After whining about the pressure of the 50/50 Reading Challenge in October, November turned out to be a great reading month for me. Not only did I read my quota of books to stay on track for the Challenge, I thoroughly enjoyed the stories I chose. Thoroughly. The selections are varied in style and theme but each one is a satisfying piece of writing. I heartily recommend every single book on this list.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The San Francisco Examiner had this to say about Ms. Lee and her story:
“Miss Lee wonderfully builds the tranquil atmosphere of her Southern town, and as adroitly causes it to erupt a shocking lava of emotions.”
The difficult events that produce this “lava of emotions” unfold through the perception of a young girl named Scout. She offers us an intimate glimpse at the racial injustices and social stratification of early 20th century small town life in the America South. This is a well-written book laced with mystery and drama that left me feeling emotionally raw on more than one occasion. I now understand why it is considered an American classic. Why did it take me so long to read it? (4.5/5 stars)
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Oh, my. Memoirs of a Geisha is everything that I love in a story: believable historical fiction, artful writing, a strong but imperfect female protagonist, and a detailed look into a lifestyle that is far removed from my own. In 1929, nine-year-old Sayuri is sold to the owner of a geisha house in Gion, Tokyo and her experiences become the absorbing plot of this book. Arthur Golden creates a rich and complicated world that, as a woman, I found fascinating and, at times, repulsive. Sayuri’s life is beautifully told and I was sad when the story ended. My sister-in-law has been recommending this book to me for a very long time. I’m glad I finally listened to her. (4.5/5 stars)
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Again, oh my. I loved this story as much as Memoirs of a Geisha, but for entirely different reasons. The Thirteenth Tale is full of dark family secrets, mysteries, intriguing characters, a haunting or two, and a healthy dose of good old-fashioned madness. Just what the doctor ordered to briefly escape an over-scheduled and stressful modern life. I’m not even going to try to explain the plot or characters because the risk of giving something away is simply too great. I don’t want to ruin the pleasure for anyone who might be interested in this atmospheric treat. My mom has been trying to get me to read this book for a very long time. All I can say is it’s obvious that she knows me very well. (4.5/4 star)
The Giver by Lois Lowry. Please let me state for the record that I am not a big fan of dystopian literature. I either find it depressing (Brave New World) or infuriating (The Handmaid’s Tale) so I’ve pretty much ignored the avalanche of dystopian books that have appeared in the bookstores recently. However, The Giver is on many “must read” lists and is also a 1994 Newberry Award winner so I felt it would be worth a try. And, as a children’s novel, how bad could it really be, anyway? As it turns out, not bad at all. The utopia in The Giver is based on the ideas of painless existence and sameness. Unfortunately, in seeking a life without pain and variety, morality, creativity, and real feelings (good and bad) are extinguished. The protagonist, a twelve-year-old boy named Jonas, begins to realize what has truly been lost to create a safe, pain-free society when he becomes the sole Receiver of all memories. Although the ending was not satisfying, this was a quick, easy read which gave me much to ponder. (4/5 stars)
The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While by Catherynne M. Valente. Earlier this year I read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. You can find the review here. I would consider The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland to be the prequel to that book. Ms. Valente does a fine job of explaining how the characters came to be a part of that story. I love the way she writes. I’m happy just reading the words she weaves together; they wouldn’t even have to tell a story and I’d probably still love every minute of it. At barely 70 pages, this book is a quick but gratifying snack of a tale. (4/5 stars)
I’m now almost halfway through the last month of this 50/50 Reading Challenge and I haven’t completed even one of the last six books I need to read. Am I panicking? A little. Time is precious this time of year and I am really feeling the lack of it. Pumpkins are rotting on my front porch, the Christmas tree has been standing in the living room undecorated for three days, and I haven’t shopped for a single gift. This December, though, the closer I get to Christmas, the more relaxed things will become. How weird is that? I am actually anticipating a few days of rest before the holiday arrives. And, as a back-up plan, I have two 5+ hour flights over the holidays to catch up on the reading I don’t finish before Christmas. I might have to engage in some marathon reading sessions over the next three weeks but I intend on finishing this challenge as a winner.