Books You Can Skip and A Few to Keep

Although my inclination is to not publish reviews of books I did not like, I seem to have collected quite a few lately.  Just because I did not find these books compelling does not mean you won’t.  The first is by an author I follow and usually anticipate reading, the second is a classic with history painfully repeating itself in the present, and the third is from LibraryReads –  the site with picks from library staff nationwide.

The Confession Club by Elizabeth Berg

A group of women have regular meetings to reveal secrets and offer support to each other. Although reviewers have called the book uplifting, I found it disappointing and tiresome.  Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for angst and empathy.

 

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

This classic came to me by way of Libby, our library’s online service.  At first, I laughed at the ridiculous scenarios, until they came too close to current political reality.  Although Lewis was targeting the 1930s American government, I found a 2017 essay in the New York Times titled “Reading the Classic Novel That Predicted Trump.”  Sadly, history does repeat itself.

Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson

Liar, liar, pants on fire!  In Wilson’s book ten year old twins can spontaneously burst into fire, burning everything around them but not themselves.  Lillian is summoned by her former class mate Madison to act as their nursemaid, while Madison prepares her husband to become the next Secretary of State. Although the story line is outlandish, Wilson’s symbolism is hard to miss, and the snarky comments on parenting and politics are contemporary.  I read the whole book, wishing it would burst into flames.

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

If you read all sixteen chapters of Walker’s information dense material, it may actually put you to sleep – as you are reading it.  The author gives you his permission:  “Please, feel free to ebb and flow into and out of consciousness during this entire book. I will take absolutely no offense. On the contrary, I would be delighted.”  Go straight to the Appendix – “Twelve Tips for Healthy Sleep” with reminders you have probably read elsewhere: stick to a sleep schedule, exercise, avoid caffeine, alcohol, and large meals before bed, and one I often apply – “If you find yourself still awake after staying in bed more than twenty minutes, get up and do {something}.”

 

Keeper Books:

Dumpty: The Age of Trump in Verse by John Lithgow

Best Christmas present ever,  Lithgow’s satirical poems are hilarious.  The targets include anyone connected to the American President, from Rudy Giulianio to Betsy DeVos, with Lithgow’s line drawings adding to the fun. In her review for the New York Journal of Books, Judith Reveal notes: “A prolific writer and award-winning actor, Lithgow has penned a laugh-out-loud picture of American politics at its worst. And yet, through the laughter comes a sense of despair.”  

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

Cartoonist and illustrator Charlie Mackesy’s children’s book for adults is probably one you should give as a present to someone. When I read about it, I gifted it to myself, and now am reluctant to part with it. One of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Is your glass half empty or half full?” asked the mole. “I think I’m grateful to have a glass,” said the boy.  

The Shortest Day

Perhaps you won’t notice but the sun will appear later and disappear earlier today. The winter solstice on December 21st is the shortest day of the year. In a short poem Newbery Medal winner Susan Cooper explains the magic of the day in a picture book with illustrations by Caldecott Honor winner Carson Ellis.

The Shortest Day, written for a theatrical production by the Christmas Revels based at Harvard University’s annual celebration and performed in nine cities across America, may be a children’s picture book but its message of hope and peace is for everyone. Cooper explains at the end of the book how “this celebration of the light (is) a symbol of continuing life” across all religious observances from Christmas to Chanukah and many other faiths.

She ends the poem with…

“This shortest day

As promise wakens in the sleeping land.

They carol, feast, give thanks,

And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.

And so do we, here, now,

This year, and every year.

Welcome Yule!    

Smile – It’s Christmas

My favorite irreverent poem for Christmas Eve is Shel Silverstein’s Christmas Dog. Read it again – here.

Looking for inspiration, I found another short popular poem by Silverstein:

Unknown“i made myself a snowball
As perfect as can be.
I thought I’d keep it as a pet,
And let it sleep with me.
I made it some pajamas
And a pillow for it’s head.
Then last night it ran away,
But first – It wet the bed.”

And…another poem from a favorite author, Phyllis McGinley:

Office Party

This holy night in open forum
     Miss Mcintosh, who handles Files,
Has lost one shoe and her decorum.
     Stately, the frozen chairman smiles

On Media, desperately vocal.
     Credit, though they have lost their hopes
Of edging toward an early Local,
     Finger their bonus envelopes.

The glassy boys, the bursting girls
    Of Copy, start a Conga clatter
To a swung carol.  Limply curls
     The final sandwich on the platter

Till hark!  a herald Messenger
     (Room 414) lifts loudly up
His quavering tenor.  Salesmen stir
     Libation for his Lily cup.

“Noel,” he pipes, “Noel, Noel.”
     Some wag beats tempo with a ruler.
And the plump blonde from Personnel
     Collapses by the water cooler. 

And, finally,  a lovely one to dream on by Walter de la Mare:

UnknownMistletoe

Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.
Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen—and kissed me there.

Unknown

 

Three Audible Notes from Old New Yorkers

My New Yorker pile may sit for months, even years, but I usually find something between the old covers.  Although I was looking for suggestions for audible books, I did not expect to get ideas from an article on Willa Cather or Adam Gopnik’s 2017 review of Ron Chernow’s historical biography, Grant.

Gopnik’s review of Chernow’s Grant did not inspire me to read the book; I’ll wait for the Broadway musical.  But his reference to “the funniest thing ever written about Grant…James Thurber’s “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox,” led me to the Thurber collection – The James Thurber Audio Collection, read by Keith Olbermann.  Thurber is one of my favorite humorists; I still have a copy of The Thurber Carnival from my college days.51X6jSZbZBL._SL500_

If laughter is healing, this is great medicine.  The first essay – “There’s No Place Like Home” – first published in the New Yorker in 1937 – had me laughing through Thurber’s interpretation of a French-English Dictionary for travelers.  Who knew how funny it could be to hear a translation for asking for directions.  For my adventure loving travelers, the next story is called “The Bear Who Let It Alone.”  I’m looking forward to all the other twenty-two stories.

51BroN3HRXL._SL500_  Touted as the book Cather considered her best, Death Comes to the Archbishop, was the focus of Mary Duenwald’s essay on a trip to New Mexico for a 2007 essay in the New York Times Travel section – Entering The world of Will Cather’s Archbishop.  The story follows

“Cather’s portrayal of Jean Marie Latour (her fictional name for the real-life bishop, John Baptist Lamy) paints a complicated but very romantic picture of New Mexico in the mid-19th century, just after its annexation to the United States…her book provides a realistic account of the bishop’s efforts to replace the lawless and profligate Spanish priests of the territory, his visits to a beloved Navajo chief, his friendship with the Old West explorer Kit Carson and his dream of building a cathedral in Santa Fe.”

51CXbQEFAXL._SL500_Dan Chiasson’s essay on Emaily Dickinson focused on a 2017 publication of the Envelope Poems, a small book similar to the handmade books the poet made as gifts.  Some of her poems, later found on backs of used envelopes, are included in the selection. Because the Envelope Poems include actual transcriptions of Dickinson’s handwriting, with facsimiles of her layout and her process (crossings-out, substitutions, etc.), the book is to seen more than heard.  However, reading the article – Emily Dickinson’s Singular Scrap Poetry – gave me a better understanding of the poet, and had me thinking how nice it would be to listen to some of her poetry.

Audible has several possibilities, one with a collection – Fifty Poems by Emily Dickinson read by Jill Eikenberry, Nancy Kwan, Melissa Manchester, Jean Smart, Sharon Stone, Meryl Streep, and Alfre Woodard – a 44 minute respite.

I’m listening…

 

The Twelve Books of Christmas

Unknown   Despite the song, the real twelve days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and continue through the eve of the Epiphany (Twelfth Night). But the countdown to Christmas may start as early as December 1st if you have an Advent Calendar and sometimes right after Halloween in shopping malls.

With twelve days left, here is a short list of Christmas themed books you might have missed.

  • Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Leviathan

What would you do if you found a notebook in the stacks of a New York City bookstore with a mysterious note, challenging you to solve a mystery?  In this young adult book, the authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist create a quirky and delightful story combining a love of books with teenage first love.

Lily, an avid reader and dog walker, has written a set of clues and challenges in a red notebook and left it on her favorite bookstore shelf hoping for the right guy to find it.  Dash (short for Dashiell), a lover of books and yogurt, finds the notebook and they begin passing it between them with clues, sometimes literary, leading each to new places and experiences around the city during Christmas.

  • Agatha Christie Christmas Mysteries

A Christmas family get-together abruptly ends in a murder with Hercule Poirot called in to investigate in Hercules Poirot’s Christmas, and in The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (a wonderful BBC audiobook), Poirot finds a scrawled note on his pillow: “DON’T EAT NONE OF THE PLUM PUDDING. ONE WHO WISHES YOU WELL”.  A fun alternative to listening to The Night Before Christmas.

9781509848195  Pablo Picasso’s Noel by Carol Ann Duffy follows the famous painter as he moves through a small town in the south of France on Christmas Eve, drawing the residents and the festive scenes he encounters, accompanied by his small dog.

  • The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus by Dr. Hannah Fry provides mathematical proof of Santa with puzzles and games.
  • Christmas: A Biography by Judith Sanders gives a social historian’s examination of the origins, myths, legends and history of the season.
  • Christmas with the Savages by Mary Clive, a funny children’s story based on real events and people, is seen through the eyes of a prim eight-year old girl in a large Edwardian country house.
  •  Christmas Remembered (audiobook) by children’s author Tommy dePaola shares his love for Christmas in fifteen vivid memories, spanning six decades – as a teenager in Connecticut, an art student in Brooklyn, a novice monk in Vermont, and an artist in New Hampshire.

To get to twelve, try some Charles Dickens:  The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, A Christmas Tree, and The Holly Tree – all available on line at Dickens on Line.