I’m writing this blog from my couch, sick for the first time in two years (yes, there are upsides to being locked away with your husband and your cat). I’ve been napping, drinking lots of water, and snuggling with the cat. And, in moments of lucidity, I decided to share my favorite books from September! We spent twelve days in Iceland and I had several false starts, thus my end-of-month book total is thirteen books. I hope that this is easy enough to understand, but if not, I blame the Sudafed!
What Strange Paradise (Omar El Akkad): This heartbreaking book tells the story of Amir, a young boy who accidentally ends up on a migrant ship headed from Egypt to Greece. El Akkad tells the story alternative from a Before and an After perspective, helping us to understand how Amir makes a series of journeys to his destination. The author makes the characters come alive even though the book is short and he has much to cover.
I must admit that I thought I had a handle on the book until the very last chapter when I became completely confused. If this is you, there are some answers on the page for this book on Goodreads, but don’t read ahead of time because they truly will spoil the book. As always, it made me look back at the book with completely different eyes. I appreciated such a personal take on a humanitarian crisis that is, at times, hard to understand.
Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë): It is rather embarrassing that I have never read this book, but thanks to my friend Gretta’s gift of a scratch-off Top 100 book poster I decided to give it a try! The book starts rather disorienting in the first few chapters, but then Bronte’s form started to make sense and I was able to settle into the book. We learn of two families, the Lintons and the Earnshaws, and, of course, Heathcliff, the orphan adopted into the family. This book made the Montagues and the Capulets look like saints as the many headstrong characters clash with each other and dominate the weak-willed ones. I’m not sure what else could be said about this book other than to encourage you to stick with it if you like some good old family drama. Now I can watch the film adaptation in peace.
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 (Cho Nam-Joo): This book was fascinating, powerful, and pretty unforgettable. Cho Nam-Joo draws on her own experiences to share the story of Kim Jiyoung, a Korean woman, wife, and mother who, at the beginning of the novel, starts to “lose it.” We leave the present day to understand who Kim Jiyoung is — her childhood, her college years, and her adulthood, and disturbing patterns of discrimination and marginalization emerge. This novel was different than any I had ever read but brought into sharp focus some of the experiences of South Korean women. If you are up for an interesting, quirky book, I recommend this one!
Rodham (Curtis Sittenfeld): Sittenfeld writes engaging stories but as I read the book jacket of Rodham I was afraid it was too good to be true, too gimmicky, or both. Let me just say, happily, that this book was funny, sad, serious, raunchy, and made me look at Hillary in a different light.
The premise is simply this: What if Hillary Rodham never married Bill Clinton? What would her life have been like if she took a different path? Sittenfeld captured the voices of some of the key characters so well (yes, Bill is still a part of her story), and though some of the characters are familiar, their paths are different, but yet still in-line with their characters.
That being said I could see that this book has a love-it or hate-it, so it might be a risk for you — but it might be a risk that pays off!
The Journey From Prague Street (Hana Demetz): Wow, what a wonderful update to The House on Prague Street. Toggling between the future (20–30 years out) and shortly after the last book left off, we learn what exactly happened when our heroine, Helenka, left Prague Street in the aftermath of WWII. It feels a little odd to recommend the second book, trust me that the first book will be worth the read — and then you can read this one!
Evil Under the Sun (Agatha Christie): My Agatha Christie quest continues!
Retired detective Hercule Poirot is what we should assume is a well-deserved vacation on the coast of Devon, yet, as it always seems to happen, murder finds him. A young woman is found dead on the beach of a small island, and with no people allowed on or off, the suspect list seems to be relegated to the hotel guests. Arlena Stuart, the victim, appears to be a woman with many man friends, even though she is on vacation with her husband and teenage stepdaughter. I was much closer to being correct with this book than many of Christie’s before, and I see that as my own triumph!
Arctic Dreams (Barry Lopez): This book was a perfect read for a nearly-Arctic trip to Iceland, as Lopez explores much of the North American Arctic — the animals, the birds, the explorers, the native peoples, the plants, the tides, and the ice! This book was thick and slow to go (almost two weeks to complete!), but I took it at a more glacial pace and enjoyed where the book’s currents took me. If you stick with it, this well-researched book shall reward you and help you get more curious about our Northern regions.
Demystifying Disability (Emily Ladau): I cannot recommend this book enough. At a moment in time when we are very focused on inclusion, this book is a reminder that inclusion and advocacy for people with disabilities remains critical. Ladau shows us the history of discrimination against people with disabilities, how to be more inclusive in our language, why “inspiration porn” is demeaning, and tangible steps for advocacy. This book is also filled with the perspectives of other people with disabilities and lots of references to boot, including her own podcast. I have a lot to think about after reading this book.
Deep South (Paul Theroux): I went back and forth and back and forth on how to rate this book and settled on 4-stars, and here’s why.
Theroux is not at all the easiest writer to read. His writing is thick and sometimes he gets off down into tangents (for example, I strongly disliked his interludes, where he nerded out on obscure topics). He’s slightly arrogant and thinks pretty highly of himself, a trait that I dislike.
And yet… he is a good storyteller, he gets out on the road into interesting places, and he made the American South come alive for me in this book in a way that it hadn’t before. Unlike other travelogues he returns to these small towns across the seasons to check in both on people and on communities and their initiatives to improve. In some ways it’s like reading a documentary in that it is (mostly) free from commentary. It was also instructive that some of these areas felt as poor or poorer than places he had visited in Africa, yet they had been forgotten in a way that these other places hadn’t. If you can look pass the arrogance and wordiness, it’s really quite a good book.
Happy fall, y’all! I hope you have time to snuggle up with a great book!