Christmas Just Isn’t The Same

It’s been a while – no real excuses except feeling too distracted to write – but not to read. I have a list I will share, but first – Joan Didion. I remember reading The White Album years ago, and when I heard of her death, I had to stop reading my current book to find an old copy. Her first line lives on as one of the best first lines of a book – “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Enough to inspire me to reread it to discover what Didion’s words might mean to me now, forty years and a never-ending pandemic later, and if they would have the same impact. I struggled to think of a current writer who has the same impact with her clarity of observations.

Zadie Smith in her tribute to Didion in The New Yorker, noted:

It is a peculiarity of Joan Didion’s work that her most ironic formulations are now read as sincere, and her sincerest provocations taken with a large pinch of salt. Perhaps when your subject is human delusion you end up drawing that quality out of others, even as you seek to define and illuminate it. How else to explain the odd ways we invert her meanings? We tell ourselves stories in order to live. A sentence meant as an indictment has transformed into personal credo.”

Joan Didion’s name may be more familiar to modern audiences than her work, except perhaps for “The Year of Magical Thinking,”(she wrote five novels, six screenplays, and fourteen works of nonfiction), but it’s never too late to read books guaranteed to inspire, jolt, and perhaps persuade you – “…while everyone else drank the Kool-Aid, she stuck to Coca-Cola …”

Books I Have Been Reading Recently

Never by Ken Follett – slow start but picks up into a roller coaster ride – watch out for the ending

The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman – the fourth book of witchery – fun to read and wish you were part of the Owens family of witches

Cheese, Wine, and Bread: Discovering the Magic of Fermentation in England, Italy, and France by Katie Quinn – a better version of Eat, Pray, Love with the author’s tongue-in-cheek memoir, good information, and a few great recipes.

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen – the first in a trilogy. The book made the Washington Post’s top ten for 2021. The story revolves around an associate pastor at a Protestant church in suburban Chicago who’s troubled by his own envy and adultery. “The novel presents an electrifying examination of the irreducible complexities of an ethical life.” Take the time to savor Franzen’s use of words, and the inevitable thoughtfulness he will instill in you, as you read.

The Party Crasher by Sophie Kinsellla – read just for fun – book candy

What I am Reading Now

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weil – I hope it has a happy ending…

Books on My To Read List

  • Gilded by Mariss Meyer
  • Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout
  • The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
  • These Precious Days by Ann Patchett
  • A Carnival of Snackery by David Sedaris
  • The Fran Lebowitz Reader by Fran Lebowitz
  • The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier
  • Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune
  • The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

More Book Lists

Ron Charles’ list of best books of 2019 for the Washington Post had not one book I had read. Many were nonfiction which I tend to avoid, one I had started but could not finish (On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous), but one sounded appealing enough to order from the library – Strangers and Cousins.

If you want to see what they are reading inside the beltway these days, here is the Washington Post top ten:

  1. Black Leopard, Red Wolfe by Marlon James – fantasy epic
  2. Falter by Bill McKibben – nonfiction
  3. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – this year’s Booker Prize
  4. A Good Provider is One Who Leaves by Jason DeParie – nonfiction
  5. Know My Name by Chanel Miller – nonfiction
  6. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong – fiction
  7. Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe – nonfiction
  8. Strangers and Cousins by Leah Hager Cohen – fiction
  9. The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
  10. The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom – nonfiction

Library Reads at http://libraryreads.org has the monthly nationwide library staff picks list for adult fiction and non-fiction.  This time of year they offer their complete list, asking library staff to vote for their favorites.  I usually find many on their list I’ve read, and sometimes a few I’ve missed.  Check out their site for over 150 titles they recommended this year.  Librarians always have good ideas.

Here are a few I’ve read:

  1. The Clockmaker’s Daughter: A Novel by Kate Morton 
  2. The Library Book by Susan Orlean 
  3. One Day in December: A Novel by Josie Silver
  4. Unsheltered: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver
  5. My Sister, the Serial Killer: A Novel by Oyinkan Braithwait
  6. Night of Miracles: A Novel by Elizabeth Berg 
  7. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty 
  8. Once Upon a River: A Novel by Diane Setterfeld
  9. The Suspect by Fiona Barton 
  10. The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict 
  11. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides 
  12. Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman 
  13. Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl 
  14. The Lager Queen of Minnesota: A Novel by J. Ryan Stradal 
  15. Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman 
  16. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware 
  17. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett 
  18. This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

Book Club Lists

Some book clubs are getting organized for next year with reading lists. Others prefer to make decisions monthly, targeting newer books. Whatever your preference, lists of books are always a good way to reevaluate your own reading and sometimes provide new ideas for good reads.

The Honolulu Museum of Art cleverly connects books with their art collection, with the discussion led by a knowledgable docent, followed by a tour of the art. The books on their list for the next two months include:

  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien
  • Circe by Madeleine Miller
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

I have had Circe in my ebook collection since it was published.  This might be a good time to finally read it.

Celebrities like to promote book lists and sometimes offer online book club discussions.  I try to avoid Oprah’s suggestions, but I do like picks from Reese Witherspoon.  Her November selection is Jojo Moyes’ The Giver of Stars. Other books on her list include:

  • Fair Play by Eve Rodsky
  • The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
  • The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda
  • Whisper Network by Chandler Baker
  • The Cactus by Sarah Haywood
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

My local book club has its list for next year:

  • Molokai by Alan Brennert  
  • Origin by Dan Brown – 5th in the Robert Langdon series 
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • The Gown by Jennifer Robson – historical fiction
  • The Salt Path by Raynor Winn – biography/memoir
  • Poisoned Palms: The Murder of Mrs. Jane Lathrop Stanford by Buckingham-murder mystery
  • America’s First Daughter by Dray and Kamoie – historical fiction
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama – biography/memoir
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

 

And my favorite book club has Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House next on the agenda.

What is your group reading?

 

A President Who Reads

I like lists of recommended books whether from movie stars like Reese Witherspoon, industry leaders like Bill Gates, or from Presidents who read. Barack Obama has a list, with a nod to recently deceased author Toni Morrison – “You can’t go wrong by reading or re-reading the collected works of Toni Morrison

His reading list has one of my old favorites – Mantel’s “Wolf Hall.” I wonder if he is just discovering this 2009 classic? Another a book is by an author local to me, Hope Jahren.  Although she has moved on from the University of Hawaii, her book “Lab Girl”prompted me to look for a Hawaiian tree mentioned in her book.  I wonder if she knows they have drastically trimmed its branches.

I will probably skip Chiang’s collection of short stories but will give Whitehead’s new book a try, since a friend has given it high marks. Hurakami is one of my favorite authors but I prefer his novels to short stories.  I suspect, but would rather not know what the internet is doing to our brains in Carr’s “The Shallows.

I’ve ordered Wilkinson’s American Spy from the library, described by Mick Herron in the New York Times as a “murder mystery that offers genuine social insight,” and purchased Tea Obreht’s Inland – I still remember Obreht’s first complicated novel, “The Tiger’s Wife.”

Here’s the list from a President who reads:

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead.
Exhalation by Ted Chiang.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson.
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.
How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu.
Maid by Stephanie Land.
Inland by Téa Obreht

Have you read any?

Hatchett Book Group has a website at https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/articles/best-read-u-s-presidents/ with a list of Best-Read U.S. Presidents, ranging from John Adams to Barack Obama. Shakespeare, Washington Irving, Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill, Tom Clancy, Ralph Ellison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Doris Kearns Goodwin were some of the authors who made the list of Presidential favorites.

Man Booker Prize Shortlist 2018

The six books making the cut for the Man Booker shortlist this year include two American authors – Rachel Kushner for “The Mars Story,” set in a California women’s prison, and Richard Powers for “The Overstory,” about nine strangers trying to save one of the world’s last virgin forests.

The rest of the list includes:

  • Washington Black” by Canadian Esi Edugyan, based on the true story of the relationship between an eleven year old enslaved boy and his master’s brother who flee a Barbados plantation.
  • Irish author Anna Burns’ “Milkman” – told in the voice of a young woman forced into a relationship with an older man during the Northern Ireland conflict.
  • Scottish poet Robin Robertson’s “The Long Take” – the first book selected for the Shortlist in verse, follows a World War II veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder as he travels across the United States.
  • British Daisy Johnson, the youngest author ever shortlisted for the Prize, updates Greek myth in the tragic story of a lexicographer looking for her mother in “Everything Under.”

The winner of 50,000 pounds will be announced October 16.

I’ve read SNAP from the longlist and have “Washington Black” and “The Overstory” on my to-read pile, but I may skip the others. Do you plan to read any before the winner is announced?

Related Review: SNAP