October Reading Roundup

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

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

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.

“Unreal City,
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

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

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. Read my full review of Friday Black.

From Olympus to Camelot: The World of European Mythology by David A. Leeming

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.

The Verdict

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!

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There are 21 comments

  1. This is an impressive list of books. I have actually never read The Wastland. I need to get to it soon.

    The World of European Mythology looks particularly fascinating. That is a subject that I want to read more about

    1. I think you’d like The Waste Land, Brian! It’s the kind of poetry that can work on many levels. As I implied in the post, most of them remain impenetrable to me, but I still enjoy it on a fairly superficial level. I get the feeling that if you could follow all the references, it would reveal a lot more layers and depth of meaning.

      The World of European Mythology was fascinating—so many connections between the myths of different countries and even continents!

      1. Hi Jessica,
        Sorry about that! I wrote my post before yours was up, and I meant to add the link later. But then I got sideswiped by work and didn’t return to the blog for a week or two.

    1. Hi Stephanie Jane,
      Yes, From Ritual to Romance is very interesting! It’s an old book (1920), and I think that some of the conclusions have probably been superseded by more recent research. But it’s still great to read about the links between ancient rituals and the folklore that underpins so much of our present-day story-telling.

  2. Your books are definitely different than the picture books, middle grade and YA I read. My favorite of October turned out to be my last book of the month–City of Ghosts. It was rich with excellent story telling, and just the right amount of spookiness for middle grade.

    1. Hi Danielle
      Thanks for visiting! That’s one of the reasons I like these monthly roundups—I enjoy discovering people with different reading habits. Do you write about your reading online anywhere?

  3. Friday Black sounds like a great collection: I’ve added it to my TBR. (But there are a lot of other people ahead of my on the library holds list – which is a good sign for his readership!) I’ve never read The Waste Land completely, but it’s one of those “shoulds” in the back of mind. I’ll probably get to it eventually, when the slant of light strikes the guilty bit of me and I’m in the mood for a classic.

    1. Friday Black is excellent! I’m not surprised about the library holds list—the book seems to have generated quite a bit of interest (praise from George Saunders, reviews in the major press outlets, etc.). Hope you get to it eventually! I’d love to hear what you think.

        1. Wow! I’m impressed by your library. At my various local libraries in the UK over the years, they never seemed to have more than a handful of copies, even for popular new books. Good for yours for anticipating the demand for this one and buying 21 copies!

          57 holds is also something I’ve never seen, though, so as you say, that’ll still be quite a wait…

  4. You read some interesting books here! Off to look them up. I’m interested to read more mythology so From Olympus to Camelot sounds up my alley.

    1. Hi Rebecca
      Thanks for visiting. From Olympus to Camelot was a good read! Hope you enjoy it. I found it fascinating. If you have other mythology book recommendations, please leave them here!

  5. Andrew – I promise I laugh with you and not at you re: The Waste Land. 😀 It sounds like you have a better handle on that one than I do but perhaps I should read it again sometime. I really want to read Friday Black but have been trying to focus on womxn writers this year, so haven’t gotten to it. I’ve heard so many good things; I look forward to your full review!

    1. Hi Karla, Yes, Friday Black has been getting lots of praise. Usually I end up disappointed when I read a much-hyped book, but this was an exception—it really lived up to the hype. Hope you do get to it one day, although I know you have a different focus this year. As I said on your site, I really value your focus on books written by womxn and other people who are historically underrepresented. For anyone else who’s reading this, you can find one of Karla’s excellent roundups of such books here: http://www.karlajstrand.com/2018/10/29/new-reads-for-the-rest-of-us-november-2018/

      And thanks for laughing with me re The Waste Land! One day I’ll get a better handle on it 😀

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