapee in this same wilderness. But the book is not really about the pursuit or who catches who: it’s about escaping from a dystopic world and trying to find something else, something better and purer, just out there somewhere beyond that line of trees. Highly recommended.
Update: you can now read my thoughts on The Archipelago of Another Life here and here.
What Are You Reading Now?
I hope you had a good reading month in April and that it’s continuing so far in May. Let me know what you’re reading and whether it’s good!
There are 14 comments
Thanks for the mention:)
When I think of the thousands of words I’ve read about mental illness and trauma, including doing professional development courses about it as part of my work as a teacher, I can’t think of anything that has enriched my understanding as much as the Trauma anthology has.
Yes! I loved the diversity of the collection, the way the different essays approached the subject in wildly different ways. So I never knew quite what to expect when I started a new essay, which I found quite refreshing.
So glad you had a wonderful reading month. I love the way you presented The Archipelago of Another Life. Looking forward to seeing your reading plans for May
Thanks Emma! Ah, I’m not really organised enough for reading plans. I have loads of unread books on my Kindle and some lying around the house, and it’s a mystery which one I’ll pick up next!
As usual, a great variety in your selections (and a little more fiction?) and writing styles. And I’m so glad that the MacLeod collection held up after those first couple of stories. Somewhere you asked if I have read his novel, yet, and I haven’t (because there’s so little of his stuff in all!) but I plan to- after finishing this read-through of the stories.
I love the device of moving through time in Kindred. Butler amazes me and her trilogy Xenogenesis was fundamental in my shaping of the understanding of “other” decades ago. I was nervous to reread the first two novels last year but they still stand up. Last year I also read the first of her Parable books (the duology with the “wall” in America) and I’ve recently discovered a podcast which moves through that book chapter by chapter, so I think I will reread it this year before reading the second book in that set. But it’s possible that I’ve got too many reading projects already…is that even possible?
So you’ve got storks just sitting around? That’s awesome.
Oh wow, you’ve read quite a few of Butler’s books. It’s good to know that there are more good ones to discover. I saw she had several sets, but I wanted to try a single book first to get an idea of her work. But now I’m definitely ready for a trilogy!
Yes, the storks have nests on top of the electricity poles, and they seem to like our village. There’s a pair on each pole on our road, and it’s great to watch them just sitting up there or sometimes wandering around in our garden, picking up sticks to repair their nests. We put down weed mats recently, and saw a nice set of stork footprints over one of them 🙂
A good April of reading! I love Octavia Butler so of course I hope you read more of her work! I have not read Kindred yet. I started reading last year when COVID lockdown hit and was enjoying until George Floyd was murdered and life and my reading seemed too close together and just too much. But I will get back to it eventually.
Sure, I can understand that, Stefanie. Which of Octavia Butler’s books or series would you recommend I try next, from the ones you’ve read?
It does sound like you have a whole lot to take care of. Glad you’re looking on the bright side of things with COVID, though. 🙂
Ah, we have to, Nicole. There’s been so much dark side. I’m aware, though, that things are getting better in Europe because of mass vaccination, and in poorer parts of the world with less access to vaccines, the bright side must seem a long way off…
“The Archipelago Of Another Life” sounds very philosophical and atmospheric!
It is, John. I can recommend it! I found it to be a good combination—philosophical and atmospheric, but also with plenty of action to keep things moving along. I wrote about it in more detail here: https://andrewblackman.net/2021/05/the-archipelago-of-another-life-readalong-part-2/
I enjoy time travel novels, so learning about Kindred here by an author I’ve only read great things about is exciting. I love how this book tackles the idea of racism through time in America. Currently I’m reading Ace of Spades, a novel set in a private high school set for 6/1/21 publication. I just started it, but am already enjoying the dual points of view between two very different characters (at least in appearance and economic standing). The premise mentions racism as well as what choices people make to get ahead and “succeed” despite ruining others lives.
Yes, I think you’d like Kindred, Danielle. Ace of Spades sounds fascinating. I see from Goodreads that you’ve finished it now—what did you think?