Books read this week, meet books read this month: Today’s WWW Wednesday, which I discovered through Taking on a World of Words and Coffee and Cats, includes my monthly reading roundup as well. The books with the fuller write-ups are, of course, the ones I read and have been reading over the last week.
The big excitement of this month is my return to reading paper books, at least in part. I’m still trying to work through Mount TBR, e-books edition.
Books I read:
*Asterisk indicates a #ReadMyOwnDamnBook title
The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George (e-book) *
This book got two thumbs up from me earlier this month.
The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe by Ann Morgan (e-book) *
My feelings about this book were complicated. I loved the idea that inspired it but had some issues with the book itself. I wrote more about it here.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (e-book)
This month’s book club pick was deeply satisfying and heartening. More of my thoughts on it are here.
The Trials of Apollo, Book 1: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan (hardcover)
I read the first page in the bookstore and laughed out loud. That’s typically my cue to take a book home with me. The story follows the fall of Apollo, who wakes up in a New York City dumpster as a scrawny, 16-year old mortal with an acne problem. This is apparently Zeus’ punishment for incidents that transpired during the war with the giants, featured in the Gods of Olympus series.
Apollo is rescued by a young demigod, who brings him to Percy Jackson, who takes the teens to Camp Half-Blood. There, they engage in camp activities (many lols here) and investigate why all the oracles have gone quiet, which leads to much drama and adventure, needless to say. Each chapter begins with a silly and often hilarious haiku (‘memba? Apollo is the god of poetry, among others).
It’s the usual formula of gods, demigods, and monsters, frantic chases and dramatic near misses, mixed with silly humor and fun. This time, I was also struck by the clever and sly ways Riordan weaves mythology into the characters’ behaviors and conversations. As an adult who has studied Ancient Greece and Rome, it’s fun to decode. At the end, I found myself longing for the next installment. Too bad I’ll be cooling my heels for the next year until it comes out!
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling (audiobook) *
My fifth audiobook of the year … The other big surprise of 2016 has been discovering I can enjoy listening to books while exercising.
All Roads Lead to Austen: A Year-long Journey with Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith (e-book) *
Smith is an English professor and Janeite who devoted a sabbatical to setting up Jane Austen reading groups in six Latin American countries. The book follows her travels in each country, the people she meets, and the discussions she shared with local readers. She also narrates her own romantic adventures, apropos for a Jane Austen book, I suppose.
The book engaged me, becoming more interesting the more I read. The travel sections, where she describes the places she visits, were a highlight for me. Perhaps most thought provoking were her recaps of the book discussions. Something nagged me about these, especially as I read further and compared how she talked about them. It might be I detected an extremely subtle privileging of a particular way of reading literature, to which she is of course entitled. Though this is a memoir, not an academic book, perhaps it’s difficult for academics to shut off that part of themselves that continually categorizes and hierarchizes. It is for me sometimes as well.
Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney (paperback) *
This poem satisfied a category I’d not yet read this year for the “When are you reading?” challenge: Pre-1500.
I savored Seamus Heaney’s translation, stretching it out across more than a week. Though I read the book in school, I don’t remember it well enough to compare translations. What I can say about this one is the language was fluid and accessible. The accessibility of the language heightened, for me, the sense of dislocation created by the content. (I had a similar experience reading The Iliad.) The poem tells the story of Beowulf, a young Geat hero. At the poem’s outset, he presents himself to Hrothgar, king of the Danes, whose kingdom is threatened by the monster Grendel. Beowulf offers to fight Grendel, and that’s all I will tell you about plot in case you haven’t read it.
The poem lays out customs and traditions and the warrior code in slow, steady rhythms and pacing. This world of warriors who don’t question but respond to dangers and losses feels out of reach, alien. But it’s no less moving for it. The poem’s power to move lies in part in its own survival across the centuries – a voice out of time and place. For me, it’s also in the metaphoric narrative of facing demons and threats, vanquishing one monster only to see another rise in its place, which resonates for our times as well. We can never rest, the poems seems to say, until our time has passed away.
Reading Beowulf made me sad. Perhaps it’s because we see him progress from youth through old age. Perhaps it’s the flashes of insight on loss, weakness, and the power of character, sacrifice, and loyalty. Moments of intense emotion are few but perhaps more starkly affecting for their rarity.
Honeymoon in Paris by Jojo Moyes (paperback) *
A novella prequel to Moyes’s novel The Girl You Left Behind, Honeymoon in Paris introduces us to Liv and Sophie, both honeymooning in the City of Light, 90 years apart. The women’s stories are told in alternating chapters. In 2002, Liv struggles with her new hubby’s workaholic tendencies. In 1912, Sophie worries that her artist husband’s eye will wander. Their stories intersect eventually, though I won’t tell you how (duh, spoiler).
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Unknown in King Arthur Collection (e-book)
I remember writing a paper about this 14th-century English chivalric poem in college. I remember that my paper had a catchy title and went over well, though I can’t remember either the title or content! Anyway, Sir Gawain is a knight at King Arthur’s round table. On Christmas day, the Green Knight, so called because he is literally green, shows up at court to request a challenge. Sir Gawain takes the call. The rest of the poem explains what happens next. (I dislike when people spoil classics, as if no one cares about their plots.)
The translation I read has four cantos and rhyming stanzas and included an underlying romantic plot involving a lady called Elfinhart, who doesn’t seem to be mentioned in every version of the poem. I enjoyed the one I read. I loved how sly and witty its narrator is, while still aspiring to present an expected moral. Asides to the reader abound, in which the narrator expounds on his/her writerly intentions as well as that moral. Reading this brought a smile to my face.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
I read the first page at the bookstore and promptly brought it home to resume reading. The story begins in Ghana at the tail end of the 18th century with two sisters, Effia and Esi. Born into two distinct villages, the sisters never meet. Effia marries a British officer overseeing the slave trade while Esi is captured and sent to America to be sold as a slave. Subsequent chapters are told from the points of view of each sister’s descendants in Africa and America from the 19th century to the present.
In a pivotal scene later in the book, a character, who is a teacher, says to his class, “This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others.” He continues, “We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”
These questions speak to the idea Homegoing explores – African and African American voices and stories lost to History. Content and structure echo each other. Each chapter captures one small fragment of each character’s story then leaps ahead to pursue the next one. The third-person narrator often leaves characters behind just as a significant event has happened to or around them. We may (or may not) learn that character’s fate retroactively, long after that fate came to pass. And our knowledge is often incomplete. We’re left to infer and fill in the blanks. We have to *do* the work of History. The narrative structure foregrounds how each character is part of a much larger story, and it left me with a feeling of longing to know more about them, to know their full stories, the very feeling we need to hold onto when studying history. We’re looking through a narrow lens. The story is much bigger than what we can ever fully know or understand.
Books I started:
This month hasn’t found me dipping into and out of books. So I might finally have found my reading stride … halfway through the year. I do have two books underway that I see myself reading/listening to right to the end.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Book 5 by J. K. Rowling (audiobook) *
Now I’ve finished Goblet of Fire, I’m on to the next one.
Books I bought:
After last month’s dramatic backslide (it was my birthday month, i.e. gift cards), I’ve had a slightly more reasonable book-buying month … very slightly. It would probably help if I stopped hanging out at Barnes and Noble, but that isn’t happening. Books plus coffee? It’s my happy place!
The other big deal that happened this month: My eye doctor updated my prescription, and I can read hardcovers again. Paperbacks, not so much, but I’ll take what I can get in the paper book genre. On the other hand, the fiscal downside of this development is I bought a bunch of hardcovers to celebrate. Ooops.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (e-book)
This I bought for my book club and devoured in two days.
King Arthur Collection (e-book)
While reading Beowulf, I decided I needed to read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight next, which is how I discovered this collection (offered at 99 cents!). It includes Sir Gawain as well as Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (which I’ve never read), Idylls of the King by Lord Tennyson, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (on my reading list), and more. Quite the bargain!
I might try A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court next.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling (pre-ordered the e-book)
I’m going to be traveling in July and don’t know what kind of bookstores I’ll have near me on the 31st, its release date. I want to be able to read this right away lest I miss it and then get spoiled by the Internet.
The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan (hardcover)
This was an impulse buy, sort of. Being of Greek heritage, I’ve heartily enjoyed Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Gods of Olympus series – very amusing, clever, and fun. Still, I wasn’t going to get involved in the new series because I’m reading my own books. I just walked by the book cover one too many times and finally couldn’t resist. I read it the day I brought it home, though, so that’s a victory.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (hardcover)
I’ve had my eye on this one for a while. It’s a Newbery Medal winner, and it’s narrative poetry, one of my happy reading discoveries of 2016. I couldn’t resist flipping through the book and then couldn’t resist walking to the counter and purchasing it.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (hardcover)
Another book I was going to wait on except I didn’t. I’m about three quarters of the way through and don’t like having to put it down.
How did your June reading go? What’s on your reading list for July?