Recent Reads: October 2020

Writers write, of course, but did you know that not all authors read?

I know, right? In my opinion, reading is fundamental. Everyone should read, and if reading is a struggle for some people, they need reading buddies!

Reading is a way to:

  • Learn how other writers approach the craft of writing
  • Understand what other readers find interesting and “un-put-downable” (or what they loathe)
  • Communicate with others who have read the same book – we are fellow travelers!
  • Experience new perspectives (or very old perspectives!)

…plus it’s gosh-darn entertaining!

Here are the books I’ve read in September and October.

Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

Lisa Deyo at Sweet Reads in Austin, Minnesota kindly ordered this in for me. My hopes were high! I am a big fan of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and I hoped for something that would challenge her previous magnus opus for top spot on my re-reading list.

Piranesi was fine. It felt like a weird psychological interior, and in spite of its purportedly boundless setting (an odd ancient mansion or series of great halls that occasionally are flooded by ocean tides), it felt surprisingly confining. I suspect this story is a testament to the author’s own struggles with isolation and emotional upheavals.

Old Salt, by John Clarke

The internet is great, isn’t it? Going on ten years ago, I was part of Google+ group called Literary Agents Hate Kittens. There I met (virtually) many people (writers and readers) with whom I still maintain contact. One of those connections is Francine.

Francine has kindly read some of my works over the years – even the uncorrected and typo-ridden copy of Grave of Songs I sent to her by mistake. (Sorry, Francine! The final version is much better, I swear!) 🙂

She lives in New South Wales, Australia. After I mentioned how alien Australia and its wildlife is to me, she told me she is near the “Koala Corridor” for the most adorable animal migration on the planet.

She sent me this book, Old Salt, about the importance a large natural harbor called of Port Stephens, north of Sydney. The book details the early settlement in the area and those pioneers’ relationship with the ocean and commercial fishing, and how that “old salt” character carried forward into the culture of the locals.

Thank you, Francine! If you’re ever in Minnesota, I’ll show you some animals that don’t have pockets.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota, by J. Ryan Stradal

Ironically, I purchased this book from Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Iowa. I say “ironically” because the book is set in (surprise!) Minnesota, and I live in Minnesota.

I loved this book! I’m not sure if folks outside of Minnesota would like it as much, but I found it to be “authentically” Minnesotan without being a caricature of us Scandihoovian-Americans. Good characters, tension, and simple, intertwining plot lines.

The Good News from North Haven, by Michael Lindvall

I must be getting old. I loved this book. It’s more of a series of vignettes set in a southwest Minnesota small town. But it is lovely. I laughed out loud in spots. I even shed a tear or two.

Mind you, I am not a religious person, and this is written by an actual Presbyterian minister, and is about a man shepherding the small-town church flock, but it is spot-on in its portrayal of small-town Minnesota.

Again, it might not translate well outside of Minnesota, but it certainly made me feel right at home. Of course, I grew up in a small-town church in Annandale, Minnesota, and now I live in rural Minnesota, so I’m a sitting duck for these types of stories.

Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I found this gem in a little free library on the grounds of the Hormel family mansion in Austin, Minnesota…and an armful of other books. I need to bring a load of my “less-than-favorite” books to donate there and restore the book balance in the universe.

I thought I’d already read this, and maybe I did? But it certainly seemed like the first time I’d ever read Farenheit 451. Another enjoyable read – this one in the dystopian lane, but apropos to now-a-days. “Dangerous” ideas are being censored: the problem with that is that someone who is not you gets to decide for you what ideas are dangerous. We need to exercise our critical thinking, challenge our beliefs, and remain vigilant against censorship – regardless of political party. Censorship is tyranny.

It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis

This was in the Little Free Library along with the copy of Farenheit 451 I mentioned above. Sinclair Lewis is another Minnesota writer, but he went to Harvard and lost his Minnesotan accent.

I’m only about halfway into this book, and I am really enjoying it. So far, he is setting up the foundation for the rise of a tyrant in the United States. Those of you who know me understand that I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat – my political views do not comport with the mainstream, left/right paradigm.

To me, this political power display and election nonsense is a puppet show. The real power brokers make decisions every day that affect you and me – and everyone else in the world – far from the grip of democracy and voting.

But, within the left/right paradigm, it would be interesting to contrast this book with Farenheit 451. The charismatic leader in It Can’t Happen Here could easily be played by Donald Trump. And the truth suppression exercised in Farenheit 451 is analogous to the current deplatforming, cancel culture, and “fact-checking” used by the more liberal control points.

It’s the common person, like you and me, being buffeted on all sides during this dystopian time period. It really doesn’t matter which color (red or blue) you favor.

Anyway, sorry for preaching. So far, I’m really enjoying It Can’t Happen Here.

How about you?
What are you reading?

Let me know at

2 thoughts on “Recent Reads: October 2020

  1. Your speed reading ability is admirable. I am still trying to get through the books published by our writers group this year, plus a few other locals and people met through writers’ events. But there is one book which has captivated me and that is ‘The Emptiness of Our Hands’ by Phyllis Cole-Dai and James Murray. Phyllis and James – two like-minded friends, left the comfort of their homes and loved ones to spend 47 days on the streets to live as homeless people and wrote a book about their experience. Absolutely captivating and eye-widening. It will likely take me until Spring to finish the stack of books on my bedside table (and I just ordered Sallianne’s newest novel from Amazon today). I am going to have to fit in some daytime reading time if I am ever to get ahead of my reading list. But now you have me wanting to re-read Fahrenheit 451 (certain that I already have that in my library) and just the other day was pondering Sinclair Lewis for some reason, so now that’s on my to-do list, too. If you’re done with your Sinclair Lewis book, can I borrow it? Also, would still like to borrow your Lager Queen book, if I may. I am a good book returner. Slow, but good. Has anyone ever been able to keep up with you? Don’t mind eating your dust, but was just wondering.


    1. Hi Susan – I don’t know that I’m fast, but I am consistent! 🙂 At least with reading.

      Certainly you can borrow the books. Naomi is still reading The Minnesota Lager Queen, so I’ll lend you those two when she’d done.

      Thanks for the recommendation. Wanna swap loans? 🙂


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