And, September is in the book! Time really did flew past us, nine months have already gone by. The contagion really did alter the world. The Philippine capital has been in lockdown for nearly seven months, one of the longest in the world. The virus’ presence is still very much felt all over the city. I am just hoping that things would start to look up in the coming months. Things are indeed looking up as the number of daily cases have gone down. The country’s isn’t far from flattening the curve.
That’s enough the update. Reading-wise, September has been my best this year. I have completed 10 books, the most I read in a month this year. This was despite the fact that I was busier than usual. In the past month, I focused my reading energy on more recent works. This is against my nature for I am a backlist type of reader. Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot was the only exception as all the other books I read were published in the past two years, and with six “new” books, i.e. books published in the same year, I have set a personal record for “new” books read.
Without more ado, here are the magnificent reads I had in September.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex certainly made a Eugenides fan out of me. The book and its unusual subject made it one of my all-time favorite reads. It is also one of the reasons why I wanted to read Eugenides’ other works. It’s been years since I bought The Marriage Plot so I thought it the best time to read it since it’s been years since I read Middlesex. The Marriage Plot started with a promise. I loved the campus setting and the discourses on literature. It was really thought-provoking. But then the story started to diverge. At first, it was exciting. However, these different strands never seem to re-converge. It was just a fine read, not spectacular but it’s fine. Apart from the literary discourses, I liked the exploration on mental health.
All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad
Israeli-American writer Ilana Masad’s debut novel, All My Mother’s Lovers is a book I have been looking forward to. In fact, it was part of my 2020 Top 10 Books I Look Forward To List. The premise of the story was interesting and the title inspires vivid images. However, it was a little underwhelming. The story revolves around the secrets of the family’s matriarch who recently passed away because of an accident. The strong-headed queer daughter uncovered letters written to men unknown to them. She then set out to deliver these letters and what she learned blew her mind. The novel played with some seminal and interesting subjects. It really was promising but the adventure part was underwhelming and the execution just fell short.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
I have never heard of Louise Erdrich before until I bought a copy of Four Souls from a fellow book reader. Years later, I am still to lift the book but her latest work captured my attention. I only bought The Night Watchman because it was listed in USA Today’s list of Best books of 2020 so far: What USA TODAY’s critics loved reading. Since I am curious about her works anyway so I bought a copy of the book and immediately immersed in it. The novel was inspired by the story of Erdrich’s grandfather, a former night watchman. The story is set in Turtle Mountain Indian Reserve and features the entire tribe’s struggle to contest a proposed legislation which would adversely affect the tribe. Whilst the writing and language was pleasant, the story can be a little confusing. It is not, however, stopping me from reading her other works.
Apeirogon by Colum McCann
Apeirogon is my first venture into McCann’s writing. The only reason I bought the book was because it was part of the 2020 Man Booker Prize Longlist. Plus, it was readily available. Upon purchase, I immediately delved in the narrative and I don’t regret that I did. Apeirogon is inspired by the true story of two fathers, Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin. They were born from the opposite ends of the spectrum but two separate heartbreaking events made their stories and lives converge. Apeirogon is a heartbreaking but thought-provoking story about grief and sorrow. Mixing fiction and history, McCann also weaves the colorful and bloody story of Israel and Palestine. Apeirogon is a hopeful story, one that needs to be read. Sadly, it didn’t make the Man Booker Prize shortlist.
The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai
From one story about war to another story about wars. Vietnamese writer Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s The Mountains Sing is another book that I wasn’t planning on buying. But then I learned it was published this year and since I am on the path of “new” reads, I purchased a copy of the book and thankfully, it was delivered within days. The Mountains Sing is the story of Dieu Lan and her family. Born to an affluent farming family in middle Vietnam, Dieu Lan’s fate was impacted by the harrowing vision foretold by the village oracle. Covering four generations of Dieu Lan’s family, The Mountains Sing is an ode to the indomitable courage of a mother that shines in dark times. On the backdrop, Nguyen vividly painted the dark contemporary history of Vietnam. The Mountains Sing is both a heartbreaking and hopeful story.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
Ah Fredrik Backman. There is always something that makes me apprehensive about reading his works. I had the same apprehension with A Man Called Ove. I again had the same apprehension before finally deciding to buy and read his latest work, Anxious People. On both counts, Backman proved that my apprehensions were all for naught as I ended up loving both books. Anxious People revolves around an unusual event that happened the day before New Year’s Eve. A botched bank robbery led to an unplanned hostage taking in an apartment viewing. Although the first half dragged a bit, the second half was heartwarming and beautifully crafted. Backman showed his canny ability of capturing the our daily concerns in a humorous and witty manner.
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi
The winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize, Jokha Alharthi’s Celestial Bodies is a title I have been looking forward to. Unfortunately, I had a difficult time procuring a copy until last month when I managed to perfectly time an available copy of the book. Upon its delivery, I immersed in the story without further ado. Set in a small Omani village, Celestial Bodies relates the story of three sisters – Mayya, Asam, and Khawla. The thing that prevails above the book is its structure – the story was related by one too many characters in their own perspective. Individually, they were wonderfully written but they never quite converge. Albeit a challenging read, I loved the incorporation of various elements of Omani culture and of the impact of the shift towards Western ideas in Omani society.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Just like most books in this list, I wasn’t originally planning on reading Mexican writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow. However, after encountering several glowing reviews of her latest work, Mexican Gothic, I decided to try her brand of writing (Mexican Gothic wasn’t available then so I bought this instead). Gods of Jade and Shadow starts in the Yucatan Peninsula where eighteen-year-old Casiopea was treated like a servant in her family home. Her life changed when she opened a chest that contained the bones of the Mayan God Hun-Kamé. They then embark on a journey that culminates on the other end of Mexico, off the coast of Baja California. I loved the writing as it was easy to read. However, I lament how the story kept on taking huge leaps and leaving some huge gapes in between. Nonetheless, Mayan mythology is an interesting study.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
With his 2020 Pulitzer Prize victory for The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead just became the fourth writer to win the prestigious literary prize at least twice. This tipped me towards reading the book which I wasn’t originally planning on reading; The Underground Railroad was a little underwhelming. Nonetheless, I bought a copy of the book and read it. The Nickel Boys was inspired by an actual reform school in Florida and relates the story of two young men – Turner and Elwood. The novel recounts the atrocities committed in the reform school, from violence to sexual abuse. Amidst the dark and heavy atmosphere of the school and despite Turner’s cynicism, Elwood was the beacon of hope and positivity. It is a heartbreaking story but one that still deserves to be read of.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Mexican Gothic was my second Silvia Moreno-Garcia for the month and in a week, something that is unusual considering the number of unread books I have (*HAHA*). As I have mentioned previously, the glowing accounts of the book piqued my interest and made me curious about Moreno-Garcia’s brand of literature. Mexican Gothic is the story of Noemi Taboada who was forced by her father to go visit her cousin newly-married cousin Catalina in the Mexican countryside. From Mexico City, Noemi traveled all the way to High Place, the estate owned by the Doyle family, the family of Catalina’s husband. The novel is atmospheric and High Place is reminiscent of Wuthering Heights and Rebecca’s Manderley. I liked the combination of horror, fantasy and gothic.
Current Read: The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford
Ford Maddox Ford’s The Good Soldier was one of the books I purchased during last year’s Big Bad Wolf sale. I didn’t have any iota on what it was about but it sounded good so I bought it. I have decided on reading it after immersing on more contemporary works. The novel is quite challenging to read and is not one for quick consumption. I am hoping that it would make sense to me as I find myself literally in a maze right now.
Reading Challenge Recaps
- My 2020 Top 20 Reading List: 19/20
- Beat The Backlist: 12/12
- My 2020 10 Books I Look Forward To List: 5/10
- Gooodreads 2020 Reading Challenge: 69/80*
- Year of the Asian Reading Challenge: 20/20**
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 16/20
*I have updated my Goodread reading challenge tally from 75 books to 80 as I am way ahead of my target.
**I included Israeli-American Ilana Masad in the count.
Book Reviews Published in September
- Book Review # 200: Perfume, the Story of a Murderer
- Book Review # 201: All My Mother’s Lovers
- Book Review # 202: Silence
- Book Review # 203: The Marriage Plot
- Book Review # 204: After the Banquet
- Book Review # 205: Apeirogon
September wasn’t as productive book review writing-wise. My plan for the month was to complete all my pending book reviews for May. At the start of the month, I had six but due to time constraints and my hectic schedule for the month, I managed to complete just two of these book reviews. On a positive note, I completed three book reviews for books I have read during the month! I guess writing a draft review in Goodreads immediately after completing a book helped a lot in facilitating my complete book reviews.
October is bound to be yet another hectic and tedious month (my job is waving). However, I resolve to finish the four remaining book reviews for May (Japanese Literature month). I will take it one book review at a time and hopefully manage to complete more pending book reviews in the coming weeks. Apart from this, I am also looking at reading more current works as I a quite the backlist reader. Some of my favorite authors like David Mitchell, Yaa Gyasi, and Akwaeke Emezi have made releases this year. And yes, I am also looking forward to the Man Booker Prize winner.
How about you readers? How was your September reading journey? I hope you had a great journey. You can also share your experiences in the comment box.
Happy reading everyone!
“We can’t change the world, and a lot of time we can’t even change people. No more than one bit at a time. So we can do what we can to help whenever we get the chance, sweetheart. We save those we can. We do our best. Then we try to find a way to convince ourselves that that will just have to… be enough. So wen can live with our failures without drowning.”~ FREDRIK BACKMAN, ANXIOUS PEOPLE