The TBR Stack: September 2021
Updated: Sep 13
Ready to Read!!
While the transition from summer to fall signals a turn toward the end of the year, for me autumn always feels like a new beginning. Perhaps it's because fall is the time we head back to school, and I always loved the excitement of starting a new academic year. Perhaps fall feels like a fresh start to me because the cooler temperatures are a welcome relief from the sweltering summer sun. Whatever the reason, autumn is my favorite season! I'm ready to begin the final stretch of the year by starting some new (and old) books.
I've heard nothing but rave reviews of The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris so I was thrilled when my library hold on this debut novel 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. This book is described as a page-turning thriller and social commentary.
Women's relationships are at the heart of my next September selection, but this time it's a family saga recounted in Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia. 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. It's a story about the choices women make and the choices forced upon them.
My non-fiction read this month is a book about books! Walking a Literary Labyrinth: A Spirituality of Reading is written by Nancy Malone, an Ursuline nun with a degree in theology from Harvard Divinity School. Her work examines how the books we read shape who we are and how we define ourselves. Malone uses the spiritual practice of walking a labyrinth as an illustration of our reading lives and experience. She draws on both religious and secular sources as she leads readers to contemplate the influence of books on their lives. This is a book which has been on my bookshelf for ages, and I'm so glad to finally be moving it to this month's TBR stack.
Middle-grade novels have been fulfilling and fast reads for me this year. This month I'm reading Pax by Sara Pennypacker. It's illustrated by one of my all-time favorite illustrators, Jon Klassen. Pax tells the story of a 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. Pax became a beloved hit when it came out in 2016. With the sequel, Pax, Journey Home, releasing this month, I'm eager to read the original for myself.
Finally, my reading goals this year include reading works of poetry, essay collections, and plays. This month I'm reading the script for the famous stage drama The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie. The Mousetrap is the longest-running play in history with thousands of performances in London's West End. 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. My copy of the play appears alongside seven other of the novelist and playwright's other dramas, including And Then There Were None, Witness for the Prosecution, and Go Back for Murder.
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Now for some highlights from my summer reading selections! I recommend them all.
I don't often cry over a book, but this title made the tears flow! Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell is achingly beautiful. The fictionalized story of the short life and death of Shakespeare's real 11-year-old son is compelling and emotional. The novel's exploration of grief within a family and within a marriage is devastating at times. The true beauty of this book is in the smallest of details that seem to yield the biggest impact. There's also a structural change about two-thirds of the way through the novel which indicates an important shift in the narrative. The character Agnes, Shakespeare's wife and Hamnet's mother, is one of my favorites in a long time. This book is one that will stay with me.
A Black Woman's History of the United States of America by Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross centers the stories of African American women throughout the nation's history in order to show their role in shaping and changing American life. The book covers years long before the formation of the United States or the institution of slavery in the country as well as events just a few short years ago. Readers meet explorers and pioneers, enslaved and freedwomen, artists and activists. A common thread throughout the book is a celebration of the particular power of Black women to build their communities. This is a non-fiction work, but I found it to be engaging and easy to read.
Sea Wife by Amity Gaige is an engrossing novel about a family spending a year sailing the Caribbean Sea. However, the book is really a deep dive into a troubled marriage and two people trying to stay afloat in their own lives. This book is told from the dual perspectives of the wife Juliet, recounted after the journey by sea is over, and through the captain's log entries of the husband Michael written during the voyage. Readers have to piece together what really happened-- and what went terribly wrong-- on board the ship. Some people may not like the structure of the ending and the way it departs from the rest of the book, but I feel it's an interesting and ultimately satisfying read.
I hardly know what to say about The Summer Before the Dark by Doris Lessing. This 1973 novel is firmly grounded in the time it was written, but explores themes all too relevant today. The novel follows the inner journey of Kate, a 45-year-old wife and mother living in London. With her husband and mostly grown children away for the summer, she unexpectedly finds herself thrust into unknown territory-- not being needed by her family. She embarks on a series of new roles, trying to both examine and ignore her sense of disembodiment and dread. It's too simplistic to say Kate is experiencing a mid-life crisis. Some events and encounters in Kate's summer verge on the absurd. Some incidents are painfully memorable, such as when Kate walks down the street in baggy clothes and is ignored by everyone, then walks down the same street minutes later in a fitted dress and styled hair; she suddenly gains attention from everyone (every man) she passes. Within the world of the book, there are no easy answers to Kate's "problem," or, perhaps, our own in the real world.
What are you currently reading? I love hearing your recommendations. Let me know in the comments.
Also for September... my updated list of children's books perfect for fall, and later this month I'll share how I'm discovering a second childhood on my kids' bookshelves. It's not what you think. Until then, best wishes for further reading!
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