One of the best things about retirement is time to read, a lifelong passion. As a child I rode my bike to the local library and filled my two baskets. It’s never stopped. Though I brought several shelves of favorites to Portland with me, I rarely buy books anymore. The library is a good friend, and I can request anything (though the latest and greatest are a long wait). I never know when I’ll stumble over a new discovery. When I can’t get through a boring or poorly written book I can just pass it on back, no harm done. I don’t like e-books, and I’m not good at recorded books, I get distracted by thoughts and then have to go back to where I spaced out. Annoying.
I tend toward literary type works, and compare every author to anything by Barbara Kingsolver, Jim Harrison’s Dalva, or Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. But there are more and more great writers out there, some so young and fresh, addressing issues and problems of today in new and interesting ways. Hoping to stay current as I age.
I just like language.
2021 The library kept closing due to the pandemic and I was happy to support writers by buying books. My shelves are overflowing now.
Eutopia Avenue – David Mitchell A British band in the 60s starts small and takes the world by storm. Each band member figures out coping with their new identity and learning to be true to themselves. Full songwriting process and lyrics, and run ins with famous 60s rock and roll characters – both unbelievable and a kick. Very British. I loved his book Cloud Atlas.
Small Wonder – Barbara Kingsolver Essays about the environment, social justice, and about people (always my favorite parts), written around and after 9/11, as Kingsolver in her exquisite way, tries to figure things out.
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears – Dinaw Mengestu Beautifully written, a deep dive into the Ethiopian immigrant story, but also a wonderful observation of everything things and people.
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times – Katherine May I just loved this. Style and content both. Lots of food for thought about giving yourself space and rest during the cold season but also a psychological winter as well. Great stories about Druids, robins, and bees.
Three Simple Lines: A Writer’s Pilgrimage to the Heart and Homeland of Haiku – Natalie Goldberg I liked the Haiku (from many poets) and enjoyed her journey to Japan. It’s very much in Natalie’s style and I recognized her slightly labored focus on getting detail shoved in.
Beyond Words : Lyrics, Chords, Photographs – John Prine Wonderful book of Prine’s songs (with chords) and some great photos
To Show and To Tell – Philip Lopate About writing non-fiction prose. Fairly outdated and dry, but some good advice.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong Gorgeously written, though so poetic in some places I didn’t quite understand what I was reading and had to just let it wash over me. About the horrors of Vietnam and its refugees. Also, great premise for a book, a letter to his illiterate mother.
The Last Train to London – Meg Waite Clayton I love WWII stories, Holocaust stories and coming of age stories. This was gripping, though there were moments of … unbelievable prose or maybe too flowery or off the mark.
2020 My reading was slowed by the pandemic, and the inability to concentrate….
If You Want to Write – Brenda Ueland Yes you can, you can, write from love, like a 5 year old stringing beads
The Echo Maker – Richard Powers I liked The Overstory better. I did finish it though, as there was a mystery to solve. But I didn’t like the characters much, and there was too much brain science for me. It made me want to look up Sandhill cranes though
How to Write One Song – Jeff Tweedy Just what I needed for my newfound hobby. Everyone can write just one song. No need to commit to “being a song writer” Lots of good advice and an easy read
Night Watchman – Louise Erdrich What a writer, this is exquisite
My Favorite Things – Maira Kalman wonderful art and words for thought
Long Bright River – Liz Moore sad, well written
The Principles of Uncertainty – Maira Kalman wonderful art and words for thought
The Yellow House – Sarah M. Broom Fascinating and revealing, being Black in NO
Self Help – Lorrie Moore My first Moore book, good stories, interesting
Unconditional Love-Being A Grandparent Jane Isay Just ok, I should have written it and done it better
All This Could Be Yours – Jami Attenberg Dysfunction, hateful men, New Orleans. I like her newsletter/blog for writers
The Mindful Writer – Dinty W. Moore food for thought in short bursts and quotes
Principles of Uncertainty – Maira Kalman wonderful art and words for thought
Strangers and Cousins – Leah Hager Cohen Well written, strange story, dysfunctional families always a fun romp
The Great Failure – Natalie Goldberg Wonderful example of memoir, her father, her teacher, herself. Also a good one, perhaps my favorite of hers, so honest
The Great Spring – Natalie Goldberg Exploring memoir. This is a good one.
Where the Past Begins – Amy Tan Love her perspective and her writing practice
On Writing – Stephen King Everyone raves, but he’s not my fave
Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home – Natalie Goldberg Her memoir on cancer. Brutal and real, well done. The book on cancer she wanted to read.
The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin
Writing Down the Bones – Natalie Goldberg My bible for the past year of online Zoom groups writing practice, most mornings
Thunder and Lightning – Natalie Goldberg On memoir writing
The Cat’s Table – Michael Ondaatje
Memory Wall – Anthony Doerr Wow, what a great writer, as well written as All the Light You Cannot See
American Dirt Jeanine Cummins Had my heart racing which wasn’t great for reading before bed. A heartbreaking portrait of immigrants.
Just Kids Patti Smith Fascinating life, these people! On a PS kick.
M Train Patti Smith Loved this. “What are you writing? I don’t know.”
The Nickel Boys Colson Whitehead Heartbreak and courage.
Oaxaca Journal Oliver Sacks I wanted to go to Oaxaca again, and this took me there.
And the Mountains Echoed Khaled Hosseini
Olive, Again Elizabeth Strout A great character, beautifully and sympathetically portrayed
The Dutch House– Ann Patchett Wonderful, describes the house as well as the characters.
The Year of the Monkey – Patti Smith Surprisingly good, my first of her books. Very dreamy and moving
Ceremony – Leslie Silko Luscious prose, amazing descriptions of the southwest, a moving Native American story, but also a white people’s story. So good.
The Overstory – Richard Powers Took me a while to get oriented, but loved it
The Great Believers – Rebecca Makkai Now AIDS, really Nancy, 3 hard to take books in a row? Great job at putting you back in the 80s of the epidemic, and another time flipping book like in Wunderland
The Water Dancer – Ta-Nehesi Coates Beautiful. Also hard, the brutality and pain, the transcendence. Some flaws but overall great.
My Name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout Great writer
Wunderland – Jennifer Cody Epstein Nazi Germany, then and later, the descendants guilt. Hard to read about someone hating and hurting Jews, especially in the general but not the particular. Not the best written but I kept going.
Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry I read this before but couldn’t remember the details. Wish that didn’t happen so often. But it’s a fun one, well written, great dialogue.
The Art of the Gathering – Priya Parker SUCH a great book. I could have used this in my working/organizing life, but it’s still relevant as I host writing groups, family events, etc.
Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens Lovely, well written. I wasn’t expecting a mystery, but the combination with natural history makes it a great read.
Paris by the Book Liam Callanan Not great, sort of convoluted, but nice to read about Paris.
Picnic in Provence – Elizabeth Bard This was great, so nice to relive Provence travels and hope that my husband will be inspired by some of these recipes.
City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert Enjoyable read, liked her last one better
Go, Went, Gone – Jenny Erpenbeck
Women Rowing North – Mary Pipher Poorly written I thought, but I enjoyed reading about aging, and the ideas about how, as our bodies go south, we can help to get ourselves north.
Normal People – Sally Rooney Good read
Inheritance – Dani Shapiro Good read
The Salt Path – Raynor Winn Loved this, walking as a cure for old age, a great adventure and not on the Camino
The Library Book – Susan Orleans Fascinating
The Monk of Mokha – Dave Eggars Fascinating, the story of coffee from one importer’s perspective
Nanaville – Anna Quindlen Why did I not write this book? I like reading about grandparenting
Snow Falling on Cedars – David Guterson again. Picked it up off my shelf when I was out of library books. Such good character and scene depictions, so good.
An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
Kaddish. com – Nathan Englander Strange but engrossing. Maybe just for Jews?
Us Against You – Frederik Backman Weird but compelling
That Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I think I’ve read all of hers now, and saw her speak. Love them/her.
Anything Is Possible – Elizabeth Strout
We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Feral Detective – Jonathan Lethem
Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver Finally, a new one!
The Fishermen – Chigozie Obioma I am enjoying this genre
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer Second time it turns out
A Gambler’s Anatomy – Jonathan Lethem
Before the Fall – Noah Hawley
Becoming – Michelle Obama Fabulous, the hype is real
Purity – Jonathan Franzen
The Last Illusion – Pourochista Khakpour
Sour Heart – Jenny Zhang
A Boy In Winter – Rachel Seiffert
The Witch Elm – Tana French
A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles Love
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Amazing and interesting
Autumn – Ali Smith
California – Edan Lepucki
Conversations With Friends – Sally Rooney
Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
Exit West – Mohsin Hamid
The Fellowship of the Ring – JRR Tolkein Again and again
Future Home of the Living God – Louise Erdrich Saw her speak, fascinating woman and writer
Gateway to the Moon – Mary Morris
Half of A Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Less – Andrew Sean Greer meh
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
Made for Love – Alissa Nutting
Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan
Pachinko – Min Jin Lee Fascinating
Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Rules of Civility – Amor Towles
Sleeping on Jupiter – Anuradha Roy
The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins OK
The High Mountains of Portugal – Yann Martel Well done
The Idiot – Elif Batuman
Human Acts – Han Kang
The Invention of Wings – Sue Monk Kidd Again, accidentally
The Ninth Hour – Alice McDermott
The Shadow Catcher – Marianne Wiggins
There There – Tommy Orange So interesting and different. Well done.
The Two Towers – JRR Tolkein Again and again
Ultraluminous – Katherine Faw Morris
Winter – Karl Ove Knausgård I’ve read all his My Struggle books. Somehow makes everyday life fascinating and something to write about
Woman No. 17 – Edan Lepucki
Counterclockwise – Lauren Kessler Not usually my thing but she does it well
Eat the Apple A Memoir – Matt Young
Educated A Memoir – Tara Westover Cool, good for her
Grayson – Lynne Cox
I’m Off Then My Journey Along the Camino De Santiago – Hape Kerkeling I wanna go!
It’s Not About the Tapas – Polly Evans
The True Secret of Writing – Natalie Goldberg My hero. Taking an online course with her April-May 2019
Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert I just like her, and I guess I needed it
I Am I Am I Am – Maggie O’Farrell Fascinating
How to Change Your Mind – Michael Pollan Fascinating and compelling
Astoria – Peter Stark Love this town’s history and environs so I read it, though I didn’t like his style
Portlandness, A Cultural Atlas – David Banis Cool book
My 25 Years in Provence – Peter Mayle Getting ready to go, so it’s required reading.