Monthly Reading Summary: June in the United States

June was the first month that I experimented with my new geographical reading initiative, which means reading mostly (but not exclusively) authors from a particular country – or potentially books set in a specific country. I started off with the United States, because it is a country I often ignore in my reading. And it worked so well that I am certainly planning to continue doing this geographically themed reading at least until the end of year.

I read 8 novels by American authors, plus a biographical study of American women by an American woman – so a total of 9 books. Six women authors, including big names of the past such as Patricia Highsmith and Jane Bowles, popular contemporary authors such as Laura Lippman and Meg Wolitzer, and less well-known authors such as Laura Kasischke and Diana Souhami. The last of these, Wild Girls (review to come), is a book about the relationship and love life of Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks, two wealthy American expats and artists living in Paris in the early 20th century. I first came across the chromatically restrained art of Romaine Brooks at the Barbican exhibition about artistic couples and wanted to know more about her.

The three male authors I read were Kent Haruf, Sam Shepard and David Vann, who all proved to be a very welcome respite from the rather self-absorbed American authors I have read previously (who may have put me off reading American books). Surprisingly, they all write about marginalised, impoverished or rural communities that we tend to think of as ‘typically’ American landscapes, filled with macho behaviour. Yet each of these authors demonstrate great sensitivity and empathy for human frailty.

So, all in all, quite a diverse and happy American reading experience, although I was perhaps less impressed with those particular books by Meg Wolitzer and Laura Lippman (compared with some of their others).

In addition to my focus on the US, I also had a bit of a Bristol CrimeFest hangover and read some more of the books I bought there. All three were enjoyable and very quick reads: Kate Rhodes’ atmospheric, closed island community in Ruin Beach, Charlie Gallagher’s almost viscerally painful He Will Kill You about domestic violence and Cara Black’s latest instalment in the Aimee Leduc series, Murder in Bel Air, which tackles France’s colonial past and present.

Last but not least, two books about betrayed women from very different decades: Dorothy Whipple’s Someone at a Distance set in the 1950s, while Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie is very much of the present moment and set in London. While the former remains stoic and resourceful, the latter is prone to self-destructive or self-belittling behaviour. Both books can be quite painful to read, although Queenie is also very funny in parts.

So, 14 books in total, 10 by women authors, zero in translation, which is quite unusual for me (reflects the geographical emphasis, I suppose).

6 thoughts on “Monthly Reading Summary: June in the United States”

  1. I’m very glad you had a good reading month, Marina Sofia. I think that geographical emphasis is really interesting. I know other people, too, who concentrate on a particular geographic place as they read, and it works for them. As to your other reads, you’ve reminded me that I haven’t read Kate Rhodes just lately – I should catch up with her work…

  2. Are you reading geographically from your shelves, or deciding in advance what to read? I’ve read more than usual from the US recently as I went on a bit if a binge reading works by native American author Leslie Marmon Silko, including memoir, 2 novels and a collection of letters. Loved all of them and have two more to read, a collection of essays and poetry. Which geographic region is next?

    1. It’s all books from my shelves, which are (in the main) arranged geographically as well. That makes life easier, except that I do have my most recent book purchases (over the past year or so) still in piles on the floor, so I have to remember to check those. July is Russian, August Brazilian, September Switzerland, October China, November Spain and December Canada. Or at least that is the plan, but you know plans have a habit of changing.

  3. A very diverse month, Marina – well done! Especially as they’re all from the stacks. Look forward to your thoughts on Wild Girls – I definitely own a copy but I don’t think I got very far with it and I can’t recall why! 😀

  4. A really varied month! I’ll look forward to your upcoming geographical focus too – it sounds an interesting way to read from the stacks in a focussed way. I should try something similar!

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