My October Reading Diary

October was a good month of reading for me. I returned to a few of my favorite books, and I found some new ones of note. I also read a couple that weren’t for me. Here’s my recap:

Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: This memoir is one that’ll be taught in writing programs throughout the country in the next few years. Or at least it should be. Chee vividly and affectingly brings stories of his past to life, with many of them relating back to his writing life. Many of the essays contain writing advice. He discusses his own trappings and successes. The essays about his MFA experiences are particularly great. I’d suggest that writers who take to Chee’s latest have a highlighter in hand.

Jamie Quatro’s Fire Sermon: WOW. What a wild, beautiful, confusing book. It’s prose and poetry told in a confessional style. It’s very strange, but it works. The ending left me feeling devastated, which I always appreciate. Quatro focuses on religion, desire, love, & lust. I need more time to process it. Probably a lot more time... I’m honestly a little surprised it didn’t make the NBA longlist. I imagine it’ll be an awards contender throughout the upcoming season.

Andrew Sean Greer’s Less: Hmm... I definitely don’t love it, but I can respect that it’s a good book. I think the story of Arthur Less, a middle-of-life man who is broken and lonely and sad, is written beautifully, but it’s all a bit too self-deprecating and sly for what I usually go for. Still, though, I can see why many people like it. It’s (mostly) light and clever. It’s also a fast read. I laughed several times, so I’ll give it some added points there. I don’t understand why it won the Pulitzer. Some things are mysteries, I suppose. Oh well...

Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s Turning Pages: This book is among my favorite picture books of the year. The story is really nice—the value of education, the importance of family, the desire for goodness, and the push for perseverance. It’s a really beautiful book and reflects Justice Sotomayor’s upbringing and values really well. The illustrations are very vibrant and smooth, too.

Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones: Reread it. Again. A masterpiece and probably the best book of our current century. Other than, perhaps, Toni Morrison, Jesmyn Ward is the greatest living American writer.

Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers: I know I’m in the minority on this one, but I couldn’t get into it. I love Makkai’s short stories, and she seems like a super nice person. I even went to one of her readings for The Great Believers. I left ready to dive into what I believed might be one of the year’s best books. I’m sure it probably really is, but, for whatever reason, I just never clicked with it. Maybe I’ll try it again soon...

Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know: Anyone with any kind of relationship to the adoption process should read this wonderful memoir. This book focuses on Nicole’s own struggles with her identity as a transracial adoptee. It’s honest and deeply personal. It’s difficult, but it’s also heartwarming. I read it in an evening. Beautiful writing and important story.

Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing: Yep, proclaiming it again, Jesmyn is our greatest living writer. This is my second reading of this novel. It’s a masterpiece about how the past haunts us. It’s dark. It’s hopeful. It’s deeply, deeply affecting. It’s perfection. Jojo is a classic character in a book populated with other great characters. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Pete Souza’s Shade: Just another reminder of how much I miss the decency and class of President Obama. Donald Trump is such a vile and vulgar human, and I’m sickened by him on a daily basis. Back to the book: Souza is a clever guy, and the photographs are beautiful. The book is too gimmicky for me to say a lot else, but it’s a cool distraction for those nostalgic for the good ol’ days.

Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child: I was so happy when this novel was nominated for the Pulitzer a few years back. I loved it dearly when I first read it, and I like it even more now. It’s such a haunting book about loss and love. When little Faina fist appears, Ivey does such a great job of planting the young snow child as somewhere between real and fantasy. The magic of it all is perfect. Well, the whole thing is perfect. It’s heartbreaking and heartwarming and completely affecting. It’s a lifetime top 10 book for me.

Kiese Laymon’s Heavy: Kiese’s memoir is something else. It only takes reading the first chapter (essay?) to know that this book is going to be everywhere this fall and winter. Kiese tackles issues of love, abuse, image, race, and masculinity, and he does so with such force. This is an important book—one with raw emotions and genuine feelings. The sections about his grandmother are the best, and his love for her is obvious. Read the masterpiece that is “Da Art of Storytellin’ (A Prequel)” from a few years back for more about his relationship with her. Heavy is going to win a ton of awards. I’m so ready for this man’s next novel...

Bradley Sides