In November I reached my 2022 Goodreads goal of 58 books for the year and actually finished the month at 70 books. Of the seven books completed this month, I read five and listened to two. I was struck by a few things in my reading this month, hit with some themes that I did not expect, some were pleasant surprises others were not. Grief was definitely a reoccurring theme, I seem not to be able to escape.
My Literati Club is why I read Signal Fires and There, There. I circled back to There, There because November is Indigenous People’s month and when it was first suggested by one of my Literati Clubs, I had a hard time getting into it and shelved it for a while. Indigenous People’s month is also why I listened to the Wisdom of the Native Americans. I choose Lucy By The Sea and Mad Honey since they were both nominated for Goodreads awards and had high ratings. As for There’s a Word for That and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Clear, I don’t recall exactly how they ended up on my TBR List, I believe they were mentioned in articles in either the Wall Street Journal or The New Yorker. Either way, they were welcome additions to this month’s reading.
Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
I haven’t read any of Dani Shapiro’s previous books, but after reading this one, I plan on it since I like her writing style. Shapiro quotes Carl Jung’s thought of “secrets as a psychic poison,” taking it further and using it as the foundation of her novel Signal Fires. Shapiro’s thought-provoking book is about two families, seemingly very different, yet tied together by more than just the neighborhood. A universal thread binds them, binds everyone. There is much to absorb and learn from the beautifully written characters, particularly Waldo and Dr. Wilf. This story deeply moved me; it is a perfect weekend read! 4.5 Stars
There There by Tommy Orange
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
There, There by Tommy Orange is a glimpse into the challenges and struggles urban natives face in the modern world. He gives voice to the struggles through the twelve main characters. They range from a fourteen-year-old boy eager to learn about his Cheyanne hereditary, a young man raised by his white mother who never met his Native father, a Lakota Vietnam veteran, a drug dealer and his crew, and two half-sisters of Cheyanne descent – to name a few. I never became attached to any characters – too many to develop fully. I had to occasionally flip back to the cast of characters to remember who they were and their connection to each other. The story’s timeline skips around, making it challenging to stay connected to each person’s individual story.
I struggled with getting into the flow of this book, initially trying to read it six months earlier before shelving it. All the rave reviews and high praise made me think I was just in the wrong mindset about something, and I wanted that to be the case. Since November is Indigenous Peoples month in America, the book came up again in my recommendations, so I gave it another chance. I finished it, saddened by its picture of the Native community and its prospects. I wished that I had loved it, though; however, the story fell short for me. I should have been in tears upon finishing the book and would have been had I cared more for the characters.
I found it to be educational, which is why I recommend it. Orange’s powerful prologue details America’s history of brutal treatment and genocide of its Indigenous peoples. That section alone with worth reading. 2.5 Stars
There’s a Word for That by Sloane Tanen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There’s A Word For That by Sloane Tanen has all the drama of a Thanksgiving weekend with your family and in-laws without the turkey but with a pinch of celebrity mixed with sibling rivalries, ex-wives, want-to-be-wives, and girlfriends. I was captivated by this 373-page novel devouring it over a weekend. I loved how Tanen cleverly used the definitions of German words to frame her chapters. Schnapsidee is one of my new favorite words, having been personally guilty of it a few times. There are some serious themes tackled in this story about adult children of addiction and their aging parents, families affected by suicide, and children affected by inheritance – but Tanen’s use of humor helps to highlight some of the absurdities that families sometimes deal with when the shit hits the fan. 4 Stars
I did not review this book, other than to assign it a rating on Goodreads. This was an interesting compilation that I found to be a nice change of pace in my listening library.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Everyone experiences grief at the same point in their life. Some sooner than others. Some may lose their loved ones in a significant international incident, accident, illness, or old age. Death is death – it’s final and hard for the ones left behind to process. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close captures the rawness and intensity that people feel when people grieve.
Jonathan Safrin Foer‘s unique coming-of-age story is about nine-year-old Oskar Schell and his quest for closure following his father’s death on 9/11. The story is told through the narration of three characters, Oskar, his grandmother, and his grandfather, and includes photographic images and unconventional typesetting. It’s a hauntingly sad story about people’s need to grieve and the yearning for closure. The problem is that closure isn’t something we can attain if we look for it in the wrong places. Foer’s use of Oskar’s hunt metaphorically points that out. Some images could be triggering initially; their inclusion put me off. By the end, it was clear their importance in telling this story.
Foer’s novel differs from most in that its inclusion of visuals helps tell the story, not simply illustrate the action. It’s not a graphic novel but is not a traditional novel about a family drama, either. I recommend this touching family story for readers who are up for the heartbreak. 4 Stars
Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I am uncomfortable writing reviews about books I don’t like. Especially when my opinion is going against the grain. However, sometimes it’s necessary, and even though it may not be the popular opinion, others may be interested in reading a contrarian view. So here it goes. I read Lucy By The Sea, Elizabeth Strout’s latest book because it was nominated for the 2022 Goodreads Choice Award, and I was looking for a fall family drama to get me in the Thanksgiving mood. I am shocked this book is nominated for any award. Strout has a grasp on writing about loneliness, isolation, fearfulness, and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic; however, anyone with a pulse these last couple of years could write about that. Strout is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author – I expected more than the dull recap of what we all collectively lived through and still contending with at this point. Nothing that any of us want to repeat, even in literary fiction right now.
I don’t think it mattered that I read the fourth book in the Amgash series without reading the previous ones since I find Lucy Barton, the story’s narrator, to be an annoying, wishy-washy, whiny woman, and her daughters even worse. So I couldn’t imagine reading more about them in other books would be any better. I couldn’t wait for this book to end. I was tremendously underwhelmed and didn’t agree with all the rave reviews this book is garnishing. I think I am not a fan of Elizabeth Strout’s work.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Meditations was not a book that Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emporer AD 161-180, ever meant to publish. Meditations is a compilation of his notes about how to live a good life. It is a collection of his observations and beliefs about life, human nature, and philosophy. He writes about what he has learned from his teachers and his conclusions about Stoicism.
I was struck by so many things, particularly how little we have paid attention to history and learned from it. And the more things change, the more they stay the same. I recommend reading this book, but don’t expect to be learning meditations that you can repeat while you sit down on the cushion.
Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Mad Honey, co-authored by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan, is the second of Picoult’s books I’ve read and the first of Boylan’s. And I’m not sure if I will end up reading anymore. Sprinkled throughout this predictable plot and courtroom drama are some interesting facts about bees and beekeeping. Still, I’m a gardener and naturalist, and not everyone would find the factoids interesting and, therefore, not pay close attention and miss the analogies being made. The two-person narrative written primarily by each author – Olivia/Picoult and Lily/Boylon worked well enough to reveal the story. There are a multitude of controversial themes – so many of them that it stops being entertaining. I felt bombarded and ambushed by the pushy controversial narratives. I read books for several reasons, to escape into a good story and be entertained. When I read to be educated, I seek out particular sources to learn more about the topic I decided to learn more about. The problem with Mad Honey is that it is a fictional story that seeks to educate readers and normalize certain things that are very hot issues of our day.
I don’t wish to spoil the book for someone else; however, it could be very triggering for some people with themes including abuse and suicide. I read it knowing absolutely nothing about it other than it had been nominated for a 2022 Goodreads Award and had high ratings. It may be loved by many, but for me, it was the second Picoult book I’ve read, and I think I may not be a fan.
Coming up next month
Currently, I am reading Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Camus, another book which has been nominated for multiple Goodreads Awards this year, one for debut novel the other in Historical Fiction. I’m only 34% the way through but I am enjoying it very much so far. On my kindle, I am reading Finding The Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard. I’m only 16% in and it’s fascinating! I can’t wait to head out to the woods with my new found knowledge. I hovel started my next book to listen to yet. I wish Audible had a magic spinning wheel with your library books and would help you randomly select something. I really enjoy Kate Quinn and The Diamond Eye is another book that is up for a nomination in the 2022 Goodreads Awards, so I may choose that one.
Lastly, I am running a Goodreads Giveaway for my book, Xine’s Pack of Strays & Others – A Memoir. The deadline to sign up for a chance is December 14th. If you are interested in winning a chance to receive a free copy follow this link to my Goodreads Giveaway.
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