READ: Speak by Louisa Hall + much more

I have anxiety about weird things. I don’t like being late for anything. It makes my hands sweaty and my heart beat a little fast. I don’t leave my house dirty and my bed unmade. I can’t do it. I can’t stand leaving emails unanswered – drives me nuts. And I hate turning my library books in late. I picture the next person on the hold list waiting patiently for the book to arrive on the reserve bookshelf, and that makes me stay up late to finish a book so I can return it on the due date. Related: San Diego overdue library fines are at 7 millions dollars right now…people, turn your books in on time, people are waiting for them!

Since it is the Fall, when the best books of the year are released, I have a loooong list of books on my library hold list. They all seem to arrive at once, so I am reading like crazy to keep up and to make sure that I am returning them all on time. Lots of good ones…

Speak by Louisa Hall

The most unique book I read this year! If you like the movies “Her” and “Ex Machina” or all of the work of David Mitchell, you will probably love this book as much as I did. Hall uses different narrative devices to tell the story – chapters rotate between letters, instant messaging, diary, memoirs, and memories in a computer program. These devices are used by six different narrators – A babybot (a robot that looks like a doll to appeal to young children), a computer program and a young girl (example of the dialogue between them: Young Girl: “So you’re not really a person, you’re a collection of voices. Mary3: Yes. But couldn’t you say that’s always the case”), a Puritan woman crossing the ocean to America, the Silicon Valley creator of the babybots, a Jewish refugee after WWII, and Alan Turing.

The book explores loneliness and the inability to fully connect with others. A pervading sense of loss hangs over the novel, which leads the narrators on a search for connection in an attempt to find meaning.

Related to this book/idea is a new 2-part TED podcast called Screen Time. Our connection with computers is on an irreversible path – where will it lead?

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

As the horrible news about the killing of Cecil the Lion spread like wildfire on social media and the news, I was reading about the heroine of this novel’s encounter with a lion. McLain’s story is historical fiction based on the life of Beryl Markham – a rule-breaker, feminist, and pilot who grew up in colonial Africa. Beryl’s life intersects with the love story in the Redford/Streep movie “Out of Africa.” All stories have multiple perspectives, and like McLain’s other book, “The Paris Wife,” this narrative offers a different point of view than what we already know. Great, escapist reading.

Check out the Radio Lab’s podcast “The Rhino Hunter.” It explores a case similar to Cecil the Lion. Heartbreaking.

Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

I ALWAYS read Hoffman’s novels even though she has started following the same formula in her novels. She takes a juicy, obscure historical nugget and turns it into a sweeping story (see “Dovekeepers” and “The Museum of Extraordinary Things”). In this novel, she starts with the story of the mother of a famous impressionist painter, and builds it into a world full of interesting characters who experience longing, loss, love, and hardships. Hoffman transports readers to  the 1800’s in the Caribbean by describing all the smells, foods, and  brilliant colors. Since it is Hoffman, she also injects a little magical realism into the story.  I’m a huge fan of Hoffman, and my esteem for her continues to grow.

Fishbowl by Bradley Somer

A fish falls out of a fishbowl from a balcony of a high-rise in New York City. As the fish falls (and time passes), the stories of the residents in the apartment building are told. Random interactions cause ripples in the the lives of the residents. This book leaves readers thinking about the passage of time and all the random acts that form our lives.

Somer writes, “The milk in the fridge moves, second by second, towards its “best before” date. It is an inevitable reminder of time passing and how, through the very act of existence, the unmarred, unspoiled purpose of things moves inexorably toward expiration” and “It’s said that everything happens for a reason, but it’s never said that reason is always a good one. That reason is choice, chance, fate, or not.”

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

The absolute best collection of short stories I have read since George Saunders Tenth of December. Johnson’s writing is heartbreaking and intense. Like his Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Orphan-Master’s Son,” this collection will stick with you and make your heart hurt as your mind revisits his masterful scenes over and over in the days after they are read. This is difficult, heavy, disturbing writing. Gut-wrenching, beautiful stuff.

The Last Love Song by Tracy Dougherty

Mom, you can partly blame Joan Didion for my move to California.

As soon as I read Joan Didion in high school I wanted to move to California . Over the years, I have read everything by her, with “The Year of Magical Thinking” being my absolute favorite. Her wit, literary references, sharp critiques, and desire to understand the events around her touch me deeply, and her seemingly fragile, anxious persona has always intrigued me.

Dougherty wrote this bio without the cooperation of Didion so there is not a ton of new information in this 600 page bio – but, I still devoured it. The bio brings together all of the Didion/Dunne stories and intertwines them with snippets of her writing. It is a great read. Dougherty delves into Didion’s love of California as a land always on the verge, a land where beauty & uniqueness mix with danger. Earthquakes, fires, floods, drought…bright colors, jasmine, eucalyptus, the Pacific horizon.  The creation of the University of California as it flourished because of the link to weapons R&D. The California frontier transformed into suburbia. A land of contradictions.

Didion has lived a life full of famous actors and writers, world travels, large parties, lots of bourbon & pills & cigarettes, and of course, lots and lots of time spent writing and researching. As a part of the new journalism tradition, Didion inserted herself into most of her writing, yet there always seems to be parts of her that are unknowable. Even though Didion probably won’t publish anything else in her lifetime, I will be re-reading all of her writing over and over again because her writing will always be relevant.

Misc. stuff…

New podcast addiction: Limetown

New album addictions: Gary Clarke Jr, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim; Jason Isbell, Something More than Free; Ryan Adams covering Taylor Swift’s 1989 album; and Chris Cornell, Higher Truth

I have a huge stack of books that I just picked up at the library…Purity, The Story of the Last Child, Fates and Furies. I’ll be up late reading for the next few weeks.


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