Reads and reactions in brief since January 1st, 2019.
How to be Alone – Lane Moore
Essays. Lane Moore is youngish, funny, and figuring out her life. These essays are part of her process.
This House is Haunted – John Boyne
Novel. Forgettable. In other words, I read this in January and can’t remember anything about it.
How to be a Person in the World – Heather Havrilesky
Letters. Havrilesky is Ask Polly and this is a selection of her responses to people who write in asking for help. Compassionate and wise, with lots of tidbits to take away for those of us reading along.
Practical Magic – Alice Hoffman
Novel. Classic chick lit about the witches among us and their deeds committed in the name of love and escape. A quick read, fluffy.
and also sharks – Jessica Westhead
Short stories. Loved these. Quirky and poignant. Would read these over and over.
Things Not to Do – Jessica Westhead
Short stories. Did not enjoy this collection as much as the first, but still found these tales compelling. Dark, funny, a little unsettling.
Ladder to the Sky – John Boyne
Novel. Loved this somewhat implausible novel about deception (and murder) in the life of an aspiring novelist on his way to greatness. I wondered if Boyne based this on someone in the literary world. It feels like good gossip.
Changemakers – Mary Wilson and Faye Weller
Non-fiction. A book by Gabriolans about how to make changes in our own backyards, using examples from around the Gulf Islands. Includes a handbook for community organizers in the back.
You Think it, I’ll Say it – Curtis Sittenfield
Short stories. Satirizing modern life, Sittenfield sets up her characters through their own expectations. Enjoyed this and would read more of her.
The Manual for Cleaning Women – Lucia Berlin
Short stories. If Berlin were a man, she would be as famous as Raymond Carver. Working class stories about the difficult lives, addictions, and marriages of women.
The Quick & the Dead – Joy Williams
Novel. Williams is a brilliant writer of short fiction, but she is no novelist. I read this aloud to Brian and while some parts of it are well crafted and funny, it does not hang together as a novel.
Advice for Future Corpses and the People Who Love Them – Sallie Tisdale
Non-fiction. A how-to manual for people dealing with death that contains all the practicalities told by a no-nonsense Zen Buddhist and nurse. Pick it up if you are dealing with this in your life.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne
Novel. This book has one of the best first lines I’ve ever read. Beyond that it’s an excellent read about growing up adopted and gay in Ireland in a time when neither fact could be spoken about. This novel has a lot of heart, even though the main character is at times frustratingly obtuse.
The Overstory – Richard Powers
Novel. Smart, historical, gutting. Everything about this book spoke to me and I sobbed my way through the whole middle third of it.
Deception – Denis Mina
Novel. A page-turning whodunit. A husband goes searching for answers when his wife is convicted of murder, diarizing his findings, which slowly reveal the crumbling core at the centre of his life.
The Magic Toyshop – Angela Carter
Novel. A fairytale involving orphaned children, sinister relatives, charmed toys, and incest. Classic Angela Carter.
On Writing – Stephen King
Non-fiction. Part memoir, part craft. King’s work from twenty years ago blends his own life experiences with advice for new writers. More useful and inspirational than any other book on writing I’ve picked up.
The Art of Memoir – Mary Karr
Non-fiction, craft. Although I write about my life, I’m not a memoirist which this book helped me define. If you write memoir, this is probably the book for you.
The Rise and Fall of Great Powers – Tim Rachman
Novel. An interesting tale comprised of three stories woven together about the life of Tooly, raised in mysterious circumstances and travelling back to the closest thing she has to origins in order to understand where she came from.
The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker
Novel. I was disappointed by this re-telling of part of the Illiad through the eyes of Briseis, a young royal taken as a slave in the war for Troy. The charcaters were flat and most of the story is told through banal internal commentary.
Sex Object – Jessica Valenti
Essays. Intimate, outraged, and full of truth. Enjoyed Valenti’s style of recounting the indignities of female life without getting bogged down or self-pitying.
Mr. Essay Writer Guy – Dinty W. Moore
Essays. Witty and short, these essays are a great example of how one can write about pretty much anything.
To Show and To Tell – Phillip Lopate
Non-fiction, craft. Lopate has a lot to tell us but he comes across as somewhat pompous making this a difficult read.
Lyrical and Critical Essays – Albert Camus
Non-fiction. Classic existentialist argument, interesting sketches of places, brilliant observations on the end of the world post WW2. I haven’t finished this collection yet, still dipping in with great pleasure.
How Will Capitalism End? – Wolfgang Streeck
Non-fiction. Reading this brought back my youth spent in socialist study groups (a good thing in my opinion). Streeck is a classic Marxist and he applies his analysis to the times we are living in to great effect. Clear writing which gets at the heart of these problematic times.
The True Secret of Writing – Natalie Goldberg
Non-fiction, craft. A how-to on running writing retreats and writing exercises. Interesting if you want to create a retreat for yourself or others.
Outline – Rachel Cusk
Novel. Not a conventional narrative, Cusk tells rather than shows for most of the story which is crafted as the internal dialogue of the main character. I plan to read the two others in this triology, though I’m still not sure how I felt about this one.
This Close to Happy – Daphne Merkin
Non-fiction. Merkin’s book on depression, her own experiences, and how it is treated in this culture is some of the truest I have ever read.
Before I Wake – Robert Wiersma
Novel. A highly readable, quasi religious tale about tragedy and the miracles it can bring forward.
The Writing Life – Annie Dillard
Non-fiction. Annie Dillard’s famous extended essay in which she writes, “How we spend our days, is of course how we spend our lives.” A beautiful meditation.
The Ten-year Nap – Meg Wolitzer
Novel. A novel about the impact on women’s lives when they choose to stay home to raise their children. An enjoyable read set in NYC.
Against Everything – Mark Greif
Non-fiction. Incisive essays about modern society. I took this out of the library and had to read it fast, now I want to read it again. In particular, Greif’s essays on music (Radiohead, Punk Rock) really stood out.
Bad Feminist – Roxanne Gay
Non-fiction. Essays about living in the world as a black woman, about privilege and education, about representation in popular culture. I feel like I’ve heard Gay interviewed too often for any of this to feel fresh, but she’s a great writer.
Motherhood – Sheila Heti
Hybrid. I went to a party and all the women in their mid-thirties were talking about this book. It made me glad that I’m past my childbearing time. So did this book.
The Farm – Joanne Ramos
Novel. A story about making babies for money, for the very rich in fact, and the classism and racism that go with that. A page-turner, I really enjoyed the concept and writing of this debut novel.
Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist – Paul Kingsnorth
Non-fiction. Essays about the modern crisis in our environment and in the environmental movement. Kingsnorth writes all the things I think (but more articulately, so reading his work is like having a conversation with a known friend – something I appreciate, but it also gets a bit boring after awhile.