most of march-may reading 2010

I try not to blog here too often, but I have been seriously remiss in reporting here that our fundraising drive to send Walt Crawford to ALA was successful. 36 people donated a total of $1210, which Walt assures us will be enough to get him to DC and back. Walt writes a little about the whole thing on his blog, too. I can’t make it, but if you are there, please give him my best.

In the meantime, I’ve read a few books, though never as many as I’d like.

A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein — It’s always fun to read a book with a character with your name. . . especially when that character is a no-good prodigal daughter suspected of infanticide who’s returned and is now carrying on a relationship with the college dropout son (there’s a great line about how he flunked out of Hampshire, where you don’t even get grades) of the main character, a suburban New Jersey doctor. I think most people, myself most emphatically included, make bad decisions at some point or other, and reading books about other people’s bad decisions is one way to think about your own. I guess there are people in the world who feel that there lives have been free of tragedy and bad decision making, and I guess perhaps those are the people who find books like this one lurid or over-the-top, and then there are people who have plenty of tragedy and bad decision making to go around and would prefer not to deal with it in fiction. If you do like it in fiction, though, this book is for you. (Also, I love that it got me to sympathize with a character who wants to live in the suburbs.)

Radical Simplicity by Dan Price — I picked this up when someone returned it, because I love to imagine that I have an alternate life full of good health and practical skills and can thus go off and live in a homemade yurt on some farmer’s property whilst living off my income as a freelance writer.

Bad Apple by Laura Ruby — I read this mostly during rehearsals for this year’s Missoula Children’s Theatre production here, and, I must say, it was an unmemorable YA novel.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks — Even though I often love historical fiction, I also often have a moment of dread when I start it, thinking — thinking what, I’m not sure — I suppose whatever it is that the words “historical fiction” conjure for people who don’t like it — but I’m almost always pleasantly surprised, as I was by this book, which was the March selection for our book discussion group. Despite the slightly out-there ending, the book is put together beautifully, and it made me want to go look stuff up about every thirty pages, which I think is a good thing. It’s set in an actual village that decided to quarantine itself due to an outbreak of the plague; a few characters are real, but all are used fictitiously, and it’s both a good story and a sort of lovely mashup of ideas from plague novels past and present and The Scarlet Letter and a dozen or so other things.

After by Amy Efaw — Well. There are books about other people’s bad decisions that are illuminating, and then there are books about other people’s bad decisions that just make you want to throw them across the room. This YA novel also concerns a teenager who kills her baby, although it is the central subject of the book rather than an alluded to prior event. But oh my. She has a single mother. A single promiscuous mother! She, however, is perfect and only even ever had sex once! She has a young, hip, yet tough female lawyer! She grows up and takes responsibility! Oh, it is terrible. Terrible, terrible. Yet apparently trainwreck terrible, the kind of terrible that compels you to finish the book. Oh well.

R Tam Lin by Pamela Dean — Reread because of an earlier conversation on FriendFeed that I can’t find now, but I’ll offer this somewhat humorous follow-up

R Bel Canto by Ann Patchett — April’s book discussion book, still as good as the first time I read it, although in some ways I think I prefer some of Patchett’s less perfect novels.

Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott — The great thing about working in the library is that you see pre-pub reviews. The terrible thing about working in the library is that it’s such a long time between when the pre-pub reviews come out and when the actual book arrives in your library. A patron who’d never read anything by Lamott told me she read and loved this book. I can’t help but think it’s probably better, or richer, if you’ve read Rosie and Crooked Little Heart, but they’re not necessary to understanding the new one. This may be my least favorite of the three, but I’d want to go back and reread the others again, and let this one sink in a bit longer, to be sure. In any case, I love a writer who revisits characters periodically over the years.

When I Came West by Laurie Wagner Buyer — A memoir by a young woman who dropped out of college in the early 1970s to come live with a man in a cabin in northern Montana whom she’d never met. She wanted to move west, you see, and live close to the wild, and she didn’t know any other way to do it, which is both sad and yet understandable. It’s very hard to be born into a world you are sure you don’t belong in and yet have no idea how to go about getting to or functioning in the place you think you do belong.

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli — I want to review this book by saying, “It’s like Message from ‘Nam, only good,” except then of course I’d have to admit to you that I’ve read Message from ‘Nam, which is an Danielle Steel novel that I did, in fact, read once when I was in college, because my housemates and I were addicted to Lifetime movies, and we had taped their version of this, only it cut off at the end, so I had to find out what happened. Anyway. Both books deal with young women who leave home to work as journalists in Vietnam (one as a writer, one as a photographer), and both have various experiences that lead them to a more complicated understanding of the war and its effects. Soli’s book, though, as I noted, is actually good, and if you happen to be fascinated by journalists in Vietnam in general (as I am, as a result of reading Dispatches and a book called War Torn), it is fantastic.

Devotion by Dani Shapiro — Over a decade ago I stayed up all night reading Shapiro’s first memoir, Slow Motion. I didn’t do that with this one, but only because I am older and have a full-time job and don’t function without sleep. Most of the early reviews I read made it sound like I was going to hate it — like it was going to be another one of those “I did this thing for a year where I asked a rabbi, a Buddhist, and a yogi for spiritual advice,” but it actually wasn’t like that at all. Instead, it’s a series of lovely, numbered mini-essays that go down like canapes, or more properly that reminded me of finding a series of birds nests with tiny, beautiful eggs in them.

2 thoughts on “most of march-may reading 2010”

  1. How did you like Radical Simplicity? I also fantasize about a radically simpler life, though/because reality is quite different. If you recommend it, I’ll read it.

  2. It’s decent — not a great piece of writing, but it has charming illustrations, and it’s a very quick read.

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