September/October Reading

I don’t have much to say about my reading in September, as any reading time I spent was devoted to making progress with Tony Judt’s Postwar. After the month ended, I decided to take another break from it.

A brief vacation to New England in mid-October set off a wonderful reading streak. I wrapped up Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (I found it just okay) and dove into some wonderful reads.

First up, was Carlene Bauer’s epistolary novel Frances and Bernard, which is apparently inspired by the lives of writers Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell. Though I read a good bit of O’Connor in college, I couldn’t speak to how Bauer’s characters compare to its real-life counterparts. Bauer’s novel takes place in the mid-20th century. Frances and Bernard are two writers who start exchanging letters after meeting at a writer’s colony. Frances is an Irish Catholic from Philadelphia and Bernard is from New England and a recent convert to Catholicism. They talk about faith – some of which I found relatable and some if it a little too intellectualized. I really liked the character of Frances quite a lot. For me, the novel really took off after Bernard visits Frances in New York. There are some things revealed about his character that complicates their friendship in interesting ways. From there, I found the novel very engrossing, and in the end, a little bit of an emotional wringer.

I was in danger of a reading hangover at that point, so I picked the most promising book on my Kindle: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Set mostly in turn-of-the-century New York City, Wecker’s book is a lovely blending of immigrant tale and fantasy. The Golem and the Jinni are embodiments of the Old World, the mother countries, without being reduced to mere symbolic characters. Wecker’s world-building is superb. She has effortlessly worked in her research of mythologies and New York City into a compelling narrative. After describing the premise to my parents, they borrowed it from the library and read it as well. My younger sister also picked up the book. She is particularly enjoying all the references to Bedouin culture, as she has many close friends who are Bedu.

On the plane ride back home, I decided to stick to fantasy, and started reading Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, which combines Russian folktale and medieval Russian history to tell the story of the brave Vasilisa. The world-building is rich, and I loved how the novel is about Vasilisa’s whole family, though she is clearly the protagonist. But because it is partly a family story, sibling relationships are important to the narrative and I love a good tale about siblings.

After finishing The Bear and the Nightingale, I immediately read the second book in the trilogy, The Girl in the Tower. In the second book, the oppressiveness of Russian medieval times for women becomes even more apparent. Vasilisa is dressed as a boy throughout most of the book, and it made for very stressful reading for me, as I feared for what would happen to her if she was found out. The stakes felt very high. I believe the third book doesn’t come out until January. I’m hoping for a full family reunion, since a couple of the siblings were largely out of the action in the second book.

Currently, I’m reading straight-up historical fiction: Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard. It’s the second in her Cazalet Chronicles series, and England is now entered into World War II. The books follow an extended family. Similar to my joy at Katherine Arden’s focus on siblings, I love books that include cousin relationships and the interactions with uncles and aunts and grandparents. As with her first, I am impressed by her well-drawn characters, especially the children and young adults. Her depiction of the situational aspects that influence how we behave strikes very true.

I’m also participating in Nonfiction November, hosted by a range of bloggers. My participation is mainly going to be on Instagram. My handle there is christythelibrarian in case you want to follow, or you can follow the Instagram hashtag #nonficnov to see the posts by all participants.

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