June Wrap-Up // 2021

June By the Numbers:

  • Total Books Read: 9
  • Audiobooks: 1
  • Five Star Reads: 1
  • Goodreads Shelf: 69/125 (55%)
  • Unread Shelf: 3 (33%)
  • Nonfiction Challenge: 7/12
  • Books by BIPOC Authors: 3 (33%)
  • By Women Authors: 6 (67%)
  • Diverse Books: 5 (56%)
  • Nonfiction Reads:  3 (33%)
  • Debuts: 3 (33%)
  • Published in 2021: 5 (56%)

Favorite Book of the Month:

Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi

I was immediately struck by the writing of this book. It’s succint, profound, and lyrical, forcing me to read passages slowly to soak in the beauty. Sitara is the lone survivor in a military coup against Afghanistan’s president in 1978. For whatever reason, one of the military guards has mercy on Sitara and smuggles her out to an American diplomat who eventually adopts and raises her in America. Flash forward to NYC in 2008 where Sitara (but now known as Aryana) is a successful surgeon. On a chance encounter, she comes face to face with her past and, once again, her world is flipped upside down. I enjoyed learning about Kabul and the history of Afghanistan. This book felt like I took a journey and I came out on the otherside better for having took it!

Honorable Mentions:

  • * Rock the Boat by Becky Dorey-Stein – This is the perfect summer read as it takes place over the summer months in the coastal town of Sea Point, New Jersey. I loved the complicated characters and revisiting the past to understand the future. While I didn’t particulaly like two out of the three main characters, there was enough growth and interest to keep me reading. By the end, they all won me over and I really appreciated this “quieter” novel.
  • * What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins – After reading the first chapter, I thought I was in for a fast-paced book, but it’s definitely more of a slow burn. It took me a minute to get into this one, but once I finally did, I really enjoyed it. It’s an intense exploration of some really tough topics: murder/suicide; abandonment; trauma; abuse; and grief; but also, forgiveness, strength, forgiveness, and survival. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I LIVE for books that hit me straight in the gut. Books that make me want to weep and throw them across the room. They dig into my soul, and then stick with me forever. I think that’s how I’m going to feel about this one for a really long time.

For Fans Who Appreciate a Nonfictional + Fictional Pairing:

  • * All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks – This is an incredible memoir – one of the best I’ve ever read. Not only do I admire Burks for her work within the AIDS context, but I was beyond impressed with her resilience, determination, and attitude in the face of so many challenges. During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s was handled. Not only were many queer people shunned from their families and loved ones, but then we had a government that refused to acknowledge what was happening in regards to HIV and AIDS. Queer people were left to die alone, stripped of their dignity and without an ounce of love or compassion from so many in the medical fields. Thank goodness for people like Ruth Coker Burks…a woman who selflessly inserted herself into a crisis with her whole heart and soul. What was a chance encounter with a gay man on his death bed in a hospital that treated him like a leper, turned into a calling that changed Burks’ life forever. She became a tireless advocate for people with AIDS; she loved them when no one else would, she gave them dignity in their death, and she advocated for the entire community to help them get funds and resources.
  • * The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara – Loosely based on the documentary, Paris is Burning, Joseph Cassara takes on the NYC world of 1980s ball culture. I had no idea what that meant before this book, but it was when queer people of color competed in fierce drag queen competitions. As AIDS began to ravage the community, they built homes of chosen family – places where they could feel love and acceptance, and where they were free to be who they wanted to be. It’s heart-wrenching and difficult to read at times, and I felt this overwhelming sense of despair. There are themes of abusive parents, drugs, rape, HIV/AIDs infections, and discrimination against queer people. But depsite those tough topics, Cassara also breathes an incredible amount of life into his characters. They persevere and provide the love and hope to each other that they are missing from their biological families. This book had so much potential, but ultimately it did fall a little flat for me.

For Fans of Memoir:

  • What We Carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang – When Lang is older and has a daughter of her own, her mother’s mental health takes a sharp decline. Eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, this was a part of the story that was hard for me to read. My own grandma has also been lost to us, and it is one of the hardest and saddest things I’ve ever had to witness. I appreicated this part book for helping add understanding to what I see with my grandma and also for showing me what may still be in our future.

For Fans of Books That Explore Complicated Relationship Dynamics:

  • Seven Days in June by Tia Williams – This is different than a typical romance – there are a lot of complex issues explored and I enjoyed reading it! I really liked the characters and rooted for Shane and Eva from the first page. Their rekindled romance is complicated from a past of misunderstandings and unknown circumstances. Throughout the pages, we come to see what split them apart all those years ago, while also rooting for them to be able to find forgiveness to move forward together.

For Fans of Investigative Journalism:

  • 🎧 Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe – For me, this book was compelling. However, I’m well aware of the profit-driven pharmaceutical companies, so for me, this wasn’t overwhelmingly new information. I learned a lot about the Sackler family specifically which was horrifying and interesting at the same time. I’m never sure why I’m surprised what a driving force money can be, but there is always that part of me that wonders if the people are intentionally blind and dismissive of their actions, or if they’re truly ignorant of their impact. After listening to this, I think it’s fair to say that their bottom dollar is much more important than their moral obligations to society. If you’re new to the concept of Big Pharma and the corruption within some medical communitites, this would be a wonderful addition to your TBR. If you’re somewhat familiar with the issues but would like to learn more about the Sackler family, definitely pick this one up. If you’re very familiar, this is a very loooong book and I think you’d be okay to skip it!

For Fans of Modern Classics:

  • *Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – There are so many interesting themes in this book – decolonization, religion, African identity, etc – but at its heart is the clash of cultures. As history seems to show, Western civilization feels it’s their job to assert their cultures and ideas upon many others, and Achebe brilliantly shows the other side of this perspective. Considering this was the 50th anniversary edition of this book, Western intervention still has a long ways to go. There are many opportunities here for rich discussion, so if you can find some friends that are up for a buddy read, this would be a great selection!

(Debuts denoted by *)

Unread Shelf Update:

I actually eliminated quite a few books from my shelves last month, so as of the end of June, the total number of physical books on my shelves is: 224.

If you’d like to participate in the Unread Shelf Project, head over to Whitney’s blog for more information!

June Posts:

3 thoughts on “June Wrap-Up // 2021

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