Actually, I like reading. But, you know, Netflix. And Instagram. And other mind-numbing activities. Reading seems like it’s good for the brain and the soul. So here’s what I’ve read since I last posted about books.
To the Land of Long Lost Friends:
No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
I am only about one third of the way through To the Land of Long Lost Friends now. I previously read two other Books by Smith. It’s not really my style of literature but he was such a favorite of my stepmother Carolyn, and it reminds me of her and her quirky sense of humor. My copy was a gift from my Dad and it has a sticker on it that says “Politics & Prose, Signed by the Author” which gives me so many feels. #politicsandprose #iheartdc
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
This books was really hard for me to read. I became so invested and emotionally effected by it I almost couldn’t finish it. But it was so well written. And, if she could survive the living of it, I could hopefully survive the reading of it.
The Four Tendencies:
The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better by Gretchen Rubin
I would say this book changed my life. I think everyone should read it. I read it on my Libby app. Because it was a library book, I read it super fast. Whenever I read a self-help type book, it feels like a school assignment and there’s a sense of obligation to get it done (that’s why I’m an Obliger!) Take the online test to find out which of the four tendencies you are. It gave me amazing insight on who I am as well as the motivations of the people I live with!
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
You may know I steer clear of YA, but my good friend Laura recommended this, so I read it. It was pretty good.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Wow, not like anything I’ve ever read before. Quite intense. I studied ancient Greek and Roman mythology in Junior High and High School. I also read the Odyssey (voluntarily) rather recently, so it was fascinating to read a sort of novel told about the gods as if they were people. The writing was rich and challenging and really transported me to a radically different place and time. Recommend.
The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi And Fumitake Koga
My friend Jenny recommended this and I bought it on iBooks. I thought it was going to be a book about setting boundaries, but it really wasn’t. I have to say I thought the format — a Socratic dialogue — very awkward. Maybe it was the translation from the Japanese. It was like, people don’t talk like that. But once I accepted that, I was able to enjoy and benefit from the ideas put forth. Although the concepts weren’t new to me, I loved them! I won’t spoil it for you, but I highly recommend!
Raising a Screen Smart Kid by Julianna Minor
This book has become my parenting bible. Limiting screen time is all my family talks (fights) about! Raising a Screen Smart Kid has helped so much. It is extremely well written (easy to read) and well researched. Oh my god, did Julianna do her homework! I truly answers all the questions. Please, for your sanity and survival, buy this book. Like, now.
The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton
Okay, now a lovely novel. Set in 17th century Amsterdam, it feels a little like Henrik Ibsen’s A Dolls House. I love a good family secrets book. A truly enjoyable literary journey.
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
I read this because my 11 year olds had to for school and I needed to quiz them on it, but I ended up loving it. So interesting. Quite violent. I’m glad I finally read this artfully worded classic based on real events in 1900 Alaska. I downloaded it for free on my iPad.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I swore I’d never read another WWII/Nazi book. This was worth an exception. Two young lives, on opposite sides of a war, ultimately converge. Beautiful described scenes and action.
Lagom by Niki Brantmark
Such a cute little book. I love Swedish design and culture. (I read and loved A Year of Living Danishly.) I’ve followed the blog My Scandinavian Home for a while and knew I’d love this book. I’m also a sucker for great photography and illustration.
Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm
This is one of the books I read to my kids. I got it at the library. Their dad read The Third Mushroom and The Fourteenth Goldfish to them and they loved those, so I thought it would be good. So many kids’ books are a real drag for the parents but this one was enjoyable! It was fairly gritty, kind of a Elmore Leonard vibe. Set in Key West in the depression, it follows a sort of little rascals group of kids who are very resourceful.
Becoming… by Michelle Obama
Not to be political, but I love the Obamas. It was obvious I was going to read this book. How fun to hear her life story, and all the presidenty stuff we already know, from her perspective. You gotta love her. Plus she is amazing in Carpool Karaoke.
So, it’s winter(ish). And that means I’m cozying up alone with books. Here’s the journey where my introversion has taken me.
Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love by Jonathan Van Ness
I got this book for my birthday. I love Queer Eye and so I knew I’d enjoy this. I’m also a sucker for a story of a checkered past. So, yeah. By the time I finished the book, I felt such a strong feeling that Jonathan and I were friends and should chat everyday. Side note: check out Gay of Thrones.
Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown
I started off slow with this one but was glad I stuck it out. It was really good. What’s it like to be a chef kidnapped by pirates? You’re about to find out. Pirates, trade wars, gourmet food prep … could be a current TV show … only it’s 100 years ago.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
I’m proud to say I got this book from the library (and by “got” I mean had it downloaded and then had to wait to have it renewed through my Libby app). This book was so beautiful! The imagery! The mood. I just wanted to BE there. I was there. Creative and original. Highly recommend.
Love Anyway by Jeremy Courtney
I was invited to meet this author and be a part of a making a difference in war-torn places. The evening was amazing and I’m so glad I went. Taking a close up look at the wars in the middle east is not something I frequently or willingly do. The refugee crisis and ever widening violence in this world is just too painful for me to look at. So, reading this was a big step. And it was so worth it.
Have you read any of these books? It’s always interesting to step back and look at what themes I’ve been immersing myself in. Growing up gay in the midwest. Getting kidnapped by pirates. Surviving poverty, abuse and rejection. Facing the worst atrocities as well as your own crisis of faith. Sort of connected. Sometimes our trials and suffering lead to great accomplishments. Sometimes our attempts to escape lead us right back to where we were. But, hopefully our experiences will shape us into something useful and something we can be proud of.
I haven’t read a book this good in a long time. Recommended by my friend Joan, I stuck it out even though I had a hard time getting into it. It’s a very well researched historical fiction that is incredibly interesting. I learned so much. It’s got beautifully developed characters from the 17th century juxtaposed against present day ones, all set in London. The. Best. Book!
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
This was very enjoyable. The subject is a bit dark, but the writing so beautiful, so masterly. It’s like Little House on the Prairie meets All the Pretty Horses. Recommend!
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
I loved Bel Canto—a story about a party, an opera singer, and an international guest list, all taken hostage by guerrillas! Ann is one of my favorite authors. And I’m surprised how varied her books are. Different times, places, subjects that have a very different mood. So good.
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
I read a review of The Mars Room somewhere…and it sounded good. I didn’t get to finish it because I checked it out of the ‘library’ through Libby and my loan ran out before I could read all of it. I’m undecided about whether or not I want to finish it. It’s pretty heavy and maybe not for me. Has anyone else read this?
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Commonwealth is absolutely my kind of book. I love the writing: smart but not too smart, the vivid descriptions that transport you into the story with an interesting time and place and comic/tragic characters and story. Loved it.
Firefly Lane by Kristen Hannah
I really thought I would like Firefly Lane since I loved The Nightingale, but the writing was … painful. It’s the story of two girls/women and how their lives divert but their friendship endures, which sounds like a solid winner but it was so Young Adult and ridiculous I suffered all the way through. Sorry, Kristen. 🙁
Debriefing by Susan Sontag
I don’t even know why I got Debriefing as a gift. I don’t remember putting it on a wish list or ever mentioning that I like Susan Sontag. I’d never read anything by her. This collection of fictional ‘essays’ was said to be unlike her other more well-known work. At first it seemed interesting. It was challenging and odd and artsy and weird which I really appreciated, but parts of it were so out there I couldn’t even understand what I was reading or why. Since it is a collection of very different stories I could put it down for long stretches while I read other things. I finally pushed through to the end and hoped it was somehow character-building. I will say it was a good antidote to the mind-numbing boredom of suburban existence.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Well, actually, I read Wonder to my kids, but I’m including it because it was really good.
Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
I read Codependent No More because someone recommended it to me recently and as I was about to say I already read it (in like 1994) I realized I might not have read more than the title page… So I decided to get it and actually find out what it says. This should probably be required reading in schools.
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Manhattan Beach had everything in it to be a good read: female protagonist, 1940s NYC, family secrets, mobsters, diving… yes, diving, but, it fell flat. I couldn’t understand why it didn’t feel like it ever ‘took off’. I had to read some reviews so I could understand why it was problematic and realize it wasn’t just me. I wanted to like it more but had to work to get through it.
Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Golden Son was delightful and I highly recommend it. You may think, I don’t have a great interest or love of Indian culture, but I don’t think that should stop you. It’s a story of two people from India with very different life paths and it was such a page turner. So beautiful.
Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton
This surprised me. It seemed like it would be sad, not a good summer read but I really liked it. The language was so effortless—if that makes any sense. An astronomer stranded in the Arctic, an astronaut possibly stranded in space. A beautifully articulated book about loneliness and connection. It’s funny because I have this irrational fear of struggling to survive in extreme cold. I don’t know why. I can’t watch any movies about Everest or anything like that. I also get very stressed out when I think about being lost in space. We recently watch the reboot of Lost in Space on Netflix and I barely made it through. I’m also not a fan of the idea of the world ending. Probably just me.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towels
Oh my gosh! I loved this book. It’s long but so good. It got me through the winter. I did a lot of reading it in the bath. It’s about a man, obviously, who in is put under lifetime house arrest at a hotel in the center of Moscow beginning in 1922 when he is a young man. I thought, what could happen while confined to one building that could be at all interesting? SO MUCH. This is my favorite book since The Goldfinch.
Night of the Animals by Bill Broun
This is Animal Farm meets 12 Monkeys. Broun is American but has lived in England and some of the language is so English it hurt my brain. But seriously, I really enjoyed this book and found it extra fascinating because I actually know the author. This futuristic epic tale follows Cuthbert’s mental illness which drives him to release the animals in the London Zoo while a second protagonist, policewoman Astrid, with similar mental health challenges is charged with stopping him. I love when two character’s destinies converge.
The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell
I love Scandinavian culture, so this account of a British transplant dealing with the culture shock of moving to Denmark was a two-fer. A completely separate tangent, but this led to me watching the fabulous series Hjørdis and then Rita on Netflix.
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Having already read The Secret Keeper, I knew I would love this book which unravels the mystery of a little girl who travels alone by boat from England to Australia. The story line has us bouncing back and forth between present and past — 1900, 1913, 1975 and 2005. It is reminiscent of The Secret Garden, which I read and loved when I was little, but goes much deeper into complex family dynamics and history. I was so incredibly hooked. My favorite read all summer. (Note: I found this book in a little free library in Carversville, PA so double win!)
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
I grabbed this book one day at the library because I was heading to do one of these really-fun-for-the-kids-really-boring-for-the-moms thing and needed a book to read while they played. I’m trying to not be that person on their phone who’s ignoring everyone. I feel way cooler reading a book and ignoring people and this somewhat controversial title seemed like the perfect way to do that, so extra points for me.
I was somewhat unprepared for how heavy it would get. I should have known. But what an amazing story. So worth reading.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
I get a lot of recommendations from my aunt Cindy and she thought this one was so good and thought I would love it so much that she ordered it on Amazon for me. We were talking about it at the Memorial Day picnic and the next thing I knew it was in my mailbox.
An epic page turner, told from the point of view of two french women living through WWII. I mean, I knew the war was bad but this made me feel like I personally lived it. And I gotta tell you, I was so mad at the Germans. The author really drives home the indignities endured, like having their priceless paintings taken and not having any coffee. Brutal.
But seriously, everyone should read this. It felt so significant to me at this time in our country’s history.
The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich
This book. It didn’t look that interesting at first. I couldn’t remember where I got it. Then I remembered: I read a review about it (probably in Marie Claire or Elle), put it on my Amazon wish list and then my lovely sister Missy bought it for me for my birthday. I finally go around to reading it. The initial plot is rich and dark and draws you in, but then it’s like a story within a story. It was so interesting, so unlike anything I’ve ever read. I won’t tell you anything else. Just read it.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
The book takes place in the 1960s, in the south. Our beloved Scout is an adult now and visits her home town from New York City. The unrest of the Civil Rights movement is rising and she is confronted by some unpleasant attitudes toward blacks.
There are some rich, descriptive flashbacks to her childhood, robust character development and the creative and insightful writing style that Harper Lee is known for. I wish she had written more books during her life. I felt a connection to her or maybe to Jean Louise and enjoyed spending time with her.
Is it a good book? I don’t know. If you don’t compare it to Mockingbird? Maybe. I’m glad I read it. In the end I learned a great lesson. A lesson about myself and my convictions and confronting things that are unpleasant. With the political climate right now and the ideologies I encounter living where I do, it couldn’t have come at a better time.