I didn’t get much reading done in October, but I ended with a bang: waiting up for my teenager to get home from a Halloween party, I had a few solid hours of reading time and finished both the books I’d been reading for the past couple of weeks. And I enjoyed them! I have a feeling that in November I’ll still be too tired and busy to read as much as I want to, but my enthusiasm for reading and my desire to read have been renewed.
Here’s what I read/listened to in October:
Standout Book of the Month
Paul Kingsnorth, The Wake I read this because of Rosario’s review, and I could just leave my response at “what she said.” But of course I won’t. There was a point, about halfway through, when I started to feel that a book about the aftermath of the Norman invasion of England written in an accessible reimagination Old English was a stunt, and that 150 pages of stunt were enough. But then I got hooked again, not by a plot twist exactly, but by the recognition that something other than what I expected had been slowly unfolding all along.
This is, as Rosario says, a kind of post-apocalyptic novel, for Buccmaster’s world has been destroyed and he gathers a small band of men to resist the enemy. But unlike popular YA dystopias, it would not lend itself to a big-budget action movie trilogy. The action that matters, really, is in Buccmaster’s head. And in the end, this book reminded me most of the book on the Congo I read this summer, because it depicts a post-conquest land in which people’s homes, lives, and society are destroyed. People around Buccmaster want a leader, and he wants to be one, but . . . well, I don’t want to spoil it. But there are plenty of places in the world today that show us what can happen when people are unmoored from society and human connections.
It was only as I was walking to the library to return The Wake this morning that I realized the title could have another meaning besides the references to the historical resistance leader, Hereward, (whom Buccmaster views as a rival) or to the wakening of the old Norse gods that Buccmaster hopes to achieve, driving the Normans and Christianity from England and restoring the old ways his grandfather taught him of. Because a wake, of course, is a watching by the dead–and part of Buccmaster knows from the first that that’s all he can do. I will be thinking about this one for a long time.
Emma Barry, Special Interests I liked this Washington, DC-set romance a lot. For one, Millie and Parker are smart and dedicated to their jobs (in different ways) and they admire that about each other. I’ve had some conversations lately about how romance characters can feel a bit vestigial, lacking the values, interests, world view, family, work lives, etc. that would make them feel more like real, rounded people (Robin had a great post on this). Barry’s characters are not lacking in these things and I really liked that their values are part of both the characters’ internal conflict and the romantic conflict. Plus, the black moment/fight felt like a realistic kind of misunderstanding for once. My biggest quibble about this one is that the editing was kind of sloppy, and got worse as it went along–words in a sentence out of order, and a reference to the Canadian “chartreuse” Alanis Morrisette, for instance. I don’t usually have this issue with Carina books and it got distracting. But in general, I thought the writing was good, I liked the characters, I cared about what happened to them. Win! I think I already have the next book in my TBR, and this reminded me that I have other politically-themed romances I’d been meaning to get to.
Neither of these were bad; they just weren’t for me, or not for me right now.
Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist (Surely this makes me a bad feminist!) These essays should be right up my alley, but though I admire Gay’s writing, the topics didn’t engage me. Reality TV and Sweet Valley High? It’s not that I think pop culture is unworthy of analysis, but I have spent a lot of time reading about gender and race in pop culture in recent years and I think I’m looking for different subject matter in my non-fiction reading now. (Remember how I got tired of the centrality of pop culture in Alex Tizon’s book?). I also wondered if I’m too old for Bad Feminist. That seems condescending and dismissive of Gay, and I don’t mean it that way–I hope. But I felt like the essays were picking up questions I’ve more or less settled for myself and am not interested in revisiting right now. I’ll probably try this again some time in a different mood.
Rebecca Makkai, The Hundred-Year House I really liked Makkai’s first novel, and the plot of this one, the story of a house and its secrets moving backwards in time, sounded intriguing. But it started with an academic couple, she forging ahead in her career and he jobless and not writing his book, and I found this made me so anxious I could not continue. It wasn’t like my own marriage or career at all, and yet it brought up painful feelings. No can do, at least not at midterm time.
A Not So Favorite Entry in a Favorite Audio Series
Jayne Castle, The Hot Zone It was inevitable that I’d buy this, because I have an inexplicable love of Castle’s futuristic Harmony books, even though I think they’re silly and kind of formulaic. I can hardly remember a thing about this now, but I enjoyed it, and I know I’ll listen to it again. Previous entries in this series have been read by Joyce Bean or Tanya Eby, both of whom I like; this one was read by Barbara Rosenblat, and didn’t work so well for me. I love Rosenblat as a narrator some of Castle’s older historicals as Amanda Quick, and I love her reading Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody books. Her somewhat mannered delivery works for the rather Gothic Quicks I’ve heard her read or for the comic, mannered voice of Amelia Peabody, but–as one Audible reviewer said–here she sounds sort of like William Shatner, with lots . . . of odd pauses . . . and weird emphases on certain . . . words. I like a brisk contemporary-sounding narrator who downplays the goofiness of these books; when it’s played up, I can’t just wallow in the fun.
A Couple of Mysteries
I wrote about one of these. The other was Steve Burrows’ A Siege of Bitterns, a birding-themed mystery–but not as cozy as that sounds–set in the Norfolk saltmarshes (like Elly Griffiths’ series featuring anthropologist Ruth Galloway). This had a good twisty plot and I was kind of intrigued by the way Jejeune (really?), the detective, remained a bit of a mystery. He’s brilliant at the job but doesn’t really like it. The real downside was a lot of vague reference to backstory that made me feel I’d missed a book even though this is the first; I’m sure more will be revealed as the series goes on but I just felt jerked around. It wasn’t bad, but I don’t know if I like it enough to continue. It got a rave review in the Globe and Mail, though.
Thanks to the fabulous discussion on my post about listening to the Brontes, I am now listening to Charlotte’s Shirley, her “industrial” novel (which means I read it years ago for my PhD work). I’d forgotten how funny it, and CB, could be. Sunita and Miss Bates are listening too, and I’m looking forward to what they have to say.
I have Hilary Mantel’s short story collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, from the e-library and I’ve zipped through the first couple of stories. I’m really enjoying them–I don’t read short stories enough–but I don’t know that I’ll want to write about them. I’m just enjoying the experience of reading and her skill at creating mood/atmosphere (which I can’t or don’t want to analyze or explain). I’ve also got Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster and Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed downloaded, though I’m not sure I’ll get to them before they return themselves (pretty ironic on that last one). And I think–gasp!–that I am going to read Sonali Dev’s Bollywood Affair even though it’s a just-published romance that “everyone” is talking about. So many different readers liked it and I’m in the mood for something sweet and fun.