Quick book picks for November

Now that we are in the midst of autumn and I am sat here drinking smoky lapsang souchong (as if I don’t all year round), it’s time for a new list of books out this month. Here’s some portraits of American memoirs, an endearing memoir, and a weird book about Nabokov (with links to reviews in the titles).

  • Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner – The creator of Mad Men writes the story of a girl, her family, and what happens in their orbit. Summaries can’t capture the strange atmosphere Weiner creates.
  • Demi-Gods by Eliza Robertson – A stylistic and unnerving novel about growing up in the 1950s and 60s in Canada and the US, told in episodes.
  • Trans Mission by Alex Bertie – This YouTuber’s memoir about his life so far as a trans man combines humour and emotion and is perfect for older children and teenagers, but also parents and other adults who want to be more understanding or know more.
  • The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth by William Boyd – A collection of stories of varying length about flawed characters at decisive moments in their lives and relationships.
  • The Future Won’t Be Long by Jarett Kobek – The 80s and 90s America novel that wasn’t written then. Kobek tells the story of a gay guy and a straight girl who become friends and try to survive America, featuring comic books, drugs, clubs, AIDS, money, famous authors and artists, and a metafictional awareness of what came next.
  • Insomniac Dreams by Vladimir Nabokov – A book on Nabokov and dreams that uses a combination of Nabokov’s own words in dream diaries and his published works alongside Gennady Barabtarlo’s notes and commentary.

The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth by William Boyd

The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth is a collection of stories by William Boyd, mostly about chance encounters, affairs, and the charting of lives. The book starts with some shorter stories, then the central story follows the titular Bethany Mellmoth—a young aspiring actress who dreams of better and deals with her separated parents—and then the final story is about a small time actor who finds himself in a mysterious thriller-type situation, not unlike the genre of film he tends to be cast in. At least one of the earlier stories connects to Bethany’s and overall it feels like a carefully curated story collection with her longer story at the heart.

The style of many of the stories—including Bethany Mellmoth and earlier shorter ones—is a snippet type one, with the given story feeling like either a moment of something larger or the telling of a story in small, fast pieces. This allows Boyd to depict characters’ lives in small spaces and it is mostly effective, creating readable short stories about interesting characters. Those hoping for more of an interconnected book, perhaps closer to a novel, when reading the summary may be disappointed, but there are connections and plenty of similar themes. Most of the stories are set in and around London and even when they don’t, it does feel like the characters could run into one another at any point.

Boyd’s collection of stories is an interesting read about flawed people and decisive moments in their lives and relationships, with some conceits used to create the kernel of a story (for example a man listing all the things he has stolen throughout his life, or another vowing off adultery except for kissing) and others just showing elements of a certain character’s life. These are enjoyable literary short stories of varying length that can be consumed at once or dipped in and out of.