What I’ve Been Reading Lately: October 2017

It’s been two months since I last shared what I’ve been reading. In addition to the books for my Scandinavian Book Group and local book club, I read books that hadn’t even been on my radar before, which is always kind of fun. School and fall activities have begun in earnest, so it wasn’t as productive a reading time as last time, but it was still very fulfilling.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This was the latest read for my local book club. Pachinko opened up a whole new world to me, both about world history and prejudice in other places. It combined elements of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles in that the book follows a family through generations (though not as many as Homegoing), and it skips years and doesn’t get into the details of the specific history taking place. Instead it focuses on the characters and their lives during those times. Historical events (Japanese occupation of Korea, division of Korea into North and South, presence of US troops, Korean War) were just in the background. After having read about Korea’s pictures brides of the 1910’s in Alan Brennert’s Honolulu, this was a great follow-up for a deeper understanding of what was going on in Korea during that time. Also, The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (a fascinating but extremely disturbing look at life in North Korea, one of my favorite books of 2016) added some interesting background knowledge as well.

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

We chose this book to read for a small reunion of high school girl friends. We had a long list of titles with themes relating to friends, family, women’s issues, and current issues that we considered, and this was our final choice. I had heard high praise for it around the internet. It was even recommended specifically for our occasion by the hosts of Book Riot’s “Get Booked: Personalized Book Recommendations” podcast. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to the hype for us. We had been warned by Get Booked’s hosts that we wouldn’t all like the main character, and it turned out that none of us did. I also had an issue with the structure of the book. The chapters seemed more like short stories and jumped back and forth in time. Characters that we had already been introduced to were introduced again which I felt was unnecessary and at times confusing. But I do agree that it could make a good group read because it has plenty of discussion material, and obviously other people do like the main character and can relate.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

I was introduced to Jesmyn Ward by the hosts of Reading Women, a podcast and blog devoted to books by or about women. I had never heard of Jesmyn Ward but was intrigued after the hosts raved about her work. I read Salvage the Bones just after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and as Hurricane Irma was making its way through the Caribbean towards Florida. It could not have been a more timely read since it’s about a very poor family in rural Mississippi bracing for Hurricane Katrina. It’s a tough book in that the characters are living such hard lives. But it’s beautifully written, poetic at times. The contrast between the language and characters’ lives is stark. And what made this an even more timely read was that Jesmyn Ward’s latest novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, has been shortlisted for the National Book Award. I am so glad to be familiar with Jesmyn Ward as a writer and look forward to reading another book of hers.

Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin (translated from Swedish by Marlaine Delargy)

Echoes from the Dead is a Swedish mystery by Johan Theorin translated by Marlaine Delargy that I read for my Scandinavian Book Group. It takes place on the Swedish island of Öland in the Baltic Sea, and the setting is a huge part of this book. It’s about Julia, a mother who comes back to her childhood summertime home where her 5-year-old son disappeared without a trace 20 years earlier. After receiving a sandal her son wore the day he disappeared, Julia and her elderly and ailing father try to solve what happened to the boy. The book jumps back and forth in time between current time with Julia and her father and the past with local misfit and psychopath Nils Kant. As the book continues, the two stories begin to lead towards each other and you’re left to wonder what the actual connection is. I was drawn into the mystery and really appreciated the strong presence of the setting with a bit of local history thrown in. This is the first of four books that take place on Öland, and I’m curious about the others.

Currently reading and next on my list…

I am currently reading Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic. My book club picked this book in anticipation of Alice Hoffman’s upcoming visit to town to speak about her latest novel The Rules of Magic. After that, I’ll be reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me before I hear him speak in November. This book is also a book I vowed to read in my effort to move forward after our latest presidential election results. Nothing like an author talk to help motivate you to read a book! I’m still working my way through Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. Nothing against it, just so many other books that I’m also reading, and a book of essays is easy to put down between chapters.

What have you been reading lately?

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