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

The Man Booker Longlists

Although I have tried to read many of the acclaimed books from the Man Booker Longlist, my record gets a little sloppy and I get lazier as the Shortlist announcement approaches in September.

Last year’s winner – A Brief History of Seven Killings – never made it to my reading list, but the long list included one of my favorite authors, Anne Tyler, with A Spool of Blue Thread, and Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways.

From 2014, Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves surprised and enlightened me, and Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (the winner) is still on the pile beside my bed, waiting to be read.

For some reason, I could never get through the winner of the 2013 Prize – Eleanor Canton’s The Luminaries, but I thoroughly enjoyed others on the list that year: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki and The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Another Longlist will be announced in a few days.  Readers have speculated on possibilities:

  • Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time
  • Annie Proulx’s Barkskins
  • Louis Erdich’s LaRose
  • and maybe – Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place.

Whether or not they make it to the prestigious finals, consider getting them on your library wait list now.

 

Bastille Day – Read Something French

To celebrate Bastille Day, a restaurant in Washington, D.C. is having a baguette relay race.  I remember a traditional waiter’s race in Annapolis – the waiters speed walk holding a tray of drinks (wine?); I wonder if they still do.  I’ll be looking for some crepes today, to eat while re-reading some of my favorite French books (not in French, of course).

Some ideas:

  • Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard
  • The Paris Wife by Paula McClain
  • Chasing Cezanne by Peter Mayle
  • Chocolat by Joanne Harris
  • Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnick
  • My Life in France by Julia Child
And a new one I’m looking forward to –
David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris