Only slightly belated, but if anything that's because I read so many good books in these two months!
As always, here are my favorite books that I read in August and September!
Spectred Isle - KJ Charles
How could I resist a new, 1920s-set paranormal from KJ Charles? I could never. Spectred Isle is the story of Randolph, an arcanist whose family has been destroyed by WWI, and Saul, a former archaeologist who is just trying to get by after destroying his reputation.
This book has basically everything that I look for in a KJ book: cracking dialogue, extremely poignant longing, and a neat little plot that comes together just right.
It's a perfect demonstration of the art of withholding information from the reader until the exact moment they need to know it. Flawless.
Everybody Behaves Badly - Leslie M.M. Blume
The full title of this book is Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway's Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises which like, yes, gets the message across, but at what cost?
This is one of the most addictive historical books I've read. It's basically an account of Hemingway's early life leading through publication of Sun. Including, of course, the trip that he took to Pamplona with a motley crew of so-called friends, who he then completely ripped off for his debut novel.
The writing is absolutely fantastic. I found myself cackling with glee, and forcing everyone around me to listen to excerpts that I read aloud. Blume also gives background on — and is very sympathetic to — the people that Hemingway wrote about in Sun, which was a great choice. I came out of it thinking Hemingway was an absolute dick but also loving him more than ever, so YMMV.
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
Hey, guess what, reading a book about the background of The Sun Also Rises made me want to read The Sun Also Rises!
This is the story of an ex-pat war veteran named Jake Barnes, who takes a group of people to the festival of San Fermin in Pamplona. Among the festival-goers is the beautiful, magnetic Lady Brett Ashley. Half the men on the trip are in love with her, and chaos ensues.
This was the first novel Hemingway wrote, and fittingly the first one I ever read. It has some of the most stupid beautiful prose. It's also eminently readable: Hemingway wanted to have it all, and thought that Sun was the perfect middle ground between readers with low vocabulary, readers who wanted sex and gossip, and the literary elite that he was trying to impress with his trademark spare prose.
The book comes with caveats — it's super racist, and Hemingway obviously hurt a lot of real people to write it.
Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s - Frederick Lewis Allen
If you want to learn about the 1920s in America, this is now the first book I'll recommend. Published in 1931, Only Yesterday goes theme by theme through the 20s, addressing the biggest affects on America's culture: the Red Scare, the rise of the KKK, ballyhoo journalism and syndication, the Religion of Business, Prohibition, the stock market crash, and all the little things that don't make it into less comprehensive books.
It's beautifully, poetically written, and never too academic. This is an accessible history book, and an incredibly important one. It was a joy to read. And in case you're worried about reading a contemporary book, Allen had pretty modern-day sensibilities when it comes to race and women's independence. The section on the KKK (which was wrapped into the Red Scare chapter) was nonetheless super upsetting to read just because of the subject matter.
Allen's voice is dry, funny, and personable. I loved having his take on the '20s, and I'll hold this book close for the rest of my dang life.
A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway
Yeah, I went there again. A Moveable Feast is Hemingway's own account of his early years in Paris with his first wife, Hadley. I read the restored edition, which there is some controversy about. I'd like to try reading the original as well, but I fear it's always going to be a he-said/he-said situation when it comes to A Moveable Feast.
As it is, Feast sits in a weird ground between fiction and non-fiction. Hemingway says in the closing chapter that it's not meant to be true, but he's still telling stories about real people and using their real names so... come on, dude. From reading genuine non-fiction books about him and his contemporaries, I know that he does straight-up invent or lie about some of the things in this book.
But God, it's still good. No one gets what it feels like to look back on your life and be sad like Hemingway does! He writes beautifully about Hadley and his regrets about how he fucked up their relationship. At least he takes responsibility for that. And it's a great historical perspective on what life was like in Paris at the time.
I had tried to read this book years ago and didn't enjoy it as much. I think I really benefited this time from knowing so much more about Hemingway than I did before. I have a lot of feelings about him, and this book exacerbated all of them.
Note: This post previously included a book by Santino Hassell. I can no longer recommend that book in good faith, so I've removed it from the list.