As of this drafting (September 12th), we have 160 posts linked-up for this challenge. Bravo!
I wonder if you might take a moment to leave a comment this month and share your favorite book from this year’s challenge? If you’ve completed your list or made a lot of progress, share that too! We’d love to cheer you on and feel motivated too, especially those of us (cough cough) who have been stuck for a little bit.
Speaking of stuck, as summer here in the world’s hottest region begins to come to an end, I will begin to find myself more often outdoors. That usually means a rapid slowing-down of my reading progress. This is a little problematic because I’ve already had two months in a row with now challenge list progress! Teaching two literature courses plus composition courses tends to whittle away at any of my free time, but especially free/pleasure reading, because I need to read so much material for lectures, reviews, and of course I need to read student work, too. All of that is to say… I swear, it’s not my fault! (Ha ha – are you convinced?)
Callooh, callay! What a frabjous day! Thanks to an extraordinarily prolific reading month in August, I’m now ahead of schedule for my reading. (I’ve already hit my Goodreads goal for the year: 65 books. Guess I need to update that!) I also forced myself to sit down and get a few blog posts written, including some thoughts on Didion’s A Book of Common Prayer, which I finished quite some time ago (in fact, I wrote thoughts for two poetry collections that I completed for this challenge after reading the Didion, before writing the Didion review. Huh!) I’m also still plugging away steadily at A Poet’s Guide to Poetry, which means I’m “in progress” on Book 11 for my main 12. I have much hope that I’ll complete my challenge with 14 out of 12 this year! But I do have two very large tomes remaining, so we’ll see how it all actually pans out, in the end.
Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!
Stay tuned & keep posting those reviews to the linky below!
A Book of Common Prayer is the story of two American women in the derelict Central American nation of Boca Grande. Grace Strasser-Mendana controls much of the country’s wealth and knows virtually all of its secrets; Charlotte Douglas knows far too little. “Immaculate of history, innocent of politics,” she has come to Boca Grande vaguely and vainly hoping to be reunited with her fugitive daughter.
After finishing this one, my immediate reaction was: This is an American Orwellian. Most of the plot takes place in a banana republic. There’s a bit of a mystery unfolding, as the novel’s protagonist is looking for answers about what has happened to a strange woman—Charlotte–and her revolutionary daughter. Though the narrator meets the woman and her most intimate—if that word can even be applied to anyone like Charlotte Douglas—relations, she remains unknown in the way that many of Didion’s female characters are unknown, unknowing, and unknowable. Is she a spy? Is she completely oblivious to what’s going on around her? And in a country ruled by despots, does it matter either way?
Yet, despite the subject’s being mostly vapid and numb, they are not, for me numbing, as they could be. This is because of the poetic, graceful way Didion writes them, the believable way in which they have been stunned silent and made dumb by the world. I’m always left asking, well, who in their right mind wouldn’t be? Some have criticized Didion’s dialogue and prose as being not entirely believable. To me, the question is, is it believable in context? In other words, do I believe that the narrator would speak the way she does, and that these characters—as they are—would dialogue the way they do? For the most part, I think the answer is yes. I also know these aren’t the kinds of folks I’d find myself hanging out with.
Didion wrote in an essay, once, that she was a woman who felt totally disconnected from the world and had lost any illusions of it—or us—being promising. So, perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a book about disillusionment. About lack of faith in anything, but especially in lovers and in government. The one persistent strand of belief stems from a mother’s devotion to her child, despite that child seeming to be a confirmed terrorist and less than reciprocally interested in her mother. This too, for readers aware of Didion’s personal life story, will resonate, because aside from her husband, the one personal belief she did seem to hold dear was the love she had for her own daughter, Quintana.
A Book of Common Prayer spends much time considering the question of right and wrong. Characters often try to convince others that they were wrong to do, say, or think something. In the end, though, right and wrong don’t seem to matter. It’s almost as if right and wrong, and therefore true or false, have become meaningless. And that might be the entire point. Orwellian indeed.
I’m not as big a fan of Didion’s fiction as I am of her memoirs and essays/journalism, but I find many of the qualities that I like from her non-fiction do carry over. While I still think Play It As It Lays is probably her best novel, I look forward to continuing my journey through Didion’s complete works.
A Book of Common Prayer was Book 8 completed in my 2022 TBR Pile Challenge.
In the Between gathers together seventeen short stories and two comics created by established and rising stars in American fiction or graphic art, all published since 2000. It speaks to the widening diversity in our population and to our changing society. The stories in this collection present characters from differing multicultural and racial backgrounds, genders, sexuality, and abled-ness, some with intersectional identities and others who are affected by urban gentrification or the decline of their rural town. Each one is trying to find a manageable way of life in America. Taken together, their stories urge us to embrace a complex understanding of who we are as a country and who we can be as individuals.
Brice Particelli, co-editor of this collection, writes,
A big part of our divide is fear-based and protective. It’s focused on keeping cultures insulated. We find ourselves in a culture war built around questions of whether our country is diverse or not, whether our history is more complicated than we want to acknowledge, and around whose stories we are willing to hear. I wanted to capture some of the voices that make up that struggle within this anthology.
In the Between is not a book about politics. Its intimate stories give readers a glimpse into other peoples’ lives with a clear focus on human nature. They feature protagonists who are navigating shifting cultural and personal identities as they go to college, hold down a job, serve in the military, emigrate to a new country, fall in love and/or find a sexual partner, perhaps all while struggling with being treated as “other.” The stories don’t shy away from difficulty or controversy. They provide a realistic portrait of America today.
Here are some examples:
The collection also includes works by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Roxane Gay, Benjamin Alire Saenz, and more.
August 2022 at Roof Beam Reader was devoted to all things Jane Austen. I was, however, doing a lot of reading that was not Austen or Austen-related, so I thought I’d share a quick recap of that reading here, with teeny tiny thoughts on the selections.
Reclaiming Two-Spirits: Sexuality, Spiritual Renewal & Sovereignty in Native America by Gregory D. Smithers: I gave this one four-stars on Goodreads. It was an absolutely fascinating and expectedly heartbreaking read about the stamping out of LGBGQ+ (two-spirit) identities in Native North American tribes. Colonization by Europeans did unspeakable damage to native tribes, as we all know, but one thing less discussed or known is how a once revered people, the two-spirits, who were thought to embody male and female identities in a single form and were thus often revered by indigenous peoples, were destroyed by western European prejudices and violence.
The Collected & Corrected Poems of Wallace Stevens: I gave this one five-stars on Goodreads because I felt like I had to. No, really. I enjoyed the poems, but not as much as I think I should have. Or, maybe appreciated is the better word, there. The thing is, I think Stevens is far too clever for me, and so what I really need to do is re-read these poems, much more closely and much more slowly. I did find some intense inspiration in some of these (and of course he’s written some of my favorites, like “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” which I remember from college.) I even drafted a poem directly inspired by one of these.
The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer: This is another perfect score on Goodreads. It’s a young adult sci-fi novel (queer-focused) that was so much more than I expected it to be. In my review, I wrote, “wow, this was good. What if Vonnegut wrote Romeo & Juliet but made it a gay futuristic dystopia?” I’ve also heard comparisons to Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Red, White, and Royal Blue. Or maybe I made that one up, too. It’s a good one, so okay, I’ll take credit for that comparison, too. Honestly, though, I don’t know how or why I nearly slept on this one. I really enjoyed it.
Compassionate Recovery: Mindful Healing for Trauma and Addictions by Darren Litteljohn: Two stars on Goodreads. Absolutely fascinated by the idea of this and will definitely pursue more, perhaps through some of the programs mentioned in this book, but overall, I couldn’t get much out of this one. The style is too frantic, topics covered so quickly and briefly, and lots of summative references to things learned or accomplished that just didn’t seem to have been learned or accomplished. Also, this edition desperately needed a proofreader and editor. It felt like the book was pushed out in a rush.
The Vegetarian by Kang Han: I understand the hype surrounding this one. It’s definitely an intriguing premise, the prose reads somewhat like a more neurotic Hemingway (if that’s even possible–and could be due partly to translating), and the themes are powerful and disturbing. Still wasn’t really the story for me, though, nor a style I much enjoyed. I’m normally okay with, even a fan of, multiple narrative perspectives, but it wasn’t my favorite approach in this particular story. Three stars on Goodreads. If you loved this one, I get it and I’m not mad about it.
Madness by sam sax: I think what I enjoyed or appreciated most about this poetry collection is that its major themes are interesting individually but work effectively and cohesively as a group. As its description states, “Madness attempts to build a queer lineage out of inherited language and cultural artifacts; these poems trouble the static categories of sanity, heterosexuality, masculinity, normality, and health.” Any queer person in the United States will tell you that mental and physical health are ever-present concerns. The questions sax asks here are thoughtful and the delivery of these explorations is powerful. The overall style of the poems did not appeal to me, but the collection is tight and the ideas, the talent, unmistakable. Three stars on Goodreads. (This was book 9 for my 2022 TBR Pile Challenge.)
Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace: Much like my recent reading of Richard Siken, after reading this essay collection, I immediately went out and purchased another Wallace book. (To be honest, I almost bought all of them.) Wallace is such a smart, insightful, and thoughtful writer/thinker. He was obviously wildly intelligent, to the point of brilliance, and while I think that kind of intelligence could sometimes come across as elitism, Wallace is also notably cautious. The ego just doesn’t get in the way, which is a rare thing from a writer and thinker of this caliber. I absolutely loved his forays into politics, lobster festivals, and cultural catastrophes. His observations are bright, deeply ruminative, and often delightfully surprising. I found myself thinking along with him, which is the most fun I’ve had with any book recently. Five stars on Goodreads.
Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao: Listen, this book is wild. Definitely reads like a fever dream in some parts, as the author seems more than willing to admit, but it’s pretty awesome overall. Percy Jackson meets Mulan with some Pixar’s Coco mixed in. Like for real, what? Yeah. But I swear to god, what’s going on with proofreading and editors lately? Do these big publishers need someone? Like pay me. I’m here. Spotted at least 3 glaring bloopers in this one. Anyhow, five stars on Goodreads! I can’t wait to read her book Iron Widow. I’ve had my eye on it for months.
Nature Poem by Tommy Pico: My review of this little poetry collection (or long poem, I should say), was going to be mostly muted. I’ve read Pico before and his style is just not something that works for me. I respect his talent. He’s a slam poet and a smart one at that, but I think I’m at a stage in my life where that kind of poetry doesn’t do it for me anymore. It does work for a lot of people and it’s not difficult to understand why. Interestingly, just a few days after reading this long poem, I was reading an essay by Elaine Castillo (in How to Read Now) where she lauds Pico and this book for all the right reasons. I completely agree with her brilliant assessment of Pico’s powerful and important work, and her reading helped me understand its genius even more, but the style still isn’t for me. Three stars on Goodreads. (This was book 10 for my 2022 TBR Pile Challenge.)
How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa: This is a good collection of short stories by Laotian-Canadian author Thammavongsa. Many of the stories deal with issues relevant to refugees and immigrants, especially cultural and family-specific experiences with food, language, and relationships. I think where the collection is strongest is where the stories carry through those themes and threads throughout, though I didn’t find the writing or the stories particularly surprising or groundbreaking. Three out of five stars on Goodreads.
War of the Foxes by Richard Siken: As you might recall from my review of Siken’s Crush, I loved that collection so much that I immediately ran out and purchased this one. While I enjoyed this one, too, and found some similarity in the power of thought and language, and the tightness in terms of thematic elements in the collection, I definitely have a preference for Crush. This collection has at its foundation a focus on art, art making, artistic expression, and the viewing and reception of art. All of this is complicated by ideas of the self and other, of representation, of doubling. It’s a fascinating journey and much like my appreciation for David Foster Wallace’s mind, I’m ever intrigued by the way Siken views the world. Three (and a half) out of five stars on Goodreads.
My favorite this month:
Here we are on the final day of Austen in August! I hope some of you have had the pleasure of reading works by, about, or inspired by Jane Austen this month and that you’ve enjoyed the various guest posts, throwbacks, and giveaways here at Roof Beam Reader. Today, we wrap-up our event with a final giveaway.
Here are the descriptions, from Shannon:
The first image is a streetlight with directional signs that have the names of different Jane Austen novels’ settings. The bottom is Pemberley. The top right is a whimsical stack of books with decorations and topped with a favorite Austen quote: “If a book is well written, I always find it too short.”
All you have to do to be considered is:
Remember, as you’re reading through Austen in August and sharing any Austen-related content, please post links to your blogs or social media posts about the event in the comments on our master post. Use the #AustenInAugustRBR hashtag to share on social media.
Note: This giveaway is open until 11:59 PM pacific time on Wednesday, September 7th. One winner will be selected at random. Winner will be contacted for shipping information and will have 48-hours to respond before a new winner is chosen. Giveaway host will ship item to the winner. Neither the giveaway host nor Roof Beam Reader is responsible for any items lost or damaged in the mail.