Librarians always know the best books to read, and Nancy Pearl, Librarian of the Year in 2011, and NPR commentator and book reviewer, combined her recommendations into a book – Book Lust. Published in 2003, I am just getting to it, and making my list from it. Pearl has written a few sequels since then but this is a good place to start.
The book chapters are organized alphabetically by theme from “My Name is Alice” (authors) to “Zen Buddism” and “Zero,” and I started by skipping around, landing on “Magical Realism, Intriguing Novels, and First Lines to Remember.” Ultimately, I just flipped through all the pages, taking notes as I went, looking for new reads, and gratified when I came across a familiar title I had read.
Here are a few for my to-read list:
Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night uses a reunion at Oxford as the setting for an academic mystery without a murder.
John Banville’s The Untouchable is based on Sir Anthony Blunt, art historian, Keeper of the Queen’s Pictures, and one of the infamous group of Cambridge spies.
Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams tells about Cosi Noline, who comes home to Arizona to find an ill father, complications in love, and a town facing an environmental threat.
Pearl includes a separate section – “One Hundred Good Reads, Decade By Decade,” from 1900 to 1990s; the book includes an overwhelming list of titles with separate sections for her favorite authors, including Barbara Pym and Gore Vidal. It’s impossible not to find something to read.
What I’ve Read and Enjoyed Lately – but not Reviewed
The Paris Library by Janet Charles – based on the true story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris during World War II
Dream Girl by Laura Lippman – Another thriller from the author of “Lady in the Lake.” With traces of Rear Window, this is a page turner.
The Vixen by Francine Prose – Although it’s been almost seventy years since Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for espionage, Anne Sebba’s biography on Ethel Rosenberg recently brought the story back into view. Francine Prose brings her fictionalized and somewhat askew version of Ethel Rosenberg into her new novel The Vixen. Maria Semple , one of my favorite authors, calls it ” a rollicking trickster of a novel, wondrously funny and wickedly addictive.”
I found an old crossword from a Children’s Literature class I taught in a former life. The clues reminded me of some of my favorites. The crossword has 32 Across and 29 Down, but how about I give you the answers to ten of them, and you supply the question.
Her surname is Quimby and she is the delightful heroine of a series of books, some set in the 1980s.
The bull who prefers “smelling the roses” to fighting in 1936 book by Munro Leaf.
Mouse dentist who fools fox patient in this 1982 Newbery Honor book.
French mouse who works in a cheese factory.
With the last name of Longstocking, this Swedish tomboy appeared in a 1950 novel.
The adventures of a little girl who lives in a Paris boarding school in 1939.
First name of the orphan girl sent to live at Green Gables.
A young tiger who finally blooms under the watchful eye of his concerned parents.
Number of cats the old couple had in this 1928 picture book.
The title of the 2021 winner of the Caldecott Medal.
If you can’t get them all, here’s your crib sheet – the answers in no particular order:
Some habits might be good to recover, post vaccine – walking a few more blocks to hear the end of a story or driving another mile to hear the next chapter on audio. This year’s list of audiobook winners from the Audio Publishers Association has a few I may listen to, but also gave me some ideas for books I may order online to read.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke won Audiobook of the Year. When I asked my local librarian about it, she said she “liked it but it is different.” Piranesi is a fantasy novel by English author Susanna Clarke, her second novel and her first since her debut Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, published sixteen years earlier. It’s about wizardry and magic, and Ron Charles for the Washington Post says “Susanna Clarke’s infinitely clever ‘Piranesi’ is enough to make you appreciate life in quarantine – about a man trapped forever indoors…” Sounds deliciously weird, and I plan to try reading it.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo and Melania-Luisa Marte, won both the 2021 Young Adult Audie Award and the Multi-Voiced Performance Award. The title is intriguing and this novel, in verse, about two sisters losing their father, their hero, and finding each other along the way, caught my interest. Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam champion, and she won a National Book Award for her first book, The Poet X.
A Very Punchable Face by Colin Yost of SNL fame won the Humor award.
The Push by Ashley Audrain – nothing like listening to a psychological thriller. This one follows a new mom, Blythe Connor, whose concerns about her children are repeatedly dismissed—until a devastating incident sends the entire family reeling.
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel – five members of a family that left their roots in Colombia for a better life in the U.S., only to be met with an entire new set of challenges with being undocumented in this country. Written by Patricia Engel, a daughter of Colombian immigrants.
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner – with a trio of narrators, flipping back and forth between the 18th century, when a London apothecary sold poison to women solely to be used on men, to the present, as a young historian finds herself tracking down a series of clues to solve the infamous centuries-old “apothecary murders.”
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid – author of Daisy Jones and the Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. This story follows follows four famous siblings over the span of one all-night, ultimately disastrous party.
Although Hawaii has its pluses, mostly the weather, I’ve never found my tribe here. Only two places have ever felt like home – Pennsylvania and Paris. And Paris is always a good idea.
The last time I was in Paris, someone asked me for directions, thinking I was local and, of course, not knowing about my directional dysfynction. I held my head high, sometimes literally lost, looking for Rue Cler until the smells of the vendors drew me there. I never minded being lost in Paris.
Since Dr. Fauci still recommends staying off planes even after getting the vaccine, Paris in person is not an option. Pennsylvania may take a while too, but that is easier to forego.
Vicariously going to Paris is easy; there are so many books. What are your favorites?
Although my tastes these days tend toward feel good stories, and I’ve forgotten about checking on all the award winners this year or grabbing new publications as soon as available, I am still always looking for a good book to take me away from reality.
Fiona Davis took me to the New York City Library and favorite neighborhoods I wonder if I will ever see again in The Lions of Fifth Avenue. An historical novel framed around a series of book thefts spans two generations of women as they navigate family and careers. With a smattering of women’s rights and a big dose of family drama, the story is easy to follow and with a read-it-in-a-setting vibe. It was a Valentine’s present to me through Libby, the library’s email guru, after a friend recommended it. If you are a lover of New York City, a lover of libraries, or just want to escape into the stacks again, The Lions of Fifth Avenue will satisfy.
William Kent Krueger’s Thunder Bay also has an historical bent, with a suspenseful plot and a taste of the Old West in the seventh book in Krueger’s Cork O’Connell mystery/detective series. Search for a long-lost son mingles with gold in Canada and the Ojibwe tribe in Northern Minnesota. In his style of rich character development and slow moving plot, Krueger gave me a different perspective and a reason to turn the pages. This paperback has been sitting on my shelf, and now Krueger has his eighteenth to be published in August, 2021. I need to catch up.
I’ve preordered a stack of books:
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro The story of Klara, an Artificial Intelligence Friend, who observes behaviors from her shelf in the store, hoping someone will choose her.
Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams The misadventures of a lovelorn Victorian lexicographer and a young woman investigating his adventures a century later.
The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan During World War II, a BBC radio program hold a cooking contest with the grand prize as the program’s first-ever female cohost. Four women vie for the chance to change their lives.
and, in case you are wondering, some of the award winners for 2020 are:
Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown for the National Book Award
Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain for the Man Booker Award
Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet for the Women’s Prize for Fiction
Raven Leilani’s Luster for Center for Fiction First Novel Prize