Hi, friends! Happy October! The fall weather we’ve been having recently has gotten me excited for Q4. I love the holiday season, and I guess 2020 ending is another thing to look forward to this year. With that said, I have been in a reading rut recently, but September was a good reading month for me. Keep reading for my thoughts on everything I read last month.
HUM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDS by Bianca Marais – 4 stars
Set in Johannesburg, South Africa during the 1970s, the two main characters in this book are Robin, a young white girl who becomes an orphan, and Beauty, a Xhosa woman who has come to Johannesburg to find her missing daughter. Due to unfortunate circumstances related to racial tensions around the Apartheid, Robin and Beauty’s lives come together. I knew basically nothing about the history of Apartheid so seeing the Apartheid through a young white child’s eyes and an adult Xhosa woman was enlightening. I thought the author was particularly superb at describing the girl’s voice, and I loved how Beauty absolutely refused to lose her integrity throughout this book.
SUGAR RUN by Mesha Maren – 3 stars
I will say that Sugar Run has interesting characters, but it was a bit difficult to read. After almost two decades in prison, Jodi is released. Before she returns home, she goes on a search for someone, and, while doing so, finds Miranda, a young mom of two boys who is married to sort of a celebrity. Jodi and Miranda start a relationship, which resembles Jodi’s previous relationship with Paula. There is a lot holding onto the idea of a very specific future that seems to be hindering Jodi. The book also portrays economic hardships many face in the Appalachia. I felt like the story never really took off for some reason.
CATCH AND KILL by Ronan Farrow – 5 stars
Written by a journalist Ronan Farrow who reported on Harvey Weinstein , Catch and Kill itself is basically an investigative reporting and exposes those who tried to “catch and kill” the story and suppress the survivors. I was blown away at how extensive the efforts were to protect Harvey Weinstein’s reputation and the fact that so many of his supporters were journalists. This book goes further to highlight how prevalent sexual violence is (for example, so many men at NBC, which was Farrow’s previous employer/my [previously] favorite sitcom network) and how the predators use power and retaliation to silence the survivors. A great read. Special shoutout to Holly for recommending this book!
THE SPECTATORS by by Jennifer DuBois – 3 stars
The central character in the Spectators is Matthew/Matt, who was previously a lawyer and an aspiring politician and now a talk show host of a popular TV that is being blamed for the newest school shooting. The story is told by Cel, Matt’s publicist who is having to save his and the show’s image somehow, and Semi, Matthew’s lover from decades ago. The contrasts of public and private Matthew/Matt is intriguing, and I appreciate Semi’s chapters about the AIDS crisis in the 80s. I couldn’t quite understand the point of Cel as a character and her childhood history. I was hoping for stories like The Heart’s Invisible Furies or The Great Believers, but it didn’t quite get there for me.
CITY OF GIRLS by Elizabeth Gilbert – 4 stars
The newest Salem book club pick, City of Girls reminded me a lot of The Seven Husbands of Every Hugo–it’s a scandalous story told by an older woman that reads very fast. You really get to hear the narrator Vivian’s voice a lot. The book begins with Vivian receiving a letter from Angela, asking what Vivian was to her father. To answer a slightly different question of what Angela’s father was to herself, Vivian begins her story from when she got kicked out of Vassar and was sent to live with her aunt in New York. The stories that follow are wild and fun, and they eventually tie back to Angela’s father. I do wish Vivian’s “adulthood” chapters were more expanded because she sounded like a fun old lady. Such unexpected feelings in this book!
THE HENNA ARTIST by Alka Joshi – 4 stars
This is a book with ups and downs. Lakshmi is an unusually independent woman in 1950s India, having escaped an abusive marriage and providing for herself as a henna artist. She had almost achieved her dream of building a house and bringing her parents to the city when her husband shows up with a sister she didn’t know she had and with the news of her parents passing. Lakshmi tries her best to take care of her sister, but Radha keeps drifting away from her. There’s plenty of heartache and despair, and I almost lost hope for Lakshmi when everyone seemed to turn against her and everything was outside of her control. Somehow the book ends happily, and I was so relieved.
I’M STILL HERE by Austin Channing Brown – 5 stars
Another Reese Witherspoon book club pick! In this short but powerful memoir, the author tells her lived experiences as a Black woman. One of the first stories in the book is why Austin’s parents gave a “white man’s name” to their Black daughter. Sometimes when I am reading books, I take screenshots (as in photos in this context I guess) of phrases or sentences that really resonate with me or punch me in the gut, and I did that so much with this book. I particularly appreciated the Austin Channing Brown calling out White Innocence and the idea of nice white people making it difficult/impossible to call out covert racists. Highly, highly recommend this book.
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