Thursday, October 6, 2016

September 2016 Reading Wrap Up

September was, all in all, a very good month of reading.  I read a total of nine books - a mixture of novels, short stories, flash fiction, and a non-fiction book for children.  I've written reviews for many of the books already, so I'll share some brief impressions below.

The books I read were:
  • Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  • Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra
  • The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow by Mrs. Oliphant
  • The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan
  • The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
  • For the Love of Meat by Jenny Jaeckel (advanced reader copy, USA release 10/2016)
  • God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
  • Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
  • I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Leaves Her Mark by Debbie Levy
  • Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf (not pictured)

Housekeeping is a brief (less than 250 pages), atmospheric novel that envelops you in its quiet, dreamlike, and poetic prose, like a hand-crocheted, infinitely soft blanket.  The ethereal way with which Marilynne Robinson describes the town of Fingerbone, and its surrounds, imbues them with a quiet, palpable power.  Read my full review here.

It's difficult to categorize Alejandro Zambra's Multiple Choice because it doesn't follow anything remotely similar to a traditional narrative.  Using the structure of a standardized test forces the author to be economical and precise with his words.  Despite these constraints, the author's voice is not lost; there is a playful, sarcastic, devastatingly human soul throughout.  Read my full review here.

 The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow, published by Persephone Books, is a book that contains two novellas by the same author, Mrs. Oliphant.  The first novella, "The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow" relays the story of a widow and the scandal that arises after her name is found in a recent elopement registry.  The second novella, "Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamond" involves a long-married couple and their adult children.  When the husband begins spending more and more time away from home, his wife decided to do her own investigating.  What she finds is quite shocking.  Considering that these two works were originally published in the later part of the 19th Century, it is refreshing to see women characters be given such complicated and interesting personal lives.

Kirsty Logan's The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales features retellings of classic fairy tales as well as some highly original short stories.  The author creates or re-imagines stories that confront our humanity and encourages us to look at our world in new ways.  She uses emotion and diversity to great effect and may have created a new collection of tales to share with generations to come.  Read my full review here.

The Story of the Lost Child is the final installment in Elena Ferrante's "Neapolitan Novels" quartet.  It continues to follow lifelong friends Elena and Lila as they, the city of Naples, and the entire country of Italy grow and change from the late 1960's through to the mid 2000's.  In this book, as well as throughout the entire Neapolitan Quartet, Elena Ferrante uses the everyday lives of two girls to comment on life in all of its complexities.

I received an advanced reader copy of For The Love of Meat by Jenny Jaeckel from the small, independent publisher Raincloud Press; the paperback will not be published until 14 October, even though the e-book version of the text has been available since 20 August.  There are nine stories in this collection, accompanied by drawings reminiscent of the French cave paintings in Lascaux.  The stories have a nuanced approach to the human condition, but I found the collection to be disjointed, which negatively affected the reading experience for me.  Some were highly evocative and engaging, while others fell completely flat.

Although I own a hardcopy edition of God Help the Child, I listened to this in audiobook format.  Toni Morrison narrates the novel, as she does with all of her other works, and her voice is clear, strong, and world-weary.  This painfully beautiful book explores the ways that our childhood experiences shape and bind us as adults.  There are many occurrences of child abuse and racially-motivated crimes mentioned throughout, which can make the book difficult to read at times.  However, the way that the book ends is surprisingly satisfying and cautiously hopeful.  Morrison posits that we can either let our childhood define us and narrow us with fear and anger, or we can live our lives in response to it with love, compassion, and hope.

For those whose only experience with Jamaica is at an all-inclusive resort, Here Comes the Sun will be a rude awakening.  While resorts feature heavily in the story, the contrived paradise they offer is lampooned heartily by the author.  A native Jamaican, who immigrated to the USA after high school,  the author uses this novel to explore post-colonial ideas of class, sexuality, family, tourism, beauty - Jamaica itself.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, by Debbie Levy, is a children's book that shares the life story of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her work in the USA legal system to fight for equality of all women and men.  It is not a picture book, and some of the language might be too advanced for young readers.  That being said, story time with this book would be an excellent way to engage a child in basic conversations about complex issues such as race, religion, sexism, intolerance, equality, and social justice.

Flush, a Biography, published by Persephone Books, is Virginia Woolf's attempt to give a life story to Flush, the real-life spaniel companion of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  On one level, it is just that.  However, on another level, the book is a critique of then-modern English society.  Because of his status and stature, Flush is always a continual foreigner in his world.  This canine naivety allows Woolf to comment the socioeconomic and class divides that were so prevalent in England at the time.  Read my full review here.

Librorum annis