Sometimes, especially during a Pandemic, it’s good to spend time with an old friend.
Many books are one-and-doners. This post is not about them!
Once or twice a year I re-read a book upon finishing to deepen my understanding (Lincoln in the Bardo or My Brilliant Friend, for example).
Other times it’ll be a few years later for the joy of catching up with an old friend. A book that’s been with you for years can evoke wonderful feelings and memories. These are the books that are among my old friends:
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving – I adore the skill John Irving has in wrapping everything up. Everything in the book has a purpose and is pulled together at the end. Triumphant feeling just reminiscing about this book.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – My mom and I were huge fans of old movies. I watched the old black and white movie as a child without knowing the title numerous times. The creepy orphanage and madwoman scenes made a definite impact. When I started reading Jane Eyre as an adolescent & realized I had happened upon the book that the creepy movie was based upon, it was love at first read.
Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver – I first read The Bean Trees in an early 1990’s book club in Hoboken. I was hooked – Barbara Kingsolver was the first modern writer I encountered whose books included everything a twenty-something wanted: environmentalism, social awareness, (maybe justice?), romance, natural beauty. I have returned to this book several times and consider it a kind-of fairy tale, even as a no-longer twenty-something.
My high school copy of Pride and Prejudice – well read!
Pride and Prejudice by the Queen Jane Austen – this I have read probably 10 times, starting in high school. I even used the book as a basis for a business school paper for my Negotiations class! (I wrote about Mr. Collins’ marriage proposal to Elizabeth and their back/forth). Maybe then my favorite book ever? I know I’ve read Sense & Sensibility at least twice. I just re-read P&P earlier this month after finishing a demanding Hilary Mantel book. I needed something loving & familiar to get back in the saddle. So satisfying!!!
I wrote this a month ago – and it still holds – my fave book of 2020.
My favorite hands down has been Aperiogon by Colum McCann – I just finished it today. It is an amazing novel based on actual events and real people. The plot centers around two unlikely friends, Rami and Bassam, who work together in the Parents Group to speak out against the conditions that led to their childrens’ deaths.
Rami is an Israeli whose daughter Smadar was killed at age 13 in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Bassam is a Palestinian whose daughter Abir was killed at the age of 9 by an Israeli border guard after she left a shop during a school recess. Rami’s daughter’s death pre-dates their friendship; Abir is killed during it.
The book is constructed in 1001 vignettes – an homage to 1001 Arabian Nights. Some are only a sentence long, some are several pages. It is an interesting construct and worked in my opinion.
McCann draws on the geopolitical history of Israel and Palestine. I found myself continually referring to maps and looking up the names of places. I also searched for details on historical events that are referenced throughout the book. In this way the recent conflicts were made much more real and tangible to me.
Even with the violence and sadness that are the central reasons for the book, McCann infuses the book with nature, love and a sense of optimism.
I am interested in hearing how people who may have strong opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian situation react to the book. If you get a chance to read it let me know what you think!
I will be re-reading this in the near future for sure.
A Novel by Julia Phillips
Published 2019 by Alfred A. Knopf, 256 pages.
My author-book club friend recommends a lot of books and and I’m always adding them to my To-Read List…. when I’m between books I’ll scroll through and see what to read next. I was scrolling and browsing in our local bookstore last week and ended up buying Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips.
I found out after I read it that the book has been short-listed for the National Book Award. I haven’t read others on the short-list but think this book deserves it. Here are some of the reasons why:
Compelling mystery – you’ll be presented with it when you read the inside cover so I’ll tell you anyway. Two young sisters go missing in Kamchatka, Russia. I don’t like knowing something bad is going to happen, especially to kids, so this first chapter was a little cringey. But good.
New-to-me setting – Have you ever heard of the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia? Me neither. It’s only accessible by sea or air because of the crazy mountains and volcanos. Home of indigenous people (the Even for example) and settled by western Russians. The landscape is beautifully described and is central to the story.
Strong and complex female characters – Yes there are many. Phillips provides a cast of characters so you can refer back to see who is who and how they may be related to another character. Also helpful because the names are Russian or Even.
Structure – The book proceeds in a linear timeline. Each chapter presents a character and her story – all which will pertain in some way to the central mystery. This structure allows Phillips to explore overarching themes and how they play into the book’s central drama of the missing children: female relationships, male/female relationships, indigenous versus non-indigenous, capitalism versus a traditional way of life.
To make the reading of this book even more a pleasure, Julia Phillips came to [words] bookstore tonight. She read an excerpt and I got to meet her. My friend Boo Trundle (they are in a writing group together) interviewed her… It was exciting!
Already missing the lazy reading days of August vacation…
Well summer vacation is now sadly over and we’re back to real life. I didn’t read quite as much as I usually do over the summer because I had so many things going on. These were the books I enjoyed in August.
First I read Circe by Madeline Miller for one of my book clubs (published in 2018, 391 pages). It is a novelized (is that a word?) version of the life of Circe, a minor Greek goddess. It’s hard to get into at first because you’re reading about Olympians and nymphs and their eternal lives, but gradually you get into the flow of the book. Madeline Miller has imagined the minutiae and details of Circe’s mythology, and it ends up being very interesting, and even believable.
Next up was Inland by Tea Obreht. I was eager to read this book by the author of The Tiger’s Wife. Hot off the presses (just published, 370 pages), the book is set in the late 1800’s in Arizona. It interweaves the story of Nora, a woman on the desert frontier, and Lurie, a man on the run from the law. I’m a sucker for historic western fiction and this was right up my alley. There are a few too many sub-plots but the book is still very enjoyable, although you’ll feel as parched as Nora by the end of the book.
I finished The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso while on our annual vacation at the Jersey shore (2016, 278 pages). The author has an interesting background – born in Barbados, grew up in Nigeria, lives in South Africa – and it really enhances the book. Omotoso tells the story of two Cape Town women (one white, one black) who have been neighbors for years and loathe each other. Things happen, they end up spending a lot of time together, and their relationship evolves. I especially loved Hortensia’s character and admired/enjoyed her anger and bitterness. The interweaving accounts can be hard to follow but still an enjoyable read. Very interesting on the post-apartheid culture and also a lot of insight into marriage and relationships. I think we’ll have a lot to talk about at our next book club meeting!
My final August book was Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2019, 368 pages). Highly recommend! It is a fictional account of a ’70’s band written as a series of interviews with the band members, roadies and groupies…kind of like a documentary. It’s very engaging and feels real. It’s a bummer that there’s actually no album to listen to at the end!
Hope you had a great reading summer and please let me know if you have any recommendations!!
Really enjoyed this book – a little different and it made me laugh out loud.
I haven’t been the best blogger this summer – sorry. Here is a quick catch up on what I’ve been reading.
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane was discussed in our book club. Just published this year, I read it on my Kindle app because I didn’t expect it to be super good. But it was really good and I should have bought the book! May Attaway is a 40’ish gardener who lives at home with her dad. She’s not entirely happy, and she embarks on a quest to visit four of her formerly good friends. May grows and changes as a person as a result of her quest. I recommend!
Two book club friends mentioned My Year of Rest and Relaxation and said they had loved it, so I had to try it. (Thanks to Mame for lending me her copy.) The book is by Ottessa Mosfegh and was published in 2018 and is 287 pages long. I loved it but it’s not for everyone. It follows a year in which the narrator, a young woman in 2000/2001 NYC, is suffering from depression. She aims to spend time as much time sleeping as possible in order to cope with her life. It is dark but at times laugh out loud funny. Very different and I recommend it.
Published in 2008 and loosely based on Laura Bush’s life… really good!
I also continued my Curtis Sittenfeld spree with American Wife, which is a fictionalization of aspects of Laura Bush’s life. Published in 2008 and 555 pages long, it is the narrative of Alice Lindgren who becomes First Lady of the US in 2001. It’s a deep dive into the various relationships Alice has – specifically her best friend Dena and then her husband Charlie. It was very interesting and well written, and does offer a few twists. It’s a more fulfilling read than a typical beach paperback & worth the time!
My other book club read The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (published 2018, 421 pages). Set in both 1980’s Chicago and present day Paris, it chronicles the impact that the AIDS crisis had on a group of friends, and it’s reverberations a generation later. Very well written and beautiful. Recommend!
An at times uncomfortable though always insightful portrayal of relationships.
This book jumped off the shelf into my arms as I was browsing at the bookstore!
Sally Rooney really gets how people, especially women, think and relate to each other. Conversations With Friends (2017, 307 pages) details the complicated relationship between Frances and Bobbi, two college students in Dublin. The two young women embark on a friendship with an older woman and her husband (Melissa and Nick).
I get a little squeamish in books or movies when someone is going to get caught doing something they shouldn’t be doing. I almost put the book down because I thought that’s where this book was headed… However after a day’s lapse I resumed reading and was so glad I did.
Frances perceptively narrates the progression of the different relationships. Per the title there is a lot of conversation, and also a lot of inner thinking. As the story proceeds, Frances does become the young millennial feminist that her personae presents. She is not afraid to be who she is and love whom she loves. (Grammar people is “whom” correct there?)
It was fun getting inside Frances’ mind. She is a stand-offish cool-as-a-cucumber sort on the outside and (of course) inwardly full of self-doubt. She is continually surprised at others’ reactions to her because she is so internally focused and doesn’t express herself to others. It made me reflect on paradigms we establish about ourselves and our relationships. It also made me wonder what type of woman I would be if I were 21 years old myself today! What choices would I make?
So I do recommend this book. I grabbed this copy at Words, let me know if you’d like to borrow it. Also – in 2017 it was on several Best Books of the Year lists (Vogue, Slate for example) and Sally Rooney won the Sunday Times Young Writers of the Year Award.