My August Reading Journal

Back-to-school month is the worst. The. Worst. I didn’t have a lot of free reading time; in fact, I read the fewest amount of books in a single month out of the entire year. (Five books is it.) Oh well, the quality was pretty good even if the quantity wasn’t. The winner of the month for new reads is Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive. I imagine it’ll be on just about every book award list that comes out over the next few weeks and months. Here’s a recap of my reading from August of 2019:

David Sedaris’ Calypso: I’ve long enjoyed Sedaris’ work. I like him best when he’s light, which this collection definitely is not. Some of the family-centered essays struck me as borderline mean. Even the bodily function jokes came across as kind of harsh—and even unfair. This is his first book that didn’t make me laugh out loud. Maybe it was me. Calypso was enjoyable enough, but it just didn’t sing. I’ll be patiently waiting for his next one and hoping it’s a bit lighter. 

Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive: I will be very surprised if this book isn’t, at the least, a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize. The narrative follows a family as they travel in their car from New York to Arizona. The voices of these family members, especially the children, are compelling and authentic. The language is poetic, even propulsive. Luiselli’s novel is a celebration of words and sounds. It captures America as it is now, questioning its morality and searching for something meaningful. The immigration crisis lingers in the background, building as the family continues its journey toward home. There is so much that could be said about this outstanding novel, but I’ll leave it at this: Lost Children Archive is masterful and should be required reading. (Edit: I don’t think it’s actually eligible for the Pulitzer, but I’m not totally certain.)

Stephen King’s On Writing: Yep. Yes. Nods head. Interesting. That’s me as I read along. It’s weird that this is my favorite King book, but it is. I’m looking forward to discussing it with my creative writing students in the spring. It’s a book that demands discussion. 

Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead: One of the highlights of the 21st century’s literary canon. This epistolary novel is full of grace. It’s poignant, quiet, and transformative. The book is largely about faith, but it’s for believers and non-believers alike. It reminds us how we should strive for goodness and to leave a legacy that is kind and true. It’ll make you sob. 

Anonymous’ Beowulf: The epic poem of epic poems—at least in my mind. The classic work explores issues of masculinity, faith, hubris, and war. It’s a beautiful piece of tragic literature, with rich language that reads like a song. It’s always a treat to revisit it.

Bradley Sides