I had an interesting week, both in terms of reading and life in general. I am posting late because I went on a backpacking trip in Yellowstone this weekend, and spent yesterday hiking and watching all sorts of animals, including a badger!
In reading terms, I felt like I started a bunch of books I wanted to read this week, but either haven’t had the time or the motivation to finish them. I do have two books to talk to you about however, and I am excited to share one of them.
Books I finished this week
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta (read on audio-book)
Under the Udala Trees is the story of a Nigerian girl named Ijeoma who grows up in the midst of a civil war in Nigeria known as the Biafran War. It is a beautifully written and realized book, and if you are interested already, I encourage you to go find it now and read below after you have finished it.
Throughout the war, and as she attends school afterwards and begins to navigate her early adulthood, Ijeoma becomes aware of the fact that she is interested in women. This fact is discovered at one point (I’m not giving anything away in saying that), and she has to learn to balance her own needs and desires with the expectations and fears of those around her, including her very Christian mother.
This is also the exact kind of book I like to listen to. Because the names and language or hard to pronounce and read, hearing them lets me live in the story in a way I don’t think I would be able to otherwise. Plus, there are traditional folktales and songs in here, and the author actually sings them, so that element was an added bonus.
I am still reeling from this book. Okparanta has written a book that is blunt and honest about sexuality in Nigeria, and yet still manages to write a true novel with complex, lovable characters. As I discussed last week, I can sometimes struggle with books that feel like they are meant to be important, or examine important issues. This book walks that line with beautiful, well written prose, identifiable characters and some very important food for thought.
This is actually a book I originally heard about when doing research for a piece I posted a couple of months ago about diverse book awards because it won the Lamda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction. This didn’t get me to pick it up, but I was looking for a good audio-book (more on that below), and listened to a What Should I Read Next podcast where this book was mentioned both as a great book and a great audio-book, so it was a natural fit.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Lab Girl is a book about trees, female scientists and mental health issues. It sounds so in my wheelhouse, and I have been excited to dig in to it for a long time. In this book, Jahren connects what she has learned about plants and trees with her personal life and her work as a scientist. I wanted to love this book. I wanted to love it so bad. But I just didn’t.
I think the problem is that I first listened to it and the narrator was awful. I don’t think she was terrible as a voice, but I get the sense that the tone of Lab Girl is meant to toe the line between serious and funny, almost like a Mary Roach book, and the narrator made everything so over-dramatic and sad. I ended up being annoyed at Hope Jahren for feeling sorry for herself, when I really don’t think that was how this book was intended to come across. Unfortunately, I gave up on the audio-book too late, and even as I started reading it, her voice would creep in, and I could never work up to liking it.
I will probably touch more thoughtfully on my problems with this book next week when I discuss a book I am reading that I LOVE, but for now, I just think that the narration of this book does it a disservice and I wish I could go back and just read it because I think I would have liked it a lot more.
What went well
I was proud of myself for switching books in the middle of the week. It slowed me down, and I didn’t actually finish a physical book this week, but I am so happy to have read and encountered Under the Udala Trees.
What did not go well
It has been a hard week on some other levels, both politically and in my personal life, including finding out about the death of Brian Doyle, one of my favorite authors. I have been seeking some more comforting books, and I have at least one I cannot wait to talk about next week!
What I am reading next week
I am finishing a few books I have already started this week, and talking it easy. I am partway through a bunch of books, and just letting myself finish what is interesting in the moment. I don’t know when my next audio book will be, but I am also not ready to commit to anything at this moment.