Below are the first lines of the books I finished reading in November. My ability to retain what I read was low. After all, we had an election and its aftermath to deal with. My favorite candidate won, which is good and actually rather overwhelming to consider.
A Stranger’s Gaze
Bombay February 1921
On the morning Perveen saw the stranger, they’d almost collided.
In October there were yellow trees. Then the clocks went back the hour and the long November winds came in and blew, and stripped the trees bare.
Toward the northern reaches of the Appalachian Mountains, at the point where the East Coast ends and the great American Midwest begins, three rivers meet.
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body.
The morning was wet and it must have been raining all night, for a pool of water had seeped under the back door of Miss Selbourne’s cottage.
The Civil Rights Movement was one of the most dramatic periods of American history, marked by rapid and profound change. During this short span of time – from the 1950s to the 1970s – African Americans led the fight to free this country from the vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow. African American women played significant roles at all levels of the Civil Rights Movement, yet too often they remain invisible to the larger public.
The titles and authors revealed:
The Widows of Malabar Hill (Perveen Mistry #1) by Sujata Massey.
400 pages. Published 2018.
The book takes place in 1917-1921 in British India, mostly in Mumbai (then known as Bombay), and introduces the interesting character of Perveen Mistry, the first woman lawyer to work as a solicitor in India. It’s a murder mystery, but also provides a description of some of the distinct cultures of that time and place: Parsi, Muslim, including women living in complete isolation (purdah), British, Hindu. I look forward to reading the next in the series.
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan. 187 pages. Published 2018.
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
I quite enjoyed this novella for the introspection of the main character. To me it had a feel that it takes place longer ago than the year in which it was set - 1986 in Ireland. The mix of sadness at past life, current struggle to commit to doing the right thing, and joy at arriving at doing the right thing, in spite of the cost, was poignant. Recommend.
I read this for book club for our December gathering. It is great to have a short and well-written book for December. If you, Dear Reader, know of any other well-written books that take place in winter-time, please let me know.
Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance, by Mark Whitaker. 448 pages, but the text itself is not quite that long. Published 2018.
I skipped the parts about boxing (my eyes utterly glazed over – just could not absorb any of that material) and skimmed over the parts about baseball. But I found the rest of it fascinating, including the chapter on journalist Evelyn Cunningham and the chapter on playwright August Wilson.
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. 176 pages. Published 2015.
Second reading. This time for book club. This is a short and meaty text – one long essay, really. Published in 2015 and definitely still relevant. Highly recommend.
Bramton Wick, by Elizabeth Fair. 200 pages First published 1952.
It took me a while to get going on this one. Part of my problem was that each house in the village has a name. It was hard to keep track, at first, of which family lived in each named house. I enjoyed the characters in this light romance, which is part of the Furrowed Middlebrow collection of “Twentieth Century Women’s Fiction” (whatever that means). Includes tea drinking and dogs.
Lighting the Fires of Freedom: African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement, by Janet Dewart Bell. 211 pages. Published 2018.
The book is a compilation of the author’s interviews with women who worked in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s to 1970s. I picked this book because I wanted to read more about Diane Nash. I learned that she is a woman of unequaled courage. She recognized that when the first Freedom Rides met with violence, if the rides ended then “southern white racists would have believed that a Movement project could be stopped by inflicting a great deal of violence on it. And if that message got sent, we would’ve had so many people killed after that. It would’ve been impossible to have a movement about anything. Voting rights, desegregation, or whatever.”
While the nine women interviewed for this book were interesting and the actions they took inspiring, the interviews could have used more editing. The speaker would mention an event that I had no knowledge of, so I was unable to fully understand. There was a fair amount of repetition. Nevertheless, it was worthwhile to read the thoughts, in their own words, of these important and often overlooked women.