It is amazing how much reading I can get done when there are no movies or live theatre to go to and no restaurants for safe dining out with friends or really anywhere much to go. It was even too hot for most of August to go out for walks, which I did almost daily in the spring.
I’ve started doing some text-banking for the Biden campaign, which feels good to do. But mostly I’ve filled my days with working, reading, crocheting, cooking, and watching TV/movies (mostly TV because movies are harder to focus on). I’ve watched almost all of the Project Runway that’s available on Hulu and all three seasons of Dark on Netflix (which is a totally bonkers show that became impossible to follow by the end). And I’ve just started The Good Wife, which is proving to be an ideal show for right now. It has a nice mix of continuing drama and single-episode plot that is fitting my mood and level of concentration right now.
As for reading, this month was pretty mixed. Some sub-par books by authors I normally love, a few books that were basically ok, a few that I liked a lot, and one that absolutely knocked my socks off.
- The Lost Traveller and The Sugar House by Antonia White. These two books are semi-sequels to Frost in May, which I read several years ago. I say semi-sequel because Clara Batchelor, the main character, has essentially the same background as Nanda and the books are usually treated as part of a quartet. The Lost Traveller has Clara trying to figure out what direction her life should take, which is a serious struggle given her parents’ competing visions. Toward the end, she faces a sudden and shocking tragedy that leads her to make a decision that she might never have otherwise, and it’s painful to watch her grapple with the consequences of her actions. The Sugar House finds Clara with an acting troupe, until she decides to get married, but neither she nor her husband are really ready for what marriage and independence mean. The two novels together show a sensitive young woman trying to take steps toward maturity but finding disappointment at almost every turn. White has Clara making big mistakes while, at the same time, showing great growth. She captures so much of what young adulthood is like, although Clara’s specific challenges are not really the norm.
- The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a book about a geeky teenage boy with girl troubles (that he no doubt blames the girls for) written by someone accused of sexual harassment. It just seemed like a formula for awfulness. But I did want to read all of the Tournament of Books winners before the Tournament of Champions this October, so I decided to at least try and get ready to abandon it if it was seriously annoying. I did enjoy Yunior as a narrator — having someone slightly on the outside tell the story of Oscar and his family kept it from feeling self-indulgent. I also liked the way Oscar’s geeky interests were woven into the story — they’re not just mentioned as a way to make Oscar seem like a person (ooh, he reads Tolkein and like the X Men), they’re treated as ways of seeing the world, as cultural touchstones that can illuminate what’s happening in real life. There was perhaps a little too much story here, and I never came to love it, but I’m not sorry to have read it.
- The Lifted Veil by George Eliot. A supernatural novella that did not stick with me in the slightest. A man realizes he may be having psychic visions involving the woman his brother intends to marry, and it completely freaks him out. I’ve loved everything I read by Eliot, but this was an unusual kind of story for her, and maybe that’s just as well. It might have worked better as a short story, where it could pack a punch and be done, or a novel, where it could really dig deep into the characters’ psyches. But it was neither punchy enough or deep enough to make an impression on me.
- Eventide by Kent Haruf. This was by far my favorite of the month. I already wrote a full review singing its praises, so I’ll just say here that Haruf’s writing is both spare and glorious, and the depictions of his characters so suffused with grace that I could spend hours upon hours in his world and with his people.
- A Burning by Megha Majumdar. Jivan, a young Indian Muslim woman, is accused of being involved in a terrorist attack because of a few comments she made on Facebook. The are people who can testify on her behalf, but they’re caught up in their own personal dramas. Her former gym teacher, PT Sir, is climbing the political ladder. And Lovely, a transgender woman Jivan was tutoring, is trying to become an actress. The short chapters alternating among the three main characters kept me from ever getting fully immersed in this story because I kept having to reorient myself, but the ending did get to me.
- To Play the Fool by Laurie R. King. The second Kate Martinelli novel finds Kate investigating the murder of an unidentified homeless man. As part of the investigation, she meets Brother Erasmus, a “holy fool” who spends time among both the homeless and the Berkeley’s theology students and may know something about the murder. From that point, the book becomes less about the murder investigation and more about figuring out Brother Erasmus, who speaks only in quotations. This is a fun one, and I’m glad I finally got around to the Martinelli series.
- Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall. A teenage girl named Sara and a group of friends go searching for Sara’s missing sister down a haunted pathway where so so so many weird things happen. There are monsters and ghosts and general creepiness, but the scary stuff in this book is how the path messes with the characters’ minds. It was a little too long and the character relationships felt too convoluted, and although I mostly liked this, I was really ready to be done by the time the end came.
- Charity Girl by Georgette Heyer. I’ve only read a few Georgette Heyer novels, but they’ve all been nice pick-me-ups. This was perfectly fine, but, in the end, not a favorite. I loved the premise — a wealthy man (the Viscount Ashley Desford) offers to help a poor young woman whose family is treating her badly, and it turns out to be more complicated than he expected. It started out very well, but so much of the book mostly just involves Desford going from one place to another, looking for someone to help but never quite succeeding. The lead characters are not very interesting, and the romantic leads get so little actual time together that we never get to enjoy their chemistry. In fact, the romance seems almost thrown in. I knew, though, that this was not considered one of Heyer’s best, so it wasn’t a huge disappointment.
For September, I’ve just finished The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson, and I’m getting ready to start the final Clara Batchelor book, Beyond the Glass. I also have Dexter Palmer’s first novel, The Dream of Perpetual Motion, out from the library. And I’m very excited about Susanna Clarke’s new book, Piranesi, and Marilynne Robinson’s new Gilead novel, Jack.
I’d love to hear about your reading. Anything you’re excited about? What did you love or hate in August? Or have you read any of my August books?