I’m back with another monthly update, this time for September. Wow, did my reading slow down this month! That was expected, though, as school is back in session and this year, I’m on the teaching and learning sides of things (teaching an overload and taking classes myself.) Nevertheless, I did read quite a bit, and some good stuff, too! Check it out and let me know if you’ve read any of these, or do you have any on your TBRs?
Fairy Tale by Stephen King: This is one of those rare Stephen King novels that have a happy ending, although I have to admit that he does seem to be trending toward happier endings in his recent work. As I mentioned in my short Goodreads blurb, and as I’ve been telling pretty much everyone who’s been interested in this book, I think this is the one King has wanted to write for a long time. He’s always been a fan of fantasy. His Dark Tower series was his first attempt at it, and I don’t think he was satisfied with it. This one, though a standalone, does seem to me a success. It reads almost like a love story to the fantasy genre. The book is essentially split into two parts, with the first half being background/character-building in the “real” world, and the second half being the protagonist’s adventures in the fantasy realm. The sheer number of references in this one, from Chronicles of Narnia to Lord of the Rings, is staggering. Also, it’s just a good old fashioned “boy and his dog” tale, and who doesn’t love that? I gave this one four out of five on Goodreads, but I could see it as a four-point-five.
Inside the Storm I Want to Touch the Tremble by Carolyn Oliver: Carolyn Oliver is a longtime online pal, and I’ve been absolutely thrilled for her this year, as she’s been getting all the things published and receiving all the praise. Personal history aside, though, I’ve been deeply moved and impressed by her work. This collection is no different. The poems range from the daring to the beautiful, from the commonplace to the luminescent. I was tickled by the attention to form, too, as so many contemporary poets seem to write almost entirely in free verse. Oliver engages with ghazals and erasures (which I’ve never been able to do well, but wow, hers is a study!), to bref doubles and the Golden Shovel. I gave this one five out of five on Goodreads and can’t believe I got a signed copy. I think it’ll be worth something one day.
Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison: This is the book that inspired Elaine Castillo’s How to Read Now, which I read last month. It’s a very short collection of three explorations on whiteness in literature and how authors both reflect and create cultural conceptions of race. I was delighted to see her engaging with Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, as that’s a favorite that seems mostly forgotten (like Melville’s Confidence-Man). Much like my reaction to Castillo’s recent work, I didn’t always agree with what Morrison had to say about her sample texts, but I will say I was much more convinced, and awed, by her investigations. The skill she has in reading and deconstructing a text is staggering. I wish I could have taken a class with her. Five out of five stars on Goodreads.
Attack of the Black Rectangles by Amy Sarig King: Amy King always, always, has her finger on the pulse of what’s going on in contemporary society and politics. In this, her first middle grade novel, she responds to the new wave of censorship and book banning that’s sweeping the nation, in all its ridiculous forms. Something King does brilliantly, here, is to humanize the antagonist. The “villainous” teacher who censors books for the good of her sensitive pupils, well, she could easily be crafted as purely monstrous, but King makes it more complicated, and that’s no easy task. The story is fun but serious. The characters are believable and inspirational. The message is necessary and very now. Five out of five stars on Goodreads.
Illustrado by Miguel Syjuco: Wow, this is one complicated and convoluted narrative, or should I say, composite of narratives? But of course, that’s the point. Syjuco’s story is the story of the history of the Philippines if the history of the Philippines could be translated literary in prose. There is one primary narrative and protagonist, a young scholar and writer who takes up his recently deceased (murdered?) mentor’s work and begins the search for a long-lost memoir. The reader is treated to a winding tale of interweaving narratives featuring excerpts from the mentor’s novels, the narrator’s journals, newspaper articles, blog posts, and more, all of which is, I think, intended to reflect the complicated sociopolitical landscape of the Philippines and Filipino diaspora. At the center of the plot is a mystery, but the denouement reveals a surprising red herring that will either make everything clear to the reader or infuriate her. Possibly both. Four out of five stars on Goodreads.
Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R.F. Kuang: This one has received a lot of hype, and I’ll admit that I was completely enamored with this book at the beginning. An anti-colonial fantasy novel that features linguistics as the source power? Sign me up! I was definitely delighted by the erudition and the language study, but I felt some of the actual story elements fell rather flat, possibly left to suffer because other themes, like the anti-colonial themes, were pushed so much to the forefront. It’s odd because I tend to agree with the message, but I’m not sure I enjoy a message so didactically overshadowing the method. As I said on Goodreads, this one is impressive in so many ways, but underwhelming in some of the most important elements to fantasy. So, I was left feeling rather torn about it. Three out of five on Goodreads. (I should add, I’m still wildly impressed by Kuang and I have The Poppy War waiting on my shelf to be read. I’m looking forward to it.)
My Favorite of September 2022