An Open Book: What I Read in September

As a child, I used to wake up early on the weekends, long before anyone else was awake. I’d pluck a book from my overstuffed bookshelf and begin reading. At breakfast, I’d continue reading while eating pancakes or French toast. And I’d often finish the book up some time in the afternoon or evening. Before I had a job or life presented other pressing obligations, I spent my time reading.

When we volunteered in Kenya, I also had a lot of downtime. I was desperate for books and read everything I could get my hands on.

Once again, I am going through a stage of voracious reading. Though I’ve never lost my love for books, the rate at which I am plowing through them this year is astonishing. Shockingly, I finished my 52nd book in September. Never in my life did I think I could read one book a week for a year — and yet I’ve done it with two months to spare this year.

September was, quite frankly, a wonderful month of reading: inspiring and interesting memoirs, a couple YA books, eye-opening accounts of society and culture. I hope you had an inspiring book month as well!

book reviews september

House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East by Anthony Shadid (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: This beautifully written memoir seamlessly ties together one man’s familial history and Lebanon’s political and cultural turmoil while the author spends a year rebuilding his great-grandfather’s home. Throughout the story, we meet the many local characters reconstructing his home, his remaining family members in the small town of Marjayoun, and the people in his life who have led him to this place. I felt invested in Shadid’s story.

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: Moving at a good pace without a whole lot of fuss, A High Wind in Jamaica is a strange coming-of-age story in the most unlikely of places. This prickly tale about a group of kids captured by pirates on the high seas shines a really interesting light on children’s innocence and the assumptions adults place on them. Hughes adopted some fascinating literary techniques when writing this book, including sequences written like theater dialogue, which I particularly enjoyed.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: This book received lots of accolades when it was published, and I understand why: It revealed an intimate look at an aspect of American culture that many people live but few others realize exists. Nonetheless, I found this book to be a lost opportunity because, while the stories Desmond shares are fascinating, they lack deep analysis and context. It’s not until the epilogue and Desmond’s author notes at the end of this book that he offers any real substance and solutions on how to address these societal problems; this information would have been better served integrated into the meat of the text.

American Gypsy: A Memoir by Oksana Marafioti (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: I met Marafioti and bought her book long before we ever thought to move to Eastern Europe, but I particularly enjoyed it because of references I understand from living in Ukraine. Her coming-of-age story is poignant and shocking while still being impressively normal for any teenager growing up in America. Very readable and enjoyable; a solid 4-star recommendation.

book reviews september

Essay on Typography by Eric Gill (2/5 stars)

Three-line review: Written in 1931, this extended essay explains and defends the nuances of typography in the face of industrialization. I most enjoyed the sections discussing what constitutes a letter and how letters come to be symbols that eventually become words with meaning. Unfortunately, despite my interest in the topic, I found most of the piece to be fairly boring.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: This very readable story follows one fateful day in the lives of two star-crossed teenagers, Daniel and Natasha. Yoon made excellent literary choices allowing readers to understand and relate to both main characters, and the quick pace follows the appropriate pacing of their time together. The only downfall is I wanted to fully feel the intense connection between Daniel and Natasha, but that just didn’t happen for me.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: If he’s already memorialized in countless books and movies, why do we need yet another account of Percy Fawcett’s final trek into the Amazonian jungle in search of the lost city of Z? Because it’s riveting, and in our over-industrialized world, books are one of the last places we can still embark on adventures. I devoured this book in just a few days and recommend it for anyone who appreciates accounts of early exploration.

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: This novel has all the makings of a good YA read: decent pacing, flawed characters, typical teenage problems, and a satisfying ending. It kept my interest well enough, and I enjoyed the overall story. It gets three stars because, while a decent read, it didn’t particularly make me feel strongly in any way.

2 Responses to “An Open Book: What I Read in September”

  1. Jill

    EVICTED was a big story here in town…of course, it takes place in Milwaukee and the state laws are the same. Matthew Desmond sold out speeches at the local universities and really brought to light the lack of affordable low-income housing. As a example, just a few weeks ago the main story in the Sunday paper was a landlord, who despite numerous citations on her rental units, refuses to do the required work. Why? She clearly “doesn’t have to” because she can rent it “as is”, and demand is so high she gets tenants who have no other options. The book is a real insight into this “hidden” world of low-income housing. It is true that he doesn’t offer a lot of suggestions for a way out of the mess, but at least he brought the topic into the public realm for discussion.

    • JoAnna

      I totally agree with you – it’s so important that people know what is going on, even if the solutions aren’t so obvious. It makes me think about the duplex we lived in without the insulation and the mushrooms growing on the carpet! Small potatoes compared to what a lot of people live with but still crazy that a place like that can be rented out!


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