Football, fall weather, cider, sweaters, donuts, Halloween—as Anne Shirley says, I’m so glad to live in a world where there are Octobers. Here’s what I read during my favorite month:
1. At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen: This was described as The Great Gatsby meets Outlander, which feel like pretty fair comps to me. Maddie, her husband Ellis and their best friend Hank are a trio of 1940s society terrors until a New Year’s Eve gaffe shuts them out of their social circle and cuts off their inheritance. Adrift and embarrassed, they set out for Scotland to continue a family search for the Loch Ness Monster in the hope that if Ellis succeeds where his father failed, he will be welcomed back. While Ellis and Hank go monster hunting, Maddie engages with the war-torn locals and learns there is more to life than fancy parties.
I am in the minority in that I preferred this book to Water For Elephants (no carnies for me, thanks). It probably helped that I read it over the first really cold, rainy weekend of the fall and so the descriptions little Scottish inns filled with cold drafts and colorful characters felt especially apt.
2. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, by Bill Bryson: I have been doing a lot of hiking with my neighbor lately (Hi, Mary Ellen!), so I was really excited to finally read this account of a novice hiker taking on one of the most formidable trails in the country. A perpetual bestseller, lots and lots of people have loved this book, which I hope makes it okay that I didn’t. Bryson’s humor is too mean-spirited for me. I lost count of how many people he mocked for their weight, and everyone but him is presented as lazy and inept. I can be as sarcastic as anyone, but you lose me when you go mean.
3. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro: Kathy, Tommy and Ruth attended Hailsham, a boarding school for very special children. Now in their thirties, they reflect back on the clues they were given about the school’s real purpose and the destiny awaiting all of its students. Ruth is resigned, Tommy defiant and Kathy thoughtful in remembering the idiosyncrasies of their childhood and what it meant for their futures.
4. Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari: Ansari examines how technology has changed the way we think about love, from online dating to maintaining a marriage. He discusses how dating apps have created an almost endless pool of candidates, which in turn means daters are much more likely to write someone off for a tiny, meaningless flaw. He spoke to couples in traditional and arranged marriages, compared urban and rural areas, and traveled to three continents to discover how cultural norms affect dating. I liked this book very much because it is a true social science work backed by real research—like a textbook that makes you laugh—as opposed to straight comedy.
5. The Girl With All the Gifts, by M. R. Carey: Each morning Melanie is strapped into a chair with her arms, legs and neck restrained and wheeled down the hall to her classroom. Each night she’s wheeled back to her cell. When she jokes to her handlers that she won’t bite, no one laughs. This book is so couched in secrets that I can barely describe it for fear of giving them away, but I do feel okay revealing it goes on the science fiction shelf.
6. The Pecan Man, by Cassie Dandridge Selleck: Ora Lee is a childless, recently widowed Southerner who hires Eddie, a homeless black man, for odd jobs. Several months later when Eddie is arrested for a murder that Ora Lee knows he did not commit, he insists that she say nothing. Told from a perspective twenty years on, Ora Lee considers the choices she made and how they affected the lives of those involved.
This book was self-published, which I think is an incredibly brave choice. It was certainly good enough to have been picked up by a traditional publisher. Self-publishing means the author keeps most of the proceeds from any sales but is not paid an advance, so please consider buying this one to support independent authors.
7. Deliverance, by James Dickey: I’ve never seen the Best Picture-nominated film, but after reading the book I can’t imagine it’s one for family movie night. Four friends embark on a canoe trip on a river deep in rural Georgia. They fail to appreciate just how wild their surroundings are until trouble strikes and they find themselves in a survivalist battle to reach the end of the river alive.
The book is classified as horror, and it’s really interesting to see how that genre has evolved since this was written in 1970. Gratuitous violence and gore are replaced by acts of deep degradation and psychological terror, which I personally find much more disturbing.
And the best thing I read this month...
8. The Rest of us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness: I was so into the concept for this book, I’m pretty sure I would have loved it if it was just a bound collection on blank pages. A sendup of the YA tropes of chosen ones, immortals, amulets and brooding indie kids, this story deals with the ones on the periphery of all of that drama. A single paragraph at the beginning of each chapter lets us know what’s going on in the war between the worlds—portals, demons, yada yada yada. Then the real story begins. As its logline says, “Because sometimes there are bigger problems than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.”