October was a low-reading month for me, largely due to all the book festivals and fall fairs and Halloween happenings, but I still managed to squeeze in 9 books and a total of 1,753 pages.* Here’s a look at how those books stacked up, courtesy of StoryGraph.
*Yes, I’m posting this before the month is technically over – because I probably will not finish another book tonight due to aforementioned Halloween happenings. And I always count a book and its pages in the month the book is finished, so what I’m reading right now will be logged in November.
Witchcraft as Feminine Power
I read three novels this month that used witchcraft* as a metaphor for feminine power, enabling women to reclaim the lives they had lost or surrendered to a man, a society, or a world that tried to stamp out their dreams and desires and even their personhood. It’s an old metaphor, perhaps as old as witch-tales themselves, but such a good one.
The metaphor is most explicit, and the breadth of its aim most sweeping, in The Once and Future Witches, by Alix E. Harrow, where independent thought, suffrage, and other forms of “waywardness” in women are inextricably linked with witchcraft – and universally disdained.
‘I am a witch. … And so is every woman who says what she shouldn’t or wants what she can’t have, who fights for her fair share.’
Each novel takes its own approach to solving the conundrum of “wayward” women in a world built upon their fall from grace and into line, but the through-line is this: “What is magic, anyway, if not a way when there is none?”
I thoroughly enjoyed all three novels and highly recommend them.
*The “witchcraft” in The Lost Apothecary is more akin to herbalism, but I include it here largely because the use of plants to remedy women’s problems has a long history of being equated with witchcraft. More about this in November, when I recap Mutinous Women, a nonfiction work about the French convicts who became the founding mothers of the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Poetry as Magic
In October, I attended a poetry event at a women’s center, where the state Poet Laureate joined a group of local poets in reciting their works. As I listened to them spin their lives into a tapestry of masterclasses tailor-made for me, I was spellbound. For what is a spell but an evocation of intention woven with words? With each line, they tethered me once more to the root of my self, showing me threads of the self I had long ago lost. This is the magic of poetry: to find our lost threads and use them to lead us home to ourselves.
In addition to the works of these local poets, I also dove headlong into some recent releases by two nationally acclaimed poets.
Andrea Gibson’s You Better Be Lightning and Amanda Gorman’s Call Us What We Carry have much in common in their refusal to flinch or pull punches in calling out wrongs and urging us to right them. But while Gorman’s poetry speaks beautifully to the collective experience, asking us to see in a new light our individual roles in the world we’ve made, Gibson deftly uses their individual experience to illuminate not only the places where we are broken, but also some avenues for healing.
Both books are wonderful and thought-provoking reads, and highly recommended.
And now for the stats on the books I finished this month, courtesy of StoryGraph.
My 5-star books included:
- The Once and Future Witches, by Alix E. Harrow (2020)
- You Better Be Lightning, by Andrea Gibson (2021)
My 4.5-star books included:
- Call Us What We Carry, by Amanda Gorman (2021)
- Wild Juice, by Ashley Mace Havird (2021)
My 4-star books included:
- Nettle & Bone, by T. Kingfisher (2022)
- The Lost Apothecary, by Sarah Penner (2021)
- Coronary Truth, by Diane Elayne Dees (2020)
- Red Beans and Ricely Yours, by Mona Lisa Saloy (2005)
My 3.5-star book was:
- The View From Here, by Heloise Grant (2016)