I don’t think I’ve ever been sad to see August end. I enjoy summer and I try to make the most it, but I’m an autumn girl at heart and September is my favorite month of the year. I’m so excited for all manner of autumn coziness, including cuddling up with a mug full of a hot beverage and reading a good book. Before I drift too far into this dream (it’s still in the 80s in NYC), let’s take a look at the books that filled up my August days and nights.
Books Read: 10
- Phenomenal by Leigh Ann Henion
- Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart
- Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
- Fail Fail Again Fail better by Pema Chödrön
This is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison: This one didn’t work for me, which was disappointing. It’s a short, fast paced novel jumping forward and backwards in time, and it attempts to cover a great deal: the difficulties of aging, caring for people with memory loss, mother/daughter relationships, rape & sexual abuse, forgiveness, women’s fulfillment via a career vs. homemaking, alcoholism, adultery. It left me with one impression: Too Much. I might have considered not finishing it, but it was so short and fast that I decided to stick it out and see if the ending redeemed it. It didn’t. Instead what I found at the very end of the novel was a few “profound” thoughts about life and how to live it that just seemed manufactured and manipulative – as though they were an attempt to save a poorly executed story and tie it up nicely.
A few weeks ago while browsing a book store I saw another TED Talk book (I just read The Art of Stillness): Judge This by Penguin Random House book designer Chip Kidd. He’s not my favorite book designer, but I enjoy his work. The premise of this one seemed fun – he states that good design exists on a sliding scale between clear and mysterious – in some cases we need very clean, clear design, and some designs call for mystery and intrigue. His TED Talk and this book attempt to teach the reader to think about design critically and begin to judge whether designs are successful for themselves. Unfortunately, this one didn’t quite work for me either – it felt disjointed and not very insightful, the first half in particular. He’s attempting to provide a wide variety of design critiques – from print to packaging to product, but it’s a bit too all over the place for such a short book. The product designs especially felt out of place, and then he talked about the ALS Ice Bucket challenge which, while wonderful and an amazing cause, is a viral social movement idea/concept, not a “design” in the way the other items were, and it felt strange to include in a short book about graphic design. I didn’t regret reading this one, because it’s short and the second half where he speaks about his own designs redeems it a bit, but I’m glad I got it from the library.
I received a galley of How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran a few years ago when it was published, but it just didn’t click with me. I admit that I didn’t give it a very long tryout — I think I put it down after about 10-20 pages. But then I heard Caitlin Moran on an episode of Nerdette, and she was so funny and wise that I decided to give her books another go. I had long ago donated the galley, so I decided to get the audiobook edition on Audible. That was the right choice: her personal stories and sense of humor resonated much better with me when I could hear her voice delivering them. There’s no perfect book on Feminism (as Roxane Gay points out in her own excellent book on Feminism), and I saw a lot of criticism of this one in the GoodReads reviews, specifically about a few language choices she uses when referring to groups that are marginalized or discriminated against. I don’t want to get into all of that in a mini-review, but I think this one is worth reading (or listening to), despite the imperfections.
I’ve been reading a lot of recently published books on social justice in the past year, like Just Mercy, Citizen, and Between the World and Me. To expand on what I’ve learned from these powerful and important books, I decided to listen to the audiobook of Black Like Me by John Howard Griffen. By altering his light skin through medicine, extreme tanning, and oils, as well as shaving his head, Griffen was able to travel through the American South at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement while passing for a black man, and to share his experience as a man who found himself immediately treated differently — and belonging to a separate and unequal class — based only on his skin color. It’s a very personal account of the Civil Rights movement. It’s a testament to some of the progress we’ve made – but it’s also a sobering reminder of just how bad things were within the lifetime of many people who are still alive. And there is still so much work we need to do. I highly recommend reading his account, in print or via the wonderfully narrated audiobook.
It’s hard to know what to write about Missoula by Jon Krakauer. I’ve touched on it in a few weekly recap posts while I was listening to the audiobook. It’s extremely depressing. It’s anger-inducing. And it’s so important. Before reading it, I was aware of how incredibly prevalent rape and sexual assault are in the US, but I didn’t really have a good understanding of the full spectrum of horrific problems victims face in the aftermath, both from legal and social perspectives. This book was eye-opening, and I think it should be required reading.
Lists of Note is a collection of interesting and/or historically important lists from authors, scientists, politicians, and other public figures, assembled and introduced by Shaun Usher. It’s very similar to his excellent Letters of Note, which I read & reviewed earlier this year. My particular favorites in this collection were (including a link to where they can be read online):
- George Perec’s attempt to list every single thing he ate and drank in the year 1974.
- Benjamin Franklin & Edmund Wilson‘s respective list of terms for drunkenness.
- The rules of the Immaculate Heart College Art Department.
- A list of possible character & novel names kept by Charles Dickens.
- F Scott Fitzgerald’s list of things to worry about, compiled in a letter to his daughter.
- A list of birds President Teddy Roosevelt saw on the white house grounds & Washington D.C. while he was in office, assembled by him as a contribution to a naturalist’s field guidebook.
On one hand, I am proud of myself for only buying three books in August. On the other hand, MOAR BOOKS. I think September will hold a few more purchases, as I tend to get splurgy with books during my birth month. In August, however, I was very excited to pick up Let Me Tell You, a book of previously uncollected fiction & non-fiction writing by Shirley Jackson. What a treat that will be to read. As I mentioned above, this year I’ve been pretty good about reading non-fiction books about social justice, mostly from diverse authors. But I haven’t been reading as many novels or works of fiction by diverse authors. I picked up Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat to start to rectify that. And finally, I saw the book How to be Idle while browsing — appropriately enough — Idlewild Books. It’s a little “book of hours” exploration into the ways to enjoy a day.
Cheers to Autumn, whenever it decides to visit NYC or your part of the world! What were the best books you read in August?