book review

7 Books I Want to Read Again

Whenever I finish one book, I often find myself with the delicious dilemma of choosing which one will be the next taken off my shelves. But my to-read list has grown longer than my to-do list. (Darn you, Goodreads!)

So, why would I reread books? Sometimes I want to slow the insatiable desire for new, better, more and hang out with the familiar. Like sitting with an old friend and reminiscing for a while.

Also, books change as we change. As we gain more life experiences and have more years on this planet, our perspective changes. I admit—I didn’t like Pride and Prejudice when I read it in high school. Now, it’s one of my favorites. (Though, I think I’d have to live a long, long time to change my original opinion of Moby Dick. *cough*)

There are some books I reread and realize that I missed the point the first time around. Maybe I was distracted by life’s little intrusions. Maybe I was skimming. (Note to self: Don’t skim! Why bother!?)

Here are seven books on my TBRR* list:

*To Be ReRead

All Creatures Great and SmallAll Creatures Great and Small, by James HerriotMy copy is yellowed and the cover is torn (see photo), but I’m not getting rid of it. As a country veterinarian in 1930s Yorkshire, Herriot’s patients ranged from dogs and cats to pigs and cows. He wove his animal tales (pun intended), while painting a beautiful portrait of the windswept moors and the hardy, hardworking farmers. I remember his stories as warm, but not sappy; insightful, but not preachy.

 

58345The Awakening, by Kate Chopin. When I read this novel in college, I’d learned that the story shocked readers when it was published in 1899. I thought Kate Chopin was prescient, imagining what female marital infidelity would look like. But now I wonder: Was the book ahead of its time or was it shockingly contemporary? Just because it wasn’t discussed openly doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening. A good book to reread in this Snapchat, swipe left, share everything age we live in.

 

386187Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt.  There is practically a law that says you must read this book before you visit Savannah, Georgia. And so I did. And it was terrific. And to a large extent that is my memory of the plot. So when a friend read it and recounted the escapades of the Lady Chablis, the eccentric drag queen, I realized it’s time to be enamored all over again.

 

 

The Alchemist, by Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist, by Paolo Coelho. I can’t remember what happened to my copy. Maybe I loaned it to a friend or donated it in one of my intense yearly bookshelf purges. Two weeks ago, I was browsing at a stoop sale (the urban version of a yard sale) and my eyes landed on this book. I was about to walk away (do I really need another book!?!) when the seller handed it to me and said, “No charge.” It feels like the universe wants me to read this one again.

 

 

A Walk in the WoodsA Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson. This was my introduction to Bill Bryson’s writing, and now I’m a Bryson completist. His curmudgeonly, wry tone always leaves me in good spirits. It’s been at least 15 years since I last read this one, and I still have the book on my shelf.

 

 

 

to kill a mockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Because I refused to read Go Set a Watchman.

 

 

 

 

The Getaway Car, by Ann PatchettThe Getaway Car, by Ann Patchett. This slim volume of writing encouragement is only available as a Kindle Single, but it’s worth downloading the app, if you don’t already have it. (And it’s a reasonably priced $2.51 at last check). Lately I’ve needed a writerly pick-me-up. The long, sometimes soul-crunching process can make me question moving forward with a story.  To that, Ann Patchett says:

 

“Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.”

 

Do you reread books? Which ones? 

Coming next time: an interview with Bethany Ball, author of What to Do About the Solomons! 

BEFORE YOU GO

  1. This fall, I’ll be teaching my most popular class at The Loft Literary Center called Back to Basics: Creative Writing Techniques, starting September 20. The Loft Literary Center

I’ll let you know when registration opens.

2. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ll be moving over to WordPress.org in the next month or two. The move requires all of you to resubscribe over at the new URL. So frustrating, but I don’t know a way to transfer subscriptions. (If you do, please let me know!)  I want to keep you informed about the move and the new writing courses I’m developing. I’ve started a newsletter. I’d love it if you’d sign up. As a thank-you, I’m offering my short editing checklistThis is one of the checklists I use when editing fiction writing. Thanks so much for your support! 

Have a great weekend, everyone!

 

Seven Books I Can’t Wait to Read

The stacks of books on my nightstand grow ever taller, but here are a few books I just can’t wait to read.

Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng.  Well, thank goodness for this. Celeste Ng’s new book will be out in September. It’s so far away, the cover image isn’t even ready yet, but what a gem to look forward to this fall. The book explores “the weight of long-held secrets, the nature of belonging, the ferocious pull of motherhood—and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.”

 

9780316154727_p0_v3_s192x300Theft by Finding, by David Sedaris. I’m a David Sedaris completist. Even if this turns out to be a list of food he ate, I will read it. And it will be hilarious. This collection will be out in May. Mark your calendar.

 

 

 

 

 

30107561Perfect Little World, by Kevin Wilson. In his new novel, Wilson introduces us to Isabelle Poole, a pregnant teen who agrees to raise her child in an experimental collective called The Infinite Family. I enjoyed Wilson’s quirky style and compassionate voice in his debut novel, The Family Fang.

 

 

 

 

30268062Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. It’s his debut novel, but George Saunders’s achievements in nonfiction are many. The story is about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the beginning of the Civil War. And, as if this doesn’t sound interesting enough, there are ghosts!

 

 

31941884The Light We Lost, by Jill Santopolo. The Light We Lost is described as One Day meets Me Before You with an unforgettable ending. I’m fortunate to have an advance reader’s copy of this novel, set to release in May.

 

 

 

 

32616120Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay. I can’t think of an American writer whose work is more relevant and more poignant right now. Difficult Women is a collection of short stories all centered around—you guessed it— “difficult” women.

 

 

 

 

29974618The Mothers, by Brit Bennett. A number of you have had great things to say about this novel: the lovely, lyrical prose, the way the story unfolds over the course of a decade, the implications of living with the decisions made by our younger selves. Really looking forward to this one.

 

 

If you’re wondering, like I am, how you’re going to get through the stack of books on your list, check out Nina Badzin’s six tips for How to Read More Books This Year.

What books are you looking forward to reading? I’m always looking for recommendations. 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

Be Your Own Hero

If you’ve been a writer for more than five minutes, no doubt you’ve been introduced to Joseph Campbell’s work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (If not, consider this your introduction. You’re welcome.) Campbell combines psychology with mythology to uncover the connections between folk tales told in different cultures across human history.

Through his research, Campbell found a standard set of archetypes in myths told around the world. In short, stories unfold in similar ways, no matter where they originated, because humans find these story structures the most satisfying. Storytellers have used these techniques for millennia.

So we writers often follow the Hero’s Journey for our characters, but what about ourselves? From time to time, we find ourselves mired in doubt and fear; we second guess; we lose our way. It can be difficult to summon the courage to keep typing, and it is sooo much easier to settle down to a Gilmore Girls marathon on Netflix with a bowl of chips and guacamole. (I’m just guessing.)

32964445A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to attend a talk by author, editor, and coach Kendra Levin. She knows a thing or two about helping writers be confident and stay calm. In her new book, The Hero Is You, Kendra suggests that we can embark on the Hero’s Journey by placing ourselves as the hero of our own story. I’ve never thought about myself as the hero of my own story. Have you?

How can I apply this to my writing life? Heroes protect, serve, and sacrifice.

  • Protect: My time, my ideas.
  • Serve: The greater purpose, what I am trying to say to the world through my writing.
  • Sacrifice: Gilmore Girls may have to wait.

It helps to create a realistic framework for how heroes do this.

  • Goals:
    • Track your progress. For me, this could mean meeting a certain word count each day or simply ensuring I work on my writing projects daily.
    • Break your journey into manageable chunks. It’s daunting to look at my WIP and think about how many pages I have yet to write. Having a separate document for each chapter makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something.
    • Reward yourself for each milestone. Maybe I’ll watch the first episode of Gilmore Girls.
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses:
    • Strength: I’m a morning person. Get up early, get words on the page.
    • Weakness: Oh, there is something called Gilmore Girls on Netflix?
  • Allies:
    • Find your tribe. Frodo had Samwise, Luke Skywalker had Han Solo, and Lorelai had Rory. I have a dedicated and intrepid writing group. (They are terrific, and I’m not just saying that in case they read this.)

 

kendra-levin-e1484057335875

At the end of her talk, Kendra asked us two questions:

  1. What is one small step you can make in the next week to work toward your goal?
  2. What step could make the biggest impact?

I really didn’t do Kendra’s book justice in this small space. The Hero Is you: Sharpen Your Focus, Conquer Your Demons, and Become the Writer You Were Born to Be delves into the different archetypes of  the Hero’s Journey and how that relates to your writing journey. You’ll find lots of encouragement and camaraderie within the pages. 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

 

Seventh Annual Great Books to Give…and Get

Books make great gifts. If you’ve got a long list of people to buy for this holiday season and no idea what to get them, here are a few suggestions from books I enjoyed this year.

 

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik BlackmanFor the curmudgeon in your life: A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Blackman. A charming book about a sourpuss who will win your heart! The author, Fredrik Blackman, has the ability to take serious subjects (death, suicide, OCD) and relate them in such a matter-of-fact way that they are not off-putting or used for shock value. Backman treats the issues and the characters with kindness. I was rooting for Ove from page one. A Man Called Ove redefines family and shows us the power of connection. I’m looking forward to reading other novels by Fredrik Blackman. Any suggestions on which one to pick up next?

 

The Gentleman, by Forrest LeoFor anyone who likes P.G. Wodehouse sprinkled with a little Noel Coward: The Gentleman, by Forrest Leo. Even if you’re not familiar with Wodehouse’s Jeeves books, just know that this one is a fun, hilarious farce. The basic premise: Lionel Savage, a poet and once-wealthy nobleman, finds himself short on cash and decides to marry Vivien Lancaster for her money. A few months into his marriage, he is disenchanted with Vivien and horrified to learn the poetry muse has left him…so he makes a deal with the devil. His ever-vigilant butler, Simmons, is there to help Lionel extricate himself from the steady stream of problems he creates.

 

 

Before the Fall, by Noah HawleyFor those who want a page-turner: Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley.  A small plane crashes off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard and only two survive: a down-on-his-luck painter and a boy, the son of a wealthy television network executive. Did the plane crash by chance? Or was there something more sinister at work? It’s difficult to say too much about the plot without giving away any surprises. The author did a solid job of dropping hints so that you are sure any number of characters could have been responsible for the plane crash. The story alternates between each character’s point of view so you can see how desperate each person is to hold onto the ideas he or she values most. Sometimes it was downright frustrating and agonizing to witness the lengths to which some characters were willing to twist a tragedy into their own personal gain. A great page-turner!

 

Lab Girl, by Hope JahrenFor those who love to dig in the dirt or read about people who do: Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren. After reading Lab Girl, I will never look at trees the same way again. Respected scientist Hope Jahren gave me a new appreciation of these silent but knowing inhabitants of our planet. She has dedicated her professional (and one could argue her personal) life to furthering our understanding of the flora that is crucial to life as we know it. But this book isn’t all about trees. It’s also about Jahren’s life as a scientist, which can be a difficult road for a woman leading her own lab. I liked the structure of this memoir—personal reflections interspersed with informative science. Jahren does a lovely job of putting words to her emotions as in this one memorable passage: “I navigated the confusing and unstable path of being what you are while knowing it’s more than people want to see.” While this memoir is ostensibly about the path to becoming a scientist, it’s really about finding your tribe (even if that is only one other person), perseverance, and following your curiosity—universal desires to which many of us can relate.

 

Atlas ObscuraFor those who have wanderlust in the weird: Atlas Obscura, by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, Dylan Thuras. “Inspiring equal parts wonder and wanderlust, Atlas Obscura celebrates over 600 of the strangest and most curious places in the world.” Yes, please! This book revels in the weird, the unexpected, the overlooked, the hidden, and the mysterious. From the dazzling glowworm caves in New Zealand to eccentric bone museums in Italy, every page expands your sense of how strange and marvelous the world really is.Just flipping through this book was a delight. The compelling descriptions! The illustrations! The photos! The charts! I’m using a lot of exclamation points because this book is that cool! I can’t think of a better gift for a creative person to be inspired.

 

Becoming Wise, by Krista TippettFor those who want a grounded and fiercely hopeful vision of humanity: Becoming Wise, by Krista Tippett. Krista Tippett is an accomplished conversationalist. She has interviewed the most extraordinary voices examining the great questions of meaning for our time, but her gift is knowing how to listen and expand the dialogue. From conversations with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to poet Naomi Shihab Nye to Nobel physicist Frank Wilczek, she aims to meet the world where it really is, and then to make it better.I came away from this book with a feeling of resilience and redemption, two words that seem to define her perspective. The book, like her podcast, is a master class in living in the 21st century. And if you haven’t yet listened to Krista Tippett’s podcast, “On Being,” do yourself a favor and go through the archives now.

 

Stories of Your Life, by Ted ChiangFor those who like character-driven science fiction: Stories of Your Life, by Ted Chiang. Disclaimer: I’m not an avid science fiction reader, but I loved this collection of short stories for the way Ted Chiang is able to use science to explore deeper questions about human nature. He asks the question every good writer (and perhaps scientist) asks: what if… What if men built a tower from earth to heaven—and broke through to heaven’s other side? What if we discovered that the fundamentals of mathematics were arbitrary and inconsistent? What if exposure to an alien language forever changed our perception of time? And as with any good story, the answers are never cut and dried. I was often left wondering about the phrase “perception is reality.”  One of the stories is the basis for the new movie “Arrival.”

 

Siracusa, by Delia EphronFor those who demand compelling, if not entirely likable characters: Siracusa, by Delia Ephron. Siracusa is the story of what happens to two couples on vacation in Italy. By the end of their short stay, events have occurred which will change their relationships forever—but maybe not in the way that you might expect.  Delia Ephron does a marvelous job in drawing well-rounded and believable characters. The four main characters (with each chapter alternating in first person among them) are crafted with precision. Their flaws and blind spots are apparent immediately. I feel I know them better than they know themselves. Have you ever felt conflicted about a novel even months after finishing it? I found it difficult to root for any of the  characters, mired as they were in their own shameless self-contemplation (and often self-congratulation). The very fact that I wanted to finish the book despite not finding any redeeming qualities in the characters is a testament to Delia Ephron’s skill as a writer. I’d be very interested to hear if you feel the same about Finn, Taylor, Lizzie, and Michael.

 

The Genius of Birds, by Jennifer AckermanFor the nature lover: The Genius of Birds, by Jennifer Ackerman. After reading this book, you’ll never use the term “bird brain” again—unless you’re using it as a compliment!  There’s the Clark’s nutcracker, a bird that can hide as many as 30,000 seeds over dozens of square miles and remember where it put them several months later, and the New Caledonian crow, the chimpanzee of the bird world, that makes its own tools. While some birds may not have traditional “book smarts,” they have “street smarts” in that they are able to negotiate complex social networks. They deceive and manipulate. They eavesdrop. They display a strong sense of fairness. They give gifts. They share. They summon witnesses to the death of a peer. All of these cool and interesting facts would have just floated by me if it were not for Jennifer Ackerman’s excellent storytelling abilities. She writes about avian intelligence in a clear, conversational style that kept me engaged to the last page.

 

Looking for more Great Books to Give and Get? Check out the previous lists: 20152014, 2013201220112010

What are some of your favorite books from 2016? Share in comments. 

Great New Books

I think the vast majority of books I’ve read in the past few years have come to my attention through personal recommendations. I rely on their honest opinions to help me select my next read. There are too many great new books to waste time reading bad books.

One site that I have been following since its inception five years ago is Great New Books. This site is a collective of 10 bloggers who take turns recommending a new book every Wednesday. They only review books they love, and, in turn, I have been introduced to many authors and books that otherwise would have escaped my notice. They have lengthened my TBR list considerably.

Today I have the distinct pleasure of offering my recommendation over at Great New Books. This summer novel will whisk you away to an island paradise with a family whose vacation turns out to be something short of bliss. Please join me there for my recommendation and a full archive of other Great New Books!