August Reading in Review

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?

This entry was posted in Classics, Fiction, Mysteries/Crime. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to August Reading in Review

  1. Oh dear, sorry if I was the one who put you on to Rules for Vanishing. GOSH that book was scary, hahahahaha. I am listening to The Magnus Archives this week (finally! after so many recommendations!), and it’s reminding me a little of the many kinds of scariness in Rules for Vanishing.


    • Teresa says:

      Don’t be sorry! I didn’t dislike it–I just would have liked it better if it had been a little shorter. Maybe two fewer gates or something. But that part with the video was so good!

      I got an email from my bookstore today that some book that I ordered is on its way to me, and I’m wondering if they got their copies of Piranesi early! It’s either that or they’re sending the monthly subscription book earlier than usual. (Crossing my fingers for the new Yaa Gyaasi or Hari Kunzru.)

  2. writerrea says:

    The only Eliot I’ve read has been Middlemarch, which I loved.

    I forgot about the Tournament of Champions. That’s something to look forward to! I actually have loved quite a few books recently, but I half-wonder if it’s because of the pandemic–as in, have I turned off my critical faculties as a coping mechanism? But still, some books haven’t survived the 50-page challenge for me. Whatever. I’m just happy I can read. I have friends who are struggling with it during the pandemic.

    • Teresa says:

      I loved Middlemarch, too, but it’s been so long since I read it that I’ve forgotten most of it. I should reread it one of these days. I also loved Mill on the Floss.

      The TOB just released the brackets this week! It will be a fun thing to follow this August. I didn’t love all the champions, but all of them seem worth talking about.

      I think the pandemic has been part of the reason I’m more easily bored with the books I’m reading. I’m still managing to read a lot, and I know plenty of people who are struggling to read at all, but I think some of the books I’m reading are suffering from my inattentiveness. But that makes the ones that hold my interest seem extra-special.

  3. Swistle says:

    After you mentioned Kent Haruf, I remembered I’d read and LOVED Plainsong but I don’t think I ever read the others. So I bought used copies online of Plainsong, Eventide, and The Tie that Binds, and those are on my reading pile—but before I got to those, a copy of The Good Psychologist arrived, and I’m reading that first and I love it. It’s a re-read, but it’s been so long I don’t remember how it goes at all. I just finished The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Magic, which had some broad things I didn’t like—and yet it was the kind of book I kept wanting to get back to, which I count as a full success.

  4. Kent Haruf is a treasure. I still need to read Benediction and Our Souls at Night.

    The best book I read in August was Real Life by Brandon Taylor. One of my favorite books of the year.

  5. Rhoda says:

    It’s a shame the Eliot isn’t that great, it’s a gorgeous intriguing cover. I do like the old Virago green covers, though some of the new reprints aren’t too bad.

    • Teresa says:

      I love those old covers, too! I gravitate right to them if I see them in used bookstores, so I have a bunch on my shelf. (Starting one today, as a matter of fact!)

  6. Constance says:

    I have mixed feelings about Gardam (some great, some not) but definitely like the Haruf.

    Charity Girl is one the weakest of the Heyers. I think it was the first one I read and I told my mother I was sorry I had bothered. Thank goodness I continued as she became one of my favorite authors. Why don’t you try Friday’s Girl? We all need some laughter these days.

    • Teresa says:

      I’m coming to the same conclusion about Gardam. I loved Old Filth, but none of the other three of her books had quite the same magic, although I liked aspects of them all.

      I’ll add Friday’s Girl to my Heyer list! I have copies of Sylvester and The Reluctant Widow on my shelf already.

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