What I read in September

September was a good reading month. Rainy evenings at home, a few long drives, and one last week of unemployment before I started a new job gave me ample opportunity to read some excellent books. I started the month finishing the last of the Women’s Prize winners (and a few 2020 shortlist titles) and finished it with a couple of powerful nonfiction reads. Here they are:

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore: The very first Women’s Prize winner; you can find my review of this one on my list of winners, ranked.

Weather by Jenny Offill: On the Women’s Prize shortlist, Weather was very similar in style to Offill’s previous novel, Dept. of Speculation. Quick, witty, and bittersweet, Weather looks at the climate crisis: apathy toward it, hopelessness around it, and an array of other feelings and actions/inactions. It’s meditative and full of existential questions, but there’s enough humour to take it out of the realm of truly bleak.

Dominicana by Angie Cruz: Another shortlister, and one I absolutely adored. I haven’t read 2020 winner Hamnet yet, but of the titles I’ve read, this would’ve been my pick. Ana Canción is a teenager pressured by her family to leave her home in the Dominican and move to New York to marry an adult man, in the hopes that her success will bring them opportunity and wealth in the United States. Ana is as strong and complex a protagonist as I’ve ever read, and the writing is rich and full; you’ll feel like you’re using every sense as you read the descriptions.

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry: I admit, this story of a girls’ field hockey team in the 80s that believe they have made a deal with the devil to win their matches didn’t grab me as much as I’d hoped. It would probably be a fun nostalgia read for someone a bit older who would be more familiar with the references. Still, I enjoyed the characters and it was fairly entertaining and amusing in parts.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson: Wilkerson is an incredible writer, and the way she lays out her argument—that systematic racism is the result of a rigid caste system in the United States not unlike that of India or Nazi Germany—is devastating. While I would have liked slightly more nuance in places (though I recognise she is writing to a broad audience), I appreciate the historical and international analysis of the most ingrained horror of our history, and it is a fantastic, important book.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson: I started spooky season early with this one. With shades of The Handmaid’s Tale and The VVitch, this novel is set in a puritanical, dystopian culture in which religious leaders rule over their flock through the terror of sin and damnation. When Immanuelle has a frightening and illuminating encounter in the woods, she begins to discover her own power and question truth of the world in which she has been raised. A tense read full of plenty of exciting and disturbing elements.

Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession edited by Sarah Weinman: Unspeakable Acts is an anthology of 13 true crime stories organised into three sections. Some offer straightforward stories, impeccably written (you likely read Michelle Dean’s viral piece on Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard) while others look at our cultural fascination with these stories of violence and criminality. It’s a smart and well-put together collection, with some excellent pieces (Alex Mar’s ‘Out Came the Girls’ is a highlight).

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer: What a lovely way to finish the month. I listened to this nonfiction book on audiobook, read by the author, and I could feel the care and love Kimmerer has for the natural world through both her scientific lens and as a member of the Potawatomi Nation. It’s poetic, sincere, and offers a gentle but impactful guide for respecting the earth and living in harmony with our natural surroundings.

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