November was a whirlwind! I was traveling 2 of the 4 weeks, and wasn’t home for a single weekend. I’m happy that I managed to finish 8 books, and happier still that they were all great reads.
Books read: 8
I listened to some fantastic audiobooks in November. The first was Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein. I knew very little about Carrie Brownstein before picking this up – I’ve never watched Portlandia, and I hadn’t heard of her band, Sleater-Kinney. I chose this audiobook because it was very well reviewed, and I enjoy reading memoirs of people in the arts. I was surprised by how much I loved it. I think a large part of why I enjoyed it so much was the audiobook format – hearing her narrate her own story of creative and musical development added a power to the memoir that I’m not sure I would have felt as strongly about in print. If you enjoy memoirs written by people in the arts that offer fascinating introspection into their creative process and career, this is an excellent choice. I think it would be good in print too, but the audiobook was fantastic.
The second fantastic audiobook I listened to in November was My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem. I didn’t want it to end – hearing details of Gloria Steinem’s life in political activism and community organizing was endlessly inspiring. It’s a must read for all feminists. (The audiobook is so good – she doesn’t narrator it herself other than the introduction, but they chose a narrator with a mature, slightly gravely voice that works very well.)
I finished The Road to Little Dribbling, Bill Bryson’s newest book, while in Wales. It was a treat to have a new Bill Bryson book to take with me traveling. I’ll share a full review on the U.S. publication date in January.
Just Kids, Patti Smith’s first memoir, is one of my favorite books. I read reviews that cautioned that her follow up, M Train, is very different, so I tried to go into it with that in mind. And it is different – Just Kids tells a narrative driven story of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and their “separate but together” creative development that was fueled and inspired by their relationship and friendship. M Train is meditative — the exploration of life by an artist long into her career, reflecting on a life filled with love and tremendous loss. I didn’t find it any less powerful. I became completely enraptured with this book, reading it slowly and carefully, and savoring the time I got to spend with Patti Smith through her work. She has a sentimental and romantic viewpoint that’s refreshing because it’s balanced with a darker side — it’s a thrilling combination. It’s for people who find old cemeteries beautiful. People who are sentimental about ordinary objects or places that other people may not find interesting or endearing. I don’t think M Train is necessarily for everyone – I’d recommend starting with Just Kids, and if you love it and love how she approaches the world, then you’ll likely find M Train wonderful too.
Everyone has been reading and talking about Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, so when I saw it as a Book of the Month club pick, I took advantage and grabbed a copy. Most people seem to love her writing, and at times I really enjoyed it, and at other times I felt like it’s all too much. But I enjoyed the characters and the story, so I stuck with it. I loved the structure – she tells the story of a marriage first from the husband’s perspective, and then in a completely separate part 2, she tells the same story from the wife’s point of view. I’m glad that they are separate and not intertwined – it adds power to the narrative. I found myself struggling to get through Lotto’s story, in part 1. It wasn’t so much of a struggle that I wanted to stop reading, but it did leave me wondering why so many people were raving about this novel. Then I got to the second part, Mathilde’s story. And I was hooked. Mathilde is a dark, fascinating, multidimensional character, and when the story moves to her hands it begins to soar. It’s not going to be one of my favorite fiction reads of the year, but I’m glad I read it.
Breath, Eyes, Memory is Edwidge Danticat’s first novel. I bought a copy after reading a “rediscovery” editor’s review of it on Barnes and Noble. What an impressive first novel. It’s a beautifully written story of mothers and daughters, what it means to be a woman in Haiti, and the role of storytelling. It’s a short read, but it packs a lot of power. Highly recommended.
I bought a copy of Long Life by Mary Oliver after reading a library copy last month, because it was wonderful and I wanted to add it to my ever expanding collection of Mary Oliver’s work. I also read a library copy of The Postmistress in 2010 when it was published. I really enjoyed it and figured I’d pick up a paperback copy someday to own and re-read. I’m glad I didn’t get around to that any sooner, because I found this beautiful stitched cover edition by Jenny Hart in Wales during my trip to Hay-on-Wye. It’s part of the UK Penguin by Hand series, and it’s beautiful. It goes well with my Penguin Threads collection. I picked up a few other lovely books in Wales, including Laurie Lee’s Christmas Village, and an anthology celebrating books and reading called The Pleasure of Reading. While in Hay-on-Wye I also got some wonderful, out of print books on arctic exploration. However due to my strange personal rules I do not list vintage books in my Polysyllabic spree totals (something that probably makes sense only to me), so they are not shown above. Everybody Writes was recommended to me by a co-worker, and I’m excited to start it soon. I think there’s a lot in it that will help my writing at work, but I think it’s likely to help with my personal writing as well. Last but not least I picked up two new books by two of my favorite authors: My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl and Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed.