The Reading Life

October Reading: The Progress Report

Halloween Read

This month’s Charles Dickens reading goal was to revisit A Tale of Two Cities, but I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked with books of the circumstance and season variety.

My reading month started off with two books I heard about in September, both related to 9/11: Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog & the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero by Michael Hingson with Susy Flory and The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede. Both were so readable that I consumed them one after the other the first weekend in October.

Thunder Dog I heard about from my friend Jessica, who said it was inspiring and would make me cry. She was right on both counts. Hingson recalls his experience escaping the burning Towers with his guide dog Roselle. Interspersed are his reflections on growing up blind and how his experiences prepared him to meet the tragedy of that day. The Day the World Came to Town follows the communities around Gander that hosted stranded passengers from some 36 planes that were diverted there on 9/11 – how the passengers and hosts coped in those confusing early days and especially how the local folks rallied to care for complete strangers. It gave me chills to read about their generosity and compassion. If you want to feel better about humanity, this is your book.

So then after these two, somehow, I decided that I needed to read A. A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner. I’m glad I did because I’d forgotten how funny and fabulous it is – how each dear little creature has his and her own issues but is still loved and accepted in the community.

In early October, we did a Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows film fest at my house, which meant that I had to reread the book. That took about four days, after which I finally got around to reading Library of Souls, Ransom Riggs’ continuation of the Peculiar Children series. The book’s spooky photos and story felt like October-appropriate reading material, and it was, as the Peculiars battle to save their kind from the evil wight.

In mid-October, I reread Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen for a book group. It’s a dense, layered, gorgeously written and meditative memoir – highly recommend for readers who do not mind having to think about what they’re reading.

Last month, I became acquainted with M. T. Anderson’s young adult book Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad, which seemed like a good companion to Von Bremzen’s book. So, you know, I read it. It tells the story of composer Dmitri Shostakovich from the beginning of his life through the Siege of Leningrad, when he composed The Leningrad Symphony. Through Shostakovich’s creative process and his struggles to compose under a communist regime that rejected individuality as bourgeois excess, it explores the power of music (and, more generally, art) to inspire and console. We also receive, through the lens of the composer’s life, a much-needed overview of the last days of the Romanov empire, the rise of the Bolsheviks, and Stalin’s sociopathic reign of terror. It’s a riveting read that should, dare I say, be required reading. As you might imagine, it’s also heavy and sad reading.

After finishing it (on Oct. 16, according to my records), I felt the time was nigh to read something Halloween-y, so I picked up Trick or Tread Murder by Leslie Meier, an early book in her Lucy Stone series. They’re set in a small community in Maine and are so New Englandy (which I love). Lucy has recently given birth to her fourth child, which explains why she’s constantly breastfeeding in this novel. Seriously, it’s like a breastfeeding advert. The story is breastfeeding, investigating arson of historic buildings in town, breastfeeding, taking care of elderly neighbor (while breastfeeding), more investigating, more breastfeeding, preparing for Halloween party, at which she breastfeeds, and so on (no spoilers!). It was an engaging story with a bit of a surprise twist at the end that was very satisfying.

So now we’re around Oct. 17 (yes, I read Trick or Treat Murder in on day). As we can see, I have yet to begin reading A Tale of Two Cities, but there’s still plenty of time. Except then I remember Dracula by Bram Stoker. I’ve been promising myself to read Dracula for several years, and I’m kind of sick of not following through. I think it’s going to be a departure for me because the novel is called “horror,” a genre that I do not read. As I’m about sixty percent through, I’ll say it feels more well-paced, elegant psychological thriller than horror, but we’ll see. And probably sooner than later as I’m finding it very difficult to put this book down.

It may not be too late for A Tale of Two Cities, unless another books jumps into my path. And let’s face it: That is always a possibility.

So what are you reading these days?