I can hardly believe we’ve arrived at the last month of 2016. My quest to read my own books is almost over, and I feel like it just began. Also, my tally of books read from my existing library reflects that. Ha. I might need to keep it for 2017. It’s that or descend into chaos. Probably.
In the meantime, here is my “read” pile for November. I feel like I should call it “the long and exhaustive list of books I read in November.” Because it turns out I read quite a few books this month!
Books I read:
An asterisk (*) indicates a Read My Own Damn Books book. I’m happy to report there are many more asterisks this month as compared to last. Eight of the 13 books I read came from my pre-2016 library. Using my extremely advanced computing skills, I’ve deduced that’s more than 50 percent, which has been my most recent goal.
Everblaze, Lodestar, and Neverseen by Shannon Messenger (e-book)
These are books 3, 4, and 5 in Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities fantasy series for middle grade readers. My friend Jessica turned me on to it. I’m heartily enjoying the adventures of Sophie Foster as she learns to navigate her magical abilities and battles the nefarious and mysterious Neverseen (geddit? ’cause they’re “never seen”?). The next book doesn’t come out until later in 2017. This is good. It means I have something to look forward to next fall. I mean, besides autumn, the most beautiful season of the year in New England.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (e-book) *
Reading this novel – which I picked up in an e-book sale … at some point I can no longer recall – fulfilled both my reading challenges this year: Read My Own Damn Books and When Are You Reading? (yay).
Set in Amsterdam in 1686-87, it tells the story of Nella, an 18-year-old girl who is married off to Johannes Brandt, a successful merchant 20 years her senior. Nella moves in with Johannes and his sister, Marin. Both harbor potentially fatal secrets that are gradually revealed with … consequences (spoilers). Their narratives alone make for compelling reading. Making it even more gripping is the story of the miniaturist, the shadowy figure who crafts a, yes, miniature of the Brandts’ house. As more objects – not commissioned by Brandt – arrive for the little house, it appears to be a prophetic instrument. I found his novel an unsettling, compelling read.
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (e-book) *
Well’s protagonist, identified only as The Time Traveller, journeys into a dystopian future populated by hunter and hunted. In pursuit of ease and comfort, humanity has devolved, in the extreme. It’s a must-read for science fiction fans, given that it’s credited with inventing the genre. Now that I’ve written that, it occurs to me I’ve not reach much science fiction. Well, anyway, The Time Machine is worth reading for its sage insights on the human condition and acknowledgment of a paradoxical implication at the heart of it: What we want isn’t always good for us.
Ugh, I just adore this murder mystery series. Each novel, set in the Scottish Highlands, is self-contained. However, plot points from previous books do figure into them. Thus, I’m reading them in order.
This one struck me as an especially insightful exploration of romantic relationships, in two ways. We see, through the main character’s relationships, how what we seek in the other can be an idealized image that can’t live up to what we’ve conjured in our imaginations. We also see how the outside world and its values and expectations intrude upon our own experience and feelings. The novel is also just a smart, witty mystery with beautiful scenery.
Oh M. C. Beaton, please don’t stop writing these wonderful little books.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (e-book) *
The first time I read this novel in high school, I read it because my dad gave it to me. He said, “I think you’ll like this.” He was right. Funnily enough, I never asked him why he recommended it to me. After rereading it this month, I wonder if it’s because he saw me in Elizabeth Bennett. Specifically, if he saw her impulsive and independent streaks in me, as well as a slight tendency for inappropriate humor. It’s pretty ballsy to compare myself to one of the most beloved heroines in literary history. Then again, she probably became so because normal people can relate to her.
As you can see, I’m dispensing with the recap here because … obviously. It has been so many years since I read it. It was a pleasure to revisit. I’d forgotten how witty, sharply observed, and timeless it is. Apropos of nothing in particular, I’m also so happy that my first experience of it was for personal pleasure.
I bought this novel because I loved the cover (true story), without realizing it’s a novel in translation. After reading it, I wished I knew Hebrew so I could read it in the original. Translations inevitably provoke me to think about the ways language shapes meaning. In the case of Suddenly, Love, the language was poetic and elegant, and I wondered what it was like in its original.
The narrative follows the deepening relationship between an older man, Ernst, who is struggling to write his memoirs, and his younger caretaker, Irena. He is a widower; she lives alone following her parents’ deaths. He is a WWII veteran of the Red Army whose wife and infant daughter were killed by the Nazis; she is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Each has demons and struggles that find relief in the other. It’s a quiet, interior novel whose depth of emotion sneaks up on you.
Where I’m Reading From: The Changing World of Books by Tim Parks (e-book) *
Along with Nick Hornby, Tim Parks is one of my favorite writers to read on books. Though their styles and subjects differ, both have refreshing, common sense approaches, are extremely smart, seem to rather like books, actually, and write humanely. I don’t know what they put in the water over there in the U.K. but someone should investigate. No offense, America, but the U.K.’s public intellectuals seem a bit more sensible, grounded, and possessed of a sense of proportion.
Parks touches on The Big Issues in the literary world today. Take a peek at the table of contents to get a sense of the breadth of his coverage. Each essay gave me something to think about and debate with myself. By chance I read it while reading Appelfeld’s novel. It turned out to be perfect timing. Parks – who is also a novelist, memoirist, and translator and teaches the latter at an Italian university – has a section on translation. If you’re interested in hearing the insights of an erudite thinker and fluid writer on the ever-changing world of books, pick up this collection.
I believe this book is called a novelization, which is when a film is made into a book. How often does that happen, eh? The film and novel came out around the same time. But Davies’ story, which served as the basis for the film, was sold first. Then his version of the novel was picked up. I revisited both on Thanksgiving day. We don’t have cable, so the opening scene of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade gave me the experience I can’t enjoy on live television. (Too bad the film didn’t also feature an NFL game.)
It’s a quick read, largely expository and very similar to the film. Dialogue, in particular, is lifted right off the screen. Interestingly, the novel compresses the narrative, eliminating a supporting character (Alfred). I’m used to films doing the compressing and eliminating, so this was intriguing to read.
Ill Met By Moonlight by W. Stanley Moss (e-book) *
In August, I read a novel set in Crete during World War II, The Girl Under the Olive Tree by Leah Fleming. In the novel, reference is made to Patrick Leigh Fermor, a dashing Brit (for real, check out his picture) who pulled off a daring mission in occupied Crete with Billy Moss (officially, W. Stanley Moss). The mission: Kidnap a German general. Initially, they planned to kidnap one General Muller. Inconveniently, he was replaced by General Heinrich Kreipe. They figured one general is as good as the next.
Ill Met By Moonlight is their story, and it is a thrilling, gripping ride. Incredibly enough, the book is a journal Moss kept during the mission, with explanatory passages added but very little changed. Read it, and you’ll see what I mean by “incredibly.” The writing is quite poetic at times as well as moving and witty. The men read literature to pass the time, even when holed up in caves in flea-ridden bedding. Moss describes the island and its people, their customs, and the bond they eventually form with Kreipe. If you’re interested in WWII history, this is an especially fascinating story.
Apparently, I wasn’t paying attention to literary fiction in 2010. Somehow, I missed this witty, wacky, poignant, and trenchant fantasy adventure novel that riffs on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. (In my defense, 2010 fell during my memoir reading phase.)
The story begins with English professor Chris Jaynes being denied tenure and sent packing. If you’ve spent much time in academia, this portion of the story is extremely … entertaining, in a tragic kind of way. Jaynes specializes in slave narratives, and his book dealer presents him with what may be a groundbreaking manuscript: The True and Interesting Narrative of Dirk Peters. Dirk Peters is a character in Poe’s novel, leading Jaynes to wonder, Could Poe’s story have its basis in truth? He puts together a crew of explorers and heads to Antartica, where things get fantastical. This novel does everything: It’s hilarious, suspenseful, intricately constructed, and thought provoking commentary on race in America. My deeply insightful exclamation upon reading the last line: “Wow.”
Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague (e-book) *
When I sat down to read this book, I was thinking about what draws me to time travel fiction. It’s a magnet for me. I saw “ability to time travel” on the jacket copy and had to have this novel. Twice. (In e-book then, a year later, in paperback, but that was by accident.)
Time travel fiction can be about many things (duh). One of the big ones, for me, is a tendency to obsess over the past, especially about how to *fix* it. This desire drives the story. It opens with 13-year-old Margaret’s father being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to death. Using her ability to time travel, Margaret goes into the past to save Lucas Biggs, the corrupt judge who sentenced her father. I don’t want to say too much more because spoilers. What I can say is this: Serious, and seriously devastating, events goes down in this novel. How they play out surprised me in profound ways. The narrative challenges the idea that we can fix the past by revisiting it, literally. What matters, what we can take a hand in shaping, is now. It’s a powerful message for readers of all ages.
Book I started:
Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey by Janet Malcolm (paperback) *
This memoir – about Malcolm’s journey to Chekhovian places – has lived on my physical bookshelves for years. I think I started it as some point but never finished. #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks
Books I bought:
Unlike October’s, this month’s tally isn’t so prohibitively long that I can’t even. So here we go…
Lodestar and Neverseen by Shannon Messenger (e-book)
My library does not carry these, so I was obliged to purchase them. #themsthebreaks**
Deployment by Phil Klay (e-book)
This collection of war stories about Afghanistan and Iraq won the 2014 National Book Award. I have wanted to read it so snapped it up when it became available through an e-book sale this month.
Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty (e-book)
Another book on my to-read list offered on sale this month. I love when that happens!
Death of a Charming Man by M. C. Beaton (e-book)
I was in the mood for a Hamish Macbeth novel, so I bought a Hamish Macbeth novel. And I read it too. That’s important.
A Zadie Smith novel doesn’t come around every year. Ergo, a Zadie Smith novel is An Occasion … for buying a beautiful hardcover edition to cherish and reread over the years.
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (hardcover)
A bookseller I trust at my local Barnes and Nobel recommended this to me.
Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell (paperback)
Last week, I was driving through New Canaan, Conn. with approximately 17 minutes to spare. So I stopped to buy myself a coffee. Naturally. Walking back to my car, I passed a very cheerful looking toy store and couldn’t resist strolling through it. I hit the book section first. Obviously. Pro tip: When you wander into a random store, and it has a book display, go directly to the book display. These tend to be carefully curated. Anyway, that is where I found this pretty little paperback. The story sounded intriguing, so I brought it home with me.
**Apparently, I speak hashtag now. #skills