Did you read any good books in October? I had a decent reading month, starting with a dud but progressing to some fascinating reads, including one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Here’s a rundown.
The Mimic Men by V.S. Naipaul
I really don’t get why this novel is so celebrated. It’s the life story of a fictional West Indian politician, and it reads like a political memoir, a dull enough genre even when the politician in question really existed. I had no interest in the character’s extended childhood reminiscences or his dull business activities or his detached dabbling in politics or his casually racist jibes at the island’s “Negroes”. The book just seemed like an excuse to satirise West Indian politicians as weak characters mimicking the mother country. It didn’t work as a novel.
The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
I’ve read The Waste Land before, but I like to return to it every now and then to see if I’m able to understand it. The answer is still mostly “No”, but each time I enjoy the experience of reading it anyway. This passage, in particular, reminds me of my own early years as an unwilling corporate banker with an office overlooking London Bridge.
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.”
From Ritual to Romance by Jessie Weston
This 1920 mythological work is today read mostly by people who’ve just finished The Waste Land and are desperately clinging to Eliot’s note promising that From Ritual to Romance will “elucidate the difficulties of the poem”. Weston’s book explores the connections between the Grail legend and ancient fertility rites, showing amazing parallels between scenes in the legend and actual practices in ancient societies. Did it elucidate the difficulties of The Waste Land? Again, the answer is mostly “No”, but it was a surprisingly interesting read nonetheless.
Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Wow! This debut collection of short stories made a huge impression on me. It deals with race in America in such an innovative, magical realist style, and the stories have a razor-sharp edge to them. I loved the opening of the first story, in which the black narrator consciously dials his “Blackness” up and down on a scale from 1 to 10 to navigate and survive white society. There are some stories that seem to be inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, while others deal with the excesses of consumerism. The writing is fresh and vibrant, and I can highly recommend it.
From Olympus to Camelot: The World of European Mythology by David A. Leeming
This book was a great introduction to European mythology. It was interesting to learn about the cultures that inhabited Old Europe and are thought to have had more goddess-based mythologies before the Indo-European invaders came with their patriarchal, warrior myths. Also interesting to see the obvious parallels between so many cultures that seem to think they are distinct and unique.
This is the easiest choice since I started doing these roundups. My favourite book of the month, by some distance, was Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. I plan to do a full review soon.
You can see previous roundups for September and August, or see a list of all the books I’ve reviewed on this site since 2007. And you can read other people’s October roundups at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.
What was your reading like in October? Leave your recommendations (or cautionary notes) below!