Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for November, 2016…
My Brilliant Friend (The Neapolitan Novels #1), by Elena Ferrante – My second attempt at catching Ferrante Fever was much more successful! I’d tried to read My Brilliant Friend awhile back and gave it up after about 50 pages. This time, I pushed through to that magic 100-page mark and found, just as I’d hoped, that the story hooked me. Elena and Lila are two friends growing up in a tough Naples neighborhood in the 1950s and 60s. My Brilliant Friend follows them through childhood and adolescence, as Lila changes from the scrappy ugly duckling into the beautiful, desired swan, and Lena struggles to hold onto her own identity outside of the friendship. I loved this and can’t wait to whittle down my library pile so I can get to the next in the series.
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, ed. Jesmyn Ward – I’d heard great things about this book of essays, collected from some of the most brilliant writers of color working today, and it was every bit as astonishing as I’d been told. The Fire This Time is a hard look at the experience of being black in today’s America, and it can be fairly uncomfortable to read as a white reader. But I am firmly of the opinion that we all need to be made uncomfortable periodically, and that The Fire This Time is a necessary, bold, brilliant book that should be on every American’s reading list, no matter the color of their skin – but especially those out there who need to be reminded of the personhood of others. Which, sadly, seems to be a lot of people these days.
Crowned and Dangerous (Her Royal Spyness #10), by Rhys Bowen – As I often do after finishing a particularly hard or wrenching read, I reached for a cozy mystery as a palate cleanser. This time, it was Crowned and Dangerous, the most recent installment in the adventures of Lady Georgianna Rannoch. When we last left Georgie, she was speeding toward Gretna Green with her true love, Darcy O’Mara. Sadly, this volume finds Georgie and Darcy foiled in their attempts to elope when Darcy spots a newspaper article reporting that his father has been arrested for murdering the rich American to whom the ancestral O’Mara home – Kilhenny Castle – has been sold. Darcy immediately rushes off to Ireland to see what can be done for Lord Kilhenny, and Georgie follows soon after. I love Georgie and Darcy as a crime-solving duo, and this was a fun ride. Can’t wait to see what Georgie gets up to next! (Can she move back into Kensington Palace, please?)
Before We Visit the Goddess, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – I’d read another of Divakaruni’s lovely, lyrical novels – The Palace of Illusions – a few years ago and was delighted to learn of this new release. Before We Visit the Goddess tracks the relationships of three generations of mothers and daughters – Sabatri, elderly and ailing back in India; Bela, recently divorced and lonely in America; and Tara, Bela’s lost and dysfunctional daughter. It was a slim but lovely novel, bittersweet throughout.
The Invasion of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #2), by Erika Johansen – When we left the Tearling, the Mort army was at its gates, provoked into war by Queen Kelsea’s rash decision to undo a treaty signed by her mother, Queen Elyssa, which required the Tear to provide slaves to neighboring Mortmesne on a monthly basis. Now the invasion has begun and as Queen Kelsea struggles to manage her court and evacuate her people from the Morts’ path, she begins to have visions of a time before the Crossing, and a woman named Lily. Lily’s story is missing from Kelsea’s history books, but it is clear there is some connection between them, and this connection may hold the key to Kelsea’s ability to save the Tearling from destruction. I really enjoyed The Invasion of the Tearling – after liking, but not loving, the first in the trilogy, I found this second installment riveting. The Lily segments were particularly enthralling, bringing the dystopic elements of the story to the forefront as they did (and scaring me senseless after the election). Now I am itching to read the conclusion of the trilogy (and have only Googled “The Fate of the Tearling release date” approximately seventeen million times).
The Fishermen, by Chigozie Obioma – Four young brothers, taking advantage of their father’s extended absence for work, steal away from school to fish on the banks of a nearby river. One day, the brothers encounter the local madman, who makes a prophecy that convinces the eldest of the brothers that he’s destined to be murdered by one of his other brothers. The Fishermen takes the story of Cain and Abel and transplants it into Nigeria of recent times. It’s a gory, blood-spattered story that only gets gorier and more blood-spattered as the pages turn. I read it with my eyes popping out of my head and couldn’t look away, although it was not my usual reading material and definitely not for everyone. (If you have a weak stomach, as I do, be forewarned.) The Fishermen was very hyped around the time of its publication, and while it wasn’t really my cup of tea, I appreciated the outstanding writing and can definitely understand the accolades it received.
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, by Barack Obama – President Obama’s musings on the American dream and public policy had been on my to-read list for awhile, and I finally grabbed it from the library in mid-November. I was craving some words of sanity after a completely insane election, and the President’s thoughtful, reasoned discussions of all aspects of American life, and the policies that govern them, were just what I needed to read. It was fascinating to consider this book from the perspective that I now have, after eight years of the Obama Administration, knowing what he was able to achieve (same sex marriage! eliminating bin Laden!) in light of all the opposition with which he had to contend. (And his words on the failure of the Republican legislators to make the compromises necessary to govern seemed clairvoyant.) The Audacity of Hope gave me plenty to consider – and now I can’t wait for the presidential memoir that I’m sure is in the offing.
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah is the story of two lovers. Obinze is Ifemelu’s first love, and he hers, but time has passed. Ifemelu has been living in America, studying for advanced degrees and writing a popular blog called Raceteenth, examining race relations in America from the perspective of an outsider. Obinze spent time in London but is now home in Nigeria and has made his fortune, married and welcomed a daughter. When Ifemelu decides to return to Nigeria, she must confront changes in the country itself, and mirroring changes in her relationship with Obinze. So, this was a beautifully written and completely engrossing book. Adichie’s musings on race, class, immigration, politics and more are fascinating and well-formulated. My only complaint was that the book was a bit too long – in my opinion, the plot – while excellent – wasn’t quite hefty enough to carry almost 500 pages of text. Still, I loved every moment of the reading, and can’t recommend it highly enough.
I can’t believe we’re into December already! Seriously, where has the time gone? November was a great reading month with some wonderful challenges to my perspectives from Jesmyn Ward and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, interspersed with good escapist reading (visits to the Tearling and with Lady Georgie!). The escapism was particularly welcome in light of how crummy reality was in November. And now, on to December. It’s looking like a busy month, what with the holidays, but I’ll make time for reading as I always do. I have ten books left to reach my goal of 100 for the year, so I will be feverishly turning pages until New Year’s Eve if that’s what it takes!
What was the best thing you read in November?