Joyful Reads from March
Hello! I’m Joy, and I love to read. I consider it my greatest talent and favorite hobby. Another one of my preferred pastimes is recommending books to anyone who is the least bit curious. Seriously. I am always volunteering book recs to people near me, whether they ask or not. I thought it would be fun to bring this passion to Baton Rouge Parents Magazine. I will share with you every book I read month by month and what I think about them. You can also follow my Bookstagram account on Instagram at @joyfulreadswithjoy!
The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka
What a beautiful and unique read. Several authors I really like raved about this small novel, and so I downloaded it from my Libby app. This book is surprising. It’s truly a meditation on community, identity, family, memory, and life. Otsuka’s writing style is unlike anything else I’m familiar with. She writes in incredible detail, but not like I’m used to. She’s conversational yet contemplative. Coming in at under 150 pages, The Swimmers is a quick read, but powerful and resonant as well.
Summary: An underground pool in California is a refuge for the swimmers, a varied group of people who find their solace in swimming. Otsuka takes this simple concept and creates a layered cast of characters with lists and descriptions. These swimmers bond with one another, but when a crack appears in the pool, the aquatic sanctuary becomes endangered. This change leads to the unexpected crux of the story, a woman battling dementia. Otsuka divides the novel into four parts, and she changes point of view in each. The sections feel very personal.
This may be one I return to because I can tell it’s going to stick with me. I loved the details, the memories, the gentleness, the personal history, the community of swimmers, the tenderness, the honesty, and the love of a family. It’s brief but bold in its confidence. Unforgettable in a quiet way.
Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband? by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn
This book is a light and cute read that I needed after the heaviness of Love Songs of WEB DuBois. Lizzie Damilola Blackburn immerses her reader in the world of young professional British Nigerians and their love lives, particularly Yinka and her absence of a love life.
Summary: Yinka is a 30-something professional in a tight-knit Nigerian community in London. Her sister is pregnant and her cousin is engaged, and Yinka feels the heavy expectation to find a spouse and quickly. Just as she develops a plan to find a date to her cousin’s wedding, things start to fall apart. At the risk of losing herself, Yinka will go to extreme lengths (like weave and squats) to find a man. Comedy and vulnerability merge together as Yinka comes back to herself.
There was a lot I enjoyed in this novel, and I really related to Yinka’s insecurities, comparisons to other women, and desire to be loved. It took a little while to get to Yinka’s revelation and self-discovery and back on the path to her true self. The second act was a little long for me, but the end made it worth it. I also loved Yinka’s faith and descriptions of prayer and church. I was a little frustrated at times with her decision making, but I suppose that was the point. I loved all the British and Nigerian culture. I also really appreciated all the dynamics between women, cousins, sisters, daughters, mothers, and of course, aunties. And the value of therapy!
South to America: A Journey Below the Mason Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation by Imani Perry
Calling it now: Best Nonfiction Book of 2022. South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon Line to Understand the Soul of a Nation is a complete historical revelation. Imani Perry goes far beyond the historical South, however. She imbues every chapter with personal reflection, social consciousness, culture, and brilliant depth. Perry regionally travels through the South and supports her thesis that the South isn’t isolated in its pain, discrimination, racism, influence, but the South is in many ways the roots of America.
Summary: Imani Perry peels the layers back of each Southern region, state, and several notable cities. She covers the monumental issues of race, class, gender, oppression, music, food, and sociology through her impeccable research and moving prose. The depth of knowledge, wisdom, observation, and witness Perry espouses is more than I was ready for.
Personally, this is the first book I have read about the South that made me feel seen, that made me nod my head in agreement, that made me cringe with discomfort, and that made me feel so understood. I have lived in Louisiana 36 of my 41 years, and this book elucidated so much of what I didn’t know and crystallized what I already knew. As a student of history and literature, this book was a marvel for me. There’s just so much I want to say. It blew me away.
A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw
What a fascinating escape! A History of Wild Places is a mystery, a love story, an idealistic fantasy, and a thriller all in one. This novel surprised me. I wasn’t expecting much, and so the journey was even more pleasing! My best friend gifted me this, and she knew exactly what I needed to read. This book grabbed me and would not let go, truly captured me, which is ironic in a sense.
Summary: Travis Wren finds people. Through his special gift, he can touch objects and see images of people, after images, he calls them. He sets out to find Maggie St. James, a missing children’s author who vanished into the woods five years earlier. Travis follows Maggie’s tracks and disappears as well. Two years later, Theo, a villager in an off-the-grid commune, finds Travis’ truck, and the discovery will unravel the world that he loves. The peaceful community of Pastoral is not what it seems, and Theo is going to uncover what’s hidden.
Beautiful writing about nature and wilderness makes this twisty thriller a gentle ride that accelerates into something else entirely. I escaped into these pages, and the wildness got me, too. Loved it. Incredibly entertaining and made me gasp!