Ramblings and Recommendations

Hello all!

I love to read.  And, I find myself often talking about reading and books and making recommendations to my friends and neighbors (both solicited and unsolicited).  I also enjoy writing, but mostly of the stream-of-conscience brand.  So, here are my ramblings about books and reading and my recommendations.  I hope you enjoy.

525,600 Minutes

It’s been a year since I started this blog and along the way I have connected with many bookish people, and more than doubled my annual book intake. After a year measured in blog posts, I’ll be taking a hiatus for the summer to chill (and read).

Hope you all have a great summer of reading. And, to that end, I’ll be kicking off the summer by sharing with you my book club’s reading list to jump start your summer of books.

Thanks for reading!!

 

 

 

Photo credit: Homegoods.com

Book Club Selections (2011-Mid 2017)

One of the questions I get asked/ask others most is “What is your book club reading?”  Book clubs are always a great place for good book recommendations.  Here’s what my book club has been reading since our inception in January 2011.

2011

January           Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese

February        Moon Over Manifest – Claire Vanderpool

March              The Glass Room – Simon Mawer

April                Revenge of the Radioactive Lady – Elizabeth Stuckey-French

May                The Gurnsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer

June                Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson

July                 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

August            Homer & Langley – E. L. Doctorow

September     Swamplandia! – Karen Russell

October/November             The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

December     End of the Year Celebration and Book Exchange

2012

January           The Imperfectionists – Tom Rachman

February        Bound – Antonya Nelson

March              11/22/63 – Stephen King

April                The Starboard Sea – Amber Dermont

May/June       The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters

July                 The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton

August            The Rules of Civility – Amor Towles

September     Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

October          The Chaperone – Laura Moriarty

November     The Lifeboat – Charlotte Rogan

December     End of Year Celebration and Book Exchange

2013

January           The City of Bohane – Kevin Barry

February        A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith

March              Language of Flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh

April                The Art of Hearing Heartbeats – Jann-Philipp Sendker

May                There is No Me Without You – Melissa Fay Greene

June               Leviathan – Paul Auster

July                 Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo

August            The Orchardist – Amanda Coplin

September     The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow – Rita Leganski

October          Night Film – Marisha Pessl

November     A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Antony Marra

December     End of Year Celebration and Book Exchange

2014

January           How We Do Harm – Otis Brawley

February        Caramelo – Sandra Cisneros

March              Caught – Lisa Moore

April                The Sandcastle Girls – Chris Bohjalian

May                The Huband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty

June/July        SUMMER READING

August            Dear Life: Stories – Alice Munro

September   We Were Liars  – E. Lockhart

October/November The Weight of Heaven – Thrity Umrigar

December     End of Year Celebration and Book Exchange

2015

January           Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

February        The Children Act – Ian McEwan

March              The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

April                Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter

May                The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri

June/July/August      SUMMER READING

September   Etta and Otto and Russell and James – Emma Hooper

October          The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yoko Ogawa

November     Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff

December     End of Year Celebration and Book Exchange

2016

January           The Truth According to Us – Annie Barrows

February        Ordinary Grace – William Kent Krueger

March              H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

April                Girl Waits with Gun – Amy Stewart

May                The Turner House – Angela Flournoy

June/July        SUMMER READING

August            Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

September   The Fishermen – Chigozie Obioma

October          Slam – Nick Hornby

November     News of the World – Paulette Jiles

December     End of Year Celebration and Book Exchange

2017

January           Forty Rooms – Olga Grushin

February        The Sleepwalker – Chris Bohjalian

March              The Pearl That Broke Its Shell – Nadia Hashimi

April                600 Hours of Edward – Craig Lancaster

May                Celine – Peter Heller

June/July        SUMMER READING

Moonglow – Michael Chabon

Moonglow tells the life story of Chabon’s (fictional? actual?) grandfather through dream-like conversations between Michael and “my grandfather” on the elder’s deathbed. The detailed, fantastic episodes will be familiar to readers of Chabon’s other fiction, particularly The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. This work is labeled as fiction but reads like a memoir (think Tuesdays with Morrie) and uses details from Chabon’s known life. The line between fact and fiction is as blurry as the memories that the grandfather conveys and the whole is a beautifully written, overview of the last century (or thereabouts) in America complete with love, grief, regret and joy. One of my favorite reads from 2016. Highly recommended.

Confessions – Kanae Minato

Pick up this book and strap yourself in for a wild ride!  Minato carefully constructed a fabulous and completely deranged plot (I mean this in the best possible way). It seems to me that the best way to experience this book is to give very little in the way of preview so that you can enjoy it as it unfolds. This story is told from the point of view of six distinct characters over six chapters. The novel begins in a middle school classroom where a teacher announces that she is leaving the school because of “the incident”. At the end of the first chapter I wondered what else could possibly happen. I had that thought five more times! I listened to this one on audiobook and it was well narrated and enjoyable in that format (two narrators, one male, one female who took on different personas for each character). Highly recommended to readers who enjoy a morality play or are just a little warped.

 

 

Scythe – Neil Shusterman

 

This YA novel is the first in a scheduled series. In this world, artificial intelligence has perfected life on Earth and the Cloud has evolved into the Thunderhead, a benevolent, all-knowing being that regulates resources, health and activity. In this world, where everything is optimal, disease and death have been conquered. But, in order to allow humans to reproduce, others must be culled. It is the job of the order of the Scythes to “glean” people from the planet in a non-biased way. Citra and Rowan are two apprentice scythes who are learning the art of gleaning and the burdens that come along with this heavy responsibility. A fast paced and well constructed science-fiction novel that asks heavy questions with heavy consequences. Recommended for all audiences over the age of 12.

3 to Get Reading: Recent Memoirs

A well-written memoir often reads like a gripping novel. The genre has really taken off in recent years, and I find that the vast majority of the non-fiction that I read fall into this category. There are many good memoirs out there and more being released everyday. Here are three recent memoirs that are not only great reads, but have bent the traditional form of a novel-like narrative. Enjoy.

Dear Mr. You – Mary Louise Parker

Yes, that Mary Louise Parker. But, if you are looking for a gossipy celebrity tell-all (and, why not?), this is not it. I wasn’t sure whether this was fiction or non-fiction when I picked it up. And, the dreamlike feel of some of the pieces made me continue to wonder. This epistolary memoir is a series of letters from Parker to various men in her life, from her father to her lovers, to a guy she saw across a room. She tells parts of her story indirectly, which proves to be haunting and effective. For example, the most tabloid-ready episode of her life (Billy Crudup leaving her while pregnant to be with Claire Danes ) is told not in a letter to Crudup himself, but, rather in a letter addressed “Dear Mr. Cabdriver”, to the cabbie who drives her while pregnant and abandoned. The writing blew me away in this short book and it could be picked up and put down like a volume of poetry or short stories.

The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson

In The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson writes about her relationship with the artist Harry Dodge and their experiences leading up to and just following Nelson’s pregnancy. This is a queer memoir, but, honestly, reading about Nelson and Dodge’s courtship and relationship before pregnancy, you would have only a faint idea that Dodge was born female. It is precisely the universality of these experiences that makes this book hit so hard. This book chronicles the couple’s experiences when Nelson becomes pregnant while Dodge begins the process of transitioning his body from female to male. The couple struggles with the idea of normalization and celebrates the, sometimes violent, changes to both of their bodies. Nelson’s writing is closely observed and sharp. Watching the two of them transform into mother and father reminded me of watching a pair of butterflies emerge from a cocoon, not the full fledged beautiful creatures after the fact, but the wet, struggling, hopeful creatures slowly learning to flap their wings to emerge.

Lab Girl – Hope Jahren

Before I picked up this memoir about the experiences of an academic scientist, I had been seeing this book hyped by the publishers; standing face out on bookstore shelves.; and recommended by many reader friends. Jahren takes us from her childhood in Minnesota where she spent much of her time visiting her father’s lab; through college and working at a hospital thinking she might become a doctor; past her graduate studies; to building her own lab. There are several lovely treats in this book. First, she intersperses her own history with her discoveries and the history of plants (she is a geobiologist). Second, she is a lyrical writer and the poetic sections about plants read like love stories. And, last, but certainly not least, she is chronicling not only her work life but her relationship with her colleague who she met as a graduate student and who is a scientist who balances her point of view, runs her labs and fills a niche in her life in a beautiful and interesting way. A treat of a book, and one I recommend to all audiences.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart – Ed Tarkington

Children of the 1970s and 1980s should flock to this lovely debut novel by the talented Ed Tarkington.  The book jacket and publication materials market this book as a Southern Gothic murder mystery. But the murders that constitute the mystery do not occur until three quarters into the narrative. More accurately, this is a coming-of-age novel; a tender and nostalgic rememberance by Rocky Askew, who grew up in fictional Spencerville, Virginia, in the 1970s and 1980s. Tarkengton evokes time and place impressively well and writes heartbreakingly (as the title foreshows) about love. The Southern Gothic murder is just a bonus!