reading

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! 

Why We Read: To Recognize Ourselves

Literature is an unbreakable bridge…When readers recognize themselves in a writer’s work, you’ve built this unbreakable bridge [between the writer and reader] that is a spiritual connection. ~Cheryl Strayed

The best stories, the most memorable stories, are the ones in which I develop a connection with the main character. I know when this begins to happen because I find myself (gasp) underlining sentences and, if I don’t have a pen handy, turning the corners of pages.

What is this connection? Connection can be a fanciful, dreamy term. Connection, in real life or in the pages of a good book, is recognition. It’s identifying with someone. It’s more than just a clever line or an unusual situation, which is why I rarely find recognition in genre stories where the focus is on the uniqueness of the character’s circumstances, rather than character himself. I can imagine how terrifying it would be to find myself stranded on Mars, but I never saw myself in Mark Watney.

That’s not to say that a character’s personality or circumstances should mirror my own. Recognition doesn’t need to come in the literary equivalent of a mini-me. In fact, the most poignant moments are when I see glimpses of myself in characters vastly different from me. Lily Bart in The House of Mirth. Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Eilis Lacey in Brooklyn. Mary Sutter in My Name Is Mary Sutter. These characters have lives that are nothing like mine, yet I feel that connection.

Seldon pushed his hat back and took a side glance at her. “Success—what is success? I shall be interested to have your definition.”

“Success?” She [Lily Bart] hesitated. “Why, to get as much out of life as one can, I suppose. It’s a relative quality after all.”

The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton

I found that recognition most recently in Alice Pearse in A Window Openswho is desperately trying to find a work/life balance. This is from Lorraine’s review at Enchanted Prose:

Alice, though, is an optimistic soul, so when she/“employee #305” enters her minimalist, impersonal white workplace she translates “stark” into “elegant.” Keep in mind she’s also an independent soul…who is determined to succeed. Fear of failure, a potent yet misguided motivator.

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Alice feels personal, familiar. And I feel validated and acknowledged. I am seen, even though I may be alone in the room. I think this is what we mean when we say that we really like a character, and why it’s so difficult to continue reading a story with unlikeable characters.

I’m currently reading a novel with multiple alternating points of view. One of the characters, Willa, is instantly recognizable to me. The other points of view character, not so much. That’s not to say they aren’t wonderfully written characters—dynamic and interesting—just that I don’t have that special connection. I spend a lot of those chapters hoping that I’ll be getting back to Willa soon. I think this may often be the case in multiple point of view stories. The characters are in direct competition with each other for the reader’s attention. Readers may not get enough “page time” with any one character to develop this deep connection. Or they don’t like one of the point of view characters.

That deep recognition doesn’t happen in every book. It can be a bit elusive like chasing the Loch Ness monster, but when it does, it feels like that unbreakable bridge.

 

 

Have you had  that deep recognition with any characters?

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The One with the Summer Reads

Long gone are the days when summer meant freedom to spend hours listening to my Walkman with the most difficult decision being what time to take a dip in the pool. So when I pick up a summer book, I like to keep things light. Fun setting, interesting characters, thoughtful plot, but nothing that distresses me as a reader.

Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project, by Graeme  What fun! Highly intelligent, socially awkward Don Tillman is associate professor at a university genetics department. (Reminding me of Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory.) Don is looking for a wife, and he decides to go about it in a very methodical way. He develops a very thorough questionnaire, but gets nowhere. Enter Rosie. She’s “not suitable” as Don would say. She meets none of his criteria. But, as a friend, he decides to help her find her biological father since he has extensive knowledge of DNA testing. Romance and hilarity ensue. If you’re taking a long car ride this summer, this is a perfect choice as an audio book.

Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin. Admittedly I’m a sucker for novels about bookstores and bookstore owners, but A.J. Fikry is my favorite to date. I wanted to pack my bags and move to Alice Island. While I loved the bookstore and island setting, the characters are the most memorable part of the story. Even the minor characters are endearing and charming. They feel like people you might know. This was a book I couldn’t wait to get back to and I find myself thinking about the characters long after I finished.

The VacationersThe Vacationers, by Emma Straub. The Posts and their friends are off for two weeks in Mallorca. It should be the vacation of a lifetime — Franny and Jim are celebrating their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, Sylvia is off to Brown in the fall — except things are not going well for anyone. But when seven people stay in the cottage for fourteen days secrets and old hurts are going to bubble to the surface. How much information each character chooses to reveal and what they choose to keep hidden and how they choose to reveal the secrets of the others in the house kept me hooked. The opening pages are a bit slow, but stick with it — you’ll be rewarded!

Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. Recently retired, sweet, emotionally numb Harold Fry is jolted out of his passivity by a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend, who he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. She has written to say she is in hospice and wanted to say goodbye. Leaving his tense, bitter wife Maureen to her chores, Harold intends a quick walk to the corner mailbox to post his reply but instead, inspired by a chance encounter, he becomes convinced he must deliver his message in person to Queenie–who is 600 miles away–because as long as he keeps walking, Harold believes that Queenie will not die.

2 AM at the cat's pajamas2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas, by Marie-Helene Bertino. True, this story takes place on Christmas Eve Eve, but nonetheless it’s a great summer read. Madeline Altimari is a smart and independent nine-year-old girl who just wants to sing. She’s not allowed to sing at the school pageant and she’s determined to get to The Cat’s Pajamas to make her stage debut. I loved Madeline’s sassiness. Sarina Greene, her teacher. is recently divorced and, despite her better judgment, accepts an invitation to a dinner party, where she knows she’ll run into her former flame. The dinner party scene was one of my favorites in this book. Then across town, at The Cat’s Pajamas, Lorca is about to lose his club. The fines from numerous violations of city codes are mounting and he doesn’t have the money to pay his debts. This was an entertaining and light read.

And two I plan to read this summer: 

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee. I can’t technically recommend this because it doesn’t release until July, but this has to be the most highly anticipated book of the summer. The story picks up 20 years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird as Scout returns to Maycomb and her father, Atticus. From the jacket copy: “Scout struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her.” Originally written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman was the novel Harper Lee first submitted to her publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird.

Little Paris BookshopThe Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George. Okay, another novel about a bookstore. But a bookstore — on a barge — on the Seine? Yes, please. Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened. Releases in June 2015.

Any summer reads you’d recommend? Share in the comments. 

The One with the Books of My Life

Books help me live a passionate life. I’m surrounded by them all day, every day. I have stacks of books on my nightstand, on my office bookshelves, in my backpack. On weekends, I spend time at the library and in my neighborhood bookstore. I subscribe to newsletters about books and follow bloggers who write about books. And I never tire of them. It’s one of the few interests I have that has spanned most of my life. So I was intrigued by a popular magazine’s feature story about how hobbies can define our lives. Insert your hobby and think about how you would you answer these questions.

 

My favorite childhood booksNancy Drew
The Nancy Drew series. A girl detective. Right on!

A book I read in secret
Judy Blume’s Forever. There was one contraband copy in my school, which was passed around with all the “important” pages dogeared for easy reference. Now, of course, that book is tamer than a Robin Thicke video.

The books I’ve read over and over
I return to these books because I learn something new each time I read them, but more specifically I learn something new about myself.  Walden, by Henry David Thoreau.  To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. “Song of Myself,” by Walt Whitman

A classic I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read
Oh good Lord, but Moby-Dick. I’ve tried. I really have. But the moment after I read “Call me Ishmael” I close the cover. Every time.

A book I consider to be overrated
I hate to call any book overrated. Some books just don’t speak to me personally (see: Moby-Dick), but they still have value. But if you’re going to twist my arm: Ulysses. I wonder what all the fuss is about. I know. I’m in the minority.

brooklyn, by Colm Toibin

 

The books I wish I’d written
Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin. His prose is clean and straight-forward. Each word is so carefully chosen. He’s not pulling any gimmicky funny business. And yet… it’s riveting. The characters take center stage and their world slowly builds around you while you’re reading. Before you know it, you’re enveloped in it and you don’t even know how it happened. And all I want to know is, how? How does he do it? I’ve got Nora Webster on my shelf and I’m both excited and nervous to open the cover.

 

The novels people might be surprised to learn I love
I enjoy the irreverent Jeeves. I don’t usually go in for slapstick comedy and general buffoonery, but the Jeeves-Wooster combination is pure fun. I highly recommend the audio versions of the Jeeves books. There’s something about the cadence of Wodehouse’s words that are even better when read aloud.

The last book that made me laugh…and the last one that made me cry
Oh, David Sedaris. You had me at hello.

I’ve gotten teary in certain bittersweet sections of Me Before You and Eleanor & Park (both wonderful reads), but I needed to keep a tissue handy for Between Shades of Grayby Ruta Sepetys, a story about keeping hope alive when all else is lost.

My favorite movie versions of books
I’m usually in the book-was-better-than-the-movie camp. That said, I thought The Book Thief, Atonement, and Brokeback Mountain were very good adaptations. Can I list To Kill a Mockingbird again?

What I’m reading right now
Graham Swift’s Booker Prize-winning Last Orders. about four men who are charged with scattering their friend’s ashes at sea. I’m still getting to know the characters

Why I read
Reading is an act of empathy. That’s true of bad vampire fiction and experimental beat prose and Swedish thrillers. It connects us to each other by conversations just like this one through the universality of common human experiences.

“We read to know that we are not alone.” — C.S. Lewis

 

Do you have any lifelong hobbies? How has it defined your life? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The Ones That Have Stayed With Me

Last week, a fun meme was rolling around on social media to list ten books that have stayed with you. Usually the book that is most “with me” is the one I’m reading right now, but the more I thought about it, the longer my list became. Isn’t that what a great book is supposed to do—stay with you? It was hard to narrow this down, but here is my abbreviated list, in no particular order.

 

 

to kill a mockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. For me, this is the definitive book on race relations in the South. I’ve been wanting to reread this one.

 

 

 

 

a walk in the woodsA Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson. Julia Monroe Martin had this book on her list, and I couldn’t agree more. This was my first introduction to Bill Bryson’s writing, and now I’m a Bryson completist. I would read a phone book written by him. He taught me how to take a simple scene (let’s say, oh, walking in the woods) and expand it gently like a ball of dough until it becomes large enough for a pizza crust without tearing.

 

 

 

 

Brooklyn, by Colm ToibinBrooklyn, by Colm Toibin. I know what you’re thinking, but this didn’t make my list just because a good chunk of the story is set in my city. Toibin has a subtlety that so many writers lack and that so many editors try to discourage. Eilis Lacey is a character who sneaks up on you. I found myself not wanting to put this book down and thinking about Eilis even when I wasn’t reading. Then I found myself reading slowly because I didn’t want the story to end. Look for the movie coming out in 2015, screenplay by Nick Hornby.

 

 

 

accidental touristThe Amateur Marriage, or Breathing Lessons, or The Accidental Tourist, or Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant or nearly anything, by Anne Tyler. Talk about subtlety. In an Anne Tyler story, you’ll be hard pressed to describe the plot or the characters because they are so complex, so nuanced, it’s easier to just read the book than to explain it to someone. (Kind of like real life.) You’ll swear that you know people like Macon Leary and Michael and Pauline Anton and Maggie Moran. Because you probably do.

 

 

 

Suite FrancaiseSuite Francaise, by Irene Nemivrosky. This book taught me how to write with compassion and empathy. Nemivrosky died in a concentration camp during WWII. She was writing this as the events of the war unfolded and left the manuscript for her children to discover decades later. Sometimes it takes years to digest such tumultuous events, and it amazes me how she was able to write such evenhanded prose.

 

 

 

bird by birdBird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Thank you, Ms. Lamott, for letting us know that it’s okay to write shitty first drafts, and for reminding us to forge ahead bird by bird. Bonus: The Getaway Car, by Ann Patchett. And thank you, Ms. Patchett for this: “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.”

 

 

 

TransAtlantic, by Colum McCannTransAtlantic, by Colum McCann.  This novel sweeps back and forth in time and points of view, but always with the theme of crossing the Atlantic between North America and Ireland. At first these seem like individual short stories, but Colum McCann weaves the stories together so expertly that coming upon the connection was a delightful a-ha moment.

 

 

 

 

The Age of MiraclesThe Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker. I’m not a big fan of dystopian fiction. Sure the concept might be far-fetched, but it’s also juuussst realistic enough to keep me awake at night.The Age of Miracles poses a very simple question with very complex (and disastrous) answers: What would happen if the earth’s rotation slowed so much that each day became more than 60 hours long? Bonus: The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Double bonus: Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. *shudders*

 

 

 

waldenWalden, by Henry David Thoreau. If you’re a regular around these parts, this one comes as no surprise. “Part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for living simply.”

 

 

 

 

UnbrokenUnbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. If I wrote a novel with exactly the same plot, critics would call it unbelievable, but this is the true story of Louis Zamperini. A track-and-field Olympian enlists in the air force, gets shot down by Japanese planes over the Pacific Ocean, survives months at sea in shark-infested waters only to be rescued by a Japanese navy vessel, is put into a POW camp under atrocious conditions, and years later returns to forgive his captors. On a sad note: Louis Zamperini died this July at age 97.

 

 

 

What are some of your most memorable reads? What are you reading now? 

Have a great weekend, everyone!