Reading Round-Up: October

We asked everyone in the office to talk about their favorite books from last month. Take a look at our favorite reads from October, and let us know in the comments which books you’ll be adding to your to-read list. From poetry to horror, there’s something for everyone here!

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

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Just in time for Halloween, I finished reading The Haunting of Hill House by the incomparable Shirley Jackson. Long heralded as a masterpiece of horror, Hill House went above and beyond all my expectations. The story follows Eleanor Vance, who, along with two others, is called to Hill House by Dr. Montague to investigate and document the alleged supernatural occurrences. What transpires from there amounts to a horror far more subtle and elegant than traditional gothic tales or slasher stories; we are drawn into subtle, creepy, and potent terrors and unavoidably affected by Eleanor’s deepening psychological affinity with Hill House.

Need any more incentive to pick this up? Check out the annotated first paragraph by Random House’s executive managing editor and copy chief, Benjamin Dreyer.

—Wes, Project Manager

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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Last month, I did something I rarely do: I read a book only after watching the television adaptation. A few days after bingeing the HBO miniseries adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, I stumbled across a copy of the book in a local thrift shop and decided to pick it up. Despite my reservations about having already been exposed to the story, I was actually able to more fully appreciate the technical elements of Flynn’s writing without the distraction of wondering how the plot would pan out. Flynn is a master of character study and her penchant for writing complex, immoral, and sometimes downright unlikeable women speaks to her particular brand of feminism. She lets her characters exist in the gray areas, asking readers to accept them as they are rather than seeking forgiveness or redemption. Sharp Objects rejects clear-cut delineations of good and bad. Camille Preaker, the novel’s first-person protagonist, wears her scars on her skin—literally—and approaches the world shrouded in alcohol and caustic cynicism. Her mother, Adora, is a perversion of the sacrificial and nurturing maternal figure, performing love and grief rather than truly experiencing either. Ultimately, Sharp Objects is a compelling murder mystery housing a thoughtful rumination on family, identity, and the legacies of trauma.

—Marissa, Editing Intern

Sonnets to Orpheus by Rainier Maria Rilke

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I imagine most readers of Rilke arrive at the Sonnets to Orpheus having already thumbed threadbare the pages of his beloved lyrics or his magisterial Duino Elegies. Rilke wrote the sonnets, a cycle of 55 poems in two sections, during a surge of inspiration in February 1922. The resulting verses are at once unsettling and deeply familiar. Though Rilke’s metaphors and conceits are uncanny, he rarely strays far from instinctual experience. The thirst for joy amid transience; the poet’s impulse to shape song from the liquid materials of creation—these are, I believe, Rilke’s subjects.

The sonnets’ sensuousness and plenitude emerge more fully next to The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, which I read at the same time. Whereas the novel conveys a chilly morbidity of mind, the sonnets contain a broader consciousness, encompassing both winter and summer, stone and fruit, sepulchre and vineyard:

I, 7

Praising is what matters! He was summoned for that,
and came to us like the ore from a stone’s
silence. His mortal heart presses out
a deathless, inexhaustible wine.

Whenever he feels the god’s paradigm grip
his throat, the voice does not die in his mouth.
All becomes vineyard, all becomes grape,
ripened on the hills of his sensuous South.

Neither decay in the sepulchre of kings
nor any shadow that has fallen from the gods
can ever detract from his glorious praising.

For he is a herald who is with us always,
holding far into the doors of the dead
a bowl with ripe fruit worthy of praise.

These are difficult but delightful poems that I return to again and again.

—Zack, Associate Editor

Life Work by Donald Hall

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In Life Work, Donald Hall provides histories of both his own life as a writer and his ancestors’ lives as farmers and homemakers. He distinguishes throughout between meaningless tasks and work, which—in his estimation—is something “holy,” the “daily text of the life lived.” It is purpose, solidity, and even immortality of a kind, especially when approached with care and absorption. Given Hall’s profession, Life Work will be familiar to writers, but its meditations on meaning in work apply to anything approached with devotion—whether the rhythm of writing or the “hymns of dirt-work,” such as scything. “Finding a meter, one abandons oneself to the swing of it,” Hall says; “one surrenders oneself to the guidance of object and task, where worker and work are one.” For Hall, meaning is made through love of work, people, and the possibility of another day of thoughtful routine to come.

—Emma, Associate Editor