Reading wrap-up - September 2020
September and its back-to-school atmosphere is usually a time I feel particularly motivated. This year, as many of you will relate, I felt particularly stressed. I actually spent the first two weeks retreating into a book that held a lot of potential but which I had trouble focusing on, and then embracing the comfort of an old favourite. After that, I regained some sort of balance and still read a lot, but with a much better focus. I just wanted to put this here. You'll notice my first review is all over the place because of my state at the time and because this is just a bewildering book that I'm hoping to do justice to with a re-read next year.
That being said, looking back I'm very satisfied with my September reading. All books by women, a few of them by non-Western authors, and a variety of genres.
The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern
Here was one of my most anticipated reads of the year. Ever since I heard about this novel I felt I needed to read it, one of my favourite subgenres being books about books. The Starless Sea is a rather bewildering example of that. I would be hard put to give you a synopsis, since there are so many tales interwoven. Instead, here's a glimpse of my thoughts throughout my reading.
1/3 of the way in. I want to spend my life with Zachary Ezra Rawlins, thank you. But where is this going? Are the tales going to intersect somehow?
2/3 of the way in. I am CONFUSED. What is happening? What has happened that I can't remember but is important for the plot? Should I have been taking notes?
End. This feels a little like The Raven Boys, in that it's a book you open and fall into. It won't let you put it down after a few minutes in each other's company. You should devote long reading sessions to it, letting your mind meander into a labyrinth of stories until you no longer know where the novel ends and where reality starts. It's a book within a book within a book, and if you're wondering why I'm making no sense all I can say is read it and you'll know.
Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
This marks my fifth reread of Howl's Moving Castle and I thought I couldn't love the story more, but it appears that I do. It's such an enchanting story, with oh-so-relatable characters (I'm such a Sophie) and intricate world-building. I love that not everything is explained - there are still a lot of shadow patches within the story and the world, but in no way does it prevent the reader from fiding a home within the Moving Castle and befriending its inhabitants.
The Ghibli adaptation is a wonderful introduction to the book. It captures the atmosphere in the best possible way, while exploring other, just-as-meaningful paths.
Plus my family gifted me this stunning edition by the Folio Society for my birthday, so this reread is even more special.
The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, by Liz Jensen
Louis Drax is an accident-prone child. At 9 years old, he has already survived several life-threatening accidents. The latest one left him in a coma. His doctor is determined to uncover the truth behind his condition. Or is it a condition? Two voices alternate in the story: Louis's, mingling truth and fantasies, and Pascal Dannachet's, the doctor whose certainties are shattered by what he discovers.
This is a dark, dark book. Twisted, uneasy and gloomy. Not exactly my cup of tea, you'd say, and you'd be right. I discovered it through the soundtrack of the movie adaptation, composed by Patrick Watson. I then watched the movie and enjoyed the atmosphere and the touches of the fantastic (and the music), but I found the story quite disturbing. Only after that did I discover it was a book. I picked it up in the hope that it would explore more the fantastical aspect of the story, but the author took the other path and dived in detail into the thoughts of the doctor. Which was not a particularly nice place to be. Since the book was a fast read, I did finish it, but if it had been longer I wouldn't have.
All the TW for child abuse and all sorts of unhealthy relationships.
The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka
This contemplative little book is quite unique. It tells the perspective of Japanese women who left their homes in the early 20th century to meet and marry their Japanese fiancés working in the USA.
A lot of the book is written in "we". Though a little disconcerting at first, I quickly admired how lyrical it made the prose. Julie Otsuka writes a polyphony of voices coming from the same background but experiencing a kaleidoscope of differences. An important book on the topic of Japanese-Americans and their treatment before, during and after the second world war.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers
This book is going straight into my "How to be a decent human being" book recommendation pile. Honestly, it should be required reading. It's the most inclusive and respectful book I've ever read. In addition, it's simply fun, has a great cast of flamboyant characters, and will keep you hooked, out of breath and teary-eyed.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet follows the crew of the Wayfarer, whose mission is to bore holes into space to allow people to go faster from one point of the universe to another. Their story is important, but more than that it's the relationships between them that makes the book so delightful. With Nnedi Okorafor's Binti trilogy, this book makes me think that I may actually like Sci-Fi after all.
Three Daughters of Eve, by Elif Shafak
As a seasonal reader, I couldn't let September pass without reading a bit of dark academia - a subgenre of novels in academic settings featuring elements of mystery, suspense or outright fantastic elements in the line of The Secret History. As much as I loved The Secret History, it was not diverse, very masculine and heavy on the drinks.
Three Daughters of Eve feels like a feminist and multiculturalist response. Our heroin is Peri, a Turkish woman we follow at two stages of her life. In the first one, she's an established member of Istambul's rich society. She has to deal with a crack in her foundations after memories that had been lying dormant are awakened. In the second timeline, we meet her as child and later an undergraduate at Oxford University. There, she has the opportunity to engage in discussion on a topic that only create conflict at home - religion. One seminar in particular grabs her attention: it is simply entitled "God".
Elif Shafak brilliantly blends the two timelines in her novel, presenting the reader with a in-depth portrait of a woman in doubt. Through her cast of characters, she offers a multi-facetted vision of Middle-eastern women, far from clichés and shortcuts, while delighting academia enthusiasts with an honest account of the victories and struggles of a foreign student in the city of dreaming spires.
For regular book reviews, I encourage you to visit my Instagram page (you don’t need an account): https://www.instagram.com/mariebreta/
What did you read in September?