Books read in April 2019

This wasn’t my best month ever for reading. I abandoned some books, including a few I thought (hoped?) I might like. But I did make it through these!

Dreyer’s English, by Benjamin Dreyer

Benjamin Dreyer is the long-time copy chief of Random House. He’s worked with a great number of manuscripts over the years, trying to ensure (not insure) proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Note my serial comma in that last sentence. This is a (mostly) humorous guide to getting all that right. You have my permission to skim parts (the section on correct spellings of proper nouns drags) but I particularly enjoyed Dreyer’s internal struggle between holding the line on the use of “they” for the singular (instead of “he,” or “he/she,” or alternating, or re-using the person’s name or…) and then having a non-binary colleague who requested “they.” Grammar is fraught stuff.

Lessons from Lucy, by Dave Barry

I’ve read most of humorist Dave Barry’s non-fiction, and so I knew I’d enjoy this too. Barry writes about why his old dog, Lucy, seems so happy, and what he hopes to learn from her as he crosses 70. Parts are ridiculous and laugh-out-loud funny, but the epilogue kind of punched me in the stomach, and NOT for the obvious reason you might guess in a book about a senior pet.

Daily Rituals: Women at Work, by Mason Currey

I know a lot of readers of this blog read Currey’s previous book on the daily rituals of artists in general. After writing that book, Currey made the belated discovery that the vast majority of the people he profiled were men. So this book aims to diversify the record with dozens of vignettes on artists’ daily habits and work styles. My take-away is that it really varies. We all love the tale of the sculptor doing her best work at 2 a.m., but there are also artists who drop their kids off at school, head to the studio, and come home for dinner. This book delves into issues of personal life management in a way that the male-focused book doesn’t as much. I definitely appreciated the vignette of Susan Sontag saying she “warmed” for her son, rather than cooked.

The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This charming children’s story centers on a downed airman who meets a little prince visiting from another planet. The prince tells of his travels, with various insights into human nature gained along the way. Then he disappears as suddenly as he comes. I have a goal to some day read this in the original French. Theoretically that should be possible, what with my umpteen years of high school/college French, and the fact that it’s a children’s book, but given how sad my French always turns out to be when I am in France, we shall see.

K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, by Tyler Kepner

I’m not a baseball fanatic. I make it to a Phillies game once a year or so. But I really enjoyed this book, which documents the ten major kinds of pitches, the physics of each, and the larger-than-life baseball personalities who threw them. I now know why pitchers like scuffed balls (and why opposing teams often demand they get turned in if they bounce much in the dirt at home plate), and how a swift fastball can be good for a young pitcher, but the guys who stick around tend to diversify their rep into slower-yet-trickier material. Also, how you cheat. There has always been a reasonable amount of this in baseball!

You Learn by Living, by Eleanor Roosevelt

A number of readers had suggested I check out Eleanor Roosevelt’s self-help book (she wrote an advice column for years). There’s nothing terribly profound in here, though she addresses that critique in her epilogue with a vignette noting that if anyone followed the top 50 clichés of a culture, they’d have the happiest life ever. In any case, there were some good lines on time and life in general. Also, the next time someone tells me that email has changed everything about how we spend our days, I’ll note Roosevelt’s lament about correspondence dogging her on her travels: “No matter where I go I am followed by the mail. On my return I am swamped for some days and have to spend far more hours at my desk.” Just like folks digging out of email after vacation. People have always felt overwhelmed!

What was on your list this month?

In other news: Please add Juliet’s School of Possibilities to your TBR list! It’s a quick read, but I think it’s a good one 🙂 Ordering information on this page.

Photo: We won this Little Prince basket at the preschool silent auction.

15 thoughts on “Books read in April 2019

  1. This month was a busy, busy month of reading.

    I read The Library Book by Susan Orlean. Loved, loved, loved this book. I can’t remember if you’d already read this one @Laura? Probably my favourite book so far in 2019.

    Last night I finished The Bright Hour, a memoir written by Nina Riggs as she was dying of breast cancer (I preferred When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, which I’ve now read three times), but this was also a thought-provoking read. I made the mistake of starting this memoir at bedtime, and it was not light reading for pre-bedtime wind-down (so I followed up by re-reading a chapter from Off the Clock to balance it out!).

    I read Pollyanna with my 8-year old – a first for me, and truly a classic. Also Charlotte’s Web. Again, a first for me?! How is that possible.

    I read Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup, about a widow who becomes a chaplain for the Maine Game Warden Service. It was okay.

    The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee, about her escape from North Korea.

    Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan, which had some epically hilarious parts.

    Meet the Frugralwoods by Elizabeth Willard. I love being frugal, but actually found myself getting frustrated with some of her reasoning and tactics. Not sure why this one rubbed me the wrong way.

    The Sound of Music by Julia Hirsch, because I’m on a Julie Andrews kick (last month I re-read her autobiography called Home, which is an amazing memoir).

    Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours by Nick Littlehales, which discusses approaching sleep in 90-minute cycles. There was some really interesting research in here, though with 2 young kids, I haven’t actually applied too many of his suggestions.

    The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner. I feel like I’m behind the curve getting to this one. I found the first 2/3 of the book dragged a bit and then BOOM – I got hit by a curveball I didn’t see coming. Heartwrenching.

    Maid by Stephanie Land, which recounts her experience living below the poverty line.

    Material World by Peter Menzel. This is a photo-book (quite dated now), but it depicts families outside their homes with ALL their possessions. It is sobering to consider the sheer amount of “stuff” I have, even as a minimalist.

    1. @Elisabeth – I remember reading about that Peter Menzel book when it came out – maybe Time magazine did a spread with some of his photos? I can’t imagine volunteering to be part of that book!

    2. I second the recommendation for The Library Book. I far prefer fiction to non-fiction, so when I say that this non-fiction book was one of my recent favourites, it means I really enjoyed it. Laura, I can see this book being up your alley. (Don’t be turned off by the fact that it’s a Reese’s Book Club suggestion 🙂 )

  2. The Little Prince is one of my favourite books!

    This month I really enjoyed The Small Rain and A Severed Wasp, both by Madeleine L’engle. I have read A Wrinkle in Time (and the rest of the Time series) by her, and these two books are a complete departure from their YA Sci-fi style. The Small Rain was one of her first books to be published (in between the world wars) and I felt this was obvious in the sometimes clunky dialogue, and then A Severed Wasp was (I think) one of her final books – they have the same main character, but 50 years apart.

    I’ve just started reading The Dry – based in a drought ravaged town in outback Australia. Not my usual style of book (it’s a thriller), but it gets rave reviews and I think it’s nice to branch out sometimes!

    1. @Tyra – I have held off on re-reading A Wrinkle in Time – I think I really liked it as an elementary school student, but I’ve found that with many books I liked then…my tastes have changed. Sometimes it’s easier just to let things be and keep the happy feeling. Though maybe people can tell me I’m wrong about the book!

      1. I recently re-read A Wrinkle in Time and The House with a Clock in Its Walls, two of my childhood favorites. I still liked both although my adult mind was surprised by how (relatively) simple the plots seemed (compared to what I thought when I read the books as a kid).

  3. When you read Le Petit Prince, or El Principito for that matter, you could cheat and have the English translation next to it, because somehow they got the page breaks, and some line breaks, to match. Also, whenever I wonder whether to use the imperfect tense, I think of of the opening phrase “Lorsque j’avais 6 ans”.

    To Elisabeth who commented above, the audiobook of “Home” is read in Julie’s lovely, mellifluous voice. It’s like sinking into a comfortable chair.

    1. @Barbara – that does seem like it might work to have them right next to each other. Another thought I had was listening to the audio book in French, with the English translation in front of me. Might work!

  4. Dreyer’s writing style is a little pedantic and stuffy for someone who worked so long as a copy-editor, but he’s right about split infinitives, prepositions at the ends of sentences (both are OK), and the serial comma (!), so I like him. You’d be amazed at how many people still think it’s *incorrect* to place a preposition at the end of a sentence. (Or maybe you wouldn’t.)

  5. Brought back memories of Le Petit Prince which we had to read in our senior French class. I really loved it and was proud of myself for reading it in French. I reread A Wrinkle in Time to my children, so I could appreciate how exciting/fascinating it seemed to them, but found it lacking the magic I had seen as a child. And then the movie…UGH.

  6. I’ve actually done well in April, probably bc we were on vacation for 1.5 weeks during that month! A few books I’ve loved recently: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch; Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penney; The Library Book by Susan Orlean (as per my earlier comment) and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. But by far the most life-changing book I have read in a long time is The Choice by Edith Eva Eger. She’s a Holocaust survivor, and this story is part memoir (and hard to read at times) but more so a love letter to the strength of the human spirit and overcoming adversity. I cannot say enough about it. It’s a slim and very powerful read. I recommend it to everybody. (She’s 91 years old and still practicing as a psychologist in clinical practice. An amazing woman.)

  7. Remarkably, four of the books on your list were already on my to-be-read list, and now I’m thinking about reading the one about baseball, because I like the sport and my father and my son both played it. I’ve already read the Little Prince in English, but now I want to read it in French. I have the same issue with the language though. I brought home a children’s book from a trip to France last year, and it is sloowww going having to translate phrases that don’t make sense when you read the individual words!

    My favorite reads in April were James Clear’s Atomic Habits, Ann Barry’s At Home in France, and Katherine Arden’s The Girl in the Tower (the second book of a trilogy–I’m reading the third book now).

  8. I didn’t know there was a new Daily Rituals book, so I’ll look forward to reading that. Roosevelt is on my Kindle too. I re-read a couple of childhood classics, plus Help Me! (thought-provoking account of a year of self help projects) plus Essentialism, which made me accept I have my fingers in too many pies!

  9. Just bought the baseball book for my father in law- thanks! He’s so tough to buy for.

    I read Juliette’s School of Possibilities and loved it. So fun. I also read “Before We Were Yours” which I really enjoyed, although it was highly disturbing that it was based on true atrocities in the 40s with children being essentially abducted and “sold” in adoptions. Still a good read.

    I am actually reading the original Dr Spock child rearing book. I’ve got to say…a lot of it makes total sense and some of it is just crazy. It’s really fun to read! Makes me appreciate how easy it is to do things like make a bottle when I see the tables and charts about how to make baby formula back then!

    1. @Riley- so glad you enjoyed Juliet! And I think your father-in-law will love K. It’s a good baseball read!

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