Books That Are Old Friends

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!!!

What are your favorite “old friends”?

She Said

A book with great insights about both the journalistic process and the effects that sexual harassment on women.

She Said (2019, Penguin Press 261 pages) is a non-fiction account of the reporting odyssey that New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey undertook while they pursued the story about Harvey Weinstein’s treatment of women. Kantor and Twohey and the NYT won the Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for Journalism in the area of Public Service for their reporting (Note that Ronan Farrow also won for The New Yorker in this category).

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the book. I already had the basic background of Weinstein’s abuses – they were detailed in the original articles (see here for the original October 5, 2017 article that broke the story). The book gives more explicit details than the articles. The male-dominated culture that allowed the abuses to continue is very upsetting but not surprising.

What I really enjoyed about the book was the minutiae of the investigation. The tension builds as the reporters court actresses and former employees to convince them to go on the record about what they had experienced. The authors do a really good job of laying out the investigative process, and it is fascinating. Even though I knew the outcome, I was quickly caught up and couldn’t put the book down.

Kantor and Twohey also document Christine Blasey Ford’s decision to come forward about her high school experience with Brett Kavanaugh. They reveal the intricacies that led to her testifying in Washington. Again – very interesting to learn more about what took place behind the scenes prior to to her testimony.

Finally, in early 2019 the authors congregate key women from the She Said movement in a weekend meeting in California. The women process what they have accomplished and how the movement has impacted their lives.

All in all, a great book with a lot of insights about the journalistic process and the impacts that sexual harassment have had on women.

Had Higher Expectations…

Sometimes you cannot wait for a book to be published.

When I love a book I usually look for other works by the same author and add them to my To-Read list and/or gobble them up as soon as I can get my hands on them. Louise Erdrich is one author I became acquainted with after reading The Round House. The other books I read by her did not disappoint.

Ever since I read Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, I could not wait for Krueger’s follow up novel, This Tender Land. I put it on my Goodreads list & even entered a contest in hopes of winning a copy. I grabbed it at Words (our local bookstore) as soon as it was in and cleared the decks for a weekend of reading.

So I’m disappointed to report that This Tender Land is not as good as Ordinary Grace (Krueger has also written a series of mystery novels.) It was too predictable and too far-fetched. Set in the 1930’s involving runaways from a home for native American children, it felt too contrived. I was disappointed. Maybe if I re-read Ordinary Grace I would think the same about that. Not sure. I think This Tender Land will appeal to a lot of readers, though, so if you like historical fiction give it a try.

I also recently read The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld. A year or two ago I LOVED The Child Finder. I thought it was suspenseful and well-written. Unfortunately though, I found The Butterfly Girl predictable and too contrived. I raced through it rather than trying to enjoy it.

The last not-as-good-as-I’d-hoped follow up is The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. Hannah also wrote the best-selling The Nightingale (and 14 other books), which was set in WW II France. The Great Alone is set in remote Alaska in the 1970s and details how a girl survives with a PTSD dad and a victimized mom. I loved the description of the setting and was eagerly buying the story for most of the book… it just got a little unbelievable about 3/4 of the way through. I sped read the last 100 pages at least!

So my take-away – I can’t always assume follow up books will be as good as I hope they will be. Still love when they are though, and makes reading a few “mehs” worth it.

When They See Us – You Must Watch This Series

I took a break from reading to watch this series… you should too.

Ava DuVernay’s four part series about the children who were wrongly accused, prosecuted and jailed for a crime they didn’t commit. (93% on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us was the first Netflix series that I ever downloaded and watched. I highly recommend that you watch it if you haven’t already.

It is the depiction of what happened to the five Harlem boys who were accused, prosecuted and jailed for attacking and raping the Central Park Jogger in 1989. The story is told from their and their families’ perspectives. Presented in four parts, each about an hour long. Not a huge time commitment but it is an emotional commitment.

It’s hard to watch to because you know what is going to happen and you can not stop it from happening. You can’t tell Kevin to stay home and skip the park. You can’t tell Korey to stay with his girlfriend that night, and then not to go with Yusef to take a little trip downtown the next day. You can’t tell Ray Santana’s dad that he should skip work and stay with his son at the station. You can’t tell Tron’s dad that no, Tron should not sign the made-up confession.

The injustice and inhumanity these boys and their families endured is heartbreaking and infuriating. Everyone should watch and absorb and learn. We should not accept a society that does this to our children.

And, if you doubt that the series is an accurate depiction of what happened, please also watch Ken Burns’ 2 hour 2012 documentary “The Central Park Five”.

Half Way Check-In

More than half way to my goal!!

Hi everyone – July 3rd here and I haven’t written in a while. The month of June generally kicks my butt and this month was especially cray-cray. So I did read 3’ish books but didn’t really have time to write.

My office after month of June….looks scarier in the pic than in real life….

I also took a day while traveling to download and watch When They See Us – the Ava DuVernay series about the Central Park 5. Highly recommend and will post separately about it.

In any case, as of yesterday I had read 30 books this year so I’m slightly ahead of schedule. Please refer to this page to see the books I’ve read so far this year and here for my favorite books so far.

I’m starting another book – my book club has chosen Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers …. or should I clean the office first?

A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee

A not easy novel about life in India.

I grabbed this book at Words, our local bookstore, because it looked interesting and because it had a sticker that noted it was one of the NYT’s 10 Best Books of 2018. I brought it to Florida and tried to dive in after I finished the Andrew Yang book.

It was a tough ride.

The book is broken into five sections that read as stand-alone stories but are interconnected by characters. They are set in various locations in India, and the predominant feelings I got from reading the book were heat, crowdedness and despair.

The very first part that I read that first day was short and depressing. I had to put the book down and didn’t pick it up again until I had read 4 “easier” books (see last post LOL). It’s about an Indian ex-patriot returning with his young son to see tourist sites. I put it down for 7 days after that section.

The second section was more interesting – it concerned an upper class son and his interactions with the maids and cooks that his parents employed. I found the intricacies of the household tempo and daily housekeeping fascinating.

I did not like the third section. It’s about a peasant and a bear that he captures and trains to “dance” as they wander around trying to make money. These characters appear as a clause in the first section.

The fourth section tells the backstory of one of the maids in the second section. It is more readable than the other sections but still tough.

The last section is the shortest and honestly I skimmed it as I was about done with the book. The narrator is connected to the first and third sections as far as I can tell.

So overall – I don’t really recommend this book for the faint of heart, unless you are into the nitty gritty of basic peasant life in India. This book was raw and while maybe well-written and meaningful, I was distracted by the feelings of “omg”. I may try it again in the future…

Books I Read in 2018 (in no particular order)

Last year I got to 39.5 books, check out what I read.

How many books do we have in common? Please respond in the comments!

Less: Not everybody liked this book but I dug it. Won Pulitzer.
Reservoir 13: Eerie book set in remote English village…. Need to find another by this author.
The Power: Women Take Over, Watch Out. Don’t read much sci fi but this was good…
  1. My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley
  2. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  3. The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason
  4. Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
  5. Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce
  6. The Man I Never Met: A Memoir by Adam Schefter
  7. Exit West by Mohsin Hamed
  8. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
  9. Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood
  10. The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
  11. We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
  12. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
  13. Less by Andrew Sean Greer
  14. The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolfs
  15. There There by Tommy Orange
  16. The Pisces by Melissa Broder
  17. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
  18. The Leavers by Lisa Ko
  19. A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass
  20. Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston
  21. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
  22. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  23. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  24. Educated by Tara Westover
  25. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
  26. The Revenant by Michael Punke
  27. Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan
  28. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
  29. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  30. Good Neighbors by Joanne Serling
  31. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  32. The Power by Naomi Alderman
  33. Tiernan’s Wake by Richard T. Rook
  34. Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
  35. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  36. Catapult by Emily Fridlund
  37. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  38. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
  39. Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

and then 39 1/2 is Black Klansman which I read half-way and then lent to my 13 year old friend…. finish it when I get it back!