My very favorite October reads!
Here are my six favorite reads of the past month: a bitingly funny, poignant book of essays; a candid memoir of abuse and inner strength; two fascinating historical fiction stories; an unorthodox friendship story about the meaning of life; and nonfiction about how to do the right thing by the creator of The Good Place.
If you've read any of these, I'd love to hear what you think!
And I'd also love to hear: what are some of your recent favorite reads?
01 Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris
In and among Sedaris's oddball, incisive, skewering observations are poignant, funny, heartfelt, complicated moments from his personal life that add heart to the dark humor in this collection of essays.
I like to listen to my David Sedaris books, and I listened to his newest, Happy-Go-Lucky--his first book of new essays since Calypso--as an audiobook as well.
Here, Sedaris shares offbeat moments from living in Paris and Sussex, reflects on living in New York City during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and, as always, pokes fun at himself and hilariously skewers others for various affronts.
In and among these scenes, Sedaris shares strange, sweet, funny, pivotal moments with each of his living sisters, discusses his sister Tiffany, who died of suicide, and faces the decline of his nonagenarian father, with whom he has always had a complicated relationship.
I love to laugh at Sedaris's darkly funny reflections about the world and society--and at his recognition of his own absurdities, strongly held views, and exacting expectations.
But what offer depth to his work, and Happy-Go-Lucky is no exception, are Sedaris's unflinching observations of moments in time, desperate scenes, and emotionally charged issues in all of their gritty, messy, poignant, and sometimes hilarious glory. He takes the reader on a roller coaster of emotions, and I love every bit of it.
For my full review, check out Happy-Go-Lucky.
02 I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
Former child actress McCurdy's account of her mother's narcissistic, harmful, abusive behavior and how it has shaped the author's life is disturbing, yet McCurdy's tone is wry and appealing in its brutal honesty.
I wasn't familiar with McCurdy when I began listening to her memoir, I'm Glad My Mom Died, although I have a vague recollection of the existence of the Nickelodeon TV shows she was on, iCarly and Sam and Cat.
Jennette became a child actress at age six in order to please her mother, pushing down her own anxiety and disinclination to be the center of attention--and eventually committing to her mother's idea of "calorie restriction," which started McCurdy on a path of constant struggling with food and eating disorders that lasted decades.
Her mother's volatile emotions; upsetting and controlling actions; pushy manner; mental, emotional, and physical abuse; and disturbing codependence with her young daughter make for an uncomfortable read.
Yet McCurdy is witty, often funny, and candid. She's most often matter-of-fact, because while she now has the benefit of age and increased wisdom, therapy and perspective, and distance from the situation, the various methods of constant abuse and control her mother exerted over her until her death were McCurdy's everyday life; for McCurdy, all of this was an unhappy but normal set of circumstances.
Click here for my full review of I'm Glad My Mom Died.
03 Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese
Hester is richly imagined historical fiction with connections to themes and characters from The Scarlet Letter. It's magical and intriguing, and I loved it.
They say witch, but what do they mean?... Witch is a reason to kill you; witch might be someone to heal you; witch can be the Devil, or witch can be a woman so beautiful she makes you lose your sense. They've got so many ways of calling you a witch, they just change it to how it suits them.
In Hester: A Novel, Laurie Lico Albanese imagines the woman who inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne's Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter as recent Scottish immigrant Isobel Gamble.
Isobel's needlework and the colors she sees in the world are captivatingly described, and the tenuous situation for a woman at the time without a man in the household is conveyed in chilling fashion.
I loved the connections to The Scarlet Letter and the book within a book, the witchy focus, the renegade feminism, and the details of life at the time.
Click here for my full review of Hester.
04 The Fire and the Ore by Olivia Hawker
Hawker offers irresistible details of daily life and historical elements that add vivid layers to this story of Utah Territory, Mormonism, and strong women in the mid-nineteenth century.
In The Fire and the Ore, Olivia Hawker tells a tale of the interconnected lives of three women in Utah Territory in 1857 and of the burgeoning Mormon faith in that place at that time. The story is inspired in part by Hawker's own ancestors' experiences.
Much of the story is set on the unforgiving trail west to Utah (and if you're looking for a reason to feel thankful for comforts like shelter, clothing, and food, this section should do the trick).
Tamar, Jane, and Tabitha become linked by complicated connections to one man. When the US Army invades Utah and challenges Mormon leaders late in the book, the women must flee into the desert to survive. While carving out an existence in the stark landscape, they take stock of where their lives might lead them--whether banded together or seeking their own individual luck.
The author's note explains the historical events at play and illuminates the ways in which Hawker's historical fiction explores aspects of real-life religious beliefs, plural marriage, governmental involvement, community resistance, and more.
Click here for my full review of The Fire and the Ore.
05 A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk and Robot #1) by Becky Chambers
Chambers's slim book explores a man's search for meaning--and how a robot's simple questions about maintaining the status quo might open up a world of new possibilities.
The robots vanished from Panga centuries ago, and accounts of a world where they existed are beginning to feel more and more like folklore.
But tea monk Dex finds himself wandering and yearning--for long-lost crickets' nighttime noises, and for some deep connection he can't quite identify.
Dex is searching for a purpose, for solitude, and for clarity. The robot's appearance and his observations and questions upends many of the ideas Dex had taken for granted about the world and about himself. The wilderness experience and the conversations he shares with the robot shock Dex--but letting go also frees him.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built is full of heart and strange, captivating details of Chambers's imagined world--and of an unorthodox friendship that could save both monk and robot.
For my full review, please check out A Psalm for the Wild-Built.
06 How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question by Michael Schur
Filled with sometimes playful, sometimes weighty questions, scenarios, and ideas, How to Be Perfect is nonfiction that makes considering ethics and morality fun.
Schur, creator of the television series The Good Place, explores various schools of thought about ethics and morality to consider more complex issues, including how much one should give to charity; whether rigidity to rules such as "no lying" will win a person friends; and when and why to help others or to do the "right" thing--even if you don't receive any credit for doing so.
Schur comes across as intelligent and kind, thoughtful, and self-deprecating. I'm watching The Good Place for the third time, this time with my youngest, and I love hearing his references to the inspiration for the show and hearing his references to specific scenes, currently fresh in my mind
I listened to this as an audiobook. With sections read by stars of The Good Place, Schur's How to Be Perfect is funny, interesting--and a heartwarming reminder that there are thoughtful, kind, well-meaning people out there spending time reflecting on how best to be a human in today's world. That in and of itself is a comfort.
For my full review, check out How to Be Perfect.