Hello all! I thought that this month I would start a series of posts about my reading history. Since I’m wrapped up in schoolwork, many of my selections might be classic literature, but I’ll still try to include the books that I’m reading on the side because those are infinitely more interesting. I’ve been troubled this year by the thought that for the first time in my life, I don’t have time to read my own books. I have a sort re-read routine that I do each year, including an annual read of the Harry Potter series, Memoirs of a Geisha, and The Crimson Petal and the White. But due to the great volume of homework and required outside reading I have this year, not to mention college apps, I don’t think I’ll have time to read any of these, and that makes me pretty depressed.
But anyways, enough of my feelings. Here’s my September reading list:
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I’m really enjoying this one so far, but I’m also a bit intimidated by Dickens’ verbosity. I know he was payed by the word, but each page is a literal wall of text. That said, Great Expectations is a fun and engaging read. It’s one of the more enjoyable books I’ve had to read for my curriculum. So far I’ve gotten by without anyone spoiling the ending, though my friends threaten me with spoilers at every turn. Curse you, Game of Thrones, for making spoiler culture a thing!
- Beowulf, Seamus Heaney translation. Epic poems are awesome. I loved the Odyssey and I’m really getting into this read, though I’m confused about the interspersion of pagan religion and Christian motifs. Didn’t Beowulf predate Christianity? I’m only 27 pages in, so I have more questions than answers. Is Grendel a beast or is he a human? The poem says that he’s a descendant of Cain, so if I follow the lore of Supernatural, that means he looks like Dean Winchester. When does Angelina Jolie come into the story? Will Robert Zemeckis insert some crazy, much too realistic CGI into my paperback? Am I actually reading a kindle and this is all a dream? I don’t think my English teachers knows.
- The Four Queens by Nancy Goldstone. If you like very specific histories, this is a perfect choice for you. It covers the lives of four sisters who became some of the most powerful queens in Europe during the twelfth and thirteenth century. It’s not the type of book that you can pick up randomly; some knowledge of European history and specific interest in the middle ages is required to enjoy the book. I would recommend it for someone who wants a more detailed look at medieval French history or someone who wants to understand the causes of the 100 years war.
- Ceasar: Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy. Another specific history biography on my September reading list. I find histories to be very easy and comforting reads. I placed this book on indefinite suspension because of lack of reading time, and because I found it to be too dry. Adrian Goldsworthy is a capable author, but doesn’t any add any levity to the subject of Caesar’s life. That said, the work is pretty fascinating and gives detailed descriptions of the intracacies of Roman government. I never learned anything about Caesar except his reign of emperor, so this gave me a more multi-faceted look at the infamous dictator.
- The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope. I stopped reading this a month ago and I’ve forgotten the whole plot by now, but I remember that I liked Trollope’s prose. He’s not a satirist exactly, but he the way he makes fun of class divides is amusing to read. The Eustace Diamonds is a very simple title, but I feel like Trollope was sending the reader a subliminal message. Eustace Diamonds, you say? Is that code for Queen Victoria is an anarchist? I’ll pick this up again some day, but now I have to return it to the library because I think they may have sent an assassin after me.
- One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It’s really boring. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I’m a huge fan of 20th century Russian authors and I know this is one of the most revered works in the Russian canon, but I couldn’t get through it. Ivan repeats himself over and over, the characters are undistinguished, and there’s barely any plot. I know that’s the point! But it’s not an enjoyable read and I’ll put it off until I’m 80.
- The Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling. I re-read this book this month because I had an unfavorable initial impression and wanted to try again. I’m glad I did. J.K’s prose is beautiful and comforting, even if it’s being implemented in a melodramatic plot. If you were scared to try a J.K book that wasn’t Harry Potter, I would recommend The Casual Vacancy. It takes some getting used to because it’s odd to see J.K talk about mature topics with such ease. It’s like talking about sex with your parents. Awkward, but also insightful. You also have to suspend your disbelief a bit. She killed tons of characters off in seven books, so she fits four or five characters into the space of one book. But I’d also recommend her mysteries under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith because those are nice, old-fashioned detective stories with wildly creative plots.
- The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. I had to read this for school. It’s my first taste of Graham Greene and certainly not the last. TEOTA is a unique read in a lot of ways. Mid twentieth century British authors are all very cynical and depressed and Graham Greene is no different, but the abstract quality of the plot, which of course revolves around an ending affair, and the unreliable narrator leave you constantly questioning the character’s motivations. I had a great time annotating in the margins. If you enjoy that sort of thing, TEOTA is a short read with beaucoup de symbolism and plenty of margin space for comments.
- The Lady Queen by Nancy Goldstone. This is another Goldstone book about roughly the same time period, except that instead of France, we’re transported to 15th century Naples to live the life of the infamous Queen Joanna. I think Goldstone has an issue with using primary sources. Although her books are well written and informative, there’s no grounding in the time period, which is imperative for historical biographies. Even though it was a biography about Joanna, I felt little connection to her. You could have removed her completely from the story and instead focused on the broader history of Western Europe in the 15th century. I’d still recommend this book for its historical merit, but bear in mind its flaws if you decide to read it.
Books I didn’t mention but would like to read are all stacked on a pile in my desk. I have two Jane Austen books awaiting my attention, one which I picked up by accident (stupid Mansfield Park), but I’m excited to read Northanger Abbey. I’m also going to read the book which Memoirs of a Geisha was based on, and if I’m finished with that, read Augustus, also by Adrian Goldsworthy. I’ll come back to you with another Month in Books in October. Sorry for the short post today. I have a bunch of ideas of topics I want to discuss but not enough time to write them today. Anyways, I hope some of these recommendations are helpful to you in your continuing literature journey. Happy Reading, my friends!