Margaret Renkl is an opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South for the New York Times. In September she wrote about the joy of finding people who love the same books you do. It is a wonderful essay that helps explain why I read…and why I tell you, dear readers, about the books I read.
Each month my goal is to read five books on a variety of topics and from different genres. I read in order to learn and to start conversations with readers and others I encounter along the way. Here are the books I read in September 2022. If you click on the title, you’ll go to the longer post on More to Come. Enjoy!
Bronze Drum (2022) by Phong Nguyen brings to life a true story from ancient Vietnam of two sisters who rise up to lead an army of women, overthrow their hated colonizers. and create an independent nation. Their resistance, which was ultimately defeated by those colonizers, the Han Chinese, nonetheless reflects a fierce desire for independence that the Vietnamese never forgot. Both the French and Americans learned about that desire first-hand almost 2,000 years later. This is a terrific book on multiple levels, with lively writing and vivid descriptions. Most importantly, it shows how a country’s history can be shaped by memory — and the telling and retelling of the stories of the past — until it becomes integral to the present.
Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (2016) by Viet Thanh Nguyen examines the many ways we remember wars and how those memories are shaped through the years. This is a comprehensive look at what Americans call the Vietnam War and what the Vietnamese call the American War that pushes the reader to think beyond simple frames, self-serving myths, and established timelines. To create what he calls “Just” or “Ethical” memories, Nguyen calls for a process of commemoration which remembers one’s own as well as remembers others in a way beyond simply identifying them as “The Other.” The book is Nguyen’s effort to help us construct those just war memories and is as current and important as today’s headlines over who owns and who sets the narrative of American history.
History Myths Exploded: How Some of History’s Biggest Ideas are Wrong (2019), by Christopher R. Fee and Jeffrey B. Webb, describes how much of what the general public knows about history — from the myth of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae to Abraham Lincoln and the freeing of the slaves to the myth of the radical 60s in America — is at best incomplete and at worst wrong. Why is that? Professors Fee and Webb explain that “although most of us recognize the value of good history, we often find truthful accounts of the past, frankly, less than inspiring.” What really excites us? A tale well told.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019) by Ocean Vuong is a stunning piece of writing, especially for a first novel. Vuong has created a letter to his mother, who he knows will probably not be able to read it because of her limited grasp of English. But the work is much more about processing difficult memories, from his childhood in Vietnam to the move with his mother and grandmother to America, to his first love. This is not an easy book to read. The memories are painful yet written with a bluntness that is honest and real. This is a masterful work, very much worth the read.
Time is a Mother (2022) is the second book of poetry by Ocean Vuong. It was written after his mother passed away and he describes the aftershocks from the realization of her death. Time is a Mother is a very intimate book that was challenging for me, as someone who doesn’t read poetry on a regular basis. As others have written, this work embodies “the paradox of sitting within grief while being determined to survive beyond it.”
More to come…
This Weekly Reader features links to recent articles, blog posts, or books that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.