It’s been a busy couple of months for me, driving across Europe and along the Black Sea coast of Turkey, and now exploring Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Add in full-time freelance work and my continuing attempts to finish a novel, and it doesn’t leave much time for blogging.
So I seem to have missed the September roundup, but I’ll go ahead with October anyway. Some good books here—even though I was busy, the reading didn’t suffer.
Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck
I loved John Steinbeck’s classic novels like The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, so I thought I’d try this account of his road trip across America late in his life in a makeshift campervan accompanied by a French poodle called Charley. It’s an endearing and often insightful tale. Journalists have recently found that Steinbeck played fast and loose with a lot of the facts in the book, but I’m not sure how much that matters in this case. It’s a personal, novelistic kind of book anyway, and it says something interesting about life in 1960s America, even if he embellished some of the details.
Economics for the Many edited by John McDonnell
An interesting series of essays on alternative economic theories and how they could support a progressive political agenda. It’s a measure of the dire quality of debate in the British media that none of these important issues will be discussed in the coverage of the coming UK general election campaign.
My Life as a Rat by Joyce Carol Oates
In a tight-knit Irish-American family, a young girl witnesses something terrible. Should she speak up about it or keep quiet? The moral dilemma at the centre of the novel is compelling, but there’s much more to this book too—it’s also a searing exploration of racism and gender oppression in America. The main character is quite disconnected, which is realistic given what she goes through, but it also makes her tough to understand sometimes. After a long time spent inside her head, I still didn’t really feel I knew her. But I loved the novel anyway, and some of the writing was just beautiful.
Private Island by James Meek
A comprehensive account of how so many of the UK’s public goods were sold off under Thatcher and her successors. And, more importantly, it shows how the rationale of greater efficiency and wider share ownership completely failed. The outcome in each case was the same: a massive transfer of wealth to the already wealthy, and shocking failures that the public then had to pay for all over again. A depressing but important read.
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
I’ve been meaning to read this book since it won the Booker Prize, which I’m shocked to see was back in 2006! So much for my TBR list. Anyway, it was worth the wait. A really moving account of the various losses incurred by an odd collection of characters in a troubled village in northern India, as well as a young man struggling to make it in the kitchens of New York. And the book weaves in so much great insight into colonialism, post-colonialism, emigration, nationalism and more.
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak
A woman lies dead in an Istanbul rubbish dump. For 10 minutes and 38 seconds, Leila’s brain keeps working, and she remembers scenes from her life that tell us how she came to be here. These scenes also introduce the five friends who refuse to accept her hasty dumping in the “Cemetery of the Companionless” by heartless city employees and attempt to give her a proper send-off.
This was a really good month of reading for me—I’d recommend all six of these books for different reasons. It’s tough to pick a winner, but I’d go with Elif Shafak’s novel for the innovative idea and the sad and beautiful story of the tough lives of Leila and her friends.
What have you been reading lately? Leave your recommendations in the comments.