Books and Writing, What I Read This Month

What I Read This Month: November 2019

I went on a bit of an audiobook binge in November, which added quite a bit to my total number of books read. Overall though, I think poetry was the standout this month. I discovered some truly incredible poetry. Below is the list of everything I read in November.

Life Inside my Mind by Jessica Burkhart
An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz*
Why We Write About Ourselves by Meredith Maran
Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson*
The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded by Molly McColly Brown
Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops by Jen Campbell
Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
Why God Is a Woman by Nin Andrews
No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby RiveraNormal People by Sally Rooney
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Falling Awake by Alice Oswald
Bosom Buddies by Violet Zhang
Circe by Madeline Miller
Wade In the Water by Tracy K. Smith
The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West
Whose Story Is This? by Rebecca Solnit
The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson*
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson*
Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison

*I listened to these in audiobook.

And here are my spoiler-free reviews!

Life Inside My Mind by Jessica Burkhart

This is a collection of essays by writers about their mental health and its relationship to their writing. The essays were interesting, and raising awareness about mental health is incredibly important. However, because I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the authors in the collection, I didn’t connect with it quite as much as I’d hope to. But if you’re looking for a book about writing and mental health, and especially if you are familiar with YA authors, then you might really enjoy this. 3.5/5 stars.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

This was the first audiobook I listened to this month. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz tells the history of the United States as experienced by Indigenous Peoples, starting well before the arrival of European settlers and ending in the 20th century. It is a survey that delves into as much detail as it can, and it provides a bibliography for further reading. It was fascinating, and its the history we should be learning. 4.5/5 stars.

Why We Write About Ourselves by Meredith Maran

I bought this as a Christmas present for my boyfriend but I read it before I wrapped it because I have no self control. Meredith Maran interviews several famous memoirists and asks them about their process, motivations, and the obstacles they’ve encountered along the way. For anyone who writes about themselves or their families, this is books has many valuable pieces of advice. 4/5 stars.

Neither Here nor There by Bill Bryson

I almost always listen to Bill Bryson’s books in audiobook. I think his humor translates best that way. Neither Here Nor There is another collection of Bryson’s travel writing. It is witty and offers some interesting tidbits about the places he visits. However, compared to some of his other books, I found this one a bit underwhelming. 3/5 stars.

The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded by Molly McColly Brown

This was the first books of poetry I picked up this month and it blew me away. Molly McColly Brown combines primary source documents about institutions in Virginia with her heart breaking lyricism to create a collection that examines humanity, empathy, and ableism. 5/5 stars.

Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops by Jen Campbell

I adore Jen Campbell’s Youtube videos (5/5 stars for her channel) and wanted to start reading some of her books. I started here because it was quick and funny, and I was not disappointed. Well, I was disappointed by some of the questions people asked,  but the book was hilarious. 4/5 stars.

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

More awe-inspiring poetry. I first discovered Danez Smith when I saw his Button Poetry video where he performed his poem “Dear Mrs. Thompson.” That poem gutted me, as did this collection. Danez Smith writes about queerness, blackness, and the AIDS crisis in a way that will destroy you, like only the best poetry can. 5/5 stars.

Why God Is a Woman by Nin Andrews

This is a collection of prose poetry that tells the story of an island where women have always been in power and men are subordinated. Each poem is a vignette, detailing the abuse the men face. This world is shocking, and disturbing, and highlights an important nuance regarding feminism: we don’t want to flip the power dynamic, we want equality. A world with a serious power imbalance is always going to be violent. 5/5 stars.

No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

This collection didn’t stick with me as much as some of the others I read this month. I like Sarah Kay’s turn of phrase, and her poems about her parents and coming of age. They are worth a read, but I would recommend her spoken word work on Youtube even more. 3.5/5 stars.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

I agree with the caveat that most people have stated regarding this book – it is not really a sequel to the Handmaid’s Tale. If you into this book expecting to find out what happened to Offred, you will be disappointed. However, if you want to find out more about some of the characters from the first book, discover new characters, and learn more about Gilead, then this book is for you. 4/5 stars.

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

This book is everything that YA should be. It took the classic story of a young person finding themselves amidst heartbreak,  and added in themes of race and queerness and politics all while being a page-turning read. 5/5 stars.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

This book received a lot of hype but I didn’t know much about the plot going in. I agree with the hype to an extent – it does to a good job of portraying a fraught millennial relationship between two thoroughly imperfect people. However, there were times I found the writing dragged a bit. 3.5/5 stars.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

This was one of the most disappointing books I read this year. While the plot twist was unexpected, I found the portrayal of therapy to be terrible. 2/5 stars.

Falling Awake by Alice Oswald

Compared to Nin Andrews, Molly McColly Brown and Danez Smith this collection didn’t stand out as much. However, it is objectively well written and lyrical and still worth checking out. 3/5 stars

Bosom Buddies by Violet Zhang

In the vein of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, this books details friendships between famous women. I found it very interesting because I often forget which historical figures were contemporaries and that they would have known each other. 4.5/5 stars.

Circe by Madeline Miller

This was one of the best novels I read in 2019. It imagines the full story of the witch Circe from Greek mythology. It is gorgeous and immersive and somehow both plot and character driven. 5/5 stars.

Wade In the Water by Tracy K. Smith

Like Falling Awake, this collection didn’t top my list this month, but it was still good poetry in it’s own right. 3.5/5 stars.

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West

I read Shrill last year and loved it. In The Witches Are Coming, Lindy West carries over the same funny and witty commentary from her first book, and makes it even more political. She tackles issues related to feminism, like in Shrill, but also spends ample time discussing social media and the Trump presidency. 5/5 stars.

Whose Story Is This? by Rebecca Solnit

I love Rebecca Solnit’s essays, and this collection explores the stories that are suppressed and go untold. Like all of her work, it is incredibly political, and because it is new it also deals with the Trump presidency. There were a lot of lines that I wanted to underline and write “mic drop” in the margins. 4.5/5 stars.

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson

Like Neither Here Nor There, I enjoyed this audiobook for Bryson’s humor and it livened my commute. However, and I know this is probably a controversial opinion, I don’t prefer his travel writing. I prefer his deep-dives into specific subjects (At Home, Shakespeare, Mother Tongue, etc.) 3.5 stars.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

This was the last audiobook I listened to this month. Because this was a history of science and the earth, I enjoyed it more than Bryson’s travel writing. I’m a big fan of accessible science writing, and this is a quintessential introduction to the genre. 4/5 stars.

Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison

I read The Recovering last year and it was one of the best memoirs I have ever read. Therefore, I was super excited when I saw that Leslie Jamison had a new book of essays out. They were introspective without naval gazing, and political without becoming caustic. Jamison is as brilliant an essayist as she is a memoirist.

So there we have it – all the books I read in November! Have you read any of these? What did you think? And if you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them.

 

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