What I Read in October
October was a busy reading month. It was also a month in which I bailed on a lot of books. Without more preamble, here is what I read in October.
Let me begin with The Malice, the sequel to The Vagrant by Peter Newman. I suspect I am being too harsh on both books. So, I am going to revisit the entire Vagrant trilogy in the new year. Maybe I will enjoy the novels more on a second look.
Anyway, I started the month with Everyday Life of the Etruscans by Ellen Macnamara. I found the book useful, but incredibly difficult.
I then read Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock. A good one volume biography of Mary I. But, I don’t think the goal of rehabilitating Mary I’s reputation is quite achieved. More attention, I think, should have been paid to Mary’s accomplishments as queen.
I moved from Tudor England to Ancient Egypt with my next book. Joann Fletcher’s The Story of Egypt is amazing. It is a positively refreshing new history of Ancient Egypt. One of my favorite books of the month.
Next, I fell under the sway of the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Unfortunately, China Mieville’s October: The Story of the Russian Revolution is terrible. Mieville is a terrific writer, one of my favorites, but his politics can blind him at times. This book is more polemic than history.
Fleeing Russia’s revolution, I headed back to the ancient world with Kingship and the Gods by Henri Frankfurt. The ideas are interesting. But the book, on the whole, is outdated.
I next read White Trash by Nancy Isenberg. I found the book a very interesting and well researched history of America’s white underclass. Maybe too exhaustive, though.
Next I read a new take on Greek Myths in The Universe, Gods, and Man by Jean-Pierre Vernant. I didn’t particularly care for this book. Too repetitive and overly selective.
Keeping with mythology, I read Gods in the Desert: Religions of the Ancient Near East by Glenn Stanfield Holland. I enjoyed it. A very useful resource, I think.
Moving to the history of the region, I read Ancient Syria: A Three Thousand Year History by Trevor Bryce. I love this book. It is engaging if too brief. My one problem with the text is that Bryce loses interest as he approaches 200 CE.
Going back to Greek Myths, I read When the Gods Were Born by Carolina Lopez-Ruiz. I was disappointed. Too specialized, too academic, too disjointed. Ultimately not the book I was hoping for.
Leaving the ancient world behind, I return to the twentieth century with Hitler’s Children: The Story of the Baader-Meinhof Terrorist Gang by Jillian Becker. Not a terribly good book, I must say.
Next up, I tried Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire. I didn’t like the writing or the direction the story was going. So I bailed.
I next picked up the eagerly awaited The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera. I am not happy with my first reading. The narrative structure bugged me. I didn’t care for the world building. The story needed work. But, I grant I may be too harsh and need to give The Tiger’s Daughter another look in the new year.
The disappointment continues with Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor. Again, I did not care for the writing. So I bailed.
The only novel I enjoyed reading this month was Charming Billy by Alice McDermott. I don’t know why, but I loved this charming novel of an Irish American family in New York.
The bailing, unfortunately, begins again with The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute and A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume. I really did not like either book. Especially The Beans.
Abandoning fiction for a bit, I read The Militant South by John Hope Franklin. I enjoyed the book immensely. An important look at the intellectual conditions in the South that led to the Civil War.
I followed The Militant South with The Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse by John Nichols. A great field guide to Trump’s minions. But does not have the depth I had hoped for.
I ended the month bailing on more fiction. The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall is a cold, characterless novel that produces zero sympathy for the characters save a troubled boy who lacks the love and attention he desperately needs; Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg did not engage me at all; and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell failed to gain my interest namely due to the very wooden writing style.
And so, October ends on a sour note. I read a lot. But didn’t like much of what I read. Maybe November will be better.