Friday, October 2, 2020

September Reads

In August, I didn't ready very many books. Now, partly, this was because one of the books I *did* read was Look Homeward, Angel, which clocks in at more than 600 pages or 26 listening hours (I read that one by moving back and forth between audiobook and Kindle editions). In fact, I didn't really even finish the Wolfe novel until a day or two into September. 

So, I promised myself options in September. Sometimes I pin myself in with promises--agreeing to read and review certain books or signing on for discussions that mean I have to read a book on a certain timeframe. As much as I enjoy the book clubs, sometimes the obligation takes the joy out of it. 

So, I started with two books that I had a strong desire to read based on what I'd heard about them: 

This was my third read by Cherie Priest. I first found her novel Boneshaker a couple of years ago. I enjoyed it, and I do intend to go back for more in the series, but I haven't made it yet. 

After I read Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, I had a hankering for more Lovecraftian horror and ran across Maplecroft, which blends alternate history with Lovecraftian mythos through the character of Lizzie Borden. Right up three of my favorite alleys! I devoured that one last month. 

Chapelwood is a second book in the series, picking up some thirty years after the events of the first book, with a now-elderly, but still formidable Lizzie Borden traveling to Alabama to face another dark threat to humanity. I loved it almost as much as the first one, so it started off my September happily. 

My Dark Vanessa was not nearly as fun. That's not to say it wasn't good. It was terribly good, the kind of book that lingers with you a long time, but the subject matter is awfully real and dark and heavy and September 2020 was maybe not the right time for me to take on that kind of book. I found it un-put-downable, and also wished I had never picked it up. While I thought it was wonderful, I'm not sure I'd recommend it without a series of trigger warnings. My short take is: Lolita, as told by Lolita instead of Humbert Humbert. Complex, riveting, and…harrowing.

My Dark Vanessa was also quite long. So, I decided to choose my next few books based on a different criteria: length! 

I wanted short books. Things I could read in one to three days. Short-term commitments. Luckily, I already had a bunch of such things waiting for me from past purchases on my Kindle and in my Audible collection. 

Hero by Susan Hill, a short story intended to introduce readers to Simon Serrailler, a police detective character featured in a ten book series. Hill's writing was stellar, but I think I'd walked in expecting something like The Woman in Black, a book by Susan Hill that enraptured me, and I found instead a quiet, thoughtful policeman's tale. Good, but not my favorite sort of book.

The Half-Life of Marie Curie by Lauren Gunderston was an Audible original I picked up sometime when it was free with my membership because I thought I'd like to know more about Marie Curie. I definitely got my wish in this fabulous performance of a play featuring Kate Mulgrew and Francesca Faridany. In fact, I have a new woman scientist to look into: Hertha Ayrton.

Pluck & Cover and Hide & Chic, two novellas of the Zombie Cosmetologist series by JD Blackrose. Light and fun, a truly original take on zombies (not mindless shamblers or brain-hungry monsters, but something entirely different).

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. While there is truth in this self-help book for creatives, it's buried in a lot of tough talk that feels a lot like bullying. Turned me off. 

Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy. I picked it up for inspiration, especially since our government has me dipping between disappointment and despair these day. Unfortunately, it left me feeling depressed at the vast chasm between politicians of the past and the self-serving rich assholes we're stuck with these days. I have a hard time believing anyone currently in power would risk their own position or sacrifice their power to make a stand on a moral decision in 2020. 

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. I'd heard of this book, but had only the vaguest idea what it was about. It ended up being a very personal story of grief and survival. My summary: "Heart-rending. A little self-indulgent and self-aggrandizing here and there, but worth it for those incandescently honest moments laid bare and shared by anyone who has ever lost someone they loved dearly."

Conversations with RBG by Jeffrey Rosen. Now *this* was what I was hoping for from the Kennedy. I picked it up because I wanted to remember how wonderful and important Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been, fresh from the surprisingly personal feeling of loss that struck me when I learned of her death. I was already in love with this woman, and I only love her more after reading these interviews and understanding the massive restraint, forethought, and gentle persuasion that cut a swath through our country's legal system and made it tolerable to be female in America. I can only pray her legacy will live on in the hearts of the women she has inspired and lead to a better tomorrow. 

Certain Woman of an Age by Margaret Trudeau. Another Audible original I picked up for free some time ago. I'd describe it as sort of half-standup-act, half Ted-talk. I found I enjoyed myself, even though the book detailed her experiences in learning to live as a bi-polar woman. It was good to see someone come out on the other side of a mental health struggle with humor and confidence. 

So, in number of books, I more than made up for my meager August pile. In fact, I've now met my yearly goal. I always set a goal of 52 books a year, or one a week. Some years, that's hard to reach. 

This year, it's looks like I'm going to demolish it, and I don't feel too guilty about "cheating" by reading so many short books. 

That shorter commitment of 1-3 days per read was exactly what my brain wanted this month, while I dealt with the stress and worry about learning to teach effectively in an all-digital environment and keep moving forward in my own writing. I got that gold-star feeling of accomplishment over and over again, while giving a lot of things I've been meaning to read a chance. I'll call this a win!

I'd love to hear about what you've been reading and how your COVID life has affected your choices in reading material. Tell me about it in the comments below! 


  1. Bravo, Samantha, on reading your reading challenge on Goodreads. Way to go! I love reading novels. I reward myself, after a good writing session, with time to get lost in a story. I'm not really the zombie type and I have nightmares if I read scary stuff. I need the stories I read to end happily because life sometimes does not. All best to you!

  2. I think the Half Life of Marie Curie would be interesting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about these books.