Hunkering Down with a Book Season

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I can’t tell you how conflicted I am today, my friends. It’s miserable out. Snowing a bit, blowing a lot. The river looks cold. Even the geese look miserable, swimming jerkily, feathers ruffling in the wind. Brrr. I will not be venturing out. It’s the perfect kind of day to hunker down with my book. It is, in fact, the beginning of hunker down with a book season. Am I right?

And yet, and yet, I’m not reading. I’m writing this post. Partly because I want to tell you guys about the great books I’ve been reading, and the great books I have on order, and hope to read soon. And partly because I’ve just finished a wonderful book, and I’m sad that it’s done. And I’m not ready to fill the space in my head that it occupies, not ready to start thinking about other characters and other plots just yet.

After out late afternoon walk on the trail, time to go home for tea and a good book.
After Sunday’s walk, comes tea, a book, and a whole lot of hunkering.

The book I’m talking about is Kiley Reid’s novel Such a Fun Age. Oh my, I loved this book. It’s the story of a young black woman in Philadelphia, who works as a babysitter for a well-off white family. The babysitter Emira is a college graduate who seems to be drifting a bit in life, unable to find her adult identity. Hence she is, as her friends say, “still” babysitting.

The white family for whom Emira works is upwardly mobile; the dad, Peter, is a local television journalist, and the mum, Alix, is an internet “influencer” who has rocketed her business to fame, and hopefully fortune, by teaching others that etiquette, in particular skillful letter writing, can get you what you want. Alix has recently had a second child and Emira’s job is primarily to take care of the elder child, three year old Briar. A precocious, very vocal, and utterly charming toddler with whom Emira immediately bonds. As does the reader. I loved that kid, due of course to Kiley Reid’s wonderful writing and her pitch perfect ear for dialogue.

Kiley Reid's Such a Fun Age is a good book, a wonderful book.

But Such a Fun Age is NOT a book about domestic harmony. Instead it explores the subtleties of race relations in America, and the consequences of supposedly achieving white “wokeness” without having a clue about the daily realities of being black.

The novel begins when Alix calls Emira at eleven o’clock at night, asks her to leave her friend’s birthday party, and please take Briar for an hour or two while she and her husband deal with police and the aftermath of their house being vandalized. Emira with Briar in tow kills time in a local upscale, all-night grocery store, and is cornered by a belligerent security guard and a suspicious shopper, who threaten to call the police because they believe that Emira has kidnapped her white charge. Emira faces what one reviewer calls the “gentrified version of driving while black.” The situation is diffused when Emira calls Briar’s dad, Peter, and he arrives to explain. But she is shaken nonetheless, knowing that it could have so easily gone very wrong.

So yeah. That’s the beginning of the book. And the beginning of a plot that certainly had me captivated. Emira’s career choices, her fears for her future. Alix’s fears that with her second child and her move from New York to Philadelphia she has jeopardized her “cool factor” and her rise to fame and fortune. Alix’s increasing obsession with her black sitter, her cringe-worthy moves to befriend Emira and help her whether she wants help or not. Then there’s Emira’s protective white boyfriend Kelley, who met Emira that night in the grocery store, filmed the incident, and subsequently encourages Emira to seek “justice” when Emira just wants to forget the whole thing.

Who is using whom, might be the main question of the novel. Along with issues of mothering, paid mothering, career choices, inter-racial relationships (romantic and otherwise) and white “allyship.” And surprisingly, the whole idea of health insurance, who has it and who doesn’t. Which as a Canadian is not something I think about much.

Funny when I began to write my post, I couldn’t think of a thing to say about this book. And once started, I now seem to have blithered on and on. I first heard about Such a Fun Age when Kiley Reid was interviewed on the CBC radio program “Q”. You can read about, and listen to that interview here if you’re interested. I highly recommend Reid’s book. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s nothing more than a “light read.” Oh sure, it’s definitely easy to read. There is no obvious tragedy, no blood, death, or destruction, no hit you over the head symbolic, life-changing moments. I would say that it’s light reading in the way Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac is light. Perceptive, captivating, and subtly life-altering in that, when you’re finished, I’ll bet you’ll still be thinking about it. Like I am.

In other book news. I just finished the latest Peter Grainger mystery Roxanne. Hubby and I both really like Grainger’s work. He is such a competent writer. His plots never veer into silly complications that cannot be explained; they never resort to the increasingly common phenomena of fifteen stupid plot twists in the last ten pages. That kind of novel drives me nuts. I love Grainger’s characters. And although in these last two books I miss the presence of D.C. Smith, I have a feeling that might change. I wonder if DC is about to become a bigger part of the books again. Anyway, you can’t go wrong with a Peter Grainger book in my view. They make great hunker down reading in front of the fire. I should add that you have to be willing to read the electronic version because they are not published in hard copy.

I’m waiting for several books currently reserved at the Ottawa Public Library. The newest Peter Lovesey novel, The Finisher. Lovesey who, while not as good as some of the other Peters I love (namely May, Robinson, and Grainger), writes a good mystery. And I’m quite partial to his Peter Diamond character. Ha. Seems there are more Peters than we can shake a stick at in this post. I’ve ordered Richard Osman’s book The Thursday Murder Club, recommended by a reader of this blog. And also a book called Three Daughters of Eve by Turkish writer Elif Shafak. I think it was Dottoressa who said she was reading this author. And I was surprised and pleased that our library has her books.

On deck next for me, are two newly purchased books by writers I have read and loved before.

I pre-ordered Rachel Joyce’s latest novel, Miss Benson’s Beetle, a while ago. Because I love Rachel Joyce’s writing. And because I thought it might be one of those wonderfully wry, gentle, and charming books I love so much, like the best of Ursula Orange or Anita Brookner. In my view, you can’t go wrong with a book about spinsters, or “left-over women,” a post war world, and a journey of self-discovery. But you’ll know that already if you’ve been around here for a while; I’ve written about spinsters and their place in some of my favourite books before.

Since the two main characters in Miss Benson’s Beetle journey to New Caledonia in search of an undiscovered species of beetle, I pictured a kind of combination of Lily King’s novel Euphoria, based on the life of Margaret Mead, the gentleness of Joyce’s earlier novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and the doughty spinsters of Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women. Katy Guest in her review in The Guardian definitely seems to love the book, so we’ll see if I was right. I’ll get stuck into this one soon.

Right after I read Tana French’s The Searcher. I am particularly looking forward to French’s latest book. It’s always a good week when I get my hands on a new Tana French work. I love her Dublin Murder Squad series. And Maureen Corrigan in her review in The Washington Post says this new Tana French stand-alone novel may be her best yet. In fact, just reading Corrigan’s review has made me feel a bit less conflicted about not reading. And makes me want to hurry to finish this post so I can have an hour to hunker down on the sofa with French’s book.

So, tis the season to hunker down with a good book, my friends.

Today is cold. And we’ve had snow flurries. The wind is whirling leaves sideways past my window. The fire is flickering in the living room. I can hear that the kettle has clicked off in the kitchen. That means it’s time for me to go now.

I feel a whole lot of hunkering coming on.

P.S. The book links in the text of this post are affiliate links with Amazon. That means if you make a purchase after clicking my link, I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

P.P.S. If you live in the U.S. and would prefer not to shop on Amazon, you can find links to all the books I’ve discussed here on Bookshop.org Bookshop.org supports independent book stores in the U.S. .

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34 thoughts on “Hunkering Down with a Book Season”

  1. You are the one who introduced me to Peter Grainger’s DC Smith, and I am so grateful. Grainger is my favorite new (to me) mystery author. I bought and read Roxanne the instant it was available. I recently read The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis, about a family who lived in the New York Public Library building, and a mystery that spans the 20th century. There is quite a bit of historical detail about living in NYC, and medicine, journalism, and events of the early 1900s, in the book. The book I just finished is I, Gracie, by Sharon Sala, whose romantic suspense books I have read and enjoyed for years. I, Gracie is a departure from her usual books, in that it is about a young Texas woman who has taken care of her mother who suffered from dementia, for nine years. She had no support from her siblings or anyone else, because they just didn’t want to know. When her mother passes away, Gracie decides to leave her hometown and find a new place where she can try to become the person who was put in limbo all those years before. She makes a new life, new friends, and finds love. It’s a feel good story about living through the ongoing tragedy of a losing a loved person to disease, and having the strength to go on and be happy.

  2. I have gone down a rabbit hole and immersed myself in Golden Age crime fiction. I am currently enjoying John Rhode books. His descriptions of life in between the wars is wonderful for anyone the loves history sometimes to the point where the crime almost appears incidental in the story. Well that was the case with The Harvest Murder which I have just finished. His books are hard to find in hard copy so I buy them for the kindle.
    I am also enjoying the Clothes in Books blog which often introduces me to both current and golden age authors.

    1. I love the Clothes in Books blog too. And Golden Age Crime fiction. I haven’t heard of John Rhode. I buy a lot of those old mysteries to read on Kindle, so I will have a look for him.

  3. Such A Fun Age sounds good so I’ll look out for that . I didn’t realise there was a new Peter Grainger so I’ll definitely download that . The Richard Osman has been sitting on my Xmas list for months . He’s a well known chap here in the UK & I just know I will enjoy it . Mrs Bensons Beetle has been on my list for a while too . Recent reads of mine that you might enjoy –
    The Woman next door by Yewande Omotoso..poss for your book club ?
    Rules For Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson
    Searching For Grace Kelly by MG Callahan
    The Deaths by Mark Lawson
    Snow by John Banville
    The Guest List by Lucy Foley
    And finally , a world away from murders –
    Olive , Mabel & Me by Andrew Cotter . His YouTube clips of his labradors , Olive & Mabel , have cheered me up no end during lockdowns , some have had 50 million views ! & now the book …great for dog lovers ( might even make cat lovers smile )
    I do look forward to your book posts . Not least for all the recommendations in the comments .

    1. A new Mark Lawson… I must have missed that. I really like his books. I’m currently listening to Snow on Audible, and enjoying it. When you are enjoying the dog videos on YouTube you must have a look for the guy from Nova Scotia who feeds racoons on his back deck. Pure Maritimer, that guy. 🙂
      P.S. Okay… you said Mark Lawson… I thought John Lawton and looked up John Lawson. Thus followed a silly period of confusion. Ha.

  4. …and happiness ensued! Yay,so many good books,yours and in comments. I love Peter Grainger and DC Smith but missed the new book. Thank you for mentioning,yes I’ve read a couple of Shafak’s book . IMO, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World and 40 Rules of Love are ,by far, her best books
    I believe that Frances has recommended Christobel Kent and her detectiv Sandro Cellini series-I love them. Have I mentioned Maggie O’Farell’s Hamnet here? An excellent book.
    Lately,I jump from one author and book to the other,unable to make a serious commitment. Still reading Burnt Sugar from Avni Doshi,it is an excellent book,too,but ,I think,Roxanne is something I need right now
    Dottoressa

    1. Thanks for reminding me about the Maggie O’Farrell book. I must order it now so I don’t forget again. Roxanne is like having a visit with the gang from King’s Lake. 🙂

    2. i am in a facebook jane austen group and we were given someone within the group to send a book to and another person to receive from. i was lucky enough to receive 40 rules of love. its my next cab off the rank! not sure if you have tried Tim Winton the Australian writer. one of my favourites is Dirt music, which is what i sent to the person i was given.

  5. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of these wonderful suggestions! Ever since I finished “Reading in Bed” (because of your blog post) I’ve been looking for something as beautifully written and thoughtful. And, at my age, relevant to where I am in my life and what I think about now.
    I appreciate you “doing all of the heavy lifting!”
    Donna

  6. I’ll put Such a Fun Age on my Must Read list — thank you! I’m curious to know how it compares with Leila Slimane’s Chanson Douce — I think the translation was called A Perfect Nanny. Set in Paris, and both nanny and family are white, parents very successfuly, ambitious. Race is an issue in their choice for nanny, but class is what really plays a role here. I suspect it might complement Kiley Reid’s book, but warning, it opens with a horrific scene and then the rest of the book works to understand and explain.

    And like Dottoressa, I would say that the Shafak book to blow you away would be 10 Minutes, 38 seconds. . . .haven’t read 40 Rules yet, but I liked Three Daughters of Eve and also The Bastard of Istanbul. Planning to work my way through all Shafak’s backlist.

    Really impatient for The Searchers. I was going to wait for the 107 people ahead of me on the library’s Reserve list, but I might have to splurge. . .

    1. I though Reid’s book dealt with race in such an interesting way. I haven’t read Slimane’s book. I will look for it. I am excited to begin to explore Shafak’s books. Love how all these recommendations from such far away corners of the world come together. From Zagreb to Ottawa via Vancouver. 🙂

  7. I loved Such a Fun Age, too. It really is the season for reading, isn’t it? Not that there is a season where I don’t have a pile of books on my nightstand vying for next position. 😉

  8. It is great to read all the recomendations for new book ideas. I have been going the lighter route lately, and enjoyed The Secrets of Saffron Hall by Clare Marchant and then The Paris Secret by Natasha Lester, which left such an impression that I had to pause starting another book. This made me want to dig deeper into the women who flew in the Royal Air Force and what they went through. I have a stack of books waiting but will take a break with some of my horticulture books for now.

  9. Oh, good, more of your book recommendations! I can’t remember if I found the Susan Hill mysteries via you or some other route, but they are excellent if you were not the one that turned me on to them.

    ceci

  10. Thank you for this, my first of your “book posts.”
    Our library here in Saint Petersburg, Fl. Is closed due to Covid. I so miss browsing the shelves for old and new writer friends. Your post gave me what I’ve been missing in that, and I can’t wait to start on one of your recs. I’m feeling like that girl leaving library with a whole stack of books to read!

  11. I look forward to the booklists of my favourite bloggers and avid readers. I don’t read as much as I used to partly due to the numerous hobbies I have taken up and partly because I don’t like sitting for as long any more. So being introduced to new-to-me authors is something I do look forward to and it gives me a chance to check out the lists of electronic books in our library. I did read Kiley Reid’s novel just a while back and yes, I found myself returning to thoughts of it often. I was struck by the character of the influencer in ways that made me both rethink and trim down my blog reading list. With your blog as an exception, I really wonder how this whole concept of “influencing” became an occupation.

    1. I can highly recommend listening to mystery novels (or any book in fact) on Audible or any other format. That’s what keeps me walking and house cleaning. Or even knitting. 🙂

  12. Before I say anything else, this: “… the whole idea of health insurance, who has it and who doesn’t. Which as a Canadian is not something I think about much.”

    Oh man, am I envious… This is (and has been for years and will continue to be) a major preoccupation for millions of us south of your border. The difference between broke and not broke, quality of life, or simply – life and death.

    Moving along… Hunkering down, yes! Cold and windy, yes! A good book and tea (my preference, decaf Earl Gray and occasionally, Dandelion)! But methinks my reading selections are not yours… a book on facism begun (by Madeleine Albright, currently reading it on kindle), and the hardbound tome Rage (by Bob Woodward) waiting nearby…

    No wonder I stay anxious, ho ho…

    🙂
    xo

    1. I know how lucky we are to NOT have to worry about health coverage, especially this year. And for my mental health I have to avoid like the plague such serious non-fiction books as you are tackling. Good for you to be able to do that.:)

  13. So many excellent book suggestions! I’ve added Such a Fun Age to my long list of ‘holds’ at the library. I’ve been juggling the list of requests for physical books and books — both always pop up as available when I’m in the middle of reading another. I love the function on the Libby app that allows it to reoffend the book after a short delay. I’m nearly done the latest Cormoran Strike from Galbraith/Rowling; really enjoyed it but it’s massive and has kept me going far longer than most since I typically read in snippets before falling asleep. Thanks so much to you and all your readers for your great suggestions from me here in Nova Scotia (no longer quite so ‘COVID-free’ as the recent NYT article suggested, but we are very fortunate nonetheless).

  14. Just finished Everything Sad Is Untrue, by Daniel Nayeri. A middle school Irani refugee (who shares a name with the author) tries to explain himself to his American classmates with stories of his life, his family, and the country he left behind. It’s funny, sweet, and sad, and the best book I’ve read this year (so far).

  15. Just popping in to say – I love your book posts, and I have enjoyed some of your previous recommendations, and those of your commentators too. My latest new to me author is Lucy Foley.

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