From ghosts to pink dolphins to a fight club of young women who practice beneath the Alaskan aurora borealis, By Light We Knew Our Names examines the beauty and heartbreak of the world we live in. Across thirteen stories, this collection explores the thin border between magic and grief.
I have been trying and failing to write this review for days now. I don’t quite know how to review it still. I can say this though: I wanted to love this. But I didn’t.
The cover is beyond beautiful (even more so than it looks on the pictures) and Anne Valente’s writing is stunning but I struggled with how bleak this book was, relentlessly so. Short stories are often sad and often bleak but this felt unnecessarily cruel.
The stories focus loss and trauma. This is done extremely well but made it necessary for me to take long breaks between the stories. People lose somebody or something important to them and are suspended in this world of grief. I can intellectually understand how well structured the short stories were but reading them did not often give me pleasure. I also found the stories repetitive in their bleakness and their near hopelessness.
There were a few stories that I enjoyed – and these were the ones that were more hopeful and less devastating. Here Anne Valente’s talent for creating characters and stories really shone. The first story in this collection of a child finding out just how special they are worked exceptionally well and remained my favourite until the end.
I did not have the best reading month. As I have talked about elsewhere I am currently reading too many books I am not excited about and have forbidden myself from starting new books before I finish these. This might not have been the best idea.
Without much further ado, here are the six books I have read in November:
I think I will have to say The Girl in The Tower. I just adore the world Katherine Arden has created so much. I find her voice so impressive and the way she builds her stories on familiar tropes but making them special is just brilliant.
I also really enjoyed Her Body and Other Parties and agree with every praise this wonderful short story collection has gotten. If you like short stories and haven’t picked this up, you really should.
Like I said, I am still trying to finish all the books I have started and only then will I allow myself to start something else. I cannot remember the last time I had no book on my currently reading shelf on Goodreads and am kind of looking forward to that and to the feeling that comes with a bit of a clean slate. Wish me luck.
If I get through the books I am currently reading at some point (I am not that optimistic given my current reading pace) I am giving myself permission to just choose whatever the heck I feel like. No pressure, no fixed TBR, no “I should be reading this”. I want to end the year on a high.
None of these books are bad books. In fact they all have some parts that are absolutely brilliant and parts that are anything but:
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock has vivid language and a brilliant way of describing the world but is beyond slow-moving with a plot I am not sure can even be called that. Authority has Jeff VanderMeer’s brilliant command of language and the intriguing setting that I adored in the first book but features a main character that is a bit of a charisma vacuum. Autumn has poignant descriptions and captures many of my complicated feelings about the UK but its disjointed natures makes it difficult for me to care about its protagonists. By Light We Know Our Names has some absolutely heartbreaking stories with the fantastical elements being brilliantly integrated but the stories feel repetitive and depressing for depressings sake. Under the Pendulum Sun has a genius premise and just nails the atmosphere it is going for but its ambling plot and a very very unfortunate twist (that grossed me out so bad) keep me from fully enjyoing it.
These middling kind of books are usually the ones that take me the longest to read them. Sometimes, when I absolutely dislike a book, I more or less race to finish it just to be done with it, or I just abandon it completely. But those books that do not really elicit any strong reactions have the tendency to wreck my reading flow. Especially if I have started too many books already, as I have this time, and have forbidden myself from starting any new books until I have finished the ones I am already reading. Which leads to me not reading. Which annoys me to no end.
What about you? Do you sometimes struggle with the okay-ish books or do you struggle with the ones you dislike more?