My April Reading Journal

April is usually the busiest and most stressful month of the year for me. 2019 was NOT an exception. Still, I managed to read 7 books, which isn’t too bad. In West Mills is the winner of my month—and maybe of my year. It’s spectacularly good. Here’s a recap of my reading from the month that was:

De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s In West Mills: This debut exceeded all expectations (which were pretty high to begin with). The story of Knot and Otis Lee is very much an unconventional love story. The novel is ripe with tenderness and grace. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this moved. Excellent, beautiful, transcendent novel. I’ll have more to say when I cover it upon its release this summer.

Pete Buttigieg’s Shortest Way Home: I think this book will be seen as comparable to President Obama’s Dreams from My Father, especially as Buttigieg emerges as a 2020 contender. This memoir feels personal, but it’s also very political. These are words of a man who wants to hold public office. The best parts, to me, are the moments when Mayor Pete steps back and talks about his personal journey. There are lots of details here. Too many perhaps, but I get what he’s going for. He’s laying out his ideas—and his accomplishments. He’s certainly done a lot for his community at such a young age. He comes across as being kind, compassionate, and intelligent. At this point, he’s my candidate. Buttigieg 2020.

Amy Hempel’s Sing to It: I won’t even pretend to understand what most of these very short (at least all but one) shortly stories are about, but I can tell you that they are beautiful in language and rhythm. I found myself, especially in the several stories that are less than a page in length, getting lost in the string of words and structure of sentences. “The Orphan Lamb” and “A Full-Service Shelter” are my favorites here. The collection reminds me of last year’s Friday Black in ways, where the whole is better than the individual parts. I imagine that this one will have many short story lovers shouting from the rooftops.

Bryan Washington’s Lot: This one is interesting. Washington hits on some themes really well, diving into issues of race, class, and sexuality. The characters are compelling. It all seems technically fine. But, to me, the work feels kind of distant as a whole. The prose is too jumpy and uneven for the intimate kind of narrative the book seems to want to present. I’m happy to have read it, though. It has some really moving sections (I’m sticking with it being more of a novel, so sections...), especially near the end. I look forward to seeing what he writes in the future.

Chris Bachelder’s The Throwback Special: The exploration of masculinity is quite good. I think it’s pretty accurate in that regard. I also respect how the novel presents itself as having a kind heart. It’s funny in sections. It’s all just so jumbled with too many words (and it’s a very slim novel) and characters. It didn’t work for me like I wanted it to.

C. J. Hauser’s Family of Origin: Definitely a weird, quirky read. It’s about family and how we struggle to fit in. Honestly, I kept thinking of Kristen Arnett’s masterful Mostly Dead Things as I was reading this one. Arnett’s novel is still one of, if not THE, best book I’ve read this year. Dead dad. The coast. Offbeat families. Focus on animals. Lots of commonalities. I need to read Hauser’s novel again to give it my full attention. I hope to in the coming weeks.

Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer: Like the knives at work within these pages, this novel is SHARP. The character development is spot on as are the voices of the two sisters, Korede and Ayoola. This is such a singularly weird book. It’s violent and bleak, but it’s also darkly comedic. There are moments where it’s even a little warm. I was really surprised when it won The Morning News’ Tournament of Books, but now that I’ve experienced it, the victory makes sense. This is a really engaging and fast-paced novel to get lost in. Highly recommended.

Bradley Sides