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  • Writer's pictureKara C White

The TBR Stack: December 2020

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

I'm ready to round out the year by reading a couple books that have been on my TBR list for quite a while, a brand new title, and an annual favorite!

Even without some of the school and community holiday activities we might normally participate in, I know the weeks leading up to Christmas will probably still be hectic. I was tempted to pare down my list for this month, but instead I've decided to start with high hopes and then grant myself a little grace if I don't finish everything. There's always next year-- which starts soon!

First up, a new book that jumped to the top of my TBR stack. Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat by Katherine May came out just last month. This title had me at the cover art. The approaching winter solstice seemed like the perfect time to start this memoir about surviving and realigning during the dark times of our lives. I'm looking forward to this personal narrative that weaves literature, mythology, and nature into its teachings.

I read some of Toni Morrison's stunning work when I was in school, but it's been some time since I picked up one of her books just for me. After seeing a recommendation for it a few months back, this month I'm reading her 1992 historical fiction Jazz. This novel about love and obsession is set mostly in 1920s Harlem. The premise is dark: a man shoots and kills his teenaged lover, then his wife attacks the girl's corpse at the funeral. The book is described as a lyrical reflection of the passion, promise, and plight of black urban life at this point in our nation's history.

Violence is also part of the premise of a book that's been sitting on my nightstand for months: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. The novel is a psychological thriller that appeared on all sorts of reading lists when it came out in February 2019. A woman who seems to "have it all" shoots her husband five times, and never says another word. The book follows the criminal psychotherapist who is increasingly desperate to unlock the mystery. I'm told this book has quite a plot twist so I'm eager to find out if I'll see it coming or be left speechless.

Another book finally moving from my TBR to my currently reading list is The Library Book by Susan Orlean. The true crime biography investigates the unsolved 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public Library. The book is also a broader exploration of the role of libraries and librarians in our society. As a library worker and lifelong library lover, I can't believe its taken me this long to crack the spine on this one.

Finally, a holiday favorite I read every year. I first picked up Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas by Jonathan Green on a bargain table at a bookstore probably ten years ago. The book is a brief but thorough look at the origins and history of many of our holiday traditions. From the story of how mistletoe became associated with Christmas to who sent the first Christmas cards, this book is filled with holiday history and cheer. It's a fun, simple way to add a little knowledge to your annual festivities and customs.

And now a quick wrap up of my November reads! I started with the currently popular The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. This novel is about Nora, a young woman who has given up on life. A desperate decision leads her to the Midnight Library, where she is given the chance to undo her regrets and explore what her other lives might have been. I really enjoyed this book and understand why so many people are praising it. I can't say it's the best written work I've read this year, and I agree with those who commented that the ending was a bit predictable. Those concerns aside, I highly enjoyed the experience of reading it, and the book posed some very interesting questions about life and the choices we make. Recommend.

I also read Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi. Her debut novel set in India, which was on the short list for the 2020 Booker Prize, is about a fraught mother-daughter relationship strained by years, even decades, of mistrust and failings. When we meet these women, the mother is slipping away due to early dementia, and we learn about their difficult past by moving back and forth between memories and the present. Going into the book, I had read some negative reviews and even some complaints that the book was disgusting. There is a great deal of description about various smells, tastes, and textures (including some bodily functions). To be sure, these are not always pleasant, but I didn't think the book was gross or vulgar. Ultimately, I think this book was about two women struggling to find and define themselves, with serious consequences for the other.

Brown Girl Dreaming, a 2014 novel written in verse by Jacqueline Woodson, describes Woodson's childhood as an African American growing up in the 1960s in both the South and the North. This was a beautifully written work of family and identity. Woodson had me on page five with two short, alliterative lines that left me breathless. The rest was just a masterclass in storytelling. Recommend.

Finally, I removed a longstanding title on my TBR list to my "Done" list. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a well-reviewed 2015 historical fiction about two sisters in France during World War II. Early on, there were times I was frustrated by the actions of both sisters, but their character development is full of growth, courage, and sacrifice in the midst of incredible suffering. I felt some of the fear and uncertainty of living in occupied France and the terrible difficulty of the choices made by these very different women, each trying to endure. I can certainly understand what makes this one so popular. Recommend.

Hope your November reading left you equally as happy. Let's finish the year strong! Best wishes for further reading!

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