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 October, 2020…
Gilead (Gilead #1), by Marilynne Robinson – One of the most beloved modern American classics, and a re-read for me – Gilead was just as lovely as ever. Written as a letter from an elderly, dying minister to his young son, Robinson’s best-known and most acclaimed work is ruminative, sad, lovely, and powerful. I decided to re-read the entire Gilead series in anticipation of the fourth novel’s release this month, and it was an incredibly worthwhile project.
Home (Gilead #2), by Marilynne Robinson – A new-to-me stop on my read-through of the Gilead series; Home focuses on the Boughton household. Rev. Boughton is a life-long friend of Rev. Ames, the narrator and main character of Gilead. Home finds Rev. Boughton nearing the end of his life and attended by two of his eight children – Glory, the youngest of the family, and prodigal son Jack. Both have returned home to escape troubles in their lives outside of the family, and they circle warily around one another before forming an unshakeable bond. My patience for Jack ebbs and flows, but I loved Glory.
The Lost Words, by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris – Needing a quick breather from Marilynne Robinson (who is a wonderful writer, to be sure, but who needs a lot of focused mental power) I dipped into this beautifully illustrated volume of poems focusing on a collection of “lost words” from nature that are slipping from the consciousness of today’s children. The poems were powerful and the accompanying art was breathtaking.
Lila (Gilead #3), by Marilynne Robinson – Back to the world of Gilead and my favorite character from the series – Lila, the much-younger wife of Rev. Ames. This third installment focuses on Lila’s life before and after she met Rev. Ames, and it’s spellbinding as ever. And goes to show the benefits to re-reading; when I first read Lila I thought it was a wonderful story, but I was missing the love story aspect of it – it seemed to me that she married the Reverend more for shelter than love (which, understandable, since Lila never had a reliable roof over her head). I still think that the need for safety – physical and emotional – was what principally motivated Lila to marry Rev. Ames, but the underlying love was more apparent to me on my second read-through.
Betsy-Tacy (Betsy-Tacy #1), by Maud Hart Lovelace – Another re-read (this is the month for re-reads, apparently), and actually – this time – a read-aloud. It was past time for Peanut to meet Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, so I pulled out The Betsy-Tacy Treasury and started reading the first book earlier this month. As expected, Peanut loved it and is now obsessed – she even made “Betsy” and “Tacy” paper dolls and an egg carton “piano box” for them. Success!
Jack (Gilead #4), by Marilynne Robinson – Four volumes of Gilead books, in one month – whew! Jack is the new release, much anticipated by all Robinson fans (including me). I liked it, but it won’t displace Lila as my favorite of the series. Jack focuses on the titular character’s interracial romance with Black schoolteacher Della Miles in 1950s St. Louis. It was beautifully written, of course, as expected. But I have to say – I felt like I was missing Della’s perspective. It was clear why Jack was drawn to Della – she was beautiful, smart, kind, shared his love of poetry, etc. But I don’t quite get what Della saw in Jack (an alcoholic who can’t hold a job and continually embarrassed her by showing up drunk on her doorstep) that would induce her to sacrifice so much – her job, her reputation, and her family – to be with him. But this is something that has always confused me about Jack – why his family (and wife, apparently) are willing to constantly forgive him for his repeated transgressions. I feel like this would have been a more compelling story if Jack was less of a ne’er-do-well (Teddy Boughton making an interracial marriage – which was illegal at the time, to America’s shame – would have been a more interesting story arc) and/or if Della had gotten more airtime so that the reader wasn’t left asking, Jack, really? Why, Della?
Pumpkinheads, by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks – Another re-read! 2019’s most adorable graphic novel, Pumpkinheads, is going to be a Halloween tradition for me. I love watching Deja and Josie dart through the pumpkin patch where they work, in search of seasonal snacks and true love. And even though this year I knew how things worked out for them, I still enjoyed the (hay)ride!
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller – Somehow I missed this one in high school (my AP English class read Death of a Salesman instead), but I’ve corrected it now! The Crucible is Arthur Miller’s acclaimed play about the Salem witch trials – written at the height of McCarthyism. I really enjoyed this read – I’m fascinated by Salem, but I also found a great deal that spoke to our current political moment.
Lolly Willowes, by Sylvia Townsend Warner – Laura “Lolly” Willowes is one of the many “surplus women” of the early 20th century. At age 28, bereaved of her father, she is shunted off, along with some furniture, to her brother’s London home to become something of an unpaid companion to her sister-in-law and nieces. After twenty years of this dissatisfying life, Laura finally rebels, moves to the country, and becomes a witch – like ya do. I’ve been wanting to read this classic novel of a woman claiming space for herself, and Halloween was just the time for it!
The Lost Spells, by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris – I read MacFarlane and Morris’s first collaboration, The Lost Words, earlier in the month. The Lost Spells was just as gorgeous and mesmerizing (except the moth poem, which I obviously DID NOT APPROVE). The burnished colors of the artwork and the nature themes of the poetry felt like the perfect combination for fall.
Poems Bewitched & Haunted, ed. John Hollander – A re-read (this was the third time I’ve spun through this collection, always around Halloween) and still a favorite! I love this collection of poetry on topics witchy and weird.
Hallowe’en Party, by Agatha Christie – Another re-read for Halloween – this is one of my favorite entries in the Hercule Poirot oeuvre. A young girl boasts that she saw a murder committed; hours later she is dead, drowned in a bobbing-for-apples game at an “eleven-plus” Halloween party. Ariadne Oliver, mystery writer, calls in her old friend Poirot to solve a crime that ends up connected to several other murders, buried in the past. I really enjoy this one – and knowing the murderer in advance doesn’t take anything away from the fun of re-reading!
Whew! What a month of reading. I wrote earlier this month that I still felt like I was in a reading slump – thanks, pandemic, election, and… just… all of it. But it doesn’t look like a slump, at least not going by this list. As for highlights, I definitely had the most fun later in the month, once I picked up the stack of books I’d set aside for Halloween reading. I loved Pumpkinheads last year, and this year it was just as much fun. Getting to some of the classics I’ve been meaning to try – The Crucible and Lolly Willowes, in particular – was also wonderful. I’m feeling energized and excited to read right now (hope that holds up through this election week and beyond…) and looking forward to more autumnal reading in November.
How was your October in books?