“That heartbreaking moment when you finish an amazing book, and you are forced to return to reality.”Grace Paley
As a child I rode my bike to the local library and filled both my baskets, every week. It never stopped. The library is still a good friend. If I can’t get through a boring or poorly written book I can pass it back, no harm done. 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.
Euphoria – Lily King Another great read from King (I loved Writers & Lovers, below). This novel was inspired when King read about Margaret Mead, and her insight into native tribes. It takes place in New Guinea before in the 1930s. It’s a great story and well told, wonderful characters, a fascinating look into old school anthropology and some tribal practices (though these were fictionalized).
After Lives – Abdulrazak Gurnah A harsh glimpse into the early 20th century in Africa as European countries vied for the souls and wealth of the indigenous people, and to colonize the countries by sheer force. Gurnah writes of the hearts that were never won, and the lives so uprooted and ended by these forces. These are stories I’ve never heard before, perhaps because I haven’t listened. His Nobel prize brought Gurnah some well deserved attention and reprinting of books. Well written, though time moved much faster in the second half, like he wanted to quick catch us up on the ever after part of the stories.
Constellations: Reflections from Life – Sinéad Gleeson Beautifully writing from this Irish author, commentary and memoir from her unique perspective after a lifetime of illness and medical interventions. She also views the politics, musicians, artists, and poets that feed her experience. I found myself using so many paragraphs as prompts for my own writing. A slim book, gorgeously narrated.
Minor Feelings – An Asian American Reckoning – Kathy Park Hong Usually a poet and artist, Hong uses history, culture, politics and her own life story, to present a compelling series of essays on racism. It’s brutally honest and I had to keep putting it down, but it’s so well written, lyrical and engrossing. I kept returning, wanting to know more, and hear the hard truth. I learned so much.
Mad Honey – Jodi Picoult & Jenniefer Finney Boylan This was a great read. I learned about bees, transgender issues, abused women issues, and even some lawyering. About reinventing yourself and figuring out what part of the past you want to keep with you. A great story told in a unique way with wonderful characters. Also, fiction written by two writers is amazing!
Journal of a Solitude – May Sarton Lovely writing and exploration of what it is to embrace solitude. I missed reading May Sarton way back in the 70s when all my college mates were, and this was a nice introduction. As a journal, it was easy to pick up and put down between other books, and food for thought about my own solitude. “I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything…. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged, damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room.”
Bewilderment – Richard Powers I like Powers’ writing, and he is one smart guy, but this was a little too harsh for me I think. I think. I’m not sure I would have read it knowing what difficult lives these characters have. And how screwed up the world is. Plus, all the astrophysics was sometimes a challenge to wade through. But it’s quite well done.
The Marriage Portrait – Maggie O’Farrell It took me a bit to get into. Because really? A duchess in 16th century Italy? But I kept on, and enjoyed it, and my heart was thudding by the end. There was a bit too much overwrought language for me as Lucrezia tended to let her mind wander and we had to tag along for that, but it was a good story, and great way to bring a woman of that time’s story to the forefront. I liked O’Farrell’s memoir better, I Am I Am I Am.
A Woman’s Story – Annie Ernaux This story was far more accessible and clear than the last Ernaux book I read, so I am hopeful for the many others. She tries to portray her mother “as she really is” which of course, if you’ve ever had a mother you know how difficult that is. Who are our mothers? This was tender and beautiful and baldly honest I think, and I liked her clear straightforward writing. And, under a hundred pages!
Writers & Lovers – Lily King I loved this book so much that when I got to the end I started all over. I wanted to slurp up every delicious nuanced detail and pay attention to each character and how she makes them come alive. It’s about a writer, one of my favorite subjects for books, about death, about love, about work, and really what else is there? King is a new to me author, suggested by a writer friend.
Last Chance Texaco – Rickie Lee Jones Never a fan, but I’m glad I read this book for the insight into the 60s and 70s. Jones is only a year older than me, but she started running away to be a hippie at 12, so her coming of age gave her quite a start. And her version/vision of becoming a star of course was fascinating. I admire anyone who publishes a memoir, and enjoyed this in spite of the flaws, some of the writing, and by the end I think she just wanted to get the damn thing done with.
Motherland: A Memoir of Love, Loathing, and Longing – Elissa Altman I subscribe to Altman’s Poor Man’s Feast blog because I love her writing. She’s also a great cook and include recipes that I sometimes read. I was sucked into this memoir in part because I couldn’t look away. Her mother is a narcissistic nightmare and Altman has an obsessively unhealthy relationship with her. Their love/hate relationship is a train wreck. She tries to come to terms with it, and manage for the sake of survival. She says she does, but it was hard to see any evidence of it; just that they maybe hurt each other less often. I feel for her, and certainly it makes my own mother look like the picture of health, but I was disappointed that there was no fairy tale ending. I guess that’s what narcissism is all about.
The True Secret of Writing – Natalie Goldberg Nat tries to explain her writing process, but truly, it’s all in Writing Down the Bones. She keeps driving us back to the basics. Sit. Walk. Write. Also, her favorite advice, Shut up and write. In this book she explains what her weeklong retreats look like, but in true Nat style, wanders around as if on a whim, writing about New Mexico and Minnesota, her parents, friends, Hemingway, reading, and death.
Demon Copperhead – Barbara Kingsolver Brilliant, absolutely. Everything about it. The characters were completely alive, even the minor ones. The story is heartbreaking, but lends an understanding of what is happening in the poorest parts of our country, revealing the heart and soul of a place under layers of poverty, targeted drug use, and just a different (from me) way of living, seeing, and being. And the parallels to David Copperfield are brilliant and entertaining.
A Girl’s Story – Annie Ernaux I was surprised how difficult this was, and such a slim volume, but wanted to read one of her books after she won the Nobel in Literature this year. Ernaux has created a different style of memoir, in which she uses the voice of herself now, herself then, as well as omniscient narrator, sometimes all in one paragraph. I had to read some of it twice. I was glad to have a group of writers to discuss it with afterwards, as it helped me see it more clearly. Worth it, especially as a writer.
Three Dog Life – Abigail Thomas A sort of memoir that’s not usually my thing. A woman whose husband is brain damaged in a car crash, and how she navigates the path of creating a life. It was good, but not as compelling as the recommendation on the cover in which Stephen King says, “Best memoir I’ve ever read.” Way overstating the case. But I’m sure a helpful book for anyone who has experienced that sort of loss, and finds love in her dogs.
Matrix – Lauren Groff Interesting read, well written, fiction based on real people in the 12th century; Crusades, abbeys, Eleanor of Aquitane, a lot of Catholicism, but mostly about the strength of women and their drive for independence and agency.
Ongoingness – Sarah Manguso A small slip of a book, about 25 years of obsessive journaling which stops being obsessive when she has a baby. It’s also about death, holding it off, examining life closely. Not wanting to forget life, so that life makes a difference. I read it because I journal most every day, have stacks of notebooks and online journals, and wanted to read how someone else views it.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow – Gabrielle Sevin The 400 pages went quickly, and I enjoyed this read so much. And while it’s mostly about love and entanglements and growing up and pain and sorrow, it’s also about video games, and I even enjoyed that part of it, though I am not a gamer. Loved the characters. Excellent dialog. Highly recommended.
Fludd – Hilary Mantel I do like Mantel! This was short, so I dove in, but I have to say it was so full of regional and catholic references that I was either looking stuff up throughout, or plowing through only half understanding. Some day I’ll read Wolf Hall, really I will.
Out of Sheer Rage – Geoff Dyer Memoir, with a bit of DH Lawrence woven in (mostly letters and poems), and the writing life. Hilarious and surprising, I laughed throughout. You can read the first 10 or so pages on Amazon preview and that may be enough to get the gist. His study of Lawrence is in great part about DHL’s attitude, work ethic and writing methods, which are woven into Dyer’s own story. Dyer is the more fascinating character in my view. It’s a fairly wild ride.
Breasts and Eggs – Mieko Kawakami Such a unique book, so Japanese. Modern women, modern problems, modern Japan (translated, so it’s very Japanese), feminism, taking control of one’s own body for one’s own satisfaction. The first half (breasts) wasn’t as filled out (ouch) as the second, I thought, and the characters remained odd to me. I thought she landed better with the second part (eggs), and I was quite moved by the journey. I like reading books that don’t fit into the same mold as others.
My Name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout I had to re-read this after three years, after reading Lucy By the Sea, and now I feel like I need to circle back and read all her books. The same characters come up in all her books, and with each new one, I need to revisit my previous impressions. It reminds me of Faulkner’s Yoknapataphaw County, with its strong voice and characters that mix in layers of relationships. I like Strout more and more with each reading.
The Highly Sensitive Person – Elaine Aron Super great information that explains a lot about myself, but a slow slog and it’s taking me forever to read. I am re-visioning my past under a new lens. Instead of blaming myself for how I respond to people and events, I can better see how to manage my sensitivity to the world. Low lights and quiet surroundings, especially after a lot of stimulation and interaction. Finding balance. Being sensitive can be a super power. I may or may not finish this, but it was useful.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce I’m not sure what to say about this. It was interesting; I’m a big fan of pilgrimage books, even in fiction. But it’s also very sentimental and predictable in a Oprah’s Books kind of way, or maybe like a romance novel. I did finish it, and it was sweet and satisfying in a beach book kind of way.
Lucy By the Sea – Elizabeth Strout I don’t remember liking Strout’s Lucy stories as much as I do now, though I adore Olive Kitteridge. Lucy didn’t hit me as a strong character; she seemed too simple and sparse. (I guess I need to re-read them!) In this book, that simplicity is so well layered with real emotion and important thoughts. Simple but direct is what I mean to say (see what I did there?) This is my favorite Lucy portrayal, filled out as she matures. She’s going through the pandemic and she’s aging, she deals with all the same issues as everyone, social, health, family, political even (which she covers deftly and kindly somehow). She hit all the events, topics, and emotions of the past few years that I’ve tried to forget or move past, making me feel seen. And she leaves the ending open for another Lucy book. Yay.
The Wild Silence – Raynor Winn The story of Winn’s life after her 680 mile walk, when she wrote The Salt Path – you’ll need to read that book first. In terms of life events, this memoir talks about writing her book woven in with growing up close to nature, her marriage, turning a dead piece of land into a living place, and a trek across the Icelandic volcanoes as winter begins. I had some trouble with some of the transitions in the book, but it’s a wonderful story of overcoming hardship, and continuing even in the most difficult of circumstances. What a fascinating person Winn and her partner is.
Giving Up the Ghost – Hilary Mantel I started reading this memoir after Mantel suddenly died. I’d never read anything by her. I started on a day I’d declared a writing moratorium, burnt out, with nothing to say. I would just read or walk or hang out in the garden. But only a few pages in and the urge to write was irresistible. The way she describes even the faintest of memories, a moment, an afternoon, an age so hard to recall, propelled me into her life and into a time and place I have no experience with. Her language is rich and descriptive and evocative. She continued to inspire me all the while I read, never getting in more than a few pages before turning back to my own writing. I’ll probably never tackle the ~1800 page trilogy, but learning about her life was fascinating.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain This book was a revelation for me. I spent much of my life thinking I was a weirdo, didn’t fit in, and was unpopular, unlike my older siblings, because of flaws in me. As it turns out, I didn’t thrive in the same environment as them, and my strengths lay elsewhere. And there are many. What a relief. The book tries to weave in lots of research which I glazed over. The prescriptive part was helpful to understand myself and find ways to create environments in which I can thrive and see myself in a more positive life. It was also helpful in thinking about friends and family members, especially how to see my grandkids more clearly and do what I can to help them. I also recommend this book for extroverts so that they can be more supportive of their introverted friends and family, and also find ways to create the right environments for themselves.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – JK Rowling Yes, all 759 pages. I was at a beach house. That’s what you do at a beach house instead of finishing the book you brought. I was quickly enmeshed in hidden horcruxes, the cloak of invisibility, avada kadavra, and enviable friendships. OK, I skimmed over the teen angst tantrum bits.
The Chronology of Water – Lidia Yuknavitch Wow, never read anything like this memoir. She calls it corporal writing, right smack into the body as she explores abuse, all things sex and drinking and risky behavior to ward off the memory of abuse. ALL things sex, but also as part of exploring understanding and how to be a person in this world. I loved this book.
Red at the Bone – Jacqueline Woodson I loved this portrayal of unique multi-generation black families, told in a uniquely creative way, each chapter told from different characters’ viewpoints. While it travels back and forth in time, the links between families and generations creates an epic story.
Mother Lode – Gretchen Staebler Here’s my blogpost about this book. I highly recommend this well written book to anyone who is a caregiver, or has been, or will be. Or hell, anyone who is going to have to be taken care of some day. Or anyone getting older. Staebler tells the bitter and bold truth about moving back into her childhood home to care for her 96 year old mother, thinking it would be a year. It turned into six. Each woman tries to maintain their independence even as their lives grow increasingly intertwined. The mother-daughter relationship is often one of struggle and Staebler doesn’t shy away from the harsh and bitter realities. At the same time she portrays their deep love. She beautifully weaves in family stories, and journeys into her own relationship with getting older, and the exhausting work of healing her relationship with her aging mother. Gripping, emotional, smart, and funny. I read an advanced copy, but you can read the first two chapters on her website and pre-order the book there too.
Forty-eight Fragments – Imelda Maguire A lovely book of poetry by an Irish friend. I have enjoyed her lyrical prose in our writing group, and now am privileged to read her poems as well. She writes of family and nature, full of luscious description and concise observations. It’s well-grounded in Ireland, but the experiences and emotion belong to us all.
Stop-Time – Frank Conway Having read Mentor (see below) I needed to know the co-star of that book. Conway’s memoir is uniquely written, stories of his coming of age, but seemingly told from either an adult perspective, or he was unusually precocious. I enjoyed the view into a life so different from my own.
Mortality – Christopher Hitchens A collection of previously published essays written during Hitchens’ last 18 months of life going from sudden diagnosis of stage IV cancer to his death. There were some excellent descriptions of his experience, and some arguments for atheism. But a bit too much about how great he is, his voice, his fame. I’ve never read anything by him, so I may have missed something. The first chapter was the best, describing his newfound citizenship in the land of the sick.
The Dream House – Carmen Maria Machado Wow! I’ve never read a memoir like this, or any creative writing like this. I can’t describe it. “Genre-breaking” say some. Ostensibly about abuse in queer relationships and trying to get a handle on her own experience, and about abusive relationships in general. It is mesmerizing and continually surprising, both funny and brutal. The structure of the book is unique and undefinable. At least to me. Read it. Your world will expand.
Mentor – Tom Grimes Wonderful memoir about the author and his teacher Frank Conway, about writing books, about the Iowa Writers Workshop, and honest about the
challenges nightmare of writing. So creatively, expressively written, and honest. I’ll go on to read Conroy’s books now, Stop-Time and Body & Soul.
This Time Tomorrow – Emma Straub To say it’s about time travel isn’t it at all, it’s more like what if you could go back and change things with one act, one conversation? Haven’t we all wished that? And when that doesn’t work you get to do it again to try get it right. And then try to figure out which parts of your life really matter, and what’s important. I liked this book!
The Book of Two Ways – Jodi Picoult Enjoyable read, about the what ifs of a life, wondering if a different choice might have led you down a different path, whether what you chose is the right one. I learned about Egyptology, death and dying, art, medicine and physics. Picoult is a dedicated researcher. I’m still thinking about the ending.
Admiring Silence – Abdulrazak Gurnah The author writes fiction from his experience of leaving Zanzibar, making a new home in England, and in this book, the theme is being at home in neither place, and coming to terms with who he is. I didn’t like the character much, too self-pitying and sarcastic and cold. But his experience rings true, and he tells an important post-colonial story. Not sure about the Nobel though.
Tasha: A Son’s Memoir – Brian Morton I like memoirs. This one is about the author’s mother, who he bashed a bit in an earlier book apparently, and now that’s she’s dead, he is trying to make amends, trying to come to terms, trying to overcome his doubts and regrets, but also does a great job describing the crazy-making conversations that we have with parents with dementia and parents who are hoarders, and families whose communication skills are, well, challenging. Funny, poignant and a good ending I thought.
Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death – Irvin D. Yalom This came highly recommended and I’m enjoying it, taking it VERY slowly. In fact I’ve re-checked out from the library several times. It explores various reasons we avoid thinking about death, things we do that unbeknownst to us may be related to our fear of death (a source of neurosis), and encouraging us to look without wincing, as I do. Very readable. Many stories taken from his psychotherapy practice. Also, I went to school with his kids, so that peaked my interest too.
A Sand County Almanac – Aldo Leopold Well, I tried. I tried it after I quoted his essay Marsh Elegies in my Sandhill Crane blog. He describes nature beautifully but it’s also a bit archaic – written in 1949 – and I found myself slogging and giving up. Reading essay after essay on nature gets hard after awhile for me.
Wish You Were Here – Jodi Picoult Somehow this is the first Picoult book I’ve read. I liked it a great deal, especially as a break from reading about death and writing (not in the same book). It’s set in the first year of the pandemic, and I enjoy reading fictional accounts of this a great deal. How strange and new it all was in March of 2020! The book moves fast, and has some excellent twists, and I liked the characters a great deal, and she did some great research on all the facets – art, healthcare, and the Galapagos. I may read more Picoult. Or not. I liked The Sentence better (Erdrich, see below).
These Silent Woods – Kimi Cunningham Grant A good read, well told, quick and riveting, interesting characters, suspenseful. It seems to be very popular. A little moralistic perhaps. An excellent break from all the non-fiction I keep checking out and not finishing.
Write for Your Life – Anna Quindlen This book is meant for people who don’t write, but it’s slim, double-spaced with large font, so it went quickly, and I was curious what Quindlen, who I like, had to say on the topic. She points out how writing what we may think of as quotidian – our daily lives – is often edifying for ourselves and for others – old love letters, Anne Frank’s diary, the importance of free writing in schools (and for all), how health care workers find solace in writing, and so on. Encouragement to writers and non-writers alike.
Wayward – Diana Spiotta I don’t know what to say about this book. I should have put it down earlier. I was somehow driven to finish, though I did not like the protagonist. But I think the point was to present someone unlikable and see where she went. So I did. Meh. Wish I could remember how it ended up on my list. Alan’s too.
The Electricity of Every Living Thing – Katherine May Loved this. It’s a beautifully written braid of two stories: walking the 680 mile South West Coast Path in the UK, and about discovering and trying to understand her newfound self-diagnosis of autism (later confirmed). Her descriptions of both are electric in themselves, the details in her perceptions of the natural world as well as how she processes stimuli of the modern world and people, including her husband and son. It’s tender and funny, and helps me understand my own behavior, and that of others, as being along a wide spectrum. And by understanding, perhaps coping and helping and forgiving better. It took me three weeks to read Braiding Sweetgrass and one to read this. I need to stick with memoir and fiction.
Braiding Sweetgrass – Robin Wall Kimmerer I so wanted to love this book, and I did, parts of it. But it took me most of April to get through halfway, and finally it was so grievously overdue at the library, I returned it, to be picked up at some later date. Many of the essays are wonderful, especially the ones that are more memoir and less legend. I love the way she embraces nature as another living being to be honored, like animals or humans. I think it’s an important book. But I need to get back to my favorite reading, books that I can’t put down.
Harlem Shuffle – Colson Whitehead I love Whitehead’s books, but after the first few pages I didn’t think I could made it through. The characters seemed so doomed, and who needs doom right now? But I continued, and ended up loving it. His portrayal of the characters is so incisive and deep, even though they’re so foreign to my world, to my understanding of the time and place. They felt real, and I ended up cheering them on, the portraying the times, late 50s and early 60s, also felt true. Another important book to understand our country and our people.
The Writer’s Portable Mentor – Priscilla Long An excellent course on writing, about many aspects I hadn’t thought about or worked on. I tend to like to do things, not read about how to do things. But there was so much in this book that I absorbed without doing the assignments. And if I ever did them I’d be a much better writer. But I’d rather write. Still, so much good info about language, structure, observation, and more.
I Came All This Way to Meet You – Jami Attenberg An interesting memoir, which I read because I love Attenberg’s e-news and #1000wordsofsummer projects. Her story goes back and forth in time so much I lost the thread, but I suppose she did that on purpose, just not sure what it is. She’s had an intense life, and I do like reading writers’ memoirs. Their struggles are my struggles.
Saved By A Song: The Art and Healing Power of Songwriting – Mary Gauthier Loved this, both because of the gritty and honest memoir, and how she explains her songwriting technique. She breaks down and explains her songs in smaller components, shows her process and editing progression on some of them, and highlights a couple other songwriters (John Lennon and John Prine). She writes about co-writing with veterans – people who returned from war silent and unheard. And she writes about what songs and music can mean to us all.
Faith of Cranes – Hank Lentfer A writer friend sent me this book after I blogged about seeing Sandhill Cranes. It’s a lovely weaving together of memoir and cranes, with an emphasis on his Alaskan naturalist upbringing, his fight to slow down the destruction of nature’s habitats, and how he grows into a better understanding of himself and the world around him. The descriptions of the cranes and of living off the land are wonderful. A sweet and short, easy read.
Cloud Cuckoo Land – Anthony Doerr Epic novel set in Constantinople in the late 1400s, modern day Idaho, and future scifi, with some early Greek times to tie it all together. It took me a while to grasp it, but then a great ride with wonderful characters, terrific braiding together of stories, and wow, what an imagination. I want to know how the hell he came up with it, and did he know the end and work backwards? As satisfying as his previous book, All the Light We Cannot See.
The Lincoln Highway – Amor Towles This was a bad book for right before sleep because it got my blood pumping. What would happen next to these unique and wonderful characters, and how could this possibly end well for any of them? It’s a wonderful hero’s journey, and Towles once again has you on the edge of your seat (or bed).
The Sentence – Louise Erdrich Another delight. 2022 reading is going well. More than a ghost story, more than a book about books and words. That was great. But also rich characters, Erdrich’s beautiful prose, and 2020, in its grim detail, the confusion and chaos, George Floyd, the complications of being a modern Indigenous person, struggle, redemption, it’s all there.
Oh William! – Elizabeth Strout What a delightful writer. She inhabits her characters like no one else and they are so alive. I especially love her Olive Kitteridge character. Now must go back and re-read My Name is Lucy Barton because I didn’t realize when I read it that it wasn’t a book to see what happens next, but a deep dive into characters. And thus myself.
Crossroads – Jonathan Franzen When I started I kept thinking I should put it down and go on to something better. Too male (especially after the sublime Patchett), too Christian, too much soap opera and dysfunctional family. But I didn’t listen, and then I felt like I had to finish. I finished and slammed the book down, full of regret for giving it so much time. It’s the first of a trilogy, and he ends it up in the air so you’ll read the next book.
These Precious Days – Ann Patchett So so great. I took my time, lingered over wordings, didn’t want it to end. Some essays I’d read elsewhere and they were still completely captivating. She writes about writing which of course I love, and about friendships, home life. The essay from the title I’d read before, and it remains the most masterful storytelling, capturing a friendship and the tentative nature of life, so much human reflection. So good.
This is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire – Nick Flynn A memoir, strange and lyrical, an interesting writer, trying to solve the quandaries and challenges of being unable to move past childhood memories and trauma, but moving through them nonetheless.
Let Me Tell You What I Mean – Joan Didion I love essays and I love her prose and this collection is wonderful. Most from the 60s. Smart, insightful, a good eye for observation. Picked it up because “Why I Write” is so great.
The Answers Are Inside the Mountains: Meditations on the Writing Life – William Stafford
Wild Words: Rituals, Routines, and Rhythms for Braving the Writer’s Path – Nicole Gulotta More geared toward working women with small children, but there was some good advice. Though I can’t remember what it was.
Transcription and Case Histories – Kate Atkinson Irish mysteries. I was caught up in one and thought I’d read more, but she piles on characters and red herrings to the extent that I get lost. I gave her two chances. Otherwise I like her prose a lot, and sometimes you just need a good mystery.
Bright Dead Things – Ada Limon I admit I only read half. I like her poems, but I just can’t read poetry books. Some genetic flaw for sure. I like receiving a poem here and there, and diving in one at a time. I was caught by “Before” and “Mowing”.
Making Comics – Lynda Barry I just love Barry. I keep thinking I’ll follow her advice and just draw, but it hasn’t happened. But it could, and she creates a path toward that, should you have a desire. Her method is so like Natalie Goldberg’s writing practice style. It starts very basic and works upward, making it sound easy.
All Adults Here – Emma Straub Always challenging to read about dysfunctional families who bring about their own suffering, but I do like books with main characters as 60-something year old women coming to terms with their life.
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 and homelessness; a great wild 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 Great writer and book!
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 A hero. Taking an online course with her Spring 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.
12 thoughts on “BookStack”
We have a similar taste in books! Not surprising.I just ordered Ocean Vuong’s book. I heard a couple of interviews with him and fell in love.
Give Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet a try — my favorite of the decade.
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Hmmm, either I read it or I tried it, but I looking at the synopsis I can’t recall it. Worth another try then!
I love this page. I really love the page title. I might prove how much I love it by copying it!
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Pretty sure I heisted it myself. 🙂 Steal away.
And, should my library hold list ever dwindle to nothing (laughing hysterically now, there are currently 35 books on it), I’ll return here. One of my few vivid childhood memories is of the bookmobile. I’ve been a big ol’ fan of the bibliotheque ever since.
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I got you beat by a mile. I should start a list of all the books I WANT to read….
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This is fabulous. I have done the exact same thing on my blog – a list of books I’ve read or am reading, by the year. I also slowed down during the pandemic, and I don’t know why. I look forward to coming back here when I want a recommendation.
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Oh good. I mostly track it all for myself, though I’m not sure why. So I can chastise myself when I haven’t read enough? Or so I can check back – did I actually read this book that I’m reading cause it sounds familiar but I don’t remember reading it? Oy. I’ll check yours out.
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Ha ha! You’re hilarious. That sounds like my brain.
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