No matter, though. A successful reading month (or year) isn’t measured by how many books I read. It’s measured by the quality of my reading experiences. At least, that’s what I keep reminding myself! In that sense, September was an excellent month of reading.
BOOKS I READ IN SEPTEMBER
(* asterisk indicates a Read My Own Damn Books title)
Once again, I came so very close to achieving my goal of having at least half the books I read each month come from my own shelves. This month, I was two for five.
The Nix by Nathan Hill (library e-book)
I devoured this sprawling, empathetic novel in one weekend and then spent a week thinking about and rereading parts of it. The story revolves around Samuel, a grudging college professor and struggling writer, and his mother, who walked out on Samuel and his father when he was a boy. It weaves in and out of the past and of various characters’ points of view. It embraces paradox and has a meta-narrative aspect. It’s trenchant social and political commentary. It’s funny and heartbreaking and deeply felt.
The Revolving Door of Life by Alexander McCall Smith (e-book)
The 10th book in the 44 Scotland Street series finds Bertie in a very happy place. If you’ve read the series, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it for readers who enjoy gentle, philosophical novels about characters and the relationships among them. It’s not plot-driven but very much about community and place and reflection. I can’t wait for the next one, The Bertie Project!
Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick (e-book) *
I love books about books. This one is a collection of essays about the YA books Skurnick and her contributors read as teens. Many of the titles were familiar to me, but I also discovered intriguing new books to add to my to-read list (as if it needs more titles!). The essays are fun, in part because the writers clearly enjoy writing them. The best part, though, is how respectfully these YA books are approached. They’re treated as worthy of consideration and discussion, which of course they are, especially to readers who grew up with them!
The Odyssey by Homer (e-book) *
Ah, reading an ancient epic can be so grounding. On his journey home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, Odysseus faces monsters and sirens, loss and despair. He is forced to make difficult choices. The home he remembers is not the place that he left. More trials await him upon returning. I loved being immersed in a world that felt so familiar and strange, at the same time. It’s a powerful read. I recommend reading it after The Iliad (Stephen Mitchell’s translation is wonderful!) since the two are so closely linked thematically.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (paperback)
Set in pre-colonial Nigeria, the story describes traditions and ways of life through the story of Okonkwo. Strong and prideful, he wants to achieve status and respect in his village in a way his own father did not. This leads both to successes and tragedies. His story is individual and collective, narrative and metaphoric. Reading the novel, I was struck by the beauty of the language, which felt so essential in crafting the sense of a lost, inaccessible world. It is poetic, highly descriptive, and often emotionally removed, which reminded me of other warrior epics I’ve read over the last year – Beowulf as translated by Seamus Heaney and The Iliad as translated by Stephen Mitchell. In Things Fall Apart, as in Beowulf and The Iliad, emotional intensity is heightened for being so rare. In all three, it felt like the characters were swept up in powerful currents they could not take a hand in shaping. Through it all, dignity remains, even after all else is lost.
BOOKS I STARTED IN SEPTEMBER
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Wharton’s prose is commanding. It keeps me reading through the bleakness of her stories (which are conspicuously lacking in mirth). This one is about Lily Bart, a 29-year-old socialite who is beautiful yet remains unmarried. GASP. There are buckets of sarcasm, ennui, and despair. At least there is the beautiful writing …
Pym by Mat Johnson
The book grabbed me from the first sentence (it’s a doozey!). Brought on to provide “diversity” to the Diversity Committee, Poe-obsessed English professor Chris Jaynes refuses to serve on said committee, and his tenure is denied. Shortly thereafter, he discovers a rare manuscript that suggests Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket may have its basis in a true story. Jaynes puts together a crew to go in search of the story behind the novel. I’ve only just begun, but so far it’s scathingly funny and sharply observed.
BOOK I BOUGHT IN SEPTEMBER
In addition to not reading a large number of books, I also managed to keep my purchases down. Even better, I can honestly report I’ve already begun two (see above!) and plan to follow with the third.
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (e-book)
I can’t recall why I downloaded this, exactly. I’ve never read it. That’s a good enough reason … right?!
The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley (paperback)
This is the second book in Bradley’s murder mystery series set at an English manor house circa 1950 and featuring Flavia, hilariously funny child sleuth. I enjoy adult books with child narrators. I also enjoy laughing and did quite a bit of it reading the first book (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie).
Pym by Mat Johnson (e-book)
This book showed up on a list of e-book deals. The first line of description referred to a college professor. I have a soft spot for books about college professors! Then I read a critic describe it as “screamingly funny.” That pretty much sealed the deal for me, and I’m so happy to have discovered it.
How was your September reading life? Any great reads to recommend?