Monday, December 2, 2019

Books I Read in November

Hi guys! I'm still here, still around, despite my once-a-month posting here and my almost complete non-existence on social media. I've been doing my best to keep my head down and keep focused on preparing for my exams which have now been scheduled officially for January 24, so just under two months of torture left. It will be an incredibly busy two months, with finishing up this semester (so much grading), preparing to host almost my whole family for Christmas, plus planning a baptism (for my oldest) and the usual melee of birthday celebrations (three this year, since my brother will be with us and his birthday is actually on Christmas day), and then traveling on a Disney cruise the first week of January (don't tell my kids, it's a surprise), then returning to the hustle of lesson planning for the new semester, not to mention still prepping for said exams on top of all of this. I'm just trying to say, I will probably still be a bit absent around here for a while yet, though I will try to sneak in my best-of year end reading list.

But! I have some really exciting plans for the blog coming next year. I'll give more details later, but I'm teaching a brand new, designed-by-me, 200-level Topics in English course next semester, and I want to let you guys in on the fun! I'm so excited for this course, and I suspect some of you might be interested in it too, so I'm planning to post lecture and discussion notes here! Like I said, I'll give more information later, including the syllabus in case any of you are actually interested in reading along with my students (might be helpful, because the discussion notes will probably contain spoilers, but I'll give warning). Anyway, just thought I'd let you know that interesting and exciting (at least to me) content will be returning to the blog shortly!

In other news, I hope all of you had a lovely Thanksgiving break. Mine was just about perfect, full of family and food, and just enough down-time to actually feel a bit rested. And, I was able to get the Christmas decorations up, although a good deep-clean of the house did not happen (alas, never ask to use the bathroom if you happen to visit us...). I purposefully tried to slow down my reading rate this month. I experimented with adding more "silence" to my day, and listened to more music instead of just audio books. Yes, it was Christmas music (I'll hold off on decorating till after Thanksgiving, but I can't help but blast the Christmas tunes Nov. 1st on). And... I still managed to read seven books. My light months are another person's heavy months, what can I say? Also, the jury's still out on whether the slower reading pace was necessary or not... I guess I discovered I'm just as comfortable with myself in silence as I am while listening to a really good book, so why not listen to a really good book? I feel like I could write a whole post about this, hopefully I'll get the chance some day. For now, let's dive in to the books I did read!

Gravity is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty

I saw a lot of people read and recommend this one last month, so I decided to pick it up myself. And I liked it, though I can't say I loved it. I was a bit wary at first, because it seemed to have a bit of the flavor of Liane Moriarty's books (her older sister), which I don't love (contemporary dishy drama). But this one ended up being quite a bit more... philosophically whimsical? Bordering on magical realism (or not, she leaves it up to you)? Anyway, it was worth finishing.

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

This is book 2 in the Red Rising series (I read the first one last month), and I dove into book 3 right after this one, but then had to stop a few pages in because my goodness these books are so brutal. I still plan on finishing the 3rd one, I just need a bit of space first. It's a very interesting series, but gets pretty dark. Anyway, I don't necessarily recommend it to actual young adults, but if you like dark dystopia (plus sci-fi), this is still a recommend.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Needing a bit of a palate cleanser after the last book, I went in the complete opposite direction with this nineteenth century classic on middle class marriage. Guys, this book is brilliant. I mean it. An absolute masterpiece. I read it for the first time in high school (and loved it then), but re-reading it now after eleven years of marriage... Eliot's insights into marriage and expectations and women's purpose in life... just beyond genius. It is so good. This book examines two not very happy marriages under a microscope, and I wish she would've done the same for the happy marriages (because yes, there are happy marriages in this book too). Such interesting, complex, beautifully crafted characters! If you haven't read this one yet, you really should.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

This was another re-read for me (wanted it for October, but apparently so did everybody else, because this is when it came off the holds list). And while there is nothing quite like reading this book for the first time, the experience of re-reading it is still absolutely fantastic (especially since the beginning isn't quite so disorienting). Even knowing all the secrets and what happens in the end, it was still just a marvel to see how Du Maurier weaves this suspenseful tale. Another brilliant classic you must read if you have not already.

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

This book was fascinating. I devoured it in one day, and then gushed about it to my husband. The short version is that Shapiro and her husband both decided to take DNA tests for fun, but Shapiro's test surprisingly reveals that while her mother is her mother, her father is not her father. This, of course, was devastating news, and sends her on a journey to find all the answers she can (and this may be a spoiler, but no, her mother did not have an affair, which I know is what you're thinking). There were lots of chords it struck with me: the importance of cultural and biological inheritance, the influence of genealogy on identity, the incredible science of DNA, the whole Spirit of Elijah, etc. I think it struck me too because, like Shapiro, I have a pretty significant religious ancestry through my father (my maiden name is Smith, and yes, I am one of those Smiths), and I could just imagine the devastation of losing my connection to that heritage through a simple DNA test (I've not taken a DNA test, but considering that my second son is the spitting image of my father, I'm fairly confident I wouldn't be surprised if I took one). Anyway, this was a very interesting story, and I definitely recommend.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Holy cow I loved this book! And I'm also ashamed it took me this long to read it! I own two beautiful copies of it, and I've seen the movie at least a dozen times (I love the movie, it is wonderful), but I had always put off reading the book until now. And it is so freaking good. I mean, the movie has some changes that I like (including the Ramayana stories, the WWI subplot, her dad actually being alive), but they left out how much of a book worm Sara is! And also, the book just does such a better job of portraying how Sara hangs on to her "princess" identity, what it means to her. I loved it so much. I can't wait to read this one to my kids! So, so good!

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

This is another book I've seen getting fairly good reviews lately, and I always like a book about book people, so I threw it on the holds list. I did not like it at first. At first, I thought the author was making up some fantasy race (people with blue skin), which I found entirely tasteless. But when I realized this was a real medical condition, and this story was based on a real family in Kentucky, I became quite a bit more interested. I won't say the story was really well written or absolutely my favorite (I didn't like the way it ended, nor how the love story developed, and I didn't quite feel the crushing sadness I think I was supposed to feel), but I did find the historical bits to be interesting, and had no problems finishing it. I wouldn't call it a must read, but it's good enough.

There we go. Not as many books as usual, but some incredibly good ones this month. As always, have you read any of these? I'd love to hear your thoughts! I'm hoping to find some good seasonal reads for December (beyond A Christmas Carol, this seems like such an impossible task), so if you have any recommends please send them my way!


  1. Oh yes, Middlemarch is just brilliant!

    Nothing seasonal comes to mind, but I think you should check out The Lido. It's one of those books about friendship and finding yourself that's uplifting without being too saccharine.

    1. Well, my library doesn't have an audio copy of The Lido, so it will have to wait until a season when paper books are doable again, but it's definitely gone on the to-read list!