And we’re now down to the last two months of the year. I can’t believe that we will be greeting a new year in just a couple of weeks. The future remains uncertain but we can only look forward with hope. Hope, after all, springs eternal. Looking back, the tenth month of the year has been tragic. Back-to-back catastrophes in India and South Korea toward the end of the month saw the demise of many a young soul. It was heartbreaking reading about the tragedies. I pray for healing for the loved ones they left behind and peace for their souls.

As the curtain slowly falls – in a span of two months a lot can still happen – I hope that you hit all of your targets this year and that you achieve everything that you have set to accomplish this year. I pray that you get repaid a hundredfold for the hard work you poured in. Do know that you are doing well and that you are amazing. I also hope that your prayers get answered. But above all, I hope that you stay healthy, in body, mind, and spirit. With how commerce and trade have been gathering steam, one would assume that we are done with our pandemic phase. The streets are once again teeming with activities. It does seem that we have managed to overcome the health crisis that reset our lives in the past two years. However, we should not be complacent; the war is far from over. My friend recently tested positive. 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.

In terms of reading, October has been an extension of my September reading journey. For the second month running, I immersed myself in the works of American literature. The goal was to tick off books from my active reading challenges which I realized I was lagging behind. When I went over the books in my reading challenges, I noted that several of them were part of American literature, hence, my journey in the past two months. I must say that the past two months have been highly successful as I managed to make huge strides toward my goals this year. While I still have a lot of backlogs, this shift did help in making headways into my reading challenges. Here is a peek into how my journey across the USA shaped up. Happy reading!

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

It was in 2018 when I started a new reading tradition. It was through a fellow book blogger that I came across the idea of listing 10 books to be released in the coming year that I look forward to the most. Unfortunately, not once did I complete any of these lists. This minor setback, however, has not stopped me from doing this list for these lists introduced me to many interesting writers and titles. For 2022, one of the books that made it to the list was Emma Straub’s This Time Tomorrow. Compared to the other writers on my list, Straub has already been around the block although this was my first book by her. The heart of the novel was Alice, a woman approaching her forties. I thought it was a romance story at first but as expected, things are not what always they seem. After a night of getting wasted to celebrate her birthday, she woke up in her childhood bedroom The catch was that she was no longer a forty-year-old woman but a sixteen-year-old girl. The novel’s strong points were its heartwarming exploration of the dynamics between parent and daughter and its philosophical approach to exploring mortality, the passage of time, and, like what most time travel-related books have underscored, the ripple effect of even the most minute of choices.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. was not part of any of my active reading challenges. However, I still read it because it was one of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I was actually ambivalent about reading the book because of the discourse surrounding it. Many consider it a collection of short stories while some consider it a fragmented novel. I changed my mind earlier this year when I learned Egan was releasing a new work (The Candy House). Besides, the book won the Pulitzer Prize. I relented to my curiosity. A Visit from the Goon Squad commenced with Sasha, a young woman, as she contemplates stealing a fellow woman’s purse in a washroom. We learn that she is the assistant of Bennie Salazar, a music executive who was still on the way to making a name for himself. And then it started to unravel. With each chapter, new characters were introduced, at times, unrelated to those in the previous chapter. Each chapter was a fragment, with tenuous connections. It did not help that the novel was preoccupied with creating a story for each of the characters. There were, nevertheless, threads that bound them together. Music, particularly rock music, for instance, was ubiquitous. The novel also grappled with subjects such as youth culture, the search for happiness, aging, and the loss of innocence.

The World According to Garp by John Irving

When it comes to American literature, one of the writers who I find finely represents it is John Irving. He first astounded me with A Prayer for Owen Meany, a reversal of my not-so-warm reception of The Fourth Hand. Owen Meany was one of the most memorable literary characters I have encountered. However, it has been nearly four years since I read a book by Irving. As such, despite The World According to Garp not being part of any of my active reading challenges – except perhaps for my goal to read at least 20 books listed on the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die List – I queued the book for my October American Literature month. And what can I say? Irving has mastered the craft of storytelling. The titular Garp was the bastard son of Jenny Fielding, a strong-willed woman who wanted a child but sans the complications of marriage. It was this that drove her to perform illicit acts on one of her patients, Technical Sergeant Garp, leading to Garp’s conception. We then follow Garp’s story. It was, as always, an engaging read despite the distance between Garp and the reader; this is something I find common in Irving’s works. Interestingly, his fourth novel was his first major literary breakthrough. It grappled with subjects that remain seminal in the contemporary, such as sexual liberties, family dynamics, the rise of feminism, and the growing gap between males and females. Politics and toxic masculinity were also present in the novel. When reading an Irving novel, one thing is for sure: your mind will always be engaged.

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

Prior to 2018, I have never heard of Richard Russo nor had I read any of his works. His novel, Bridge of Sighs was one of many books up for grabs during the first Big Bad Wolf sale in Manila. Despite my lack of background in Russo, the inner adventurer in me was enough to convince me to give the book a try. I, later on, learned that Bridge of Sighs was the first novel he published after winning the Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, the book was left to gather dust on my bookshelf. I then made it part of my 2022 Top 22 Reading List and 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge. The novel followed two timelines, with the first one set in the present and introduced the book’s main character, Louis Charles (“Lucy”) Lynch. He was already in his sixties and is living in the upstate New York (fictional) town of Thomaston. The story then flashed back to the past as Russo painted Lucy’s backstory. Lucy was the only son of Big Lou and Tessa Lynch, who were prominent figures in his story as they personified paradoxical attitudes. Big Lou was an optimist while Tessa was a realist. Another main character was Thomaston, a town once teeming with commerce ushered in by the tanning industry but was in steady decline. Bridge of Sighs was the intersection of Lucy’s story and that of a town inevitably in decline. It was also the story about what anchors us to a place. The novel was an interesting book that had elements of social commentaries and coming of age.

Moon Palace by Paul Auster

It was also back in 2018 when I read and enjoyed my first book by Paul Auster, the popular book The New York Trilogy. Meanwhile, another book by the American writer I acquired, Moon Palace, was gathering dust on my bookshelf. I then added the book to my 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge. Moon Palace was also listed as one of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Compared to my first book by Auster, Moon Palace was more conformist in both form and substance. The heart of the story was Marco Stanley Fogg. He was orphaned at a young age and was then raised by his uncle Victor. Fogg grew up in relative comfort but the equilibrium he enjoyed was destabilized by his uncle’s sudden passing. Fogg ended up inheriting boxes of books but his uncle’s death had far more implications. Fogg was left without any family and friends. For a while, he was a drifter until he was saved by his friends Zimmer and Kitty Wu. and was eventually employed by a mysterious and cantankerous octogenarian named Thomas Effing. A healthy portion of the book was comprised of the story of Effing; Thomas Effing was not his real name. It was but one of many mysteries that shrouded the novel. Overall, Moon Palace was an interesting read about family dynamics with subtle and seminal discourses on literature and the arts, mental health, and being pro-choice or pro-life.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing was also not part of any of my active reading challenges. However, I still read the book because its movie adaptation was released earlier this year. To be honest, I wasn’t really planning on reading the book even though it was ubiquitous. Things changed when I learned about the controversy surrounding the author. With my curiosity piqued, I ultimately bought a copy of the book. At the heart of the story is Catherine Danielle Clark (shortly referred to as Kya) who was still six years old when she watched her mother walk away from her family. Her siblings would follow suit; Kya was the youngest. The reason for their departure was their father’s chronic alcoholism and rampant abuse. For a while, things started to tip for the better until her father would, like the rest of her family, depart. This left Kya to fend for her own in their shack in the midst of North Carolina’s marshlands. Kya would earn the moniker of Marsh Girl. Apart from her coming-of-age, an integral part of the novel was her two love stories. One, however, ended in a tragedy that would highlight the relationship between Kya and the townspeople. The story had bright moments but, overall, I found it a little predictable. The writing was accessible but there was a shift midway through the story that led it astray. The courtroom drama was bland and was an interruption in the more interesting part of the story, the growth, and development of Kya.

The Overstory by Richard Powers 

In a way, Richard Powers’ The Overstory shared something with Where the Crawdads Sing. They were both books I kept encountering whenever I drop by the bookstore but I initially refused to read them. There was something daunting about The Overstory that made me avoid it. My perception shifted (as it always does) when Powers’ latest novel, Bewilderment, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize; I also loved the book. I guess I might as well try The Overstory. After all, it won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. I then made the book part of my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. The novel introduced an eclectic cast of characters, each having his or her own storyline. But while they have separate strands, they ultimately converge through the novel’s main theme. Taking the spotlight in Powers’ twelfth book was a timely and seminal subject: nature. Trees, different types of them, were the backbone of the story. Activism was also an important element of the book. The Overstory, with its vast cast of characters, was heavy on the tell than on the show. Long paragraphs and descriptions abound while dialogues among the characters were limited. Nevertheless, I was still impressed by the vast scope of Powers’ storytelling. It was rather unconventional, mainly because his works deal with nature – something I find rare – but their unconventionality makes Powers’ works more impressionable.

Reading Challenge Recaps
  1. My 2022 Top 22 Reading List18/22
  2. 2022 Beat The Backlist: 12/15; 80/50
  3. 2022 Books I Look Forward To List7/10
  4. Goodreads 2022 Reading Challenge: 89/90*
  5. 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 13/20
  6. New Books Challenge: 9/15

*I updated my reading target for the year because I am way too ahead.

Book Reviews Published in October
  1. Book Review # 390: The Hunger Angel
  2. Book Review # 391: This Time Tomorrow
  3. Book Review # 392: O Pioneers!
  4. Book Review # 393: The World According to Garp
  5. Book Review # 394: Notes on an Execution
  6. Book Review # 395: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Things have been busy at the office. We are one staff short and it was a crucial time because it was the quarter end. This was the reason why, for the third month in a row, I failed to reach my target of publishing at least ten book reviews. I was, however, able to squeeze in time to complete six book reviews, which ties in with January as the month with the least number of reviews published. All things considered, it was still a good number. With the publication of my review of my fifth review of an Agatha Christie novel, I have now completed all reviews from January to March while I am down to one review from April. My mantra this year has been “one step at a time”. My focus for November and December is to complete as many book reviews as I can. I certainly don’t want to start 2023 with another mountain load of backlogs like this year. Hopefully, I get to complete at least until July. Well, let us see.

With the year drawing to a close, the last two months of the year will be dedicated to reading books on my active reading challenges. I have recently finished Kevin Barry’s Night Boat to Tangier, which means I am now down to the last three books on my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. I just have Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio’s Wandering Star, and Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul’s A Bend in the Road. I am also nearly done with Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, the 13th book on my 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge. The last two books on the list are Seth’s A Suitable Boy and Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk. Oh, I didn’t realize I have three Nobel Laureates in Literature on the list. I think this is manageable. And should there be time, I will be reading as many 2022 Books as I can. It seems like I won’t be able to complete reading 20 books from the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Oh well. There are just too many good books out there I guess.

And that was how my October 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!