Happy fall! September and October are two of my favorite months, and there’s been a lot to enjoy: beautiful weather, changing leaves, family visits, and of course: books, movies, and writing! Here’s the (late) roundup from September.
When a mother walking home with her young son lets go of his hand for a moment, she loses everything. This thriller simmers through the grief following the accident until it turns in a way you won't expect, in one of the few hyped "twists" of recent years that truly surprised me. The first half of the book felt aimless and actually felt like it reached a dead end in the story, but then it picked up and the pieces slowly fell into place. The backstory is well-crafted and walks us through the sadness and desperation the led up to the accident and its aftermath. More info →
The Red Tent illuminates the lives of women who are only briefly mentioned in the context of the men around them in the Bible. Dinah is more than just the daughter of Jacob and sister of Joseph and their many brothers. She is a girl who grows up with four mothers, learning the feminine customs and the skills of midwifery in the red tent to which they all retreat each month. She's also the one whose life determines the fate of the entire family. This fictional imagining of Dinah grants her the hopes, fears, and--most of all--the agency she is denied in the male-centric stories of the Bible. Highly recommended, if only to contemplate the lives of the many, many women who lived their own rich lives alongside those detailed in the Bible. More info →
I've mentioned before that Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors, and this essay provides a bit of background on her road to authorship, as well advice for anyone struggling with the question of, "What now?" Originally a commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College, Patchett relates to the graduating students who have inevitably been asked the same question by detailing her own uncertainties and circuitous path to success. This is a short audiobook listen and a good reminder that sometimes the most unlikely situations can give rise to the next opportunity and take us on exactly the right journey toward our goals. More info →
In Mengele's Zoo at Auschwitz, people with unique characteristics--albinisn, twins, and dwarfism among them--were singled out for human experiments. Fictional twins Pearl and Stasha devise ways to endure their torture and maintain hope of survival and life outside the Zoo--until one of them disappears. After the camp is liberated, the search for life, normalcy, and each other is paramount. Mischling is not a book for everyone. As with any story about the Holocaust, the horrors endured by so many people are difficult to stomach. While the book could have veered into "torture porn" territory (and fair warning: there are a few descriptions that are hard to take), readers are spared most of the details of the experiments. Instead, we are brought into the small moments, spaces, and relationships of the individuals ripped from their lives and fighting to maintain their own humanity while under the control of others who are determined to strip it from them. More info →
This book has similarities to the very popular A Man Called Ove. It feels like a bit of a trope now, but it's a pleasing one: sad curmudgeon (in this case, A.J., a bookstore owner) finds his happiness when unlikely people enter his life. He continues to be curmudgeony but shows love and kindness in quirky, funny ways. What makes The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry even more relatable for readers is the bookstore setting and the way books and stories are woven into the lives of the characters: as comfort objects, discussion topics, relationship touchpoints, and contemplations on life. More info →
Arlene ("Lena") thought she'd left Alabama and all that came with it behind her. Her persistent aunt brings it back over the phone each week, but so far she's avoided visits back and has done her best to reinvent herself and her life. But when her past arrives at her doorstep, her boyfriend Burr, who is black, insists on meeting her family. She is forced to face her family, their racism, the many gods of the South, and the past that she's bargained with her own God to keep buried. This is the first book by Jackson that I've read and I loved her turns of phrase and vivid characters; I will definitely be reading more. More info →
When a young woman otherwise destined for a life of service is swept off her feet by rich widower Maxim de Winter, she dreams of a wonderful life together at Manderly, the country estate he owns. But soon after their marriage and arrival at Manderly, she realizes that the shadow of Maxim's late wife looms large and threatens her life, sanity, and their future together. While not a scary read, the tension underlying this entire book is masterful and the surprises continue until the very last page. More info →
The second in the Harry Potter series has turned my six-year-old into a full-on Harry Potter superfan. We had a blast reading and discussing Harry's second year in the world of Hogwarts and who could have opened the Chamber of Secrets. The illustrated versions of these books are beautiful; she examines each one carefully so she understands which character or scene is being shown. We of course followed this up by viewing the movie, which is also wonderful. More info →
I started but did not finish The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I found it unnecessarily pretentious and didn’t really like the characters. But I didn’t get that far and wasn’t really in the mood for it. Did anyone read it and love it? Should I revisit?
I’m nearing the end of both The Hate U Give and Little Fires Everywhere, both of which are phenomenal. I have to admit, though, that reading two books about modern teenagers at the same time wasn’t the best choice. I found myself disoriented when characters compared black couples to the Huxtables in both books, and I happened to open each book to that spot on the same day. One more reason to make sure that my simultaneous reads are very different from one another!
Off and on, I’m listening to Theft by Finding 1977-2002 by David Sedaris. This is one Sedaris book that might have worked better on paper, much as I love his narration. The short snippets selected from his diary are a little odd and at times faintly depressing. They’re rarely expanded into the longer, funny stories that Sedaris is famous for, though he always has funny observations and quirky impulses. It’s about 14 hours long, so I don’t anticipate finishing it before my library checkout expires, but it’s easy to dip in and out of as I have time to listen.
Finally, I’ve been reading The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life. I tend to be a bit skeptical of all of the “one year doing X!” book gimmicks, as well as all the books purporting to pave the way to happiness. But gratitude doesn’t feel gimmicky to me. It feels important and like something we need more of, day to day, moment to moment. I’m loving this book and how it’s helping my mindset and how I view annoyances and setbacks. I hope to share more about this book later in the month.
I’m planning to read Homegoing (on my reading bucket list) and The Power (my October selection from the Book of the Month). I’ve heard mixed reviews on The Power; the description sounds compelling, so I’m hoping it works for me. I also picked up two additional books from BOTM: Hunger and Sing, Unburied, Sing. I can’t wait to read both.
We watched the first two Harry Potter movies after my daughter and I finished the books. I was worried they would be too scary for her and expected them to be darker, but I was pleased by how whimsical they are. She was both scared and delighted by them–probably just the right combination.
We also watched the live action Beauty and the Beast. The whole family enjoyed it, but it hasn’t stuck out as something we’re rushing to watch again.
I’ve watched a few shows on Netflix as well. I finished Gilmore Girls (again), and while I still love the show, I’m starting to find Rory kind of insufferable–especially in the re-boot. I also watched Atypical, about a teenage boy with autism and his family. I really enjoyed Atypical (parts of it reminded me a little of The Rosie Project) and I’m looking forward to more seasons.
Finally, I hate to admit that I watched all of the episodes of Friends from College–while doing other things, but still–and I do NOT recommend it. Dysfunctional relationships, unlikeable characters, implausible storylines and subplots. Just bad all around.
The blog may still be floundering a bit, but my writing in general has picked up. Between a busy month of writing at work, gratitude journaling, and returning to some personal projects, I’m feeling good about coming out of my summer slump. (Considering we just got several inches of snow, I should probably accept that summer is long gone!)