Eclectic Reading for November

Woman Writing Letter (Afternoon Lights in the Room) by Rezso Balint

Dear Reader,

I have dazedly reset our clocks (fall back!) to standard time, while bloggers reset their internal clocks for November’s group reading events. For years I have heard of two popular events, “Novellas in November” and “German Literature Month.” Of the two, the latter is more appealing to me. If I garner enough team spirit–I’ve been snuffling around with a cold for a couple of days, and feeling very dreary– I’ll read one of my short 20th-century German novels (not short enough to be a novella, though).

As for me, I have no set reading plans for November. I do have a few classics in mind, but we’ll see. Below I have compiled a list of recently published or soon-to-be published books I’d love to read. They all sound so good in their eclectic ways: there is literary fiction, a mystery, a historical novel, a biography, and a biography/history about Caesar’s killers. Let me know if you’ve read any of them. A couple of these may stray onto my e-reader, but of course, as always, I’m trying to buy fewer books.

Eclectic Books on My November TBR

  1. Snow (St. John Strafford #1), by John Banville, winner of the Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea. He has also written mysteries, and this is the first not published under a pseudonym. Here is an excerpt from the Goodreads book description:

Detective Inspector St. John Strafford has been summoned to County Wexford to investigate a murder. A parish priest has been found dead in Ballyglass House, the family seat of the aristocratic, secretive Osborne family.

The year is 1957 and the Catholic Church rules Ireland with an iron fist. Strafford—flinty, visibly Protestant, and determined to identify the murderer—faces obstruction at every turn, from the heavily accumulating snow to the culture of silence in this tight-knit community. As he delves further, he learns the Osbornes are not at all what they seem. And when his own deputy goes missing, Strafford must work to unravel the ever-expanding mystery before the community’s secrets, like the snowfall itself, threatens to obliterate everything.

2 Tsarina, by Ellen Alpsten. A historical novel. Here is an excerpt from the Goodreads book description:

St. Petersburg, 1725. Peter the Great lies dying in his magnificent Winter Palace. The weakness and treachery of his only son has driven his father to an appalling act of cruelty and left the empire without an heir. Russia risks falling into chaos. Into the void steps the woman who has been by his side for decades: his second wife, Catherine Alexeyevna, as ambitious, ruthless and passionate as Peter himself.

Born into devastating poverty, Catherine used her extraordinary beauty and shrewd intelligence to ingratiate herself with Peter’s powerful generals, finally seducing the Tsar himself. But even amongst the splendor and opulence of her new life—the lavish feasts, glittering jewels, and candle-lit hours in Peter’s bedchamber—she knows the peril of her position. Peter’s attentions are fickle and his rages powerful; his first wife is condemned to a prison cell, her lover impaled alive in Red Square. And now Catherine faces the ultimate test: can she keep the Tsar’s death a secret as she plays a lethal game to destroy her enemies and take the Crown for herself?

3 The Last Assassin: The Hunt for the Killers of Julius Caesar, by Peter Stothard. Here is an excerpt from the Goodreads book description:

Many men killed Julius Caesar. Only one man was determined to kill the killers. From the spring of 44 BC through one of the most dramatic and influential periods in history, Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus, exacted vengeance on the assassins of the Ides of March, not only on Brutus and Cassius, immortalized by Shakespeare, but all the others too, each with his own individual story.

The last assassin left alive was one of the lesser-known: Cassius Parmensis was a poet and sailor who chose every side in the dying Republic’s civil wars except the winning one, a playwright whose work was said to have been stolen and published by the man sent to kill him. Parmensis was in the back row of the plotters, many of them Caesar’s friends, who killed for reasons of the highest political principles and lowest personal piques. For fourteen years he was the most successful at evading his hunters but has been barely a historical foot note–until now.

The Last Assassin dazzlingly charts an epic turn of history through the eyes of an unheralded man. It is a history of a hunt that an emperor wanted to hide, of torture and terror, politics and poetry, of ideas and their consequences, a gripping story of fear, revenge, and survival.

4 Inside Story by Martin Amis. Here is an excerpt from the Goodreads book description:

His most intimate and epic work to date, Inside Story is the unseen portrait of Martin Amis’ extraordinary life, as a man and a writer. This novel had its birth in a death – that of the author’s closest friend, Christopher Hitchens. We also encounter the vibrant characters who have helped define Martin Amis, from his father Kingsley, to his hero Saul Bellow, from Philip Larkin to Iris Murdoch and Elizabeth Jane Howard, and to the person who captivated his twenties, the alluringly amoral Phoebe Phelps. What begins as a thrilling tale of romantic entanglements, family and friendship, evolves into a tender, witty exploration of the hardest questions: how to live, how to grieve, and how to die? In his search for answers, Amis surveys the great horrors of the twentieth century, and the still unfolding impact of the 9/11 attacks on the twenty-first – and what all this has taught him about how to be a writer. The result is one of Amis’ greatest achievements: a love letter to life that is at once exuberant, meditative, heartbreaking and ebullient, to be savoured and cherished for many years to come

5 Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck, by William Souder. Here is an excerpt from the Goodreads book description:

Many men killed Julius Caesar. Only one man was determined to kill the killers. From the spring of 44 BC through one of the most dramatic and influential periods in history, Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus, exacted vengeance on the assassins of the Ides of March, not only on Brutus and Cassius, immortalized by Shakespeare, but all the others too, each with his own individual story.

The first full-length biography of the Nobel laureate to appear in a quarter century, Mad at the World illuminates what has made the work of John Steinbeck an enduring part of the literary canon: his capacity for empathy. Pulitzer Prize finalist William Souder explores Steinbeck’s long apprenticeship as a writer struggling through the depths of the Great Depression, and his rise to greatness with masterpieces such as The Red Pony, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath. Angered by the plight of the Dust Bowl migrants who were starving even as they toiled to harvest California’s limitless bounty, fascinated by the guileless decency of the downtrodden denizens of Cannery Row, and appalled by the country’s refusal to recognize the humanity common to all of its citizens, Steinbeck took a stand against social injustice—paradoxically given his inherent misanthropy—setting him apart from the writers of the so-called “lost generation.”

John Steinbeck just might be the novelist for our time. In his sprawling epic The Grapes of Wrath, he captured Americans’ peculiar yearning for a life not their own, the promise of wealth beyond the veil of desolation and the wretched impossibility of such a promise. Steinbeck’s other…

6 The Wrong Kind of Woman, by Sarah McCraw Crow. Here is an excerpt from the Goodreads book description:

In late 1970, Oliver Desmarais drops dead in his front yard while hanging Christmas lights. In the year that follows, his widow, Virginia, struggles to find her place on the campus of the elite New Hampshire men’s college where Oliver was a professor. While Virginia had always shared her husband’s prejudices against the four outspoken, never-married women on the faculty–dubbed the Gang of Four by their male counterparts–she now finds herself depending on them, even joining their work to bring the women’s movement to Clarendon College.

Soon, though, reports of violent protests across the country reach this sleepy New England town, stirring tensions between the fraternal establishment of Clarendon and those calling for change. As authorities attempt to tamp down “radical elements,” Virginia must decide whether she’s willing to put herself and her family at risk for a cause that had never felt like her own.

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