Tuesday, September 2, 2014

September Reads

I always try to think of the fall as a time to recharge, reflect, and delve deeper in the kind of reading I do.  It's not yet time to hide indoors under a blanket, far far away from dripping shoes and muddy coats with a tropical read.  At its best, I think, early fall is the chance to take in the chill and the crisp air and hang out around a campfire in the hopes of getting some whistling apples (yum) and learning something new.  Maybe it's the new year or the beginning of school that still lingers for me, but fall always feels like a new chance to grow.

Last year, my memorable fall reads were The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.  The Ministry of Special Cases helped me learn about the disappearances of young people in Argentina in the 1970's, and the lengths to which people still go to try and find their loved ones.  Horrible, tragic, devastating - and an absolute must-read.  Major Pettigrew's Last Stand was a mild and mellow retreat into the life and mind of a middle-aged man in the UK, and his search for fulfillment and meaning.  It was a lovely read - I wish I'd started writing about books I read earlier last year! If you've enjoyed Zadie Smith and are looking for something a bit different, I'd give this one a shot.

Here's what I'll be nose-deep in this month:

Someone*, by Alice McDermott An ordinary life—its sharp pains and unexpected joys, its bursts of clarity and moments of confusion—lived by an ordinary woman: this is the subject of Someone, Alice McDermott’s extraordinary return, seven years after the publication of After This. Scattered recollections—of childhood, adolescence, motherhood, old age—come together in this transformative narrative, stitched into a vibrant whole by McDermott’s deft, lyrical voice. Our first glimpse of Marie is as a child: a girl in glasses waiting on a Brooklyn stoop for her beloved father to come home from work. A seemingly innocuous encounter with a young woman named Pegeen sets the bittersweet tone of this remarkable novel. Pegeen describes herself as an “amadan,” a fool; indeed, soon after her chat with Marie, Pegeen tumbles down her own basement stairs. The magic of McDermott’s novel lies in how it reveals us all as fools for this or that, in one way or another. Marie’s first heartbreak and her eventual marriage; her brother’s brief stint as a Catholic priest, subsequent loss of faith, and eventual breakdown; the Second World War; her parents’ deaths; the births and lives of Marie’s children; the changing world of her Irish-American enclave in Brooklyn—McDermott sketches all of it with sympathy and insight. This is a novel that speaks of life as it is daily lived; a crowning achievement by one of the finest American writers at work today. (from Goodreads)

The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light*, by Paul Bogard A starry night is one of nature's most magical wonders. Yet in our artificially lit world, three-quarters of Americans' eyes never switch to night vision and most of us no longer experience true darkness. In The End of Night, Paul Bogard restores our awareness of the spectacularly primal, wildly dark night sky and how it has influenced the human experience across everything from science to art. From Las Vegas' Luxor Beam--the brightest single spot on this planet--to nights so starlit the sky looks like snow, Bogard blends personal narrative, natural history, science, and history to shed light on the importance of darkness--what we've lost, what we still have, and what we might regain--and the simple ways we can reduce the brightness of our nights tonight. (from Goodreads)

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life. (from Goodreads)

*I picked these two up at the National Book Festival this weekend! I'll be writing more about that experience soon.

What about you? What are you reading this month? What books do you pick up every fall?

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