And just like that, we are in the last quarter of the year. With three more months to go before a new year unspools, I hope you will all start reaping the fruits of all that you have worked hard for this past year. I hope you have reached those stars you have been reaching for, else you get to reach them before the year draws to a close. I hope you achieve what you have dreamed and that your prayers get answered. More importantly, I hope you and your family are all happy and are all doing great, physically, and mentally. With 2022 just around the corner, I fervently pray for this pandemic to end soon; hope still springs eternal.
In terms of reading, I planned September to be an extension of my August. Last August, I immersed in new books for it, admittedly, something that I neglected in the first seven months of the year. However, as the month moved forward, it started shifting into a 2021 Booker Prize reading month. It was without design but as the books I have previously bought started arriving, a new prospect dawned on me. Technically, it is still in line with my original intention as these books were published in the current year. The announcement of the shortlist midway through the month was a catalyst for this shift. I am kind of grateful for this for it has introduced me to a bevy of new voices, to authors whose works I have previously not encountered.
With this being said, here is a peek into how my journey went. Here is my reading list for September.
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
Before evolving into a full blown 2021 Booker Prize reading month, I started September with a book that has piqued my interest earlier this year. Torrey Peters’ Detransition, Baby was one of the books that nearly made it to my 2021 Books I Look Forward To List. However, there were just too many new books that has garnered my attention and in the end, I had to cut Detransition, Baby off. A couple of months later, I would encounter the book again, after it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. It missed out the shortlist but it stirred quite the controversy as Peters was the first openly transgender woman to be nominated for the award. In the end, I bought a copy of the book to understand what the book has in store. The premise was both interesting and promising. I was swept into the lives of the characters – Reese, Ames/Amy and Katrina – and the discomfiting realities they had to deal with. The novel was lacking in plot but the intricate details of transgender spaces made up for this. The diversity of the primary characters also resulted into an interesting character study. However, I was underwhelmed. There was honesty and authenticity but there was still something lacking, something I was waiting for. Still, it was a great debut.
Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu
Speaking of my 2021 Books I Look Forward To List, one of the eleven books that made it to my list is Nadia Owusu’s Aftershocks. It was the only memoir in the list. After Nobel Laureate in Literature Wole Soyinka’s Aké: The Years of Childhood, Aftershocks was my second memoir for the year, making this year my most memoirs, making up for last year’s dry spell. When I was younger, I was interested in earthquakes, especially that I live in the notorious Pacific Ring of Fire; the Philippines has several active faults. Moreover, about 11 days after my birth, northern Philippines was struck by a deadly earthquake. In a nutshell, I can somehow understand Owusu’s preoccupation with earthquakes. Her memoir takes the readers across time. However, the presence that loomed above the narrative is Owusu’s father, a Ghanaian United Nations official. Because of his occupation, Owusu grew up in different cities such as Dar Es Salaam, Addis Ababa, Rome, Kampala, London. The ghost that haunted her is her biological mother who abandoned them when she was still young. It was mostly a coming-of-age story, with the readers witnessing how Owusu grappled and came into terms with her own ghosts.
No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This marked the start of the shift. I first came across the book when it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction; unlike Detransition, Baby, it made it to the shortlist but missed out on the award which ultimately went to Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. Despite this, I was a little hesitant about purchasing the book. I later on changed my mind, especially after it was longlisted (then shortlisted) for the Booker Prize for Fiction. It was accompanied by a eureka moment: “There must be something about the book that makes it irresistible to literary pundits.” And there was! No One Is Talking About This is not your ordinary novel. The first part of the novel is an extensive diagnosis of our contemporary lives. In a way, Lockwood’s debut novel is the novel we have all been subconsciously waiting for but never got until now. Our generation has turned into a notification-hungry generation: hungry for likes, comments and engagements. The social media and the internet has become a synonymous part of our lives. Lockwood contrasts the life in the Portal with life in the Real World through the second part. It is a precautionary tale reminding us to never forget reconnecting to real life. It shuns the readers, rousing them from the superficialities of online living.
A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam
When I started reading Anuk Arudpragasam’s A Passage North, the shortlist has not yet been issued. It was my third book from the longlist; the first one was Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun. I barely had any iota on what the book was about but the book is available to me so why not start on a new reading journey with an unfamiliar name. After Sharon Bala’s The Boat People A Passage North is just the second novel I read that is about Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). However, both books shared an element: details of the country’s long-time conflict with the Tamil Tigers which officially ended in 2009, nearly three decades after it blew up. In Arudpragasam’s second novel, we meet Krishan, a young man working for an NGO in Colombo. He received an unexpected call from his hometown, a village in the Northern Province: Rami, his grandmother’s caretaker, was found dead at the bottom of the well. He also received an unexpected communication from Anjum, his former lover. What ensued is a meditative tale with several philosophical intersections. What stood for me was the quality of the prose. It had that Booker quality and I was right, it was announced as one of six shortlisted books shortly after I started reading it.
Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford
What if we were give a chance to live a different life, an alternative one, how would it look life? It was this interesting premise that was the focal point of Francis Spufford’s latest novel, Light Perpetual. Like Aftershocks, it was one of the eleven books in my 2021 Books I Look Forward To List, and the seventh that I get to read. The story commenced in November 1944. A German rocket found its way into a London alley, instantly killing five young lives. After the short introduction, a different story started to unfold. As the story moved forward, Light Perpetual builds a different scenario, a what if they live scenario. Without preamble, the narrative shifted and we start follow the five lives as they get the chance to survive, grow up, and live to adulthood. We even get to witness them raising their grandchildren. It was interesting but what came across was a predictable story, an ordinary story about five ordinary lives. Nothing connected them to the events of the Second World War and we get to forget this detail as the story moved along. This hampered my appreciation of the narrative.
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
Apart from Klara and the Sun and No One Is Talking About This, Maggie Shipstead’s third novel, Great Circle was among a string of books that generated quite the public interest. It kept receiving positive feedback from readers all over the world, even making it to my news timeline. However, I have always been reluctant to touch books that generate this level of hype. I decided to give it a go after I learned that the novel was one of thirteen books longlisted for the Booker Prize. Great Circle revolved around the story of two women, one in the past and one in the present. Marian Graves was born in the early 20th century but found herself, together with her twin brother Jamie, orphaned after their parents abandoned them. Growing up under the care of their artiste uncle, each developed his/her own interest: Marian in steering planes and Jamie in painting. In the contemporary, we are introduced to Hadley Baxter, a young actress who lost her parents to an air accident. She was commissioned to play the role of Marian in a new movie. As a work of historical fiction, I liked the depiction of the role of female pilots during the Second World War. However, the novel was undone by its length, with the achievement of Marian’s dream happening only in the last 80 pages of the 600-pager. I also had no connection with the main characters, except perhaps Jamie and Caleb.
Reading Challenge Recaps
- My 2021 Top 21 Reading List: 12/21
- 2021 Beat The Backlist: 4/12
- My 2021 Books I Look Forward To List: 7/11
- Goodreads 2021 Reading Challenge: 69/75
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 12/20
Book Reviews Published in September
- Book Review # 277: How We Disappeared
- Book Review # 278: The Other Black Girl
- Book Review # 279: Detransition, Baby
- Book Review # 280: No One Is Talking About This
- Book Review # 281: A Passage North
In terms of book review, I again fell short of my target of ten book reviews. it was a tedious month and with several deadlines falling due, I had to shift my focus on my job. Nevertheless, I am still glad I managed to complete five book review, although I still have two book reviews from 2020 still pending. It is my goal to complete these two book reviews so that I can finally shift my focus to the books I read this year. It still remains to be seen how October is going to shape up, at least in terms of my job but I am still hopeful that I can get to finish as many book reviews as I can.
Reading-wise, October is going to be an extension of September as I have three more books from the Booker Prize longlist. I am nearly reading Nadifa Mohamed’s The Fortune Men, my fourth book from the shortlist. I also have two more books from the longlist in line while the last two remaining books from the shortlist are in transit. 2021 has shaped to be my most successful year, where the Booker Prize longlist is concerned. I managed to read all six novels from the 2019 Booker Prize but I only completed it the following year.
After these three Booker Prize nominated works, I am shifting to reading books from my 2021 Top 21 Reading List for I have fallen behind. I still have eleven books! I also have several books from my 2021 Backlist Reading List. The former is still my primary concern but I am also hoping to complete as many books as I can from both my Backlist reading challenge. That is all for now. As always, do keep safe, and happy reading everyone!