My November Reading Diary

November was my slowest reading month of the year. End-of-semester stress peaked. Diminishing sunlight left me feeling blue. Holidays returned. Sigh. While the month wasn’t great on most fronts, I did get some reading done. Here’s a short recap of the books I encountered:

Sharma Shields’ The Cassandra: I adored Sharma’s first novel. This one follows a familiar journey into magical realism. The protagonist is a young, unusual woman named Mildred. She has visions, sleepwalks, and works at a place she doesn’t quite understand. Recalling the titular popular myth, Shields has a lot to say about abuse of power and the patriarchy. Timely, for sure. It’s a fine sophomore novel—one that’ll keep me eager to read her next one.

Alyson Hagy’s Scribe: Brutal southern-set magical realism novel. Hagy’s slim novel is written in prose that is rich and lyrical. Violence abounds. This is a tough but worthy read about the power and importance of words—especially when it seems that that influence could be lost on society.

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s Friday Black: Bleak, blistering, and beautiful collection of stories that tackle race and capitalism. The titular story and the first one, “The Finkelstein 5,” are absolutely unforgettable. The piece of flash is really good, too. A debut that marks a bold and important voice. One of the year’s best.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s You Think It, I’ll Say It: Sittenfeld knows how to craft dynamic characters, especially in the short story form. In this collection, she captures “normal” people pondering their places in relationships and life in general. The bookend stories are the best, but the entire collection is solid.

Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X: This novel in verse about teenager Xiomara Batista is one of the very best YA books I’ve read in recent memory. This is a story about religion and what that can look like for different people. It’s also about finding comfort and power. X realizes that she finds her strength in words, and witnessing this realization is incredibly moving. There are several interesting relationships, especially with her boyfriend and her mom, that guide this book. It’s a moving novel and one that should be around for a long time. (Edit: This book deservingly won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature a couple of days after finishing it...)

Casey Gerald’s There Will Be No Miracles Here: This memoir that touches on masculinity, sexuality, religion, education, and race is one of the buzziest debuts of the season. I enjoyed it overall. It’s written well—even if it’s too long in sections, and it’s so honest and raw that it’s hard not to feel some real admiration to Gerald for telling this important story. Like I said, it’s a bit too long, but the content makes up for that drawback.

Leif Enger’s Virgil Wander: Wordy. Really wordy. And there’s too much going on for my personal taste, but Enger is a dynamite crafter of characters. These people feel real and so do the stories they tell. This is a very kind story that lots of folks will likely love. In the end, I respect it even if I don’t love it.

Bradley Sides