Monthly Wrap-Up | September & October 2020

Happy November, everyone!

It is a bit overwhelming to think that we are leaving the first week of November behind.

Where has the time gone?

As the chaos continues in my life and around the globe, I blame the lingering effects of Mercury in Retrograde. Joking aside, September and October were particularly difficult for me, as my cat Venus got sick for no apparent reason, I frequently felt under the weather, and things just didn’t seem to go my way.

I’ve tried facing all the serious setbacks with grace; sometimes I succeeded, and at other times I failed miserably.

Either way, I’m pleased that we are moving on.

As I move on to a new month, I also remember all the things that brought some sunshine to my days such as my brilliant students, my cats, family/friends who were there for me when I needed them, and of course, the interesting books and posts that I got to read in the past two months.

I also launched the new RUOT series on How to Become a Better Writer with my first post, “Tips to Shift Your Perspective on Writing” and received wonderful responses from you. Every month, I will be writing a new post as part of this series–if you liked the first piece, stay tuned!

You can also follow me on Instagram @readingundertheolivetree–by the time I got my Twitter account back, I’d already created an instagram page so I will continue to use it.

Okay, so let’s get to it!

Books & Reviews

I started September with a debut that came out in March 2020: The Royal Abduls by Ramiza Shamoun Koya.

Koya’s novel follows an Indian American evolutionary biologist and her relationship with her young nephew who is struggling with his identity as an Indian American Muslim. The Royal Abduls focuses not only on the challenges that come with having a Muslim heritage in the post-9/11 context but also on the issues of discrimination, sexism, and racism in academia. This is a promising novel; however, neither the protagonist nor the other characters was interesting for me. The characters seemed too flat, and the protagonist almost unlikeable because it was difficult to comprehend her motives.

Similarly, I was not drawn to the characters in Jerusalem as a Second Language (September 2020) by the late Rochelle Distemheim.

This is the story of a Russian-Jewish family who leaves Russia and emigrates to Israel as the Soviet Union dissolves in the late 1990s. As the family attempts to settle into their new life, they grapple with nostalgia, homesickness, and culture shock. Even though I like historical fiction, I found the rich, elaborate writing style a bit distracting. So, I didn’t finish this novel, but I may go back and give it another try. If you are a fan of historical fiction, give it a read!

The highlight of October for me was Zaina Arafat’s You Exist Too Much (June 2020).

Arafat’s novel follows an unnamed Palestinian American narrator who identifies as queer. As the narrator moves back and forth through time, telling her story in vignettes, we learn about the root of her destructive relationship(s) with herself and others. Yes, this is a novel about the cultural and political challenges of having a hyphenated, queer identity. It is also about how such difficulties affect one’s mental health as well as emotional and physical well-being.

A much-needed novel that is an invaluable contribution to contemporary Middle Eastern/Arab/Transnational literatures.

The works of non-fiction that I read in September and October were also intriguing.

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington and The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders were not earth-shattering but light reads that I found inspiring. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, on the other hand, shifted my perspective on what it means to lead a creative life.

I then closed the month with Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky who offer research-based tips on effectively creating time for activities that you find meaningful.

I love that Making Time is not another self-help book that equates working overtime with productivity. Instead, Knapp and Zeratsky suggest that the practical tips they provide can help you improve productivity without burning out.

September-October Selected Readings

Every month, I share some of the intriguing posts and articles that I read. Here’s my list for the past two months:

“Lit Hub Staff Picks: Our Favorite Stories This Month: The Best Writing at the Site in October”

Literary Hub editors share their personal favorite pieces that were published on the site in October.

“What is Self Care Now, Anyway?” An Interview with Leigh Stein, the author of Self- Care, The New York Times

Journalist Hanna Seligson publishes her conversation with Stein about her controversial book, Self-Care and the paradox of self-care. I haven’t read Stein’s book yet, but after reading the interview, I added it to my to-read list.

“Ynés Mexía: Botanical Trailblazer” by Jess Romeo, JSTOR Daily

To Be Read in November

On my reading list this month, I have three exciting books that are coming out next year in March 2021.

I’ve already started Hala Alyan’s The Arsonists’ City (2021) and Japanese writer Minae Mizumura’s An I- Novel (originally pub. in 1995); I will be writing a full post on these two texts.

Next, my plan is to move on to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s acclaimed novel The Sympathizer (2016) –which has long been on my to-read list — and the sequel to The Sympathizer, The Committed, which will be published in March next year by Grove Atlantic.

And this brings me to the end of the past month’s wrap-up. I will end with a photo of my savage beauty who is now back home after two weeks at the vet clinic and seems to be doing so much better 🙂

I hope everyone is doing well, and November is off to a wonderful start for you; feel free to let me know how you’re doing and/or to post your links to your monthly wrap-ups down below. I’d love to read them. 

Have you read any of the books mentioned here? What did you think? What are you reading right now? I’d love to hear about your recommendations.

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