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  • Writer's pictureKara C White

The TBR Stack: November 2020

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

While the weather is unseasonably warm here this week, we've already seen a few frosty mornings in my area of the country-- even a surprise dusting of snow! I always enjoy reading on the back deck during the warmer months, but there are few things I like more than snuggling under a throw blanket with a cup of something soothing and my latest book.

With the holidays not yet in full force, I'm hoping to enjoy several novels and one non-fiction selection early this November before Thanksgiving week. Anything I get to read once Thanksgiving arrives will just be a happy bonus!

I am very excited to have picked up a copy of The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. This book has received stellar reviews and lots of attention since it was released in August. Since I work in a library, I was sold on just the title and cover art alone. The accolades only added to my interest. This novel involves time travel and is considered a work of science fiction, but is really about the choices we make and the regrets that follow. The Midnight Library offers its protagonist, Nora, a look at what might have been. Then she, and all of us, must face the question, what makes our lives our own?

My next choice is on the short list for the 2020 Booker Prize, which will be announced November 19th. Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi is about a fraught mother-daughter relationship strained by years, even decades, of mistrust and failings. Originally published in India under the name Girl in White Cotton, this book is about memory-- both what we remember and what we'd like to forget. This is the debut novel for the author. Some of the reviews I've seen for this book were glowing; other readers strongly disagreed. One reader reported that it was one of the worst books she'd read this year. I'm always curious about books that evoke such powerful and differing reactions. I'm very interested to see which camp I'll fall into with this one.

I was thrilled when author Jacqueline Woodson received a 2020 MacArthur "Genius Grant" last month. Woodson is an award-winning fiction and non-fiction writer with books for children, young adults, and adults. I fell in love with her work last year when I read her 2019 short novel, Red at the Bone. I felt that some chapters in that book were more music than prose as they revealed the story of generations of an African-American family (highly recommend!). Now I'm taking up Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson's 2014 novel written in verse. This book, which won a National Book Award, a Newbery Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Book Award, describes Woodson's childhood as an African American growing up in the 1960s. I'm hoping this is just the next in a long list of titles I read by this author!

A few days ago on Instagram, I commented on another post about books we're ashamed to still have on our TBR lists. We both admitted that The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah had been in the stack for quite some time. In an effort to fix that, I'm finally getting around to this well-reviewed 2015 historical fiction about two sisters in France during World War II. I remember being interested in this book when it first came out, but I had recently read several other books set during World War II and felt I needed a break from that time period. Here's hoping I'm ready to revisit this setting with a fresh mind.

Finally, a non-fiction book I've been looking forward to for awhile. How to Raise a Reader is by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo, editors of The New York Times Book Review. Books and reading are such an important part of my life, and I want my children-- and all children-- to love books and reading as well! I'm passionate about fostering early childhood reading skills and cultivating a family lifestyle of literacy. Watching my children get excited about a book or a series fills me with a special kind of joy. I want to make sure I support and help grow their literary interests, especially as they get older. That's why I'm turning to this book for wisdom and advice on instilling a lifelong love of reading.

As for my reading in October, I'm pleased by all of the books I read, including a surprise gem!

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds was a quick read, but the story was slow to leave my thoughts and heart. I felt myself holding my breath the whole way through this YA novel written in free verse. Long Way Down is about 15-year-old Will who just lost his brother in a shooting and is now looking for revenge. The ending invites many questions; questions I'm eager to explore with my son once he finishes this book as well.

After hearing all summer about Untamed by Glennon Doyle, I jumped into this 2020 memoir about growth, discovery, and setting your expectations for yourself. For the record, I do not write in books. I do not highlight passages. I do not underline sentences or make notes in the margins. I do not dog ear pages. But when I find a beautifully written sentence or a thought I want to return to, I will use a sticky note to mark the place. This picture shows my copy of the book, studded with sticky notes.

I learned a great deal in My Own Words, a 2016 book by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her biographers Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams. I was initially concerned that this collection of Ginsburg's writings and speeches would be too technical or difficult for someone not intimately familiar with the law. However, the collection was well chosen, and overall I found the pieces to be accessible and understandable. In fact, I thought the book highlighted not only Justice Ginsburg's intellect, but her profound wit and humor.

I enjoyed, but was not overwhelmed by, A Long Petal of the Sea, the 2019 novel by Isabel Allende. The book is about the unlikely love and losses of two refugees of the Spanish Civil War as they escape and rebuild lives in Chile. This novel is steeped in historical details which add wonderful depth and realism to the story. I learned more about the historical events in this book than I ever did in a history class. I was not at all surprised by the twist revealed late in the novel, but I'm not sure I was supposed to be. The clues earlier in the book were pretty clear in my view.

Finally, a book I enjoyed far more than I expected. Just Sit: A Meditation Guidebook for People Who Know They Should But Don't by Elizabeth Novogratz and Sukey Novogratz is exactly what it says it is and more! The illustrations in this book are playful and fun so I expected a light-hearted look at meditation practice. While the tone of the book is light, it is never silly. The authors take their subject matter very seriously and provide a treasure trove of wisdom and practical advice for people who want to start meditating. The cute pictures are just a bonus!

Since it was the Halloween season, I also indulged in some gothic horror like The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. I also re-read for the first time in years Among the Shadows, a collection of ghost stories and other tales by L.M. Montgomery. These were a fun treat for me!

Hope your October reading was just the right amount of spooky (if you like that sort of thing) and all together fulfilling. Best wishes for further reading!

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