5

#LiteraryWives: Monogamy

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

As always, if you haven’t already please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read Monogamy by Sue Miller! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

monogamy

Annie and Graham have been mainly happily married for more than 30 years. Annie was briefly married before she met Graham and together they have a daughter. Graham has a son from a previous marriage, a marriage that ended because he cheated on his first wife. Annie is a photographer who is coming back into a productive period of her career, and Graham owns a bookstore, hosting authors and literary events. And then Graham dies suddenly and while grieving the loss of a wonderful husband, Annie finds out that maybe he wasn’t so wonderful after all. Now Annie must come to terms with their marriage, how she feels about her husband now that he’s gone, while protecting his children from what she’s discovered.

My Thoughts

Honestly? I really despise books that are billed as thoughtful, interesting, literary because they have to do with cheating. Oh I could never read another book about a middle aged white man cheating on his wife and be so very happy. I’m not saying I want all the characters I read about to be flawless and be wonderful to each other. But a story about an old guy cheating on his wife after so many years where she’s worked to make him happy (and the wives always sacrifice their careers or something to make the husband’s life easier and better) is so unoriginal. There’s no doubt that Sue Miller is a good writer, I just had a hard time reading this story again. 

Also, all of the characters seemed to have a thing against their mothers which, again, is so tired. Graham talks to his friend about how his mother should have tried harder to keep his dad around (his abusive, alcoholic father), his friend also feels like his mother let him down, Graham’s son, Lucas, can’t stand his mother, feels like she’s the reason he didn’t get the relationship he wanted with his father, even Annie blames her mother for not making more of an effort to ensure that their family was ‘cultured’. When Lucas has a baby with his own wife, a woman he adores, suddenly he sees her as a mother, as a thing that feeds his child, and he’s kind of repulsed and relieved when she leaves to visit her family for a month.

What does the book say about being a wife?

I’m not sure that the book talked about being a wife, as much as it explored marriage. Monogamy explores the idea of a long-term committed relationship but it seems like most of the marriages in this book fall prey to infidelity. At the very beginning, when we meet Annie, she is fresh out of her first marriage and she feels free.

So she was free, at twenty-nine. Which should have made her feel liberated, expansive. And she did, in some ways. Except that for a long while after the divorce, she was uncomfortable around men. For at least a year, maybe longer, she read almost every gesture, every remark, as controlling, as dangerous for her. (p.3)

For this Annie, then, marriage would seem to be a cage. A way for a man to trap her and keep her. In some ways, this does come to pass with Graham. He works at his bookstore, cultivating relationships with interesting people, bringing them to their home for dinner parties (that Annie plans and cooks for allowing Graham to hold court), while Annie pauses her photography career to stay closer to home and care for their child. And all of this is worth it to Annie, until she finds out that Graham has cheated on her. We know that it was not just once with one woman but that this had been a pattern of behaviour throughout their marriage. 

Mostly, Monogamy is 

an old tired story that’s all, the damaged person who can’t be held responsible for the damage he causes. (p. 58)

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! And come back in September when we’ll discuss The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler.

11

#LiteraryWives: Every Note Played

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

As always, if you haven’t already please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read Every Note Played by Lisa Genova! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

every note played

Richard is a concert pianist and when he starts having some issues with his hands, he writes it off as tendonitis. But several months later, he has a diagnosis of ALS, he’s played his last concert and has care aides coming into his home three times a day to look after him. Recently divorced, Richard’s relationship with his ex-wife Karina and daughter Grace is almost non-existent. But when Karina hears about Richard’s diagnosis she starts thinking about their relationship and how they got here, what they should do to try and make things as right as they can before his inevitable death. After selling his apartment, Richard moves back into the home he shared with Karina and she cares for him as his ALS takes more from him every day.

My Thoughts

I didn’t know what this book was about at all until I started reading it. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (when I remember to come here and post) you might know that I do not like reading books about serious illness like this. It freaks me out, like I’m inviting it into my own life. So I really had to dig deep to stick with this one. Lisa Genova writes incredibly knowledgeable about the physical breakdown of a body with ALS and it was at once incredibly informative and completely horrifying and devastating. 

In the beginning, I wondered how I was going to feel about this book because it was hard to like Richard and Karina. There was anger and disappointment on one side, ego and disinterest on the other. But I thought Genova did a great job at giving each character room for growth, a bit of a redemption arc if you will. I thought it was a layered, nuanced portrayal of not only marriage but the relationships people have with their parents and as parents.

By the time the book ended, I was in tears. Richard and Karina are able to forgive each other and say the things that they needed to say. Every Note Played really shows the power of “I’m sorry.”

What does the book say about being a wife?

 Richard and Karina seemed to have a very traditional marriage, even while each of them were struggling within the bounds of marriage. Richard followed his dreams of becoming a concert pianist and Karina, who had herself been a promising pianist, stayed home with Grace. Richard, who had left New York City for an opportunity in Boston, knowing the effect it would have on Karina’s chances of being a jazz pianist, found himself disappointed in their marriage and looked for connection with other women. Karina, resentful of the choice to move to Boston threw herself into Grace but ensured that they wouldn’t have additional children, something Richard came to find out years later.

Richard has never been able to put anyone or anything before his love for the piano, a choice that came to define Karina and Richard’s marriage. 

“To everyone’s disappointment, he’s never been able to love a woman the way he loves piano. Not even Karina.”

“She didn’t realize this at the time, how one-sided the move would be when she agreed to it. She’s often wondered how much Richard understood before they packed up and left. Not being from this country, she simply assumed Boston would have a significant jazz culture. Surely, she would find other hip clubs, other talented artists, other opportunities for expression and hire. […] There is no jazz scene in Boston.”

The longer Karina goes without playing professionally, the more she finds excuses for not following her passion; Richard’s schedule is so hectic, Grace needs Karina around. But then she’s divorced and Grace has gone to college and Karina is still spending her days teaching piano to kids who don’t really want to play. She realizes that she’s used being a wife as a crutch, she’s always been afraid to go for her dream. 

“With stunning clarity, she suddenly sees he role she’s been playing, the costume and mask she chose and has been wearing for twenty years. She’s been hiding, an imposter, unable to give herself permission to do this, to play jazz, to be who she is, shackled inside a prison of blame and excuses.”

In a final twist, it is Richard, the one who took her off her path, who brought her to Boston knowing the impact it would have on her career, who shows her that she is meant to play jazz, that she should finally follow that dream. 

Every Note Played is about the choices we make, the paths not taken and how the person you choose to share your life with has an impact on your life, sometimes even when you’re no longer together.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! And come back in June when we’ll discuss Monogamy by Sue Miller.

21

Changing Habits

For years I was the kind of reader that only read physical books and mostly ones I owned. I delighted in hours spent browsing in bookstores, bringing stacks up to purchase.

But then I had a toddler and beautiful afternoons spent in bookstores are really a thing of the past. Plus, this whole pandemic thing. This is not a post to talk about how I’m not an e-reader. We’re still holding the line on that one.

I have for sure become a library super-user though. Currently, 74% of my 2021 books have been from the library. In 2020, 51% of my reading came from the library – and I didn’t have access to the library from March to June!

I’ve been working from home so no more trips to the library on my lunch break, and no more browsing. I’ve been periodically going online and placing holds and then collecting a stack once a week or so. I was never that into putting books on hold, preferring the serendipity of finding books as I browsed. Sometimes those books were on my radar, often they weren’t. Every once in a while I stop and think about how much money the library has saved me. But mostly I think about how grateful I am that libraries exist and that they found a way to make their collections remain accessible in all of this. Because wow, I have so much more time on my hands and I don’t like to think about what I would have done without the library.

The other significant change, and this will surprise you, is that I have finally given in to the siren song of the audiobook.

I have fairly strict parameters for what I will listen to because I still don’t like being read to. No fiction audiobooks for me at this point. But after hearing about how amazing Becoming by Michelle Obama, The Meaning of Mariah by Mariah Carey, Open Book by Jessica Simpson and books by comedians are on audiobook, I decided that I would give non-fiction audio a spin.

And wow. They are so fun to listen to! I go for long walks with our dog most afternoons (he needs a good hour or he’s a nightmare all evening) and that’s become my audiobook time. I can’t tell you how much that time has been transformed for me. The first audiobook I listened to was Andre Leon Talley’s In the Chiffon Trenches. I had to speed him up to 1.25% but I loved wandering around the neighbourhood with his voice in my ears. I’ve since listened to Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo (I think I would have preferred to read this one on paper, just the way I prefer to process this type of information), and Over the Top by Jonathan Van Ness (I loved this one and I think you HAVE to listen to it vs read it). I’m now listening to Ali Wong’s Dear Girls.

I’m on the waitlist for Colin Jost’s A Very Punchable Face and Atomic Habits by James Clear (that one will take a while – 52nd on 10 copies!).

I’m still super new to the audiobook game so if you have nonfiction suggestions, please send them my way!

The steady supply of fresh and free reading materials plus audiobooks mean that a little more than halfway through February, I’ve finished 25 books which is probably the best I’ve done reading-wise in a number of years.

What are your reading hacks these days?

11

#LiteraryWives: The Age of Innocence

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

As always, if you haven’t already please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Cynthia @ I Love Days
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

 

age-of-innocence

Edith Wharton’s novel, published in 1920, was the first by a woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. Her 12th novel, The Age of Innocence was originally serialized and is one of her three novels of New York (The House of Mirth and The Custom of the Country are the other two).

It’s New York in the 1870s and Newland Archer is about to marry sweet, young May Welland. According to both of their families, this is a perfect match, further uniting them all. But then May’s disgraced cousin Ellen returns to the city after a failed marriage to a Polish count. The beautiful, willful and independent Countess Olenska makes Newland feel all kinds of new feelings and he has to choose between a conventional, easy but passionless marriage to May or an alluring and forbidden love affair with Ellen that would see them both shunned from the world they know.

My Thoughts

This was the second time I read The Age of Innocence. The first time I gave it five stars and was no doubt swept up in the romance and setting of it all. I felt a little differently about it this time!

I still really liked it – although it was hard to really get into it with all the other noise in the world. BUT I kind of hated that our main character was male. Go ahead, roll your eyes, get it out of your system. I had a hard time not rolling my eyes every time Newland refers to the women in his life, especially May. His poor sister Janey is getting to that time in life when it’s not really appropriate for her to wear a traditional wedding gown, it’s tiresome to have to provide May with the thoughts she should have about anything, he can’t read poetry out loud anymore because May always asks so many questions etc. 

And it was hard to sympathize completely with his conundrum: marry May or run away with Ellen because he was a man in his time. A wealthy man! He could have easily run away with Ellen and lived another life and there would have been few consequences beyond being shunned by society he wasn’t that attached to anyway. Poor May would have been jilted and that would have impacted her chances at a ‘good’ marriage. And of course Ellen would have forever been a scarlet woman. 

Newland does a lot of supposing about May, what kind of woman she is, what she thinks and feels but he doesn’t spend a lot of time actually talking to her. 

“There was no use in trying to emancipate a wife who had not the dimmest notion that she was not free.” 

Ultimately he does the right thing and stays with May and I did appreciate that. I kind of like when characters do the so-called right thing rather than the thing that feels good and exciting. I like that he stayed with May, that he accepted that and made a good life out of the choice he felt he had to make. I even kind of like that when he had another chance at a life with Ellen he didn’t take it! 

What has happened to my romantic tendencies??

What does the book say about being a wife?

This book has a lot to say about how to be a good wife but it’s never from the perspective of any actual wives. In the end, the battle is between the rewards of being a good and faithful wife whose husband thinks you’re dull and those of doing what you want and not settling for a husband who treats you terribly even if it means giving up the kind of lifestyle most only dream of. 

When Newland is still trying to make a case to the families for the Countess Olenska not to go back to her husband, the family’s matriarch asks if he knows what he’s asking her to give up?

“But on the material side, Mr Archer, if one may stoop to consider such things; do you know what she is giving up? Those roses there on the sofa – acres like them, under glass and in the open, in his matchless terraced gardens at Nice! Jewels – historic pearls; the Sobieski emeralds – sables – but she cares nothing for these. Art and beauty, those she does care for, she lives for, as I always have; and those also surrounded her. Pictures, priceless furniture, music, brilliant conversation. […] And she had it all; and the homage of the greatest. […] Are these things nothing? And the remorse of an adoring husband?” 

The society that they live in makes it almost impossible for a marriage to be a true partnership, to allow for two people to fall honestly in love. They’re not allowed to be alone, they have to marry within a certain set of families, everything is in service to appearances. 

“In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs.”

Newland, May and Ellen are all victims of a society that would rather see them miserable than live unconventional lives.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! And come back in March when we’ll discuss Every Note Played by Lisa Genova. 

7

Nonfiction November (Week 4): New to my TBR

I can’t believe that Nonfiction November is over again! I’ve had such a great time connecting to other nonfiction readers! Thank you to our incredible hosts Leanne @ Shelf Aware, Julie @ Julz Reads, Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction and Katie @ Doing Dewey for taking this on this year and giving us all a chance to discuss some amazing nonfiction!

It was a decent month of nonfiction reading for me. I’m working my way through Barack Obama’s memoir to close out the month and if I manage it, I will have finished 10 books this month. My nonfiction reading percentage is up to 34% from 29%. The best books I read this month were Motherhood So White by Nefertiti Austin, The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey and Michaela Angela Davis (yes really) and Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward.

For this last week, Katie @ Doing Dewey is leading us through what’s new on our TBR?

It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

So. I do not have a good track record of actually reading the books that jump out at me over the course of this event. Like at all. Out of the books I posted in 2018 and 2019 combined, I have now read TWO. So I’ve tried to be super mindful about what I’m including on my list. Not to say that I haven’t learned about so much wonderful sounding nonfiction. Just that when the time comes to actually select books to read, these don’t seem to be the ones that come to mind.

I’m pretty sure I said the exact same thing last year and again, my track record speaks for itself.

Here are the books I made a point of writing down to try and remember to read at some point in my lifetime:

20

Nonfiction November (Week 3): Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert

This week Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction is taking us through the Expert prompt:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I’ve been thinking about this one for days (hence the late post) and I finally decided on a theme based on the book I’ve just started, What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About, a collection of essays from fifteen different writers: motherhood and mother-child relationships.

I’ve done some reading on this topic, very casually. I’d have these books on my list and while reading I’d wonder what other books tackled this most central relationship but it’s never been something I’ve searched out. Until now.

The books about motherhood and mothers and children (specifically daughters) that I’ve read:

Motherhood So White: A Memoir of Race, Gender, and Parenting in America by Nefertiti Austin. This was an eye-opening memoir about adoption, specifically the experience of adopting as a single Black woman, specifically looking to adopt a Black boy. Austin reflects on the relationship she had with her own mother, someone who was more like an older sister or aunt, her grandmother who stepped into that mothering role and that when one thinks of motherhood in America, it’s almost always white motherhood.

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung. This one was also about adoption, but from the perspective of the adoptee. Nicole Chung was adopted from Korea by white parents. Her memoir is about her experience being Othered in her own family and her search for her birth family. She’s very candid about the complicated dynamics of her relationship with both mothers.

The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey (and Michaela Angela Davis). This one probably surprises many of you being on this list. BUT Mariah Carey is so open about her relationship with her mother and my mouth was honestly on the ground reading some of what she had to say. Their dynamics were also complicated by race, her mother holding onto her whiteness, asserting that privilege in some really fraught interactions with her biracial daughter.

In Triumph’s Wake: Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters and the Price They Paid for Glory by Julia P. Gelardi. This one looks at the lives and relationships between Isabella of Castille and her daughter Katherine of Aragon, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria Hungary and her daughter Marie Antoinette and Queen Victoria and poor Princess Vicky. The mothers were all august figures, at the height of their empires, and their daughters all ended up in really sad, horrible situations. I’ve said it 1000 times on this blog but Julia P. Gelardi remains one of my very favourite royal biographers. Her work is well worth your time.

So now you have an idea of what I’ve read, do you have any books for me that might fit the bill?

41

Nonfiction November: My Year in Nonfiction

Well, here we are. November! Did you ever think we’d make it this far?

There’s other noteworthy things happening but around here, it’s all about Nonfiction November!

This year it’s hosted by Katie @ Doing Dewey, Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction, Julie @ Julz Reads and Leann @ Shelf Aware. Each of them will host a week and we all get to benefit from some really great nonfiction discussions and fill our TBR with new titles! There’s also an instagram challenge that you can get in on.

Week 1: (November 2-6) – Leann will be kicking things off with Your Year in Nonfiction : Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November? 

One thing that the pandemic *was* really great for was reading. Especially in the early days when we didn’t really know what was to come, we didn’t know enough to be really fearful. I’ve read 116 books so far this year and 33, or 28%, have been nonfiction. I usually roll into November with around 29% of my reading being nonfiction so I’m super consistent.

I don’t think I can pick one favourite that I read this year. I read a lot of really excellent nonfiction! It started off really strong with Mary Laura Philpott’s essay collection, I Miss You When I Blink. She wrote about things I felt that I didn’t have words for. I made a lot of friends read that one afterwards and looking back now I honestly can’t believe it was *this* year that I read it! The same thing happened with Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. I think she fundamentally shifted something in me with that book and I’m a full Glennon convert now.

I read and loved Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns for the first time this year. I took it out from the library and that was a mistake. I did not make the same mistake when Caste came out this summer. I loved that one too! Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond was such an eye-opener about the cycle of poverty and how imprisoned in it so many people are in that system.

The best true crime book I read this year was definitely Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. Another library book I wish I owned! I read about Jessica Simpson (Open Book), Meghan and Harry (Finding Freedom), The View (Ladies Who Punch), about Instagram (No Filter) and Pixar (To Pixar and Beyond) and all of them were really good!

I also read a lot of parenting books this year because my kid is now at an age where I really need to learn what I’m even doing. I loved The Whole Brain Child and No Drama Discipline by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, looking at how a child’s brain development can inform interactions and successful discipline. They were really illuminating. I loved the validation of The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in an Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon and wanted to learn more about how to still see people this winter by reading There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids by Linda Akeson McGurk.

The worst nonfiction book I read was absolutely, no question Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell.

I’ve never laughed louder at nonfiction than reading Samantha Irby’s We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. I have Wow, No Thank You on deck for this month and I cannot wait.

I think out of all of the books I read this year I recommended Glennon Doyle’s Untamed and Jesse Thistle’s From the Ashes the most. You already know about Untamed, From the Ashes is a memoir about an Indigenous man cut off from his culture, abused as a child, his addictions and homelessness and his redemption. The book was selected for Canada Reads this year (a big deal up here!) and I will never get over that a man who picked up a book for the first time as an adult has now written one, and one that is this good.

I for sure read a lot of memoirs this year: I was also drawn to social justice type books: Medical Bondage by Deirdre Cooper Owens, Evicted by Matthew Desmond, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore. It seemed that the harder the world burned, the more I wanted to learn about how we got here. I have a number of these that I still want to read and I’ve been saving them for this month.

As for what I’m hoping to get out of this Nonfiction November, it goes without saying that I’m going to discover a whole host of new amazing titles for my TBR. What I’m really excited about is getting to talk about nonfiction with all of you! It’s the total highlight of my reading year!

See you next week!

1

Fiction feasting in October

Did October go by at record speed or what? I’m not even mad about it (even though I love October) because it means we’re SO CLOSE to Nonfiction November.

Get ready, because November is going to be a glut of nonfiction. I know some participants read fiction during the month but I am not that person. I have even forced my book club to choose a nonfiction title so I can keep going.

But before we get to all that, let’s take a look back at some of the books I read this month!

Assuming I finish the book I’m reading by month’s end, 10 of the 12 books I read this month were fiction. Three of them (Undercover Bromance, A Rogue of One’s Own and American Royals) were Romance which is very unheard of for me! Undercover Bromance was a chance to revist some of the characters from The Bromance Book Club but I would have liked more connection with the main characters from the first book. Still going to read the next one. American Royals was angsty and had a lot of feelings but it is also YA so I’m totally fine with all of that. I was warned that this book ends on a cliffhanger so I knew I’d need the next book soon. Going to make sure I have it ready after November.

And A Rogue of One’s Own! Last year I wrote about how much I loved Bringing Down the Duke and the same applies for A Rogue of One’s Own. I honestly should have bought this instead of taking it out from the library. I will need to buy the third one and if they keep being this good, I will buy every one of Evie Dunmore’s books. Keep ’em coming!

Keeping with the romance theme, I also reread The Age of Innocence for Literary Wives (come back for that post in early December) with a very different lens than I remembered the first time I read it. I also read The Queen’s Fortune by Allison Pataki, about Desiree Clary, Napoleon’s first fiance and eventual Queen of Sweden. I loved Pataki’s books about Elisabeth of Austria and I liked this one but I’m not sure that it hit me quite the same way. I had wanted to read more about Desiree since reading Desiree by Annemarie Selinko years ago. You should for sure read that one.

And then. The big guns. The books everyone has been talking about for ages. I read Anxious People by Fredrik Backman and Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi.

Fredrik Backman is a Paperback Princess MVP. I love everything he’s written. Anxious People was very different in style to his other work and it took me a minute to get into it. But when I did, the emotional payoff was worth the work. Especially right now, a book about the things that really do matter, about working together to make good things happen, it’s what I needed.

I also loved Yaa Gyasi’s debut Homegoing. It has remained on my mental list of books that I really, really loved. I loved the structure, the story, it felt so original. Transcendent Kingdom is completely different. It’s melancholy and takes on this massive theme of faith vs science. The main character kind of holds everyone, including the reader, at a distance which made it hard for me to connect with it even while I was bowled over by the writing. There’s no doubt that Gyasi can write. Transcendent Kingdom gave me a lot to think about but I’m not sure I’d classify it as a favourite.

And hands down the most intense book that I read this month was Alyssa Cole’s When No One Is Watching. If you’ve read it, let’s discuss. If you haven’t, I’m not going to say anything because I don’t even know what I read! It was WILD.

I’m working my way through J. Courtney Sullivan’s new one, Friends and Strangers and I’m already relating to it 100 different ways. I loved her book Saints for All Occasions so I’m hoping this is another winner.

A fiction feast before my nonfiction binge. What was the best book you read in October?

See you next week for Nonfiction November!

12

Five books that have held my attention this year

This has been an uneven reading year. With so much going on, I know a lot of readers have had a hard time finding the focus necessary to get through a book. This reader attempted to read Know My Name by Chanel Miller in the early days of the pandemic, where things were getting shut down and every day felt like a new, scary chapter in a dystopian novel I would never read. The timing of that read meant I wasn’t able to do justice to a remarkable story.

But every once in a while, I found a book that took me out of 2020 completely and I happily spent hours with them, my phone on do not disturb, ignoring my child and household responsibilities. Those were blissful days. Here are some of those books:

Pages and Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James. Tilly lives with her grandparents above a bookstore in London. Her mother disappeared when she was little and she’s at an age where she’s wondering about who her mother was and what their relationship might have been like. This is also the age where she suddenly starts seeing characters from her favourite books come to life in the shop; suddenly she’s having conversations with Anne Shirley and she’s pretty sure her grandmother has tea with Elizabeth Bennett. It turns out that Tilly is a Bookwanderer, she can travel into stories and she’s not the only one. Soon she is initiated into a whole society of people who can do the same. There are rules to learn and secrets to be uncovered and this book, the first in a series, is a complete joy to anyone still in touch with their inner child bookworm.

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman. Two brother and their wives live in apartments in the same building, the family business is located around the corner. One brother has only daughters, the other only sons. The wives are pregnant again, due around the same time. On a snowy night that prevents the wives from getting to a hospital, with only a midwife and one of the daughters present, the babies are born: a son for the family with daughters and a daughter for the family with sons. This night ripples through the lives of both families for decades after. It’s one of those quiet, every-day, generational family stories and I couldn’t stop reading it.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner. If you’re looking for a gentle book with a cozy vibe and Jane Austen connections (too niche?), look no further. The Jane Austen Society follows the residents of a small English village as they deal with some of the things that have happened in their lives in the last few years, mostly as a result of the war. Each of them reads and re-reads Jane Austen’s novels to escape the realities of their lives and eventually they form a book club dedicated to her work. There’s more to it but I don’t want to give the whole thing away. This is the kind of book that demands to be read with cozy socks and a warm beverage.

Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of “The View” by Ramin Setoodeh. This. Book. Was. Everything. If you’ve ever stayed home for the day from school or work you have seen The View. I’ve seen LOTS of episodes of The View and I’ve always been curious about what it’s really like behind-the-scenes. Especially in the last several years when the co-hosts were just as likely to make headlines as their Hot Topics. Setoodeh had the access, pretty much all of them spoke with him. The give up the dirt and reading this book will make you fall down a YouTube rabbit hole revisiting the moments talked about.

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. This book wasn’t really gentle or an escape as it deals with the Flu Pandemic of 1918. But there was something weirdly comforting about reading a book that was so eerily similar to what we’re experiencing, knowing that their pandemic ended and eventually things went back to how they were before. But this book is also kind of brutal and I wouldn’t recommend it to any reader who is pregnant for the first time or anyone who has any kind of birth trauma. This book follows a nurse, her helper, a doctor and their patients on a flu ward for pregnant women over the course of three days. It is gripping and propulsive and my favourite of Donoghue’s books.

Revisiting these books makes me want to read all of them again. What books have captured your imagination (and focus!) in the last several months?

20

Let’s Talk Library Holds

I didn’t start using the hold system at the library until this year.

Wow, OK, that feels good to finally say out loud.

I used the library all the time as a kid but I never used the hold system then because the whole thing with the library was going to the library to pick my books. Then I started making my own money and I stopped going to the library and spending all my money on books, a theme that continues to this day if I’m honest.

I came back to the library when I lost my job the first time as an adult. Suddenly aware of a finite amount of money to my name, uncertain about when I’d find a new job but also aware that I still needed fresh reading material, I started taking the bus to the library. That’s when I started reading Agatha Christie and PG Wodehouse and finding all sorts of hidden nonfiction gems. But still, never holds. Again, the whole point was the going to the library.

But this year, obviously, has changed the way we do everything. First we were all cut off from our libraries (I’m assuming that was the same for everyone). Sure, I could have started reading the books on my shelves that I’d bought but I’m a mood reader and suffer from FOMO thanks to #bookstagram so I need new books all the time.

Sure, I ordered some from bookstores online but the postal system was kind of flooded with orders so it took a while to get anything. Did I mention that I don’t read ebooks? Audiobooks neither.

Once the library re-opened, they were doing the curbside pick up thing. So if I wanted books, I had to use the hold system.

It was revolutionary.

I could choose the books I wanted to read and the librarians would make sure they were ready for me. I could check online and see how many books were ready and decide if it was worth the trip or if I should wait a few days. I was checking every day, willing there to be a little green number in the corner telling me that my books were ready for me. I started putting more books on hold, up to 15 at a time. Sometimes I was first in line, other times I was 27 on 8 copies.

I started getting too many all at once. I didn’t have time to read them all. I focused on reading library books but then my purchased books would show up and they’d be ones I was excited to read but I had a time constraint on my library books, ones I’d waited to read for weeks. Other people were waiting for them, renewing wasn’t always possible.

Now I’m looking at Nonfiction November, hoarding planning books to read next month. I still have fiction holds coming in but a finite time in which to read them and hold onto them. I have nonfiction books on hold and I’m hoping they are ready as close to November 1st as possible, understanding that I have zero control over the timing.

So, my question to you all is: what’s the secret to streamlining my hold system?

Now that I work from home, my library isn’t right around the corner anymore. I can really only go on the weekends. I want all the books but understand the book limits. I only have a handful of books out right now and my holds list was short and I probably wasn’t going to get anything until December but I went on a hold spree the other night so I’m very much back in the hole.

Tell me all your tips and tricks. I’m a library hold system convert but still very much a novice.