Due to circumstances and reasons, I have not had a particularly fruitful reading or blogging year, especially since the summer, or early August to be precise. Properly participating in blogging events is too much for me right now, so please accept this lazy Novellas in November contribution. It’s my favourite blogging event and has a long and storied history. Shout out to Cathy and Rebecca for keeping the #NovNov train going!
Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro, translated from Spanish by Frances Riddle, 173 pages
I liked but did not love this one. It got a bit message-y at the end. The messages were important and resonated with me (violence against women, abortion access, religion, aging, disability) but it was all very heavy-handed. I loved Elena and loved the depiction of tense moments with her daughter on their annual vacation. Their interactions were difficult to read, in a good way (think Rachel Cusk, Gwendoline Riley).
Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au, 144 pages
Another strained mother-daughter relationship, further strained by travel, this made almost no impression on me. Sometimes a book can be a little too sparse. I think this was also going for a Cusk or Riley kind of a thing, but didn’t quite make it.
Helpmeet by Naben Ruthnum, 94 pages
This little horror book has its moments but unfortunately I pictured the uh, creature, as Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Also why are so many horror books about parasites, or something growing inside you that needs to get out…it’s all just pregnancy (remembers what it was like being pregnant and giving birth)… okay actually that does make sense.
Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson, 192 pages
You ever finish a book with a shocking or twisty ending, and immediately see how the whole book was building towards it, but question whether a whole book needed to be written for… that? I enjoyed reading this but was expecting it to build towards something a lot crazier. Very “so, there was a plot twist. That don’t impress-a me much.”
If I get my act together, I intend to try the buddy read for Novellas in November, Foster by Claire Keegan. It has a recent film adaptation, The Quiet Girl, perfect for my movie era, though I don’t know if I can actually view it in Canada yet.
As always, I encourage you to read Cathy’s and Rebecca’s reviews. I’m down to the wire here so this will be a short comment on a short book that needs no introduction. This is the fourth and final #NovNov buddy read, and I’d like to thank hosts Cathy and Rebecca for doing a bang up job. The buddy reads were a great idea! Check out all the posts linked here.
Ethan Frome is sometimes seen as a departure from Wharton’s other works, though in the Everyman’s Library edition I read, Hermonie Lee makes a case for linking Ethan Frome, Summer, and Bunner Sisters in one volume, and not just because they’re short. They’re also about working-class heros and heroines. There’s none of the social climbing (and falling) that mark The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth, and The Custom of the Country. Unrelenting poverty is the driving force of this story. Zeena and Mattie end up at the farm because they are both poor relations with nowhere else to go, and Ethan can’t leave even if he wanted to (and he sure does by the end) because he’s running the farm into the ground and couldn’t raise $50 if he tried (and he sure does try.)
It’s also about isolation and revenge. I was struck by the parallels between it and my all-time favourite book, Wuthering Heights. The framing device, the stark landscapes, the isolated house, the use of dialect, and most of all, the people, tied forever to the land and to a never-ending cycle of blame and regret.
The last line even echoes Wuthering Height’s iconic ending. I have a personal aversion to quoting last lines, but these are both so good, and I’m hardly spoiling anything. Feel free to stop here if you haven’t read one or both.Continue reading
I expected this novella to land as lightly as the cover treatment – like diffuse and gentle morning light. It hit me more like a bright midday sun beam.
It’s a rare book that conveys the frustration, boredom, and drudgery of early motherhood without veering into gross-out humour or sentimentality. I don’t relate to any of the particulars of this story – I became a mother in another millennium, on another continent, and by the time my oldest was turning three, I already had another baby – but the parent-toddler struggles, at the park, at a festival, at daycare drop off, during middle of the night wake ups, are instantly recognizable.Continue reading
I was briefly obsessed with Helen Keller as a child. Is this still a phase girls go through in elementary school? There was one book in particular that I read over and over, maybe in grade three or four. I don’t know which book it was (plenty to choose from), but it wasn’t this one.
I was taken with Helen’s childhood: the illness that left her blind and deaf, the wild tantrums of her early years, and her sudden awakening to the world on the arrival of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. So taken that I “borrowed” a few phrases from whatever book I was reading and used them in an assignment, and got called out by my teacher. My memory is not as good as Helen’s, so I couldn’t tell you all the particulars, but I remember the phrase I used was something that ended in “she bolted from the room”. My teacher said it sounded like I copied it, which I did, but I was very indignant; isn’t it okay to learn a new way to say something, and use it somewhere else? I remember the feeling to this day.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that Helen Keller was also called out by a teacher for plagiarizing, and that it was a pivotal moment in her life.Continue reading
The best part of Novellas in November is the research. Once you start looking, there are <200 page books all over the place, just waiting for the appropriate alliterative month to begin! Here’s a round up of my 2021 discoveries and ambitious TBR.
The official buddy reads
Cathy and Rebecca have included weekly buddy reads in this year’s event, and since all four books were easily procured for no cost (library and Project Gutenberg), I’m going to try and keep up.
- Week one is a contemporary novella, Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson. I’ve seen this book everywhere, and it got a glowing review from Rachel, so I’m in.
- Week two is a work of short nonfiction, The Story of My Life by Helen Keller. I was obsessed with Helen Keller for a while in elementary school and look forward to revisiting.
- Week three is a novella in translation, Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima, translated by Geraldine Harcourt. I’ve had good luck with Japanese novellas in the past.
- Week four is a classic novella, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. I *think* I’ve read it (it’s crossed off in my 1,001 Books page, anyway) but I can’t remember much and seems due for a reread.
The books in my library
Unread novellas from #NovNovs past and recent additions.
- My Phantoms by Gwendoline Riley is 199 pages exactly and arrived last week. It’s a sign.
- The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, a leftover from this year’s 20 Books of Summer
- Quartet by Jean Rhys, ditto.
- And on loan from the library, Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika, recommended by Caribbean Girl Reading the World.
The novellas that have crossed my path leading up to #NovNov. Will I get to any of these? Almost certainly not. But maybe… in time…
- Committed Writings by Albert Camus is a perfect nonfiction novella combo, a collection of speeches and letters, and sounds fascinating. Reviewed by Brona.
- The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe won a novella prize, and is in the tradition of Wide Sargasso Sea (another solid #NovNov pick), in that it takes a side character from a classic novel and gives her new life. Reviewed by ANZ Litlovers.
- Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, profiled in The Guardian.
- A wide selection of novellas by women in translation, selected by Naty.
My favourite part of blogging has got to be the events. I love hosting a good read-along, but I don’t have the energy right now. So I’ve decided to throw myself into some events hosted by other, more ambitious bloggers.
I’ve never participated in Nonfiction November, despite nonfiction making up a significant portion of my reading (about a third of the books I’ve read in 2021, up from about a quarter in 2020 and 2019). It’s time to correct this gross oversight.
Nonfiction November has been running for many years. Returning hosts Doing Dewey and What’s Nonfiction are joined by newcomers The Thousand Book Project (sounds like we’d get along), Plucked From the Stacks, and The OC Book Girl.
You know I love to dive into book blog lore, and I see someone already tried to piece together the origins of Nonfiction November, tracing it back to 2013 and two defunct book blogs (the sad part of looking into book blog history is how many blogs are abandoned… or in this case, one of them redirects to a porn site, beware!). I also found a podcast where the current hosts reminisce about the origins of this event.
As for me? I’m trying to go all in, which means blogging about each of the weekly prompts, starting with a fairly easy one about your year in nonfic so far. I’m most looking forward to “be the expert” week, where I will choose between my expertise in tech pessimism (finishing up The Ugly Truth as we speak), and Jonathan Franzen’s nonfiction, which I should complete at some point during the month (just his most obscure work, The Kraus Project, to go!)
Novellas in November
This one should need no introduction – I did a whole post on the history of my beloved #NovNov and despite appearances, I’ve never hosted, just participated enthusiastically. Which I hope to do again. Capable hosts Bookish Beck and Cathy of 746 Books have not only created weekly themes, but will host read-alongs for each – this might be too much for me and my pandemic-addled brain to keep up with, but on the other hand, it saves me the trouble of choosing books. Territory of Light has been on my radar… and I can’t quite remember if I’ve read Ethan Frome.
Depending how this goes, I might see what’s happening for December as well, anyone organizing anything?
With Novellas in November mere days away, it’s been brought to my attention that there are people who intend to read things other than novellas next month. And other people might get distracted by book prizes. The good news is that there’s a novella for just about every occasion. Here are some suggestions if you insist on participating in other types of reading in November.Continue reading
And wrap up, because it’s over!
Novellas read: 13
Goodreads Challenge: momentarily caught up, already behind again
Five-star reads: 2
Since my last update, I read eight more novellas. In the spirit of #NovNov, here they are, very briefly reviewed:
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
I thought this was a book about race, but it’s really about the relationship between religion and race and America, all in about 100 pages. Continue reading
I’m back in the saddle and my Goodreads challenge is officially ON NOTICE:
We are not quite halfway though #NovNov and I’ve read five novellas totaling approximately 700 pages. In other words, over five books, I’ve read nowhere near the equivalent of this year’s summer read-along, The Count of Monte Cristo. I think I got more out of these pages, though. Read on for appropriately brief reviews, also coming soon to Booktube.
Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq
Goodreads says this has 208 pages, but it doesn’t. It has 180 some and that’s including several illustrations and half-blank pages of verse. Split Tooth is a novel in the sense that Flights by Olga Tokarczuk is, in that it’s fragmentary, or like Han Kang’s The White Book is, in that it’s really poetry, and definitely reminds me of Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, in that as much as it’s a coming of age story, and universal, it’s nearly impossible to separate the art from the author here, and you wouldn’t want to. I’ve been advised that the audio book is essential, and when the book is read by the author, and the author is a Polaris Music Prize winning Inuit throat singer who’s collaborated with Buffy Sainte-Marie and Bjork, that almost goes without saying.
I’m also pretty sure this will be the best book I read in which a woman has carnal relations with the northern lights. Continue reading