My February Reading Journal

I had lots of extra days of leisure in February because of sickness and floods. Here’s a recap of the books that entertained those long, strange days:

Mary Miller’s Biloxi: I’ve been wanting a good quiet novel for a while. This isn’t it. Nope. This is a GREAT quiet novel. Miller’s novel follows 63-year-old Louis McDonald, Jr. and his difficulty in adjusting to his life’s sudden changes. His father has died. His wife has left him. Things look pretty bleak for the aging man. But then, Louis meets (and quickly falls in love with) Layla, a beautifully weird dog who gags constantly. As the novel unfolds, the two eccentric souls find comfort in one another. Miller’s novel abundantly showcases tenderness. Yeah, there’s hurt brooding under Louis’s skin, but, more than that, there’s a man looking to love again. Layla is his reminder. I hope this book finds a massive audience. This book is soul cleansing.

Susan Orlean’s The Library Book: Near the end of this book is a chapter about people calling the library to ask, um, strange questions. The shelf life of beans? Etiquette mannerisms? Are grasshoppers or crickets the greater evil? I was nearly choking I was laughing so hard. The whole book is a love letter to libraries, librarians, books, and knowledge. It’s structured strangely. I mean, it goes from one topic to the other and then back to the original of the fire at that claimed so many books on that terrible day in 1986 Los Angeles. But who cares about how it’s structured really? The book works. It all works. It’s fun and moving, and there’s so much love in these pages. This is one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. Highly, highly recommended.

Daniel Wallace’s Extraordinary Adventures: Daniel Wallace is one of my favorite writers. Big Fish and Ray in Reverse are both classics in my mind. This novel has that familiar Wallace tone that I love. It’s kind-hearted, deceptively light, and a bit sentimental. It’s also very southern. The story follows a young man named Edsel who wins a free stay at a condo in Destin. But to claim this prize, he must bring a companion. Well, poor Edsel is alone, and he begins his search to find a friend (or a lover). Edsel is a joy to follow. The cast of supporting characters is thoroughly wonderful, especially his elderly mother and her caretaker. To be fair, this is mid-tier Wallace. The book is overlong and nothing is really all that unexpected. Honestly, though, I don’t care. Daniel Wallace’s writing always gives me comfort and joy, and this book is no exception.

Tom Perrotta’s Mrs. Fletcher: This novel is tough to examine as a whole. The first quarter is quite good, building characters and plotting an engaging narrative; however, the rest of it is messy. For a book largely about sex, it’s boring. The focus is on Eve, a “normal” everywoman-type mother, trying to find her self (through sexual adventures) after her son leaves the nest. She’s interesting, but I don’t think she’s ever fully alive. The son, a bro-kind-of-guy, is pretty awful, and his sections are skimmable. Strangely, by the end, I was back to kind of liking it. The last chapter works well. I think the adaption for HBO will be wonderfully. The story has potential. The execution here just doesn’t fully work for me.

Lauren Wilkinson’s American Spy: This book is a stunner. The first chapter is perfect, and the entire novel is engaging—propulsive even. The story follows an FBI agent named Marie Mitchell and how she must deal with loyalty to her family, to her country, and to herself. Wilkinson hones in on sex and race issues. A strong debut. And one that should be appealing to lots of readers, especially those itching to find a good thriller.

Angie Thomas’ On the Come Up: This is no sophomore slump. In fact, it might even be better than The Hate U Give. In Thomas’ latest, which explores class, race, and ambition, young Bri fights for her dream of being a rapper to become a reality. After landing a coveted spot at a local freestyle competition, Bri works to prove herself even more. She struggles with finding her voice and understanding how to present herself, which is difficult because she is still figuring out who she is. The supporting characters are all great. Bri’s mom, Jay, is so complex. Trey, Bri’s brother, is kind and loving—he’s one of those characters you root for from the beginning. Each of Bri’s friends have their own moments of glory, too. While this book is ultimately inspiring, it also has its share of darkness. Bri’s Aunt Pooh has some secrets, we learn Bri’s dad died tragically, and there is racist violence from some of the staff at Bri’s school. There’s so hope, though, even in these more hard-to-read sections. This book is a champion for better days. It’s GOOD!

Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s We Cast a Shadow: Eerie and horrific. I need time to process this book. Probably a lot of time. But I’ll go ahead and say on record that I think this is a debut that is the start of an incredible literary career for Ruffin. This book dissects contemporary racism like no other I can recall.

Bradley Sides