Woah. In less than a hundred days, we will be welcoming a new year. 2022 is nearly done. Time really does fly fast. But as the year slowly approaches its close – in a span of three months a lot can still happen – I hope that you achieve everything that you have set to accomplish this year. I hope that your hard work will get repaid. I also hope that your prayers get anwered. More importantly, I hope that you will all be healthy, in body, mind, and spirit. Slowly, things are resuming to pre-pandemic levels. With the streets coming alive, it seems we have managed to overcome a health crisis that has reset our lives in the past two years. However, the war is still far from over. While I understand that protocols are still in place, I hope everyone is still practicing the minimum health protocols. Let us all stay safe and healthy until the year ends.
Reading-wise, my reading journey in September has a motif. After immersing myself in the works of Japanese literature in July and Asian literature in August, I have hopped on the plane (figuratively of course) and travelled to the United States to explore American literature. Interestingly, this was not planned but what directed me to this direction is my goal of ticking as many books from 2022 reading challenges. You see, toward the end of August, I noticed how badly I am doing on my reading challenges. This made me shift my focus lest I will end up cramming again toward the end of the year. Coincidentally, majority of the unread books from these challenes are works of American literature, hence, the month’s main motif. While I still have a lot of backlog, this shift did help in making headways into my reading challenges. Here is a peek into how my journey across Asia shaped up. Happy reading!
How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu
Opening my September reading month is Sequoia Nagamatsu’s How High We Go in the Dark, a book I first encountered earlier this year while researching for books to include on my 2022 Top 10 Books I Look Forward To List. It didn’t take much convincing for me to include the book on my own list for the book’s title and cover reeled me in. This is my fifth book from the aforementioned reading challenge. Anyway, How High We Go in the Dark is a timely read. Set in the dystopian future, the book captured a vivid portrait of our current times. The story opened with Dr. Cliff Miyashiro’s arrival in the Arctic Circle to pursue his recently deceased daughter’s research. What he discovered was the preserved frozen remains of a girl who appeared to have died of an ancient virus. Just like how COVID-19 reshaped our world’s landscape, the 30,000-year-old Arctic virus would alter the course of history. One of the facets of the book that stands out was its structure. Instead of a straightforward story, Nagamatsu provided interlinking vignettes that provided a grim diagnosis of the future. But while the plague continue to rage, the capitalists are turning death into a lucrative business. For a deceptively slim novel, How High We Go in the Dark unpacked a lot as it also explored the adverse impact of climate change.
Trust by Hernan Diaz
One thing about American literature is its diversity. Like Sequoia Nagamatsu, Hernan Diaz has a mixed heritage. He was born in Buenos Aires but was raised in Sweden and is now an American national. However, I have never heard of him until the 2022 Booker Prize longlist was announced; unfortunately, Trust failed to make it to the shortlist. I think I can understand why. Aside from Trust being my first novel by Diaz, it was also my first novel from the 2022 Booker Prize Longlist. Divided into four parts, the novel started with a novella entitled Bonds written by Harold Vanner. Set in 1920s New York prior to the great crash of 1929 Crash, Bonds told the story of Benjamin Rask, a legendary financier, and his wife, Helen, with a focus on Rask’s controversial role in the economic crash. This novella, we learn, was inspired by Andrew Revel. Revel was livid so he commissioned Ida Partenza to write the correct “biography”. The four parts give different textures to the story, with each part written in a different form, including a journal to a personal account. While it was not perfect, the novel held promises – I liked the part that delves into the writing process, However, overall, I was a little underwhelmed.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
My third book for the year, The Virgin Suicides, was part of my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. It was also my third novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, a writer who I first encountered through must-read lists. As the title suggested, the core of the story is a string of suicides that occurred within a year. This event involved the five daughters of the Lisbon family: Cecilia, Lux, Bonnie, Mary, and Therese. Equally attractive, they were born into a devoutly Catholic family. It started with the youngest, Cecilia before her sisters took their own lives. However, we only get to study them through the neighborhood boys who observed them from a distance. Ronald, the family patriarch, was one of their math teachers at the local high school. It does seem like the story was about the Lisbon sisters. However, it soon becomes clear that they were vessels seminal for the coming-of-age of the neighborhood boys. Eugenides did a commendable job of shrouding the sisters in mystery and this distinguishes it from his two succeeding works. Beyond mental health and suicide, the book explored how death can define and affect a community or a group of people. While I was a little underwhelmed at first, I was reeled in when I pieced all of the book’s elements together.
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
During my first encounter with Elif Batuman’s The Idiot, I was reluctant to obtain a copy of the book. In the end, my curiosity got the better of me in the end. Besides, the title reminded me of a book by Fyodor Dostoyevsky of the same title. The Russian writer was actually mentioned in the book with the primary characters discussing the merits of his oeuvre. Actually, the book is not part of any of my reading challenges but since I am also looking to expound my boundaries, I made the book part of my foray into American literature. The book’s primary character and the narrator was Selin Karadağ, a freshman undergrad student at Harvard majoring in linguistics in the mid-1990s. The crux of her freshman experience was her correspondence with an older Hungarian mathematics student, Ivan, who she first met in a Russian language class. For Selin, however, it was more than a correspondence as she slowly found herself falling in love with Ivan, although she was unsure most of the time of how she felt. Ivan, by the way, was in a relationship. I have mixed feelings about the book. The writing was accessible, hence, it was an easy read. However, it dragged at parts and Selin can be a frustrating character although her freshman experiences were something many of us can relate to.
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
From an unfamiliar author, my next book took me to a familiar name in Donna Tartt who first captured my interest with her Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Goldfinch. I next read her debut novel, The Secret History. I liked both books which made me look forward to her sophomore novel; I even included The Little Friend in my 2022 Top 22 Reading List and was also part of my 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge. Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed by the book. It had several layers. It was a mystery novel that opened with the suicide of nine-year-old Robin. Years later, his younger sister Harriet was drawn into the idea that her older brother might not have taken his life, but instead, he was murdered. With the help of her friend Hely, Harriet started investigating the questionable circumstances surrounding her brother’s death. Instead, the story tailspins in a different direction. The layers of mystery were slowly ditched and in its stead was a story that explored the clash of innocence with the ugly realities of the adult world. I didn’t mind that. What was lamentable was that the promising story was ultimately plodded down by Tartt’s compunction for details. These details were neither helpful in understanding the story nor did they move the story forward.
Very Cold People by Sarah Manguso
Like Sequoia Nagamatsu’s How High We Go in the Dark, Sarah Manguso’s Very Cold People was listed as one of the books on my 2022 Top 10 Books I Look Forward To list. It is basically a list of books that are going to be released during the year. In the past years, I have failed in this challenge although I did come close one time, back in 2020 when I was one book short of completing all ten books on the list. Anyway, I have never heard of Manguso before; I learned that she was a renowned poet and that Very Cold People was her first novel. The novel charted the story of Ruthie. The story took time to develop, with the first hundred pages a series of observations about her parents, friends, and classmates. They were random and barely moved the story forward. Once the story started picking up pace, Manguso’s intentions started becoming clearer. Very Cold People is the coming-of-age story of a young woman during the 1980s in a small town called Waitsfield, on the outskirts of Boston. It captured the dichotomies that existed in suburban towns. We also read about the traumas and the dysfunctions that permeate small towns. These traumas are often hushed down, so much so that the young ones dream of escaping. It was, overall, an interesting and lyrical novel.
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
Like The Little Friend, James Fenimore Cooper is part of my 2022 Top 22 Reading List and my 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge. It is also one of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. With one book, I am hitting not just two birds but three. I can’t recall when I first heard the book’s title. I think it was in high school when it was used as a sort of expression. It stuck and I can’t believe I would encounter it years later, as a book. The story started with Cora and Alice Munro, daughters of Lieutenant Colonel Munro traveling from Fort Edward to Fort William Henry, where their father was in command. Accompanying them was Major Duncan Heyward and helping them navigate the wilderness was a native named Magua. During one of the British party’s random excursions, they encountered Natty Bumppo A.K.A. Hawk-eye, a scout for the British. Along with Hawk-eye were his two Mohican friends, Chingachgook and his son Uncas; they were the titular last Mohicans. The historical contexts of the novel were among its most compelling facets. However, perhaps due to the period it was written, it was prone to stereotypes. Cooper also had the compunction for describing every inanimate object. This undermined the overall reading experience.
The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Concluding my September reading journey was another book by a familiar writer. I mean, who hasn’t heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his popular book of the Jazz era, The Great Gatsby? I’ve read three of his books, including the aforementioned book but it has been four years since my last book by Fitzgerald. As such, I listed The Beautiful and Damned in my 2022 Top 22 Reading List and Beat the Backlist Challenge. With this book, I have also completed all his completed novels. At the heart of The Beautiful and Damned was Anthony Patch, the stubborn grandson of a wealthy grandfather. When Anthony returned to the Big Apple after living in Rome, Anthony was under the impression that his grandfather was dying and that he would finally receive his inheritance. But then fate played one of its cruel jokes as Grandfather Patch rallied and was able to recover. Nevertheless, Anthony decided to stay in New York City and be part of its partying scene where he met Gloria Gilbert, a beautiful flapper from Kansas City. Fitzgerald, a master of capturing the spirit of a time and place, juxtaposed the book’s romantic on an idyllic, if not a tumultuous backdrop. Both characters were flawed and unapologetic and yes, the novel was about the author and his wife Zelda.
Reading Challenge Recaps
- My 2022 Top 22 Reading List: 16/22
- 2022 Beat The Backlist: 10/15; 72/50
- 2022 Books I Look Forward To List: 6/10
- Goodreads 2022 Reading Challenge: 74/90*
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 10/20
- New Books Challenge: 8/15
*I updated my reading target for the year because I am way too ahead.
Book Reviews Published in August
- Book Review # 382: Of Salt and Women
- Book Review # 383: Crossroads
- Book Review # 384: The White Book
- Book Review # 385: The Garden of Evening Mists
- Book Review # 386: Sankofa
- Book Review # 387: Malibu Rising
- Book Review # 388: The Dragon’s Village: An Autobiographical Novel of Revolutionary China
- Book Review # 389: Paradise
Unfortunately, for the second month in a row, I failed to reach my target of publishing at least ten book reviews in a month, mainly because of my other responsibilities. Nonetheless, being able to publish eight book reviews this month is not that bad considering that I once published as low as four book reviews in a month. On a brighter note, I am glad I was finally able to complete all my pending book reviews from January and February 2022 while I made a headway into my March 2022 pending book reviews. One step at a time has certainly become my mantra. With this, my focus is on completing all March and April 2022 pending book reviews. These are all books part of my Interntational Womens Month reading journey. But with the traditional cramming toward the end of the year, I fear that I might be publishing below my goals. Well, let us see.
October reading month. Hmmm. As mentioned earlier, my focus for the last quarter of the year will be ticking off books on my 2022 reading challenges. October will basically be an extension of September as I still have several works of American literature on these reading challenges, such as Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs, Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and Paul Auster’s Moon Palace. These three books are part of my Beat the Backlist Challenge while Bridge of Sighs is also part of my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. Meanwhile, I just started reading my first book by Emma Straub, This Time Tomorrow. This is my seventh book from my 2022 Top 10 Books I Look Forward to List. Should time permit, I am looking at integrating other works of American literature such as Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing and John Irving’s The World According to Garp.
And that was how my September reading journey concluded. How about you fellow reader? How was your own journey? I hope you enjoyed the books you have read. For now, have a great day and weekend. As always, do keep safe, and happy reading everyone!
My latest non-quiz post if you want to read. https://opinionoftheday650548878.wordpress.com/2022/10/12/10-booker-prize-winners-you-really-should-read/