Books I read this week: February week 3

I started a number of books this week that I ended up abandoning, but here’s what I finished this week.

Gather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou is breathtaking. I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in high school and loved it (I should read it again), but I’d never read further into her autobiographies, and now I need to hit the library and binge on the rest of them. Her life is FASCINATING. She was so naive, but so headstrong, and so brave, and she made some colossal mistakes in judgement, but she’s so honest about them. You can definitely see in this book how she learned her two axioms that Oprah lives by- “When you know better, do better”, and “When someone shows you who they really are, believe them”. In this section of her life Maya’s son is kidnapped, she stumbles into owning a whorehouse, and becomes a prostitute herself, for a short while. And she learns and grows and becomes more of herself. It’s really so so good.

Pride and Prejudice  by Jane Austen. This is the first time I’ve read this book, after a lifetime of holding out against it. I actually live blogged my reading experience on Facebook, which was highly amusing to myself (and hopefully to others). There’s a reason why this book is a classic, it’s brilliantly written and bitingly insightful. I’m probably in the minority that prefers the biting insight to the romance at the core of it- I’m actually not a huge fan of Elizabeth Bennet (or really, hardly anyone in the book), and I don’t really think Austen was either. I am honestly a bit puzzled by the obsessions this book has spawned, with so many people writing sequels and things. But, to each their own, I suppose. I did really enjoy it.

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer is a really interesting book. It’s about a 15 year old named Jamaica (Jam) who has been sent to a special school for teenagers with psychological issues. She is dealing (or not dealing) with debilitating depression stemming from grief at the death of her boyfriend. They had 41 days together, and all she wants to do is relive them. She gets selected to be one of 5 students in a Special Topics in English class, and finds herself studying the works of Sylvia Plath with 4 other students struggling to deal with great trauma. Each student is also given a journal, and they soon discover that when they write in the journal, they find themselves in a netherspace where their trauma never occurred. Jam gets to be with Reeve again, her friend Sierra’s brother was never abducted, Casey was never in the accident that paralyzed her. And then, of course, they have to figure out what to do with that, because being in the netherworld doesn’t change anything- they can’t progress there or go anywhere that they didn’t in their original time line. It’s a really interesting look at grief and healing, and Wolitzer does a good job of capturing the vulnerability of kids that age. That feeling of knowing  and being responsible for so much, and yet knowing so very very little at all. There are a  couple of  revelations at the end that I’m still working over; I don’t know that I think they were effective, but I don’t know that I think they weren’t. Anyway, there’s lots in here about the power of words and literature and finding your voice, and it’s worth a read.

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