My May Reading Journal

May was BUSY, so my notes are short. Still, though, I was able to experience some really good literature. Undoubtedly, J. Ryan Stradal’s latest was the best book I read in May. Here’s my recap in reading of the month that was:

Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous: I fully expect this book to show up everywhere on yearly “best of” lists. And it should. Vuong’s first novel is masterful in style. Here’s a novel, told via Little Dog’s letter to his illiterate mom, that is truly lyrical. The language is poetic. Vuong writes of masculinity, sexuality, abuse, and loss—and other topics. He captures all of life in this slim novel. There are times, especially as it reaches the later half, that I didn’t understand everything. The novel becomes a bit more abstract that I’m used to. Still, this is a literary achievement that will be celebrated with huge accolades.

Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread:  Hmm... well, Oyeyemi is a wonderful writer. The language here is beautiful—as usual. Her short stories are fantastic. However, the story of Harriet Lee and her daughter, Perdita, is ultimately too confusing for me. I’m probably in the minority here, but there’s just too much going on. Time shifts. A multitude of folks. It just didn’t work for me.

T Kira Madden’s Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls: This is a good gritty memoir. It feels very nostalgic to me, with references of the early 2000s hitting hard. The whole is about Madden’s complicated young life with her mother and the men in her mother’s life and then transitioning into Madden’s later difficulties with identity and temptations. Maid is still my favorite memoir of the year, but this one is definitely worth visiting.

J Ryan Stradal’s The Lager Queen of Minnesota: The word that best describes this story of Edith, Helen, and Diana is delightful. It’s full of beer, pie, and just general goodness. It has such a kind heart. I’m interviewing Stradal for The Millions, so I’ll have more to say soon.

Lisa Howorth’s Summerlings: The writing is good here, but the story doesn’t come together fully for me. I think it’s purely a reader issue and not a writer issue. I didn’t connect with the nostalgia of this place and time, so I felt, from the beginning, that the novel wasn’t written for me. And that’s okay. Not all books are for all readers. Saying that, I do think Howorth’s latest novel is enjoyable—and I imagine lots of readers will love it. The boys on their spider quests are interesting; the unity block party is mostly fun. The voices are engaging, too, and some scenes are quite funny, especially the ones with Aunt Elena. 


Bradley Sides