April Reads

I am finally, it seems, getting the hang of this book reading challenge that I partake in every year. I have a goal of reading 60 books by the end of the year, and am currently at 23/60.

So I thought that perhaps I should start talking about all of these books. Because: I have thoughts!

In order:

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson

(finished April 2)

I don’t want to say too much here because there are a lot of twists and turns and I’m wary of giving anything away.

I very nearly stopped reading this book after the first few chapters. It seemed like your ordinary run of the mill “whodunnit”. I didn’t expect any sort of surprises or twists, and I wasn’t interested in reading something that I had pegged from the beginning.

But I am glad that I stuck with it.

The book was not at all what I had originally thought it to be. Swanson was able to throw a couple of twists that I did not foresee, which- to me – is marvelous. I can almost always tell you what the twist ending is going to be in any given novel. So when an author is able to break out of the run of the mill formula and actually throw in a surprise or two, it really makes me fall in love with the book.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

(finished April 5)

I chose this one because it had been sitting on my TBR pile for the last 4 years. I needed something that wasn’t a thriller because I had just finished “Before She Knew Him” and I was still processing. So I chose a book with a more emotional topic.

There were no big surprises for me. It was essentially what you’d expect in a story about a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. The book takes place starting from when Alice first begins to notice her symptoms, through the emotional fallout she and her family experience as they process what is happening, and walks the reader through the disease’s progression in her mind and body.

The book is told from Alice’s perspective. So we really get to follow with her on her emotional journey.

I thought it was well-written, and it gave me a lot to think about. I’ve watched my grandfather get lost in the haze of dementia, and I’ve seen for myself how this kind of disease can the individual and their loved ones. But my grandfather was already elderly and it was the expected time in life for him to experience dementia. The idea of someone still young and in their personal and professional prime – that is utterly fascinating, and devastating, Getting to see inside Alice’s internal world as she experiences all of this – intriguing.

The book really made me much more aware of what it must be like for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s and dementia. It certainly nurtured a sense of empathy in me for those who must live with these conditions.

You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

(finished April 8)

This was my least favourite read of the month. The only reason I rated it as high as 2 stars on Goodreads, was for the few nuggets of wisdom I was able to glean from Sincero’s words.

I had high hopes that this book would be an empowering read. I had hoped that it would teach about the importance of loving yourself – warts and all – and realizing that we are, inherently, all badasses in one way or another.

Unfortunately, that was not to be the direction of this book.

The book was your typical “you can do anything you want to if you only believe” and “positive thinking will solve all your problems” nonsense. Which, on its own, is fine. I suppose. It is true that you have to believe in yourself in order to accomplish anything. But we now know that positive thinking psychology, which was popular years ago, is actually quite harmful. The power of positive thinking lies in training yourself to ignore hard feelings. This means that very real feelings, stemming from very real issues, get suppressed. This will result in both mental and physical health issues. This is particularly true when the individual realizes that they cannot stop thinking negative thoughts or feeling negative feelings (Because, guess what? feeling and thinking in negative ways is part of being human), and begins to feel shame over that.

Rather than encouraging people to take control of their lives and mental health, the overall message of this book, I thought, was one of shame.

According to Sincero, anyone who isn’t living their dreams? They’re just lazy. Depressed? Lazy and cowardly. Everything, it seems, is a matter of mindset – which we all have full control over. We just have to choose to think the right way. Sincero seems to not grasp the complexities and nuances that create the mindset and mental/emotional health of any given individual. It takes so much more than just will-power for many people to make real change in their lives. She speaks as if it were as simple as flicking a switch and making changes.

Which it very rarely is.

At one point in her book, Sincero even advises her readers to financially commit to their dreams. Regardless of the state of their bank accounts, She expects her readers to promise whatever money it takes in order to make things happen for themselves. The money, she assures the reader, will always show up. Just act in faith and think positively.

Yeah. I don’t think so.

I couldn’t, in good conscience, ever recommend this book to anyone.

Every Day by David Levithan

(finished April 17)

This was an intriguing read. The book is about a 16-year-old disembodied soul, named A, who wakes up each morning in the body of a new person. They don’t know what they actually are, they just know that their existence has always been this way.

One day, A meets a girl and falls in love. The story then becomes about A trying to find ways to keep meeting and connecting with this girl every day in the body of someone new, and their attempts to develop a relationship.

A spends time in the bodies of drug addicts, mentally ill and suicidal people, LGBTQ people, religious people, homeschooling people, etc… Each new life teaches the reader a deeper understanding of the different roads each person walks and the struggles and wins that come with them. It is, I thought, a very creative way to educate and nurture empathy for differences in others.

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott

(finished April 24)

This book was very timely for me. The library had a half dozens copies of this book laid out on one of their “suggested read” tables a few weeks ago, so I borrowed one. I’d never read anything by Anne Lamott before, though I’ve heard many good things about her work.

I experienced something quite recently that shook me quite deeply and left me pretty devastated. This book was the very thing that I needed to read to help me begin to heal. Her words encouraged me in ways that I desperately needed. Her words touched me in a very maternal way. I think this book is always going to have a special place in my heart.

The narrative has a very conversational tone to it. It felt, to me, like sitting down with a mother-figure for a cup of tea and getting her thoughts on all of life. Again and again, she would just say: Life is hard, but life is beautiful. There is always a reason for hope.

Justice: Crimes, Trials, and Punishments by Dominick Dunne

(finished April 26)

Dominick Dunne was a true crimes reporter for Vanity Fair, and this book is a collection of the essays that he wrote for the magazine.

He originally got his start in the genre after his own daughter was murdered by her abusive ex-boyfriend. He opens the book by discussing her case and the emotional fallout in his family.

Despite the fact that I normally love reading true crime, I found this to be a very slow read. His style of writing is confusing and hard to follow. His pieces appear to have been written in a stream-of-consciousness style with very little in the way of proof-reading or editing.

He is, seemingly, quite proud of having earned a reputation in high society as being unlikable – he mentions this fact in nearly every essay. But he is also, seemingly, very proud of his ability to mingle freely in high society, he also mentions this fact in nearly every story. Which leads me to believe that, were I to meet Dominick Dunne in person, I would not like him and he’d be quite happy with that.

It was interesting, however, to read about the OJ Simpson trial as it was taking place. I was merely a child at the time the murders took place, and so my memories are quite fuzzy at best. But beyond that, I found this to be a frustrating read and only finished it because it’s the topic of discussion for my book club in a few weeks.

That’s it for April. Have you read any of these books? Leave a comment, and let me know your thoughts!

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