As a child I rode my bike to the local library and filled my two baskets. It never stopped. The library is a good friend. I can request almost anything, and I never know when I’ll stumble over something new. If I can’t get through a boring or poorly written book I can pass it back, no harm done. I don’t enjoy e-books, and recorded books are annoying because I often get distracted by thoughts and then have to go back to where I spaced out.
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 many great writers who introduce me to worlds I’ll never know. Voices young and fresh, stories of the unheard, addressing issues and problems of today, in new and interesting ways. I like language. Here’s what I’ve read:
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies – Deesha Philyaw Loved this. Such a unique voice and story, so expressive, landing me in the middle of heartbreak and badassery.
Whereabouts – Jhumpa Lahiri Loved the simplicity, each chapter a different place, and the actions and thoughts and conversation that happen in each place, with a good eye for detail. An example for me of how to write a memoir in fiction, how to note the detail of every day life and describe it in an alive way. Which is all we have to tell our stories.
The Searcher – Tana French How I love her language, and for a week it’s like an earworm, I start using Irish words and accent. This book was grand then, and a well done mystery that gives me characters who change. For the better.
The Book of Longings – Sue Monk Kidd If it hadn’t been this author I might not have picked this book up, a reimagining of the Jesus story – what if he had a wife, what would her life have been like? Mixed feelings about this one from a Jewish frame of mind, but a good story.
Implosion: A Memoir of an Architect’s Daughter – Elizabeth W. Garber A little awkwardly written but an interesting story. While she has mixed emotions (of course) about her abusive father, it felt like she was holding back a little, not telling all, perhaps to protect other family members. It was also heavy (for me) on Modernism and Architecture, like she wasn’t sure which story to tell. But an interesting view of growing up in the 60s and 70s, as did I.
Life After Life – Kate Atkinson I almost stopped reading, it was such a weird premise for a book, but then I got swept up in this beautifully written novel. It has a Groundhog Day vibe, a life that keeps repeating over and over til she gets it right, set mostly in the first half of the 20th century, England and some Germany.
How to Read the Air – Dinaw Mengestu The second book I’ve read by this author and I continue to love his style, description of events and places and people. But it was another book in which the main character has little forward movement. His abusive father causes him to try to be invisible, which doesn’t always make for an interesting character. He seems to tread water waiting for the world to make him change. But it may be an immigrant story/character that I’m just not familiar with.
Nightbitch – Rachel Yoder This book ranks up there among the weirdest books I’ve ever read, Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn and Dead Babies by Martin Amis. An artist turned mother recovers her artistic, animalistic, and feminine power after way too many pages of mourning their loss at the book’s start. And yet, something kept drawing me in and I finished it, puzzling over whether I liked it. I resonated with the losses that come with motherhood alongside the powerful love of your child, and how we get sucked down into it all, and lack what it takes to come up for air.
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir – Natasha Tretheway Devastating and beautifully written by a past US Poet Laureate, the story of how a daughter forgets and remembers and rediscovers her mother, who was murdered by an abusive ex-husband when Thetheway was just 19.
Untamed – Glennon Doyle After the first few chapters I thought I’d just send it back to the library. Her style and topic didn’t resonate with me. I mostly skimmed through just to see what the fuss is about, but it never got better, in spite of her apparent fame and connections. Married to Abby Wambach, friends with Elizabeth Gilbert, praised by Oprah. But I don’t get it. She teeters between underlining her idiocy, her pain, and claiming the worst about herself, then flipping to speechifying about how amazing she is. Oh well.
Brood – Jackie Polzin I loved this. Such a unique voice and style. A little stilted as she jumps from one moment to the next, but it’s also effective. About keeping her chickens alive, but of course, about her life, and about her husband, mother, and friend.
Indian Horse – Richard Wagamese So heart wrenching and beautifully written. The experience of a Canadian Indian, the Manitoban landscape in all its harsh beauty, ice hockey even (and I’m no sports fan in general). Especially poignant and current as more proof of Indian School unmarked graves keep coming up. Well written. I look forward to reading more Wagamese.
Somebody’s Daughter – Ashley C. Ford I had never heard any of Ford before. This is a powerful memoir, slow to start I think, but Ford’s hard but honest story leaves you wanting to know what happens, how she copes, escapes, suceeds. It was a glimpse into a world unknown to me, and that’s always a good thing.
One Long River of Song – Brian Doyle How did I not know about Doyle til now? His essays are absolutely 100% transporting, saying all the things I think and feel, but so much better. Each one short. Fathers, nature, basketball, children, death. I returned my library copy and bought it so I can read it again and again. Try Joyas Voladoras and you might be hooked.
The Shadow King – Maaza Mengiste Riveting, fascinating, heartbreaking, a time and place I knew nothing about. Ethiopia and Mussolini and the women warriors.
Tinkers – Paul Harding Strange tale of a man dying and his memories as he weaves in and out of present and past. Very moving.
Between Two Kingdoms – Suleika Jaouad Excellent book about survival and friendship, love and death, how we act in the face of life-threatening illness, and a little Jon Batiste too.
Patron Saint of Pregnant Girls – Ursula Hegi I love Hegi. One of the best endings I’ve read in a long time. Many strong insightful women in this book, I was carried by their wisdom and strength, their frailties and searchings.
A Movable Feast – Ernest Hemingway I kept hearing raves after the PBS 3-part series. I see his charm, and genius, but am still not a huge fan. I had a hard time telling “truth” from fantasy. But good to read, and want to re-read his novels some day since I read them as a young adult. Enjoyed descriptions of Paris, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein. He’s still an ass.
Giving Up the Ghost – Hilary Mantel My first foray into Mantel’s work and found it riveting. Beautiful language, fascinating story.
A Burning – Megha Majumdar Strange and wild and unsettling. Not my fave but I’m glad I read it.
The Art of Memoir – Mary Karr Wonderful book, great advice for writers, insight into her own memoirs and those of other memoirists, plus a long list of recommended reading
Utopia Avenue – David Mitchell A British band in the 60s starts small, 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 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.