READ: Dept of Speculation by Jenny Ofill + More

In a poetry class at college the professor told all of us that he only read poems because he was too old to read long novels. He said he could get the same impact in a few verses, so why spend days or weeks reading one book. I did not understand him then, but I think I do now.

I will probably always love a long novel that sweeps me up and leaves me unable to do anything except lay on the couch and read, however, short prose becomes sweeter all the time. Jenny Ofill’s short, short novel (or novella?) “Dept of Speculation” is crushingly beautiful and I finished it in about an hour.

I don’t like stories about infidelity. They piss me off and are usually full of tired clichés. But I am so glad I gave this story a chance. Don’t let descriptions of this indescribable book stop you from reading it! “Dept of Speculation” reads like a writing experiment with unnamed characters, odd pacing, quotes and literary morsels, and shifts between points of view, but it all comes together to create a portrait of a life with all its icky quirks and horrible junctures and the beautiful, heart-stopping moments that sustain us.

This story about love, middle age, marriage, having a kid, being an artist, living in the city, anxiety, and then the tired old story about an infidelity is hard to explain, but it is a great literary experience. Ofill scatters literary references throughout – Rilke (who I have cherished since I was 21 when the poetry professor mentioned above assigned him), Keats, Yeats, Kafka, Herodotus, Berryman…she also weaves in scientific facts and snippets of stories. She relays the love story of Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan, I’ve heard Ann’s version of their romance on Radiolab, but of course, there is more to their story than just one version.

I experienced this novel twice – I read the book, and then I listened to it on CD, where the author reads it beautifully (I had them both reserved at the library, and they came in at the same time). I recommend listening to the audio version if possible. Either way you experience it, enjoy getting swept away in the beauty of her pacing and unique writing.

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Another unique piece that I can’t stop thinking about is the movie “Boyhood.” I think I have told everyone to watch the movie. It made my heart hurt over and over again.

I’m sure you’ve heard the original premise of “Boyhood” – director Richard Linklater filmed the movie over 12 years with the same actors. An incredible feat considering the young boy in the movie was only 6 when filming started, he stuck with it over 12 years and remained a talented actor throughout. The movie is edited together so that it is a collection of little moments, and the only way to tell that time is passing is from the appearance of the actors, particularly the children. The soundtrack in the movie (which is fantastic!!) also helps viewers note the passing years.

There is not a lot of plot in the movie, instead it is a collection of all of the small snapshots of time, the tiny epiphanies that shape who we become. At the end, especially after a powerful moment between the mom and her son, viewers are left shattered by the fleetingness of time and our inability to fully appreciate all the beautiful, and sometimes horrible, things that shape our lives.

“Boyhood” hits close to home – the film portrays a normal American family, which is not a so-called traditional family. Like the children in the movie, my sisters and I have two parents who loved us and wanted the best for us, but they couldn’t stay together. My sisters and I have a unique bond because we experienced these moments together, although, of course, we each remember different moments and experiences. It’s okay, it’s not the end of the world when families separate (and then re-create), but it often creates complicated situations and it shapes who we become.

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 Fun links:

Top 10 Food Books of 2014

13 World Food Predictions for 2015…it includes pot pesto – fun!

READ: The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

I haven’t been able to concentrate on reading books the last few weeks. Every time I pick up a book I find myself distracted and antsy. That’s not normal for me. During the 2 weeks I had off for the holidays I read a total of one book, although I anticipated spending the entire break reading through a stack that I picked up from the library. Instead of reading, I’ve been watching movies and TV, reading blogs, and listening to podcasts and music.

The one book that I read over the holidays (mostly in front of a big fire in Idyllwild), “The Book of Strange New Things” by Michel Faber, made me think a lot, perhaps too much, so a self-imposed bookFullSizeRender-5 break may have been necessary.

One of my favorite books is “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell. There are many things that I love about the book, but the BEST part about it is the exploration of religion (specifically Catholicism) and conversion in an alien species. Faber examines that same basic premise in his novel, and although it is not as powerful as Russell’s, his novel brings up philosophical questions and made me think a lot about the utter improbability of life.

At its heart “The Book of Strange New Things” explores the marriage of Bea and Peter. Peter is a recovering addict and pastor chosen by a secretive corporation to go on a mission to a different planet to teach an alien species about Jesus. His wife, Bea, remains on Earth because spouses are not allowed on the mission. They stay in contact via a form of email that Peter calls “epistles.” As the book begins their faith and marriage are strong and unshakeable…that all falters as Bea witnesses life on Earth falling apart and wonders where God is in all of the tragedy and chaos.

On the other side of the universe, Peter’s faith becomes reinforced. He becomes swept up in religion. He feels reinvigorated, he is making a real difference and he wants to share it. About a fellow human on the mission, he thinks: “She gave him a look he recognized very well, a look he’d seen on thousands of faces during his years as a pastor, a look that said: Nothing is worth getting excited about, everything is a disappointment. He would have to try to do something about that look, if he could, later.” Peter becomes caught up in complete religious fervor.

The dystopian reader in me found myself more interested in Bea’s story than Peter’s, but it is their collective story and the role of God that form the core of the novel. The book has eerie overtones, and it probably will bring up different philosophical questions for you, than it did for me. I was left at the end thinking of all the unanswerable questions. And I was left with a feeling that everything is so fragile, and at the same time, so much is miraculous.

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I finished The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer last week. All three short books, “Annihilation,” “Authority,” and “Acceptance,” came out in 2014 a few months apart. I don’t know how to talk about these weird books. I actually feel a little stupid trying to describe them…like a poem, the books left me with a feeling more than anything else. The covers are all gorgeous, I know that. The books, well the books made me feel nervous, undone, confused, tense, and on-edge. Reading them felt like I was lost in a painting. They possess a surreal beauty and the creepy effects of the book linger. Area X is not a place I will soon forget.  Sidenote: Jeff mentions me in this blog post 🙂

The Morning New Tournament of Books starts in a few weeks. I’ve added several nominees to my library list (including the trilogy by Elena Ferrante that keeps popping up everywhere) and I’ll be rooting on “Station Eleven” and “The Bone Clocks.” Follow them on Facebook for updates.

I’ve had a little cough and my studio was closed for about 10 days so I’ve been doing yoga at home more than usual. The classes at Yoga with Adrienne are free, fun, and have lots of variety. Check them out.

READ: Upcoming Books & More

Ruby, Sean, and I are having a quiet Christmas week in San Diego this year. Like most of our days off together, the holidays will involve some exercise, good food and drinks, listening to music, reading, movies, visiting with good friends, and maybe a trip to the beach. I am grateful.

When I was a kid I’d spend the days after Christmas reading new books that I received. I haven’t changed much. I plan on reading a lot over the next week or two. I’ve been missing poetry lately, so I’ll probably read through my two favorite collections: Jane Kenyon “Collected Poems” and “The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry.” Also, I’m working thru a stack I picked up at the library a few days ago.

I can’t wait to read these books in 2015…

“Purity” by Jonathan Frazen. YES! So glad he has a new one coming out. “Freedom” and “The Corrections” perfectly capture our American experience. Even better – I’ve heard that this one may include some magical realism.

“The City of Mirrors” by Justin Cronin. This book has taken FOREVER to come out. It is the final book in the creepy, amazing Passage trilogy. Hopefully the story concludes in a satisfying narrative.

“The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro. Ishiguro writes haunting books, my favorite is “Never Let Me Go”.

“God Help the Child” by Toni Morrison. Reading and discussing “Song of Solomon” in college remains one of my best memories of school. Morrison never fails to astound me.

“In the Unlikely Event” by Judy Blume. Blume writes readable, relatable novels that a lot of us that grew up in 80’s will devour. “Summer Sisters” was a fun read, and I’m sure this one will be too.

“A God in Ruins” by Kate Atkinson. This book will be a spin-off of “Life after Life”. That book amazed me, so I have high hopes for this one!

“The Invasion of the Tearling” Erika Johansen. The 2nd book in the YA series that I reviewed here.

 What I’ve been reading…

I’ve been reading some good, but not extraordinary, books the last few weeks. They are quick reads and I enjoyed all of them.

“The Vacationers” by Emma Straub. A dysfunctional family takes a trip to Spain and secrets are revealed.FullSizeRender-2

“Lucky Us” by Amy Bloom. Two half sisters in the 1940’s live an unordinary life. A short, satisfying read.

“Thunderstruck & Other Stories” by Elizabeth McCracken. Perfect, disturbing little short stories. “The grandmother was a bright, cellophane-wrapped hard candy of a person: sweet, but not necessarily what a child wanted.”

READ: 2014 Books

I read or listened to over 40 books in 2014, but according to the Best of 2014 Book Lists, I’ve missed a lot of great reads. Check these out if you are trying to decide what to read next (the NPR and Good Read lists also include recommendations for kids and YA):

NY Times 100 Notable Books

Book Riot

NPR

Oprah

Good Reads

Amazon

The Millions: A Year in Reading

Buzzfeed

LA Times

EW

Parnassus Books – great gift guide

The Guardian

I have a lot of reading to do, luckily I have almost 2 weeks off work coming up at the end of December. 2014 books I have on my library hold list include “The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton (this may be a 2013 book?) , “The Book of Strange New Things” by Michael Faber, “The Vacationers” by Emma Straub, “Landline” by Rainbow Rowell and “The Martian” by Andy Weir. I am also excited to cook from “But I Could Never Go Vegan,” by Kristy Turner, one of my favorite food bloggers. I’ve read the first two books in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy – waiting to blog until I read #three. The trilogy is on most of these lists.

So much good reading this year. My top reads of 2014:

The Bone Clocks – My favorite of the year.

Station Eleven – You WILL like this book. I promise. It is so good.

We are all Completely Besides Ourselves – Powerful, controlled writing about animal rights and family dynamics.

The Oh She Glows Cookbook – I use it at least once a week. Granola recipes in here are the best.

Signature of all Things – Elizabeth Gilbert tops “Eat, Pray, Love” with this one.

The Storied Life of AJ Fikrey – Short, delightful read that bookstore lovers will appreciate. I recommend listening to the audio version.

I am grateful for the San Diego Public Library and the UC San Diego Library. Although, I’ve paid at least $20 in overdue fines this year, they have saved me hundreds of dollars that I would have spent to feed my reading addiction.

And, as always, my favorite presents to give are books. Escaping reality for a few hours truly is an amazing gift.

 

READ: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

I avoid reading horror novels and watching scary movies. I get creeped out easy. Stephen King, Dean Koontz…no thanks. So, I am not sure how I ended up reading Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. I must have read an intriguing review somewhere that did not mention the fact that this book induces nightmares and goosebumps and shivers.

In the first chapter a mutilated, murdered boy is discovered by the police department. That alone usually makes me put books aside, but this book takes place in Detroit, and the city of Detroit is the most important character in this book. Beukes, a South African, captures the grittiness and brokenness of Detroit perfectly. That kept me reading, even though there were many times I wanted to stop as the book got darker and darker.

Whenever I tell people where I am from, I say Detroit. That is not exactly true, but a lot of people from the suburbs of Detroit say that. The suburbs I grew up in are 20 miles away from the city, far enough away where we were sheltered from urban crime, homelessness, and extreme poverty. But, with pride, we say we are from Detroit, even though we only went to the city for ball games, coneys, music and shows at the Fox Theater, Eastern Market visits, Greektown Opa, or the Thanksgiving day parade.

As I write this, I have the news on, and the power went out in the city of Detroit today for a few hours. The infrastructure is crumbling. I visit other cities and wonder why Detroit can not get its act together. It is located on a lovely river, beautiful buildings and views, an artistic community…what is missing? Beukes captures the haunting, unique beauty of Detroit with phrases like “In the right light, Detroit’s kinda like the new Bohemia” and “Detroit diamonds, which is what locals call the glass on the street from broken car windows.”

The overall decay of the city serves as a parallel for Beukes’ exploration of things like mental illness, homelessness, poverty, hipsters, graffiti, pedophilia, the pretentious art community, and journalism. Most powerfully, she explores the strangeness and influence of social media. She writes, “Who needs facts when you can go with wild speculation?”

This book is sardonic, dirty, raw, powerful, and shocking. A detective novel, mixed with horror and suspense, mixed with a little dash of magic. I’m glad I read it.

For more on Detroit…I LOVE the Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown episode about Detroit. He talks about ruin porn and says: “Those who watch this show, smugly thinking, “that could never happen to my city” are dreaming. Detroit’s problems are America’s problems.” See more of the episode here.

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READ: On Immunity by Eula Biss

Viruses are scary. And confusing. Eula Biss’s exploration of viruses, immunizations, and vaccinations in “On Immunity” takes the debates and breaks them down in a readable, informative way. She presents different sides of the vaccine arguments, and she brings up lots of questions and ideas for readers to think about. Biss connects stories about the birth of her first child with the short, super-interesting history of immunizations while making connections between stories that we are all familiar with like Achilles, Dracula, and Carson’s “Silent Spring.”

She explores ideas like herd immunity – basically, that means you don’t have to immunize your children, because other people immunize their children. Hence, your child is protected but does not have to take “risky” vaccinations.

We tend to value our own bodies, our own homes over the collective good. We often think of ourselves as islands, and not as an entwined hive. Biss writes, “The health of the homestead next to ours does not affect us, this thinking suggests, so long as ours is well tended.”

Biss reveals some origins of our fear of vaccinations.  Overall, we have a collective fear of government and regulation in our lives. I love this paragraph:

Our cynicism may be justified, but it is also sad. That so many of us find it entirely plausible that a vast network of researchers and health officials and doctors worldwide would willfully harm children for money is evidence of what capitalism is really taking from us. Capitalism has already impoverished the working people who generate the wealth for others. And capitalism has already impoverished us culturally, robbing unmarketable art of its value. But when we begin to see the pressures of capitalism as innate laws of human motivation, when we begin to believe that everyone is owned, then we are truly impoverished.

Our uneasiness with vaccinations is a huge shift from the beginning of the century when people lined up to be in vaccine studies because they watched the horrors of smallpox and polio. They requested to be a part of trials, they wanted protection.

As I read this book, I also listened to the Radiolab podcast Patient Zero. They talk about the origins of HIV and the true story of Typhoid Mary and the latest Ebola outbreak – super riveting.

I finished this book and listened the above podcast as the Ebola “crisis” in the United States winded down. Fear causes crazy, irrational, and often selfish, behavior. Instead of concentrating on the enormous crisis in Africa, the news focused on the few cases that we had in the United States. Of course Ebola is terrifying – but the podcast describes how the virus has not mutated into an easily transmittable virus yet. If it can be contained now, that may help with the mutations that could cause it to spread easier.

READ: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I am so excited about this book. If you think that you don’t like dystopian books, this one will change your mind. I guarantee it. Go get this book.

Dystopian books make me appreciate my life even more tFullSizeRender-2han I already do. Right here, right now. We’re so lucky to have all of these things that we do. We may be in the Age of Anxiety, but in 1st world countries we have antibiotics, electricity, information at our finger tips, hot showers, Lasik eye surgery (life-changing), oranges all year round. It is pretty amazing that the world exists right now when there are so many ways that it might not.

Station Eleven skips around between a near future where a super flu with a 99.9% mortality rate sweeps over the world, the world right before the pandemic breaks out, and 20 years after the outbreak. It follows three different characters – an aging actor who has been married many times, a young Shakespearean actress, and a paparazzo turned paramedic – and the ways their lives overlap before, during, and after the flu pandemic.

The overarching theme of the novel is a quote from Star Trek: Voyager, “Survival is insufficient.” We need friendships, laughter, beauty, compassion. We need art, imagination, creativity. A little dose of Shakespeare does wonders for the spirit and the mind. Art in “Station Eleven” involves taking risks (group of traveling actors who travel the Great Lakes region to bring Shakespeare & music to the outposts that remain after the world has ended) and doing what you love out of genuine passion (The Shakespeare trope contrasts against the aging actor who has lost himself in celebrity).

At the center of the novel is the creation of a piece of art, the comic book Station Eleven, a labor of love and method of escape for a character. This piece of art parallels the post-apocalypic world that remains. Lonely, haunted by the past, and inescapable.

This book left me with creepy tingles. What we have right now won’t last. We have no idea what will happen in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years but we make plans as if we can control the future and often we don’t appreciate the simple comforts in our lives.  At one point in the book the following dialogue occurs between two characters:

“Are we supposed to believe that civilization has just come to an end?”

“Well,” Clarke offered, “it was always a little fragile, wouldn’t you say?”

The melancholy, contemplative feel of the novel has lingered with me. But overall, readers are left with a feeling that life is beautiful, the gift of memory is precious, and we go on in the face of horrible tragedy.

Read this book!

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Margaret Atwood has a new collection of short stories out – Stone Mattress: Nine Tales. I may be Atwood’s biggest fan. The Oryx and Crake Trilogy and “The Handmaiden’s Tale” are the most incredible pieces of speculative fiction I have ever read. She is an incredible prognosticator and a prolific writer. “The Robber Bride”, “Alias Grace”, “The Blind Assassin”…all must reads. I read the stories in “Stone Mattress” and laughed out loud several times. I like her novels more than anything else, but her latest collection of witty, sharp quick reads is a great addition to her long publication list.

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If you love music, check out the show Sonic Highways on HBO. It is a 8 episode series that follows the Foo Fighters as they travel to different cities, delve into the music of that city, and then write and record a song in each city. In Sound City Dave Grohl brilliantly captured music legends, and he continues that in this documentary series.

READ: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

“Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell is on my Top Ten list of my favorite books ever, but I rarely tell people to read it. It is not for everybody. In fact, I think most people that I have recommended it to never finished it.

His latest masterpiece “The Bone Clocks” is my favorite book of the year. So, I HIGHLY recommend it with several caveats:

  • This book requires your full attention and it is 624 pages.
  • This book is not happy, in fact it made me pretty depressed.
  • This book is realist, sci fi, comedic, and weird. It can’t be defined or explained in one sentence.

“The Bone Clocks” is so fantastically good. I love books that play with narrative structure (like Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from The Goon Squad” – if you have not read it, go get it!) and that cover an entire lifetime of a character. This book does both of these things in an awesome, powerful way. It reminds me of the perfect cross between Madeline L’Engle and Jonathan Frazen.

The book is divided into 6 parts and all of them have different settings and time periods. Each section got better than the previous one (Section 4 is a standout) and they all come together to form a cohesive story. Pay attention to the characters in each part. They come back over and over in unexpected ways. This book bewilders and is full of puzzles. So many parts had me saying “What is going on…”, keep reading, you’ll figure it out.

The sections follow different narrators (2 of the sections are narrated by Holly Sykes, a lovable, sassy heroine).

  1. 1980’s – A runaway teenager in England
  2. 1990’s – A social climbing Cambridge student
  3. 2000’s – A foreign war correspondent who has to decide between family and career
  4. 2010’s – A writer, who has already wrote his best work, travels the literary conference circuit
  5. 2020’s – A person who has been re-born over and over. This is when the novel starts to get really weird and a battle scene between Atemporals and Anchorites ensues.
  6. 2040’s – A woman battling to survive in a dystopic world that seems like our inevitable future. It involves Ebola and Climate Change.

The book explores power, family, capitalism, social mobility, and what we are able to do with the short time we have on the planet. It’s incredible.

Random items in the book I loved: The bad guys are carnivores, the good guys are herbivores (also used by Mary Doria Russell in “The Sparrow” – another must, MUST-read). Figuring out what a bone clock is. His ability to make his readers like jerky characters – perhaps because we can see qualities of ourselves in them. Sentences like: “My generation were diners stuffing themselves senseless at the Restaurant of the Earth’s Riches knowing – while denying – that we’d be doing a runner and leaving our grandchildren a tab that can never be paid.”

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If you don’t feel like a heavy book, I recommend Jojo Moyes latest  “One plus One.” She reminds me of a modern Maeve Binchy. She writes good books about ordinary people in England, and her books seem familiar (they are like good cheesy, romantic movies that involve silly misunderstandings, smart children, and overcoming hardships), while at the same time she gives them a fresh spin. Her characters can seem a little cliched,  but her books are always enjoyable and fun to read. I have been reading a lot of dark fiction lately, and some Jojo Moyes will be needed soon.

 

 

 

READ: YA books & The Queen of Tearling by Erika Johansen

I think if you don’t read when you are young, it is very hard to become a reader later in life. I believe that kids often learn to love reading from watching what the people around them do in their spare time. I have always been surrounded by people reading wide-ranging and diverse books. Lucky, lucky me.

As a kid, I would binge-read authors. If I liked one of their books, I read everything they wrote. These are the authors (and my favorite of their books) I loved as a young adult.

Madeline L’Engle – The BEST. Many WatersA Swiftly Tilting Planet, and the entire Austin family series.

Judy Blume – I re-read Starring Sally J. Freeman as Herself over and over.

LM Montgomery – I spent a lot of time reading all of her books – Anne of Green Gables books (there was a ton) as well as the other series: Emily of New Moon , Pat of Silver Bush, and the Story Girl. If you read the entire Anne series, I know you remember Rainbow Valley (about Anne & Gilbert’s children and the Meredith family) and Rilla of Ingelside.

Phillip Pullman – The Sally Lockhart books! And a few years ago, I read his Golden Cosecuredownloadmpass trilogy. So much better than Harry Potter!

Laura Ingalls Wilder – Like so many young girls, this series got me hooked on reading.

Louisa May Alcott – I have a gorgeous edition of Little Women that I’ll keep forever. I can remember reading this book and talking to my Grandma about it. I loved that the story continued with Little Men & Jo’s Boys.

Betty Smith – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and I remember feeling so adult reading Joy in the Morning

Getrude Chandler Warner – Boxcar Children! Sounded like so much fun.

Susan Beth Pfeffer – The Sebastian Sisters series (Evie at 16, Thea at 16, Claire at 16, etc.)

Lois Duncan – Locked in Time (!!!), Killing Mr Griffin

Christopher Pike -What teenager growing up in the 80’s did not read these books? Slumber Party, Chain Letter….

Lois Lowry – A Summer to Die

Katherine Patterson – Bridge to Terebithia

Willa Cather – My Antonia, O Pioneers

Cynthia Voigt – Homecoming, Dicey’s Song

Carol Brink – Caddie Woodlawn

Zilpha Keatley Snyder – The Egypt Game (I was obsessed with this book) , The Changeling, and The Headless Cupid

Beverly Cleary – Dear Mr Henshaw 

Caroline B. Cooney – Her paperbacks were ALL over the library. Camp Girl Meets Boy, Among Friends, Twins…and remember the Cheerleader series??

Also, all of these series: Babysitter Club, Sweet Valley High, Sunfire (historical love stories with titles like Amanda, Emily, etc.), Flowers in the Attic, Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, and Choose your Own Adventure.

What books have I forgot?? And I wonder if I would cringe if I re-read some of the books above…

YA fiction is a lot different than it used to be, it’s not just for kids anymore. I just finished a great YA fantasy book, The Queen of Tearling by Erika Johansen. It is the first in a trilogy and it follows Kelsea Raleigh, the Glynn Queen, as she rises to power. It embraces much-used conventions like an orphan girl raised in the woods, an evil queen, and magical jewels. It embraces fairytales, myths, a dystopic world, and the hero’s quest to create a unique, addictive read. And, surprise, the movie is in the works with Emma Watson (!) as Kelsea.

Johansen is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, like so many other published authors these days (other graduates that I have recently wrote about include Edan Lepuki & Ann Patchett). I also just finished reading another book by a graduate of the program, Cutting Teeth by Julie Fiero. It is the total opposite of YA fiction. It is a biting satire on parenthood, mommy groups, our collective anxiety, and the pitfalls/bonuses of having children. I laughed out loud several times as I read it, and some parts of it hit way too close to home.

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I started reading The Mockingbird Next Door last week, and I put it aside after 2 chapters. Decided that I don’t want to know anything about Harper Lee because I want to keep To Kill a Mockingbird as pure as I can in my head.

READ: My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

This book surprised me, in a good way.

I expected an ode to Salinger, but to be honest, I’m not that into The Catcher in the Rye, so I thought this book might annoy me. I picked it up anyway because I liked the cover (Salinger would have been very disappointed because he thought covers should be plain. Covers are really important – I judge books by them all the time). Instead of the paean I predicted, this book turned out to be a fun memoir about a pivotal year for Joanna Rakoff in New York City.

Rakoff started working in the real world in 1996, like I did, just as the internet changed EVERYTHING about working in a office. All of a sudden, co-workers wrote an email instead of walking next door for a conversation about a project. So much information at the tip of our fingertips, in an instant. However, the literary agency where Rakoff has her first job takes pride in the fact that they use typewriters and dictaphones. They don’t want to change. They smoke and drink in the office (they did where I worked in 1996 too!). They are a last remnant of a dying system. Rakoff expects offices to be glamorous places, instead she gets a crash course on the dullness of them. Even the New Yorker is in a boring building.

Perhaps the agency remained a relic of the olden days because their biggest client was the man, the myth, the legend – JD (Jerry) Salinger. As a newbie at the agency, Rakoff discovers what working with Salinger can be like. For instance, he has exact details on how he wants his books to be printed. The title must be horizontal on the spine, not vertical…Interestingly, she has not really read Salinger, and when she decides to read all of his work, it happens on a weekend when she faces many crossroads in her life – at a time when she is learning to trust her judgement in life and in her literary analysis.

Of course, we all know that Salinger was a hermit. In this day and age, authors have a hard time going into seclusion like Salinger did. They need to market their books, and so they have blogs, facebook pages, a twitter account,  a full schedule of readings and conventions, etc. We often feel like we know the author, sometimes before we read their books. Most of my favorite authors, David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Gilbert, etc. are all over social media. Salinger kept his private life, private, for his entire life. Quite the feat. This memoir makes you think about why he may have chosen to keep himself exiled.

Another great feature of this memoir is that it is a love story to New York. It opens with a magical winter snowstorm that shuts down the city. Rooftop parties, dark bars, cold weather, Central Park, exorbitant rent, shady neighborhoods, and long rides on the subway all illustrate the NYC experience.

Just read both of these articles which popped up this week when I finished the book:

Salinger’s house where he lived in his self-imposed seclusion is for sale. Check it out here.

Also, Dani Shapiro wrote a great, short essay last week in the New Yorker about memoir and social media. Read it here.

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A few days ago I parked my car at work and finished listening to Cutting for Stone – when it ended I sat in stunned silence and cried. The story took me on an amazing adventure. I am madly in love with this book. Ghosh and Hema are two of my favorite characters that I have ever encountered. Verghese takes the time to introduce the characters, and as a reader you may feel like it takes a long time. It is worth it. The medical and historical details are riveting. I loved this book.

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Last week I escaped into the final installment of the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, The Book of Life. A super fun read that continues the saga of Dianna and Matthew and a host of witches, daemons, and vampires who live among us. Among all of the supernatural elements, issues about genetics and disease and racism are explored. The whole trilogy was so much fun.