September reading roundup

by Sunita

I’ve been reading pretty steadily all year, but the first month of the academic year is usually the time when I slow way down even if I’ve had a good summer of reading. This year followed that pattern, although reading the Booker longlist gave me a boost, and I had airplane/airport time, which always helps.

I read 6 1/2 books in September:

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney. I read this from my TBR because Rooney’s Booker-longlisted novel is frequently discussed in tandem with this 2017 debut. I reviewed it here on the blog. I still like this one better than Normal People, and I’m still a bit befuddled by the “Salinger of the Snapchat Generation” moniker being repeated unironically. For a genre reader the tropes she mashes together are pretty obvious, but her distinctive voice makes it her own.

Milkman by Anna Burns. Another Booker longlist that made it onto the shortlist and my co-favorite of the ones I’ve read from the longlist. This is why I keep reading prize nominees, even when I get a run of 3-stars in a row or am disappointed by the shortlist and/or prize choices. My review is here, and the only thing I can add is that I’m still amazed by how good it is. Also, a book that gives you “The tea of allegiance. The tea of betrayal” as a metaphor for divided society is a great, great novel.

Normal People by Sally Rooney. This is the Booker longlisted novel. I think I’ve said enough about Rooney in reviews, Goodreads threads, posts and comments here, and probably while doodling in seminars. My review is here.

Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon. This is the first Maigret mystery, which I picked up in a Kobo deal earlier this year, and I used it as a palate cleanser between Booker and NBA nominees. I’m late to Maigret but I like the character very much, and Simenon is wonderful with atmosphere. This is set in 1930s Paris, when the Marais was still a seedy neighborhood. It’s amusing and depressing to read about specific run-down streets when you know them primarily as tourist havens with temples of consumption. It’s a good-not-great book, best for Maigret completists.

Gun Love by Jennifer Clements. Longlisted for the NBA. This was a mixed read for me. It’s been described as being about gun culture and the damage guns do to families and communities, but it didn’t really work for me, and the poetic and romanticized prose didn’t mesh well with the traumatic storyline. I’ll post the review soon.

The Boatbuilder by Daniel Gumbiner. Another NBA longlisted novel, another mixed read. It’s enjoyable but it’s written in that mundanity-focused, affectless prose style that is becoming so prevalent. Set in a barely disguised rural Marin County, it evokes a lot of other novels and even TV series without developing something unique of its own. Review to come.

The Overstory by Richard Powers. I got halfway through this book and set it aside. Powers is hugely admired by many readers and writers and his novels have been nominated for many awards and won a few. He is very much an “ideas” writer, and this is his eco-novel starring people and trees. It’s long, very ambitious, and densely written. He does not wear his erudition lightly, let us say. He uses words like “coprophagic” where “shit-eating” would fit at least as well and maybe better. I was able to soldier through all that, but the depictions of women did me in. They are all sexualized whether it is necessary for the scene/setting or not, and it’s not surprising that one of his descriptions (of breasts, naturally) inspired a tweetstorm about how not to write women. Since the book is on the Booker shortlist I plan to go back and try to finish it, but I’m definitely taking a break.