Kara C White
The TBR Stack: October 2021
Updated: Oct 12, 2021
A frightfully good list this month!
While I'm too easily scared to crack the spines of many modern horror novels, I couldn't help but choose some books with gothic origins or darker overtones this October. Ghosts, witchcraft, and a madman all have their place on my TBR list this month. 'Tis the season for spookiness after all.
I wanted to read Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian as soon as it was released in May 2021, but I held off on this historical fiction and psychological thriller because it felt like a more "fall read" to me. In this best-selling novel, a young and beautiful Puritan woman named Mary resolves to leave her violent and brutal marriage-- something unheard of in 1662 Boston. As strange occurrences happen around her, Mary soon finds herself suspected of much more than breaking societal norms. I hope this book will both engage and challenge me as I explore the very real fears and very present danger for women who dared to speak their minds in 17th-century New England.
I'm reading two books from the same author this month; something I rarely, if ever, attempt. First, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. This 1962 gothic mystery is a shorter novel, but is filled with a dark family secret. Narrated by a strange young woman named Merricat, we meet the Blackwood family. The family suffered stunning losses after a fatal dose of arsenic made it into the table sugar bowl, but Merricat's older sister Constance was acquitted of the crime. Now Merricat considers herself Constance's protector, and the greatest threat to the family may have just arrived on the estate's doorstep.
I confess Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House may turn out to be more frightening than I would prefer, but I'm giving this classic of gothic horror a try. The 1959 novel is considered one of the best literary ghost stories published during the 20th century. Four people arrive at the reportedly haunted house, planning to investigate the supernatural claims. But the house itself seems to have plans of its own for those who dared to enter within its walls. Yes, I am aware that this book is the basis for a Netflix series. No, I will not be watching it after reading the book.
Genius, madness, and murder define my non-fiction read for October. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester reveals the incredible story behind the writing of one of the world's most famous dictionaries. When submissions for the ambitious project were collected and compiled, Professor James Murray discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, submitted more than 10,000 entries. This led to an even more shocking revelation-- Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.
Finally, a book not from the horror genre, but perhaps no less alarming for readers: The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. This dystopian novel is described as an apocalypse science fiction tale. Written in 1993, Butler imagines a 2020s America where global climate change and economic crises create social chaos. In this dangerous world, a 15-year-old girl with extreme sensitivity to others' emotions becomes a voice of warning, reason, and freedom. This promises to be a powerful and prescient book. I'm reading it as part of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club, my first time to engage in this way with the MMD community.
I also hope to read a few short stories from Edgar Allan Poe. His collected works are a favorite of mine, especially at this time of year. I love the building tension in his work like in The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, and Ligeia. No October would be complete for me without reading his poem The Raven at least once!
Coming Soon! In a few weeks I'll be releasing my new FREE Reading Tracker Printable! It's designed to be a fun and whimsical way to track your daily reading time and help you meet your reading goals. To be one of the first to get access to this FREE printable when it comes out, just sign up for email alerts here on my blog. Click on the Log In/Sign Up button at the top of the page to get started today!
And now few thoughts on my September selections!
I was thrilled when my library hold on this debut novel, The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, came in faster than I expected. In this suspenseful work of literary fiction, 26-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at a New York publishing house. When another Black woman joins the firm, Nella is thrilled until a string of uncomfortable events leaves her shaken-- and then vaguely threatening notes begin to appear on Nella's desk. I was thoroughly taken in by this book. What starts as an engaging and unflinching look at navigating uncertain spaces-- working as a Black woman in a largely white industry-- evolves into a full-on psychological thriller. Just when you think you know what's going on, you definitely don't. I was not prepared for where this story went-- but I'm so glad it did. I've heard some complaints from readers about the ending of this novel. I won't give anything away, but I will say that you should not expect a nice and neat conclusion where everything is happily tied up. One other note... when I posted this picture of the book on my Instagram page, Zakiya Dalila Harris liked my post and shared it to her story so I had a complete fangirl moment!
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia is a brief novel but overflowing with family pain and secrets. Jeanette is the daughter of a Cuban immigrant who wants to know more about her family history, but her mother is still struggling with her own past. This novel takes the reader from present-day Miami to 19th-century cigar factories and through the lives and legacies of generations. For me the power of this book was in what wasn't said. Characters who desperately need to speak truth to each other stay silent. The author herself leaves much unsaid in the story, forcing readers to piece together or draw their own conclusions about what may have happened in between the chapters which move forward and backward in time.
The non-fiction Walking a Literary Labyrinth: A Spirituality of Reading by Nancy Malone, an Ursuline nun with a degree in theology from Harvard Divinity School, examines how the books we read shape who we are and how we define ourselves. This is largely a memoir as Malone contemplates the influence of books on her life, and by extension, their influence on all of us. Her identity as a Catholic nun is central to the book so while you don't have to be Catholic or Christian to appreciate her writing, much of the language will be most familiar to those with a "church" background. This book was not quite what I expected, but insightful, and I am glad to have finally read it after it spent years on my bookshelf!
The middle-grade novel Pax by Sara Pennypacker packed an emotional punch which became a highlight of my reading month! Pax tells the story of the powerful bond between a boy, Peter, and his pet fox. When Peter is forced to return the fox to the wild and move hundreds of miles away, he sets out on a long journey to be reunited with his friend. This book's chapters are told from the dual perspectives of Peter and Pax. While the story as a whole is compelling and emotionally complex, the chapter's describing Pax's time in the wild are especially beautifully written. The reader gets to see the world, and human behavior, through the eyes of creatures who don't understand, but are threatened by, the actions of others.
The script for the famous stage drama The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie proved to be a fun and fast afternoon read. When the curtain rises, seven strangers are stranded at Monkswell Manor during a blizzard. Then a police sergeant unexpectedly arrives, worried that a murderer-at-large is among the guests. The Mousetrap has all of the rising suspense and plot twists you would expect from Christie, the "Mistress of Mystery." Reading a stage play is a different reading experience than other works of fiction, and I enjoyed the variety this selection added to my month.
What are you currently reading? I love hearing your recommendations. Let me know in the comments.
Also this month, I'm taking a closer look at why we love ghost stories. Later in October I'll explore why you may not know as much about your reading life as you think you do! Until then, best wishes for further reading!
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