What’s on your bookshelf?

One of the things on my list for my retirement has been to read more books. And then I happened upon a post from a blog that I follow entitled “what’s on your bookshelf”. It’s a regular monthly post amongst several bloggers who love to read and anyone can join in so I thought I’d log the books I’ve read in the last month and hope to keep it up regularly. As I like to say “a ver lo que pasa” (we’ll see what happens). Good intentions and all that.

And I managed to start this for the March date but never finished so I’m just going to add onto that half-finished post to make it for the April date. And now I know to start this as soon as I finish a book. Because I’m finding that I’m forgetting things about a couple of weeks after finishing a book.

First up, I finally read For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. Hubby and I watched the PBS series in 2021 which inspired me to want to read this book in particular because it takes place in Spain. Hubby got a paperback for me that Christmas, I read the first chapter and never got back to it. I did enjoy the book and I’m glad to have finally read it. It paints a realistic picture of a small piece of the Spanish Civil War. The story takes place over about a week I believe. And of course I knew how the war turned out so I had an inkling it wouldn’t be a happy story, although there were sprinklings of happiness within the story. Another interesting thing is that it appears to have been written with the characters speaking Spanish but you are reading a literal English translation. Por ejemplo (for example), Hemingway writes “the woman of Pablo” to describe Pilar whose partner is Pablo. I’m not sure if they were married but in English we would say “Pablo’s wife” or “Pablo’s partner” or “Pablo’s woman” and not “the woman of Pablo” which is “la mujer de Pablo” in Spanish. There are many of these throughout the book. I’m guessing Hemingway knew Spanish well enough to write the story in this way. Because of this, it was more interesting to me since I speak Spanish. And there are towns in Spain mentioned in the book that I have been to, so many memories came flooding back. It also reflects the Spanish people that feels very realistic. Although I enjoyed it, one thing I noticed is that Hemingway goes into a lot of detail. I found myself wishing some sections weren’t so detailed. I guess I prefer a story that moves right along instead of minute details about this, that or the other thing. And that could be a description of Hemingway in my opinion. I’m glad I finally read this book but I’m not terribly anxious to read more Hemingway and I’m likely in the minority. I guess Hemingway just doesn’t capture my attention like other authors do 🤷‍♀️

Next, I read Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman. I had never heard of Maus until it was banned recently in a Tennessee school district and it was in the news. I wanted to see what the hullabaloo was about. Oh, it’s about the Holocaust. So some Tennessee kids can’t learn about the Holocaust which, for a Jewish person, gives me pause. No, it outrages me!! However, because it caught the attention of several major news outlets, sales of Maus soared on Amazon. Banning books makes people want to read them even more so good luck with your ban on books! Maus is the story of Vladek Spiegelman’s survival of the Holocaust in a graphic novel format and it’s in two parts. Vladek is the author’s father. The first six chapters were published in 1986 as the first book, the next book was published in 1991. And in 1992 it became the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize. It’s very well done with the author interspersing conversations with his father while interviewing him for the book within the story itself so there is a little back and forth from past to present. In the 1940s part of the book Jews are depicted as mice, Polish and German people as pigs and cats. It’s also the story of the relationship between father and son. I was amazed at how lucky and clever Vladek Spiegelman was. For example, there is a scene where Jews were being moved and Vladek was put into a train car with too many people. Upon seeing how many people were in the train car he noticed some hooks above his head, so he made himself a hammock out of a blanket he was carrying. He knew he might have gotten crushed, and many did get crushed, and not have survived that ride had he not thought of making that hammock. I would recommend Maus but keep in mind that the horrors of the Holocaust are on full display. It’s important to know this history so that it’s not repeated. We will never forget!!

I read the second March book by John Lewis about his experiences as an activist for voting rights and civil rights. There are three books in the series and I read the first one a while ago so I don’t remember exactly how it starts. I do remember reading some details of John’s early life in the first book but not much else. And similar to the Maus books, some present day events are interspersed throughout, specifically the inauguration day of our first black president Barack Obama. This trilogy gets great reviews and it’s such important history of the United States that even though I haven’t read the third book, I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a firsthand account of this movement in American history.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood has been in my personal library since the late 80s. I bought it for a class I was taking at the time but then I dropped out of the class and I never read the book. I’ve wanted to read it for many years and I finally did! It’s a dystopian tale where women have no rights and are controlled. A somewhat frightening tale of what could happen when rights are taken away. Here in the U.S. we’ve experienced a bit of this with Roe vs. Wade being overturned by the Supreme Court last year. I hope that this has awakened enough people to get out and vote like their lives depend upon it, because they do! It’s another story that goes back and forth between past and present and it’s written in the first person of a handmaid, a young fertile woman who is placed in a Commander’s house for the sole purpose of producing a child. Commanders were in positions of power and the handmaids take on the name of the Commander in the form of “of warren” or Ofwarren. Warren being the name of the Commander. If the handmaid is moved to another household, she takes on the name of that Commander. An absolutely harrowing tale, to say the least.

I’m really enjoying reading other blog posts from other participants. I’ve gotten so many great ideas for books to read from them and many are on my shelf at my local library. The Muse by Jessie Burton is one of those that I read at the end of March. I absolutely loved this story! It’s another that goes back and forth, this time between 1936 and 1967. I knew at the outset that there would be some connection between the two time periods so I wasn’t surprised when that connection was revealed. But there are some twists within the story that left me stunned! One of the reasons I read this book was because of the connection to Spain. The 1936 part of the story takes place in southern Spain, near Málaga, one of my favorite cities in Spain. It takes place just before the start of the Spanish Civil War and it feels like a realistic picture of the way things were. One of the themes has to do with art and a particular painting where the artist’s demise is unknown, until the end. I’m a lover of art museums so this helped keep me intrigued throughout the book. I also learned a few new things about the story behind a painting that takes a central role in the story, and that it was a fairly popular theme for artists. Towards the end of the book it mentions that, Goya one of my all-time favorite artists, also painted this scene and the painting, Saints Justa and Rufina, is in the Prado in Madrid. I will have to look for that painting when next I’m in Madrid. I love when a story so engages you that you’re sorry to see it end. This is what happened when I finished The Muse. I actually cried at the end! Do read it if you get the chance.

I just finished The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich this week! I see Louise Erdrich in local media a great deal and her books are prominently displayed in bookstores here in the twin cities. I read about this book when it was published in 2020. I’m always interested to learn about various cultures and when I read that the story centered around Native Americans, I knew I wanted to read it. It shows how Native Americans lived in the 50s in the upper midwest. It centers around two main characters, Thomas and Patrice. Thomas is the night watchman at the jewel-bearing plant as well as the tribal chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota, of which the author is a member. His character is based on Louise’s grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, who was also a night watchman. As tribal chairman Thomas is fighting federal legislation that would move the Chippewa off their land and to some unknown place. Patrice is an employee at the jewel-bearing plant (built just outside the reservation) and Thomas’s niece. She is the sole breadwinner for her family and through her life you get the sense of how her family lived on the reservation in North Dakota. I don’t recall if her age is revealed but I would guess about 19-20. The book was a bit slow to start as all the characters are introduced but I was really engaged in the story after those first several chapters. A main theme is how Thomas gathers data and signatures to fight this new legislation, similar to what Louise’s grandfather did. In the afterword section Louise writes this at the very end: Lastly, if you should ever doubt that a series of dry words in a government document can shatter spirits and demolish lives, let this book erase that doubt. Conversely, if you should be of the conviction that we are powerless to change those dry words, let this book give you heart. This was my first book by this author and it left me wanting to read more by her and, in fact, I’ve already placed two more of her books on my shelf for later at my library. Excellent read and highly recommended 👍

I’m currently reading This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel, another that I learned of from the “what’s on your bookshelf” bloggers. This one grabbed my attention from the first chapter. I love the way Ms. Frankel writes.

Speaking of getting ideas of books to read, my spot for A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman is now 19. I started at 49 over a month ago and there are 17 copies in circulation in my local library system. Popular book! I read about this one via the group of bloggers who love to read and post about the books they’ve read once a month. Looking forward to reading that one too.

Credit for my featured image: Photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash


Filed under What's on your bookshelf

12 responses to “What’s on your bookshelf?

  1. You’ve been busy! I still haven’t found time to read in my retirement.

    • I learned something interesting recently about the light from devices keeping you awake. So, I usually shut down my devices a couple hours before bedtime and read books instead. And I don’t usually have issues falling asleep any more.

  2. Ann Sather

    Thanks for the comments and suggestions, Toby! ” The Night Watchman” is currently on my bookshelf and I’ll need to move it up in the queue, based on your review. I’m in the middle of reading “The Brother Gardeners” by Andrea Wulf, the story of how 6 men created the modern garden and changed the horticultural world in the process. Another fascinating and timely book is “Bringing Nature Home” by Douglas Tallamy, whose message is that gardeners can sustain wildlife with native plants.
    Happy reading and gardening!

    • I’m so glad I finally read a Louise Erdrich book! And I picked a good one to start. I hope you like it! Thanks also for your suggestions. Those look interesting too 👍

  3. I can’t believe I’ve never read some of these… especially For Whom the Bell Tolls. You’re an inspiration. (I could not do The Handmaid’s Tale. It gave me panic attacks.)

    • Oh gosh, thanks! I think it took me 3 weeks to read For Whom the Bell Tolls. Not light reading that one. I get it about The Handmaid’s Tale. I had a sort of similar experience when I attempted to read Night by Elie Wiesel. Maybe I should try again since I managed to get through Maus from the same era. Thanks for looking and commenting!

  4. Jo

    This is a really eclectic mix and I love how you have some classics in there. I can’t believe I’ve never read any Ernest Hemingway and from the same I can’t believe files, I can’t believe a school district in Tennesee can ban a book like Maus. Thanks for linking up.

    • Yea Tennessee….they’ve been in the news a lot lately! And, Florida and Texas are much worse in terms of freedom. Hard to believe we live in 2023 and this stuff is going on…..Thanks for your comment!

  5. I enjoyed The Night Watchman too, but her latest work The Sentence is even better.

  6. What a great list of books and i’m so pleased you’ve joined our linkup Tobyo! The Handmaid’s Tale is horrific isn’t it? Good on you for looking into the book that was banned, how dare they do that sort of thing and I’m pleased that sales have gone wild! Hope to see you next month and happy reading :)

    • How dare they indeed. And it’s not just Tennessee. World gone crazy!! And even though I know a lot about the Holocaust, I learned even more about it from Maus. Plus, I like learning about the authors and Art Spiegelman is very accomplished! To think, he might never have been born…..Thanks for looking and commenting, I appreciate it 👍

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