Reading List: September 2017
It is Labor Day weekend in the United States where I live, which officially marks the end of summer. I have always found it interesting that during the summer months, reading lists begin to circulate, as many are quick to recommend books to take with you to the beach. Apparently, during the summer is when some people actually catch the reading bug. There may even be statistics that provide empirical evidence that publishers release certain books in the summer, in order to strategically get more people to read. I am happy to report that there is never a lull in the reading on my end. I am constantly reading irrespective of the season.
When I started the reading list series at the beginning of the year, I intentionally started sleuthing for new books that I could add to my endless reading list. And now, in this ninth edition of the series, I can categorically say that I have NOT read all the books that have appeared in the reading lists. That being said, I have thoroughly enjoyed discovering new books to read – especially in fiction and a sprinkling of non-fiction.
Yet, while the reading lists features only new book releases, I have also been discovering new fiction that may have been released at an earlier time and which I come across for the first time in 2017.
Another key feature of my adventurous reading life is re-reading books that I have read before. I always find it fascinating to re-read a book several years after I first read it. It sometimes feels like reunion of old friends as I rediscover the characters and see them through a different, sometimes more mature lens. I have heard some people say that in re-reads, they have sympathy for villains, they originally abhorred when they first read the story. Some of my favorite re-reads have been books that I originally read for school. I have never had much of an issue with reading books, but there is a massive difference between reading for pleasure and reading for the academic pressure of getting a good grade.
Over the summer, I wandered into my local library and stumbled on copies of Shakespeare’s plays in a series called No Fear Shakespeare and I was taken back to my school days when I had to read the plays. While the stories were captivating, I always found the language very onerous to navigate. No Fear Shakespeare juxtaposes the original language with simplified language, making it easier for students who have to read the plays for school. I took copies of The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and devoured them hungrily, wishing that this edition of Shakespeare’s plays had been available when I was studying.
I also now realize that I have to return them to the library post-haste as the end of summer also marks the beginning of school for many students and these books may be in demand soon.
Still on re-reads, an online book club that I belong to announced that Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre would be the September read. I remember reading that book when I was 12 years old and I fell in love with the story. I even have a copy of the book in my living room and it is one of those classics that over the years, I just open up and read a few pages because the language is so mesmerizing. I have often assumed that my reading life is a little too complicated to allow me to actively participate in the events of a book club, but during this month of September, I will be re-reading Jane Eyre and I got a new copy just for that purpose. It is one of those Word Cloud Classics Books by Juniper Books, which as the name implies has book covers which have have a word cloud of the novel’s key words.
Another exciting re-read for me this month is Flora Nwapa’s Efuru. When the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication was celebrated last year, I made a mental note to re-read the book but was not able to get to it until just now. So, my reading life will see me re-reading Jane Eyre and Efuru during the month of September.
In addition to these fantastic re-reads, in the month of September, I will be adding seven new book releases to my endless reading list. They include 3 short story collections, one piece of non-fiction which serves as a biography for a revered city, a political thriller, and two books by female authors which showcase the nuances of family. All absolutely promising reads. I continue to live with the anguish of ‘too many books and not enough time‘.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. In Shaker Heights, a placid suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community. Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following rules can avert disaster.
The King is Always Above the People by Daniel Alarcón. A slightly political collection of stories about immigration, broken dreams, Los Angeles gang members, Latin American families, and other high stakes journeys. In these stories, Daniel Alarcón delves into profound human issues, showing us people on the move and how the new paths that they forge are accompanied by hope and heartbreak. The stories are richly drawn, the characters are unforgettable, the experiences are both unsettling and unknown, and yet eerily familiar in this new world.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. Jojo and her toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high: Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise. Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truth at the heart of the American story and power, and limitations, of the bonds of family.
Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities by Bettany Hughes. Istanbul explores a city which stands as a gateway between the east and west, one of the indisputably greatest cities in the world. Previously known by the names Byzantium and Constantinople, this is the most celebrated metropolis in the world to sit on two continents, straddling the dividing line of the Bosphorous Strait between Europe and Asia. Bettany Hughes has been researching and writing this rich portrait of one of the world’s most multi-faceted cities for over a decade. Her compelling biography of a momentous city is visceral, immediate and sensuous narrative history at its finest.
Five-Carat Soul by James McBride. The stories in Five-Carat Soul spring from a place where identity, humanity, and history converge. They are funny and poignant, insightful and unpredictable, imaginative and authentic — all told with Mr. McBride’s unrivaled storytelling skill and meticulous eye for character and detail. This is a surprising, perceptive, and evocative collection of stories that is also a moving exploration of our human condition.
Dinner at the Center of the Earth by Nathan Englander. A prisoner in a secret cell. The guard who has watched over him for a dozen years. An American waitress in Paris. A young Palestinian man in Berlin who strikes up an odd friendship with a wealthy Canadian businessman. And The General, Israel’s most controversial leader, who lies dying in a hospital, the only man who knows of the prisoner’s existence. Nathan Englander has woven a powerful intensely suspenseful portrait of a nation riven by insoluble conflict, even as the lives of citizens become fatefully and inextricably entwined.
Kiss Me Someone by Karen Shepard. Bold and unapologetic, the women in this collection walk the line between various states: adolescence and adulthood, stability and uncertainty, selfishness and compassion. They navigate obstacles that come with mixed-race identity and instabilities in social class, and they use their positions to leverage power. They employ rage and tenderness and logic and sex, but for all of their rationality they’re drawn to self-destructive behavior. In Kiss Me Someone, Ms. Shepard explores what we do to lessen our burdens of sadness and isolation. Her characters are fiercely true to themselves and are caught between their desire to move beyond their isolation and a fear that it’s exactly where they belong.