I can’t quite believe we’re here at the end of October, just a few days away from the election we’ve been anticipating since November 9, 2016, and with no end to this pandemic in sight. I am cautiously optimistic about the election, but that’s mostly because my brain simply cannot handle the idea of a Trump victory. When I try to imagine it, my brain just refuses. Let’s hope my brain is right. At any rate, I’ll be working as an election officer on Tuesday, and I’m glad I’ll having something meaningful to do all day. This year, Virginia has no-excuse early voting for the first time (thanks to the once-unimaginable flipping of the state legislature last year), and last I heard, 40% of the voters at my precinct had voted, so it may not be a very busy day — or at least not so busy to be stressful. But we’ll see. I’m looking forward to that part of the day, but I can’t think beyond that.
I’ve also been fretting about the winter and possible increases in COVID cases. Most of my (still limited) activities away from home are still outside or in well-ventilated indoor spaces. What will cold weather do to those options? What about the holidays? We take it as it comes, I suppose, which goes against my planning nature.
Even with all that on my mind, books proved to be a useful distraction throughout October. Unlike in September, when I couldn’t concentrate on much of anything well enough to enjoy or appreciate it, I was able to really enjoy most of the October reading, even making my way through some Dickens!
Jack by Marilynne Robinson. The fourth Gilead novel is indeed a marvel. But I’d expect no less from one of America’s greatest living writers. Although not my favorite in the series (as some sections went on a little too long), this story about a man desperately in need of grace and love but finding himself unable to accept it was a moving addition to the Gilead collection.
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. As I noted in my review, reading a massive 19th-century novel seemed like a risk, given my low concentration levels, but it proved to be perfect for these times. The characters and their winding story held my interest, and the story overall made me very happy.
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. What a joy to revisit Brosh’s stories. I laughed and laughed and am really looking forward to getting my hands on her new book.
Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg. Interesting take on the “dead girl” thriller. It’s not so much as thriller as it is a meditation on what it’s like for women to be adjacent to or involved with acts of violence against women. Does it terrify them, beguile them, or leave them generally unfazed? And, in this case, the dead girl gets the last word, while she is still vibrant and alive.
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung. Chung’s story of her adoption by her white parents and her search for her Korean family is a thoughtful examination of family and culture and identity. She shows a lot of compassion for everyone involved while remaining honest about her own pain.
Summer by Ali Smith. None of the novels in the seasonal quartet have stirred me quite as much as Autumn did, but Summer may come the closest. Perhaps these books work best for me at times of high emotion. I do wish I’d reread the previous novels — I’ve forgotten enough of the previous novels that the connections between them were somewhat lost to me.
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy. I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t heard more about this book. It’s set in a near future when many more animals have gone extinct, and a woman named Franny is following what is probably the last flock of Arctic terns as they migrate south. She joins a fishing vessel with a promise that tracking the birds will enable them to also find the few remaining fish in the sea. But she has secrets in her past that touch on her quest to follow the birds. It took me a while to get into this book. A lot of it is told in flashback, and it’s not even clear from the start what the nature of the mystery in Franny’s past is, but once I got interested, I really enjoyed it. There’s something in it about how life just keeps going on that got to me. I was especially struck by this passage toward the end:
I can’t move to pull on my clothes except that somehow I do, and I can’t stand on two feet except that somehow I do, and I can’t walk, there’s no way I can walk, except I do. I take step after step after step after step.
Let us all keep taking step after step after step, even when it seems we can’t.