I read some very rich books this month. The memoirs I devoured were two of my favorite memoirs ever, and reading my first book by Maggie O'Farrell was an indescribable pleasure.
This Must be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell: Adrift from his children in the states, Daniel has a new family in Ireland but is called back to America for an emergency. When it's time for making his way back to Ireland and back to his ex-movie star wife who fled her celebrity life years before, the journey proves difficult as Daniel grapples with memories and mistakes from his past that have the potential to sink his future.
There aren't words to describe how affected I was by this book. I still think about it daily, and O'Farrell caused me to care about each of these character's fates to a point where I feel like they are actually real people walking around somewhere in the world. Not overly sentimental but still heartbreaking at times, this book still manages to be funny. I plan on reading more of O'Farrell's books because This Must be the Place made me a forever fan.
We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge: The Freemans move to the Toneybee Institute to teach Charlie, a chimp, how to use sign language. They are immersed in this experiment, a black family in the early 1990s, and are supposed to treat Charlie like a member of the family. However, the Toneybee Institute has a questionable past, and when that is brought to light through flashbacks and discovery, the entire situation starts coming apart at the seams.
Greenidge does a wonderful job of creating a story that encompasses large themes, mainly race, while also making the core of the book about family, betrayal, and what happens when we don't know how to use the languages we know to properly communicate the truth to each other.
We Are Unprepared by Meg Little Riley: I wasn't overly crazy about the writing in this one, probably because I read it during a month when I was drowning in elegant, precise words. However, I enjoyed the story of a couple who move from their lives in New York to live more organically in Vermont. Their plans go awry when a super storm is predicted to change the landscape of the planet for good.
Riley did a good job of showing how people break into factions and fear is just as dangerous as anything Mother Nature can unleash. She also presents a scary view of the possibilities if the climate continues to change and all the predicted destruction occurs.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: Paul Kalanithi planned his career as a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist meticulously before being interrupted by cancer at the age of 36. Suddenly unaware of how long he had left to live, Kalanithi had a chance to further analyze a question that had haunted him all of his life: what do we live for, and what makes it worthwhile?
This book is beautiful, almost poetic, but it isn't overly sentimental. Kalanithi shares his experience of going from a doctor to a patient and from having his whole life planned out to not knowing if he would be alive months down the road. The wisdom he gleaned from the experience is valuable to us and will be part of Kalanithi's legacy now that he's gone.
I'm Supposed to Protect You From All This by Nadja Spiegelman: Spiegelman is the daughter of Art Spiegelman, the award-winning author of Maus, a graphic novel about his parents time in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. His daughter, Nadja, is talented in her own right, and her debut book broke my heart and made me reflect on the complicated relationships we often have with the women in our families.
Spiegelman interviewed her mother Francoise Mouly, a famous editor and publisher who has worked for The New Yorker, about her life, and what she found helped shape their relationship and also led her back to her grandmother, who told sometimes contradictory stories to those that Francoise shared.
This entire narrative unfolds beautifully under the careful hands of the author, and it makes the reader wonder about memories, perceptions, and the lies we tell ourselves to continue to connect with others.