Wednesday, January 6, 2021

And there was reading in December. . . .

First of all, Happy New Year to all of you! I am so grateful to you for reading and commenting here, and I'm looking forward to another year of sharing booktalk with you.

But I'm not quite done with the Old Year yet, not until I post my December reading. For all its faults (and we know there were many!) 2020 afforded us abundant reading time even if it sometimes sapped our will to turn the pages. . .

In fact, I read enough last year that I had to staple extra pages into my little reading journal.  By next week, I'll post my complete list of Books Read in 2020, but for now, here are

The Books I read in December 2020:

-- Erin Morgenstern's The Starless Sea (fantasy, contemporary romance/adventure, NYC, LGBTQ)
-- Ali Smith's Summer (literary fiction, Britain)
-- Jess Kidd's Himself (fantasy/supernatural, mystery, comedy of manners, Ireland)
-- Clare Beams's The Illness Lesson (literary fiction, historical fiction, feminist, gothic, New England)
-- André John Talley, The Chiffon Trenches (memoir, fashion/style, Black lives, LGBTQ)
-- John Banville, Snow (literary fiction, police procedural/mystery, social commentary, Ireland)
-- Ocean Vuong's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous (autofiction, epistolary novel, coming-of-age, US immigration, poverty, sexuality, LGBTQ, bereavement, love)
-- Stephanie Butland's The Lost for Words Bookshop (romance, mystery, light reading, book world)
-- Anthony Horowitz's Magpie Murders (mystery, female detective, book world)


The challenging conditions of 2020 must have something to do with why I've read so much more fantasy this year than is my wont.  If ever there were a year for fiction that transports us to worlds with different possibilities. . .  And oh, does Erin Morgenstern create such a world, one which her characters can enter through doors from this one. . . It's a world of stories, a world in which words create and are created.  Below, a photo of the relevant page from my Reading Journal with my scrawled jottings. . . . Instagram post here.  (Did you ever read Morgenstern's earlier fantasy novel, The Night Circus? I did, back in 2011 when I wrote a few words about it here. Recommended)
Next title I read in December hews much more closely to 2020's unpleasant reality, but in Summer, the last volume of her seasonal quartet, Ali Smith imagines, if not fantasizes about, the possibilities for hope. Connections between characters; resonances between Nazism in the '30s and 40's and the current rise of fascism or, at least, right-wing intolerance of immigrants and the incarceration of refugees in Britain; relationships between older characters with lifetimes of social justice and environmental activism and the young characters--wavering between despair and an angry determination to bring change-- they inspire.  There's a particularly beautiful letter -- describing swifts -- written by a teenaged girl to a heroic refugee she's heard of, a man who's being held indefinitely in a detention centre where he can barely catch glimpses of the sky.  . .  (I wrote briefly about Smith's early volumes in this series: Autumn, Winter, Spring).  
And see my Instagram post here.
I borrowed three of the four seasons from our library (and bought a hardcover copy of Spring), but I think I'll pick up the other three in paperback, perhaps checking used bookstores for them. These will definitely repay a second reading. So much wordplay and literary allusion -- and references to art and personalities that I'd like to find out more about. If you haven't read these yet, I'd suggest beginning where Smith did, in Autumn. And let me know what you think, would you?

Next up in December was Jess Kidd's Himself.  . . Perhaps, if 2020 hadn't been the year that it was, I might more wisely have paced myself with the Jess Kidd oeuvre after my daughter passed along her copy of Things in Jars (my brief scribbled notes here).  As it is, I'm all finished now and must wait patiently for this wildly imaginative and entertaining writer to deliver another novel. (I'm hoping she'll follow up with a second adventure for Victorian detective Bridie Devine.) 


All three of her novels (I mentioned Mr. Flood's Last Resort here) feature some supernatural elements, a touch -- or more! -- of the Gothic, but they  all take place in concretely detailed, satisfyingly identifiable "real-world" settings.  There are adventurous, near-death shenanigans in all of them, mysteries to solve, and characters to love (a few to despise as well). Read them in any order -- I seem to have gone backwards in her catalogue -- but perhaps stretch them out more thoughtfully (less greedily!) than I did. Have fun! Click here to see my Instagram post.

A different kind of Gothic in Clare Beams's The Illness Lesson to which I was initially drawn by having seen Michelle Kingdom's deliciously embroidered cover art. (See more of Kingdom's work by  going to my IG post about this book and clicking on @michelle.kingdom within that post. Or simply go to IG and enter her name in search feature.)

Beams's novel fits well within a tradition of the gothic genre used to critique patriarchal societies.  . . and while it has a very different energy than Jess Kidd's Things in Jars, they "read well together" in looking at the ways science and education have supported patriarchal values. . . and the way their female protagonists subvert that alliance by finding agency in their knowledge of science, their own education. . . 


and then a change of pace with influential, even iconic, American fashion journalist André Leon Talley's memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, which I gobbled up in an e-book borrowed from Vancouver Public Library.
I thought that John Banville's Snow, ostensibly a police procedural set in County Wexford, rural Ireland, would have been an entertaining and very well-written bit of escape reading. And it is, except that the mystery is solved when we're taken to a dark core of horror covered over by Church-governed Irish politics of mid-20th-century -- which must surely have some continuity into the present.

Another book I borrowed from the library but now need to own a copy of is Ocean Vuong's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous. Beautiful, lyrical, painful, powerful, even a redemptive manifesto of sorts. A young Vietnamese immigrant to the US, Little Dog, racialized, stigmatized by poverty, writes a letter -- as an adult, a writer, a university graduate who teaches in a prestigious graduate writing program -- to his mother who may or not be able to read.  Language alienates them, then, as language alienates Rose from her adoptive country. But the novel celebrates language while it manifests the alienation, celebrates it as tool, as joy. Vuong/Little Dog doesn't flinch from describing his abuse at Rose's hands but is also compassionately observant about her fierce care, her limited opportunities, the abuse she experienced, the effects of the Vietnam war. . .   He writes to her about his first love, doomed by boyfriend Trevor's addictions.  His intimately detailed, corporeal, lyrical, almost rigorously analytical descriptions of the way their bodies join -- while their identities and/or their minds or spirits both do and do not merge as expected -- remind me of the equally bold and vulnerable descriptions of (lesbian) sex in Carmen Machado's In the Dream House.  Highly recommended.
My IG post here.




And finally, I closed out the month and the year with two lighter books. . . . 
both thoroughly engaging and just right for reading all day on the couch while it rains or snows out the window (we're still waiting for snow here -- ours tends to fall more in February -- but oh, we have enough rain to float an ark or three. . . )

There! Posting this today, I believe I've got December's post up more quickly than any other month's. That's because I need to work on my List of Books Read in 2020 which I'll try to have up by next week.  I'm trying to choose a Top Five . . . or maybe a Top Ten? And also trying to decide if I might try to do some Top Titles in a few different genres as well. I don't want to get too complicated because meanwhile, of course, I'm already reading January's books and beginning my 2021 Reading Journal. Thinking of what I want to do differently here and/or on Instagram. . . Even debating a return to a single blog (folding these posts into Materfamilias Writes), since I'm now consistently doing a single monthly Books post.  Your feedback on this and, as always, on any of the book entries in this post are very welcome. I'm also keen to know the best books you've read lately (you're the reasons I can never keep up with my TBR list, and I call that a good thing!). . . and also to know what books you've started the year with. I've missed our chats.
xo,
f

Saturday, December 12, 2020

November Reading -- and Book Chat to See the Year Out

 My November reading didn't begin as auspiciously as did recent months', but it was full of gems nonetheless. Here's the list: 

-- Terry Hayes' I Am Pilgrim (international political thriller)

-- Elif Batuman's The Idiot (literary fiction; coming-of-age)

-- Elizabeth Acevedo's The Poet X (literary fiction; novel in free verse; YA novel; coming-of-age)

-- Abi Daré's The Girl with the Louding Voice (literary fiction; coming-of-age; set in Nigeria)

-- Edna O'Brien's Girl (literary fiction; coming of age; set in Nigeria)

-- Thomas Perry's A Small Town (thriller)

-- Christobel Kent's A Murder in Tuscany (mystery; armchair travel)

-- Emma Donoghue's Akin (literary fiction; road trip/travel)

--Louise Erdrich's The Night Watchman (literary fiction; historical fiction; Native American/indigenous history).

-- Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret (children's literature; set in Paris; historical fiction;  picture book/graphic novel)

The first book I picked up in November got put down after 85 pages. Certainly gripping (and very graphic!) and promised to be entertaining, but I just realized I've no patience for books featuring Muslim terrorists and American undercover operatives.  I find it an over-used and corrosive narrative, and there are so many other books. . . 

So the first book I started and finished in November, #69 in my Reading Journal, was Elif Batuman's The Idiot.  The novel is narrated by the protagonist, a young Turkish-American women at Harvard in the '90s. Stylistically interesting, with many truly amusing observations about American academic culture from this young woman's somewhat detached perspective, but I was impatient and skimming by halfway.  




By contrast, Elizabeth Acevedo's The Poet X (my journal entry begins in the photo above, continues below) was a fast and entertaining read, but also thoughtful and nuanced. A YA novel in free verse might sound an unlikely proposition but the book has been very well received. Recommended.
(My Instagram post here.)


Next up, I read two novels about life for girls (become women, far too soon) in Nigeria. British-Nigerian Abi Daré's The Girl with the Louding Voice and Edna O'Brien's Girl.







I found O'Brien's by far the more harrowing of the two  (but an important, if imagined, testimony, and beautifully written, carefully researched) with its narrative of a schoolgirl kidnapped by Boko Haram, held by them for months, tortured, raped, forced into marriage. . . and then after she manages to escape, must confront her family, community, and nation's response to her as somehow contaminated by and even complicit with the rebel soldiers. . .  Daré's protagonist suffers forced marriage (legalized rape in an abusive household) and then extended servitude and more abuse after she escapes.  Both novels are well worth reading, despite the horrors they represent, not only to broaden our knowledge of Africa, to offer some solidarity to the victims in our witnessing of their stories. . . but also because both offer scenes of beauty and friendship, humanity and resilience, possibilities for resisting and persisting.

(My Instagram post about these two.)
#73 on my year's reading list was a palate cleanser after the two "witnessing" novels. Nothing like a spate of fictional thriller murders to lighten the spirit. . . . #kiddingnotkidding. . . Thomas Perry's A Small Town was fast-paced and the premise was intriguing.  And just when there was a chance it might become pedantically formulaic, he changed up the plot. . .  I love Perry's Jane Whitfield series, but A Small Town is a stand-alone title.


And for #74, combining armchair travel with mystery, Christobel Kent's A Fine and Private Place (also marketed as A Murder in Tuscany for those who don't like literary allusions in their murder mystery titles). Very satisfying, but do read A Time for Mourning first. 


More armchair travel as elderly retired chemistry professor takes temporary custody of a great-nephew he's only just learned of. . . in Emma Donoghue's Akin. We've seen and read versions of this basic plot, with too many playing to every cliché. Donoghue keeps it fresh and interesting. . . and the backdrop of Nice plus the investigation of a World War II family mystery help.  (Instagram post about #74 and #75 here.)





Louise Erdrich's The Night Watchman was the book that really shone for me this month, and it's probably in my top three for the year. Not only does it work to illuminate a deliberately obscured chapter in American nation-building, but it's full of wonderful characters and so many hopeful, affirming, human and humane stories.  If you'd like to know more about Native American or First Nations or indigenous culture and history, this novel is a wonderful opportunity. So good. My husband is currently reading it at my urging, and thoroughly enjoying it, as I did. . . Instagram post here.
I'll close November's Reading List with a book I read to my granddaughter (8) on FaceTime over the month. It's a beautiful story (made into the movie Hugo, which you may have seen). . . that folds into its narrative some of film's early history, thus inviting its young readers to imagine a time before they could see their Nana read to them from far away . . . 



Beautiful illustrations to pause and marvel at, as well. Would make a great gift for a young reader, and maybe they'd let you read it to them. . . 

And that's it! Only one month's reading left to post for 2020 and not much more than two weeks in which to do that reading. It's been a strange and challenging year in so many years, and I think we're all pinning big hopes on 2021. But how are you making the most of your last reading days of the year? I'd say most of us have more reading time than we generally do during this (normally) festive season. . . Have you found a few gems to get you through until New Year's Eve? Are you spending some of this end-of-year time thinking back on your favourite books of 2020? Have you some particular wishes for titles you'd like to find under the tree? Or recommendations for books to give (or get) as gifts? Please, have a seat in my Literary Salon and join the conversation in the comments below. I'll bring you a cup of tea or a mug of mulled wine, your choice, and we can chat books until the year is out! 
xo,
f



Wednesday, November 11, 2020

My October Reading

 Time for the monthly reading report. . . . 

October followed September's great reading with another felicitous stack of books.  From my 2020 Reading Journal, these entries:

  • Brit Bennet's The Mothers (literary fiction; coming-of-age; Black writer)
  • Alessandro Baricco's Senza Sangue (Italian literature; literary fiction)
  • Ann Cleeves' The Crow Trap (mystery)
  • Ann Cleeves' Telling Tales (mystery)
  • Magda Szabo's Iza's Ballad (literary fiction; mother-daughter; old age; trans. from Hungarian)
  • Marc E. Agronin's The End of Old Age (creative non-fiction; self-help; pscyhology; aging)
  • John Farrow's Ball Park (mystery; Canadian -- set in Montreal)
  • Kwame Onwuachi's Notes from a Young Black Chef (memoir; Black writer; restaurant culture; anti-racist; food-writing)

First book of the month, #61 in my journal, was Brit Bennet's The Mothers (which I read as an e-book from the Vancouver Public Library).  I recommended Bennet's more recent The Vanishing Half in my September post. I enjoyed The Mothers as well -- was particularly intrigued by the narrative voice, something like a Greek chorus watching from the wings, with a perspective that struck me as both invested and yet somewhat detached.  (My niece, who reads prolifically and posts about it at Pages and Pinots, liked this even more than she liked The Vanishing Half -- see her post about it here.)

Above, and continued below, the entry for Book #62 of the year, the first Italian book I've finished -- Brava Per Me!  

Alessandro Barrico's Senza Sangue -- available in English as Without Blood, and I would recommend it (so did the reviewer at The Guardian). Even with my limited Italian reading ability in Italian, I was mesmerised by the powerful effect of such sparing prose to create clear, even indelible, imagery. (Surprisingly manageable for a first book to read in Italian -- helped that it's a slim book, a novella, only 105 pages.  I posted about it on Instagram as well.


Entries #63 and #64. . . Yes! I finally read Ann Cleeves, and I have no idea why I didn't get here sooner. Early October, a day when I was very reluctantly acknowledging the end of summer, and wanted only to curl up on the couch with a good thick mystery, consolation for a wet grey world just out the window. And Vera Stanhope obliged. . . The Crow Trap was the perfect antidote to my mood, so much so that I followed up with the second title in this series, Telling Tales


Bibliophile's comment: Having a print copy of the book (paperback, borrowed from the library) made my tea-drinking, couch-reading even more satisfying that first day. But I also very much appreciated being able to download an e-copy of the series's second title the very next day. Choices! Gotta love 'em!

(My Instagram post about The Crow Trap here


Entry #65  Magda Szabo's disturbing, poignant, thoughtful novel Iza's Ballad, translated by George Szirtes. 

Someday I'll write a bit about the various paths that lead me to the books I read. . . or bring them to my door.  I'd never heard of Magda Szabo until an interesting woman I've only met on my Zoom screen (in my Italian class) told me about it in one of our "breakout room" chats. Her enthusiasm prompted me to reserve Iza's Ballad at the library. . . From the few reviews I've looked at since reading this novel (here's a good compilation), I think I might have been better to read Szabo's much earlier work, The Door.  And I will, someday, but meanwhile I'm pleased to have been introduced to Szabo's writing. 

Have you read either? So much that is compelling and resonant in Iza's Ballad-- set in the urbanizing, modernizing Hungary of post World-II --about a mother and daughter, both trying to do their best to care for the other after the elderly woman is widowed.  They miss the mark grievously; sometimes love is not enough. (As a residual effect of my teaching years, I often catch myself dreaming up syllabi for possible courses. For example, I might imagine a reading list for a course that explored construction and representation of the mother-daughter relationship; in such a course, I might pair Iza's Ballad with Kyung-Sook Shin's Please Look After Mother (which I mentioned in my May post) as two novels that look at the relationship of an adult daughter with an aging mother.  



Entry 66: Marc E. Agronin's The End of Old Age which I've photographed with Iza's Ballad because they both treat aging, albeit from different perspectives and via different genres.

Entry #67 is another thriller/mystery novel, John Farrow's Ball Park, one of three "prequel" additions to the Èmile Cinq-Mars' series I like so much (character, setting, fine writing, insightful observations about hermeneutics and morality and epistemology as these are manifest in detective work). I wrote a fairly long post here about his earlier book, The Storm Murders.  Ball Park is shorter and lighter than my favourites in the series -- nor does it feature a protagonist my age, part of the appeal with the earlier novels.  I'm happy to have it, nonetheless -- it's interesting to watch Cinq-Mars in his youth, knowing who he will become --  and I'm looking forward to reading the remaining two prequels. 

And then the final book in my October reading . . . .

If part of your anti-racist work includes reading more Black writers across a range of genres and topics, this memoir will instruct and entertain and move you. Even more so if you're a "foodie." 
Some great recipes included in the book as well, and I think it would make a good gift for any of the cooks and gourmands on your list. . . 

But right now, the cook in my life is just plating the chicken cacciatore -- the fragrance of which has been growing increasingly intense as I've been finishing this post.  And my tummy is growling too loudly for me to write any more.  I'll be back before too long, though, to discover what you've been reading. With the increased confinement of this Coronavirus winter, all your recommendations will be welcome to the community of readers who gather here occasionally. Comments below open and waiting for you. Thanks!


Sunday, October 11, 2020

September Reading: So Much Goodness!

 Rainy and windy here in Vancouver today. Perfect weather for curling up with a book, and I have a few good candidates (currently reading Iza's Ballad by Margo Szabó and Marc E. Agronin's The End of Old Age). But those are books I'll tell you about next month. Right now, instead of curling up on the couch with a book, it's time to tell you what I read in September.

I started the month with Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half. Bennett is one of the authors I added to my TBR list after Ibram X Kendi posted about a campaign encouraging readers to buy any two books by Black writers. The goal of the campaign was to "Blackout bestseller lists with Black voices" and thus demonstrate Black power and clout in the publishing industry -- in turn, encouraging the development of more Black writers to all our benefit.  My bookshelves already hold many books by Black and indigenous and Asian writers; reading these has rewarded me richly.  (I suggested some authors you might like to read in my own #BlackPublishingPower post).But most of these fall under the rubric of "literary novels," however elitist or arbitrary that term might be.  In one of my favourite genres -- mystery novels -- Black writers have been sadly under-represented.  (Oyinkan Braithwaite's marvellous My Sister, the Serial Killer a happy exception I posted about here; have you read this yet? You must!)

As it turns out, I was mistaken in thinking that The Vanishing Half was a mystery novel. At least, there's a mystery driving the narrative, as the title hints, but there's certainly no murder to be solved. My friend Sue wrote about reading this book for her Book Club discussion around a campfire last month -- we must have been reading it at the same time.  If I'd been able to pop in, I could have used the notes in my Reading Journal as prompts reminding me of what I might contribute to a conversation.  . .   


Second book of the month: Melissa Harrison's beautifully lyrical and elegiac (perhaps a bit melancholy) At Hawthorne Time. . . Harrison writes nature, particularly English nature, so compellingly, obviously from a foundation of rigorous and loving observation. I would say that if you liked Raynor Winn's The Salt Path you might enjoy Harrison's writing, although Winn's is memoir and Harrison's fiction.  My Reading Journal entry photo is above, #54.

Next, I read Don Gillmor's To the River: Losing My Brother  and wrote a few words about this bereavement memoir in this Instagram post and also in my journal.


Time for a mystery, and the library obliged with Peter Robinson's Careless Love. I still enjoy this series (I think I've fallen one title behind), but as my notes -- see photo above -- indicate, I found myself impatient with Inspector Banks' casual, unconscious sexism, the assumptions he makes about women's motivation, behaviour, thoughts, etc. Glad Robinson includes strong female characters to call Banks on it.

 


. . 

Such a good month for books, a standout being Aysegül Savas' s Walking on the Ceiling (I apologize for not writing the "s"s in her name with their cedillas;  not an option I can see on my MacBook Air). A beautiful novel that will take you to and through the streets of Paris. . . and take you to Istanbul as well. Not as a tourist, though, but as one exploring notions of Longing and Belonging, considering Place and Memory.  I've posted some favourite passages from the book on Instagram

And I loved this interview of Savas by Catherine Lacey. What a wonderful conversation about fiction-writing in general although seen through the focus on Walking on the Ceiling.  Here's an excerpt from Lacey's introduction to the novel :  "The book’s sensitivity never veers into the saccharine; it is tender without being too self-enamored. I feel that all dyed-in-the-wool readers, lonely in some intractable core of ourselves, crave books like this, books that walk along side us, books that are companions of contemplation, not distractions from life but magnifying lenses for it."

September kept delivering! I was introduced to Sandro Cellini, a private detective (ex-police) in his 60s, in Christobel Kent's A Time of MourningNot only does this title offer a cleverly plotted mystery featuring the streets (and rising waters) of Florence and great characters (old and young, a very welcome diversity of ages), but it's the first of a series. I can't wait to read the rest and highly recommend this one to the mystery lovers among you.
And I did discover a new-to-me Black writer of a mystery series featuring a Black Texas Ranger (I learned of Attica Locke's writing through the Instagram account of her sister Tembi Locke whose From Scratch is a beautiful memoir about love, bereavement, family, and Sicily -- mentioned in this post. Bluebird Bluebird is the first volume in this mystery series, and I'm looking forward to reading more. Not everyone wants their escape reading to reflect real-world problems too seriously, but I have always appreciated the genre for its ability to consider morality and justice, the meaning of good and evil, the relationship between an individual and community. The best writers in the genre willingly explore the way that crime and justice sit in a context of racial, class, gender and sexuality (in)equality .  .  . while repaying our attention by introducing us to new places and intriguing characters and entertaining, even thrilling, plots. Bluebird Bluebird does all of that. 

My quick handwritten response to the mystery above and below, in red ink. . .  And two pages from the e-book to give you a sense of the context

Texas Ranger Darren Matthews' mother represents a much different background and lifestyle than does his father's family, and it's the latter in which Darren has grown up, raised by his two paternal uncles after his father died. Right from the outset, then, a complexity that asks readers to think beyond stereotypes and acknowledge the rich complications of history and place, justice and allegiance. 

Recommended. (Oh, and I also posted a few words about it here, on Instagram)



The last book I read in September is a short book -- Alan Bennett's novella
The Uncommon Reader. Uncommon, indeed. Bennett imagines Queen Elizabeth discovering, in her eighth decade, the inordinate pleasures of reading . . . and becoming rather impatient with duties that rob her of reading time.

I read this as an e-copy borrowed from the Vancouver Public Library, and I kept screen-shooting pages on my iPad. Really, I need to own a copy of this so that I can underline and post-it-note favourite pages . . . and "entertain" my family and friends, in my dotage, by pulling the book from its shelf and reading aloud. The passage I posted earlier on Instagram, for example: What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren't long enough for the reading she wanted to do. 
and this one, on the difference between being briefed on a topic and reading about it for oneself: Briefing is terse, factual and to the point. Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up. (emphasis mine)

I'll post a few more pages to my Instagram Reading Account as soon as I've got this post published, but meanwhile, here's what Bennett's "Her Majesty" thought of Canada, her mood influenced by her planned travel-reading "having unaccountably gone missing" and her favourite reader-attendant having been re-assigned. . . . Thank goodness my country was redeemed in HRH's eyes by Alice Munro.

Indeed! What treats indeed!
And that seems a good note to close on, the thought of the great pleasure in coming "across an author one enjoys and then to find they have written not just one book but at least a dozen." .  .  A half dozen would be a decent pleasure as well . . . This year I discovered Siri Husvedt and Elif Shafak and Attica Locke and Jess Kidd and Chirstobel Kent and Melissa Harrison and Brit Bennett . . . and numerous others. . . What about you? Any authors you've recently discovered, whose backlist you're anticipating reading with pleasure? Or if not, any books you've been rereading and finding even more enjoyable or relevant than the first time you read them. Of perhaps you'll just share books you've liked (or not!) recently. I'm always keen to hear from you and I love to read the conversations that develop in this space. Thank you, in anticipation.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Rounding Up the Summer Reading -- August Is Over!

 We're in the last third of this challenging year,  a year in which my reading has oscillated between indulging my need to escape and fulfilling my need to understand the challenges we face. August brought us (finally!) the warm weather here in Vancouver, and perhaps that's why last month's titles tend toward the indulgent, escapist side of the dial. . . 

Not the first title, though. Carmen Machado's memoir In the Dream House draws its reader in with compelling story-telling about a love story gone wrong. Elegantly written, stylistically effective, and ultimately redemptive as it is, though, the narrative is often uncomfortable, even painful. I'm still recommending to you, though, for broadening our understanding of relationships and of the power negotiations within them--and for illuminating the way that silence and silencing work. (Reminding me of something I included in a post on my other blog recently, a quotation from Alice Zentner's L'Art de Perdre: "Personne ne sait ce que les autres vont faire de notre silence" -- no one knows what the others are going to make of our silence )

I posted a page from In the Dream House in an Instagram post, along with a few comments about the book, and I posted a different page on my other blog, inspired by a metaphor of Machado's that caught my attention


The next three books were all bought at a charming and thoughtfully stocked independent bookshop. Paul and I were the only customers, for the first ten or fifteen minutes, and what a pleasure it was to be able to take our time browsing physical shelves instead of choosing books online. Don't get me wrong; I'm grateful that we've had the online options during these months of physical distancing, but there's really nothing that compares to the sensory reality of shelves filled with new books (Used books are good as well, but different . . . ).

In fact, I think I did well to restrict myself to three books: 

Jess Kidd's Mr. Flood's Last Resort -- because I enjoyed her Things in Jars so much. So well-written, such a romp. Contemporary Gothic mystery doesn't quite capture it, but something like that. 

Susie Steiner's Remain Silent, latest/third in the very good Manon Bradshaw series. Fulfils all the promise of the first two volumes, with perhaps even more depth as Manon grapples with marriage, midlife, the challenges of childcare. . . The mystery also reflects (although coincidentally, rather than deliberately) Steiner's experience with brain cancer over the past year, as she discusses in this Guardian interview. And in case you don't already read High Heels in the Wilderness, Sue writes about Steiner as "kindred spirit" here, on the basis of what she learns in that Guardian interview.



My third purchase at Ivy Books was one a friend had recommended to me (the same discerning reader who'd recommended In a Dream House -- thanks, Brenda!).  You may have read Mandel's too-prescient post-pandemic novel Station Eleven (if you haven't read it yet, perhaps wait until we've come out the other side of what Covid-19 is doing). The Glass Hotel builds from historical events rather than speculative future ones, but it's no less imaginative for that.  Ghost story, mystery, literary fiction spun from the Ponzi schemes and financial crisis of 2008. . . 
Book #51, J.T. Ellison's Lie to Me was one I'd have skipped if I'd had something else on hand to suit my light-reading mood. . . 

Luckily, I had a more satisfying book on hand to finish out the month. . . 
If you don't read French, this moving (and instructive) coming-of-age/war novel by Afro-French writer and rapper (yes, truly!) Gaël Faye has been translated into English (into 36 languages, actually). Set in Burundi, before and during that "small country's" devastating civil war, the novel featuring a young boy won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, and has been made into a film. Highly recommended, especially if, like me, you'd like to broaden your understanding of Africa.


And that's it for my August reading. Of course, by now we're a third of the way through September, and I've a few books added to my journal. But those belong in another post, although you can see what I'm currently reading by peeking at my Instagram Reading Account. 

Now I'd love to hear from you. What have you been reading? What's on your nightstand right now? What book is taking longer than you expected to get to or to get through? And what do you have lined up on your TBR list? Also curious to know how you're getting most of your books these days? As e-books, read on e-readers? As physical books -- and do those come from the library or at a bricks-and-mortar bookstore or delivered to your mailbox by courier. . . Humour me: I don't expect answers to all those questions, but I'd love a conversation this morning . . . ;-)