Tag Archives: book review

The Latest in Reading Recommendations

Image result for the shell collector1. The Shell Collector, by Anthony Doerr
Tony Doerr is an exquisite writer. Goddamn. The luscious sentences in these short stories glimmer, drip, and shine with wonder, longing, displacement, and desire for connection. Part magical realism, part natural history, part basic human nature, these odd and beautiful stories truly dazzled me.


Image result for hunger roxane gay quotes2. Hunger, by Roxane Gay
Gay’s most recent book is a memoir, of sorts — the story of her (unruly) body.  Sometimes detached, sometimes visceral, always soul wrenching, she describes her rape as a girl, and subsequent struggles with over-eating, self-worth, security, and the eventual challenges separating her public and private lives. I originally chose to read this book because I wanted a better understanding of someone who struggles with their weight, especially in a fat-phobic culture, and I did gain some insight there, but this book is so much more than that. Many of Gay’s struggles, losses, and gains are painfully familiar, and I think any reader would be moved by her brave (she’d likely hate that descriptor) and candid book.

3. Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
I loved this one. Dysfunctional families, mysterious pasts, simmering racial tensions, and suburban ennui come to roost in an affluent and neatly planned Ohio community. And then this passage, something I’ve thought about every day since becoming a mother:

“Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less. As a baby Pearl had clung to her; she’d worn Pearl in a sling because whenever she’d set her down, Pearl would cry. There’d scarcely been a moment in the day when they had not been pressed together. As she got older, Pearl would still cling to her mother’s leg, then her waist, then her hand, as if there was something in her mother she needed to absorb through the skin. Even when she had her own bed, she would often crawl into Mia’s in the middle of the night and burrow under the old patchwork quilt, and in the morning they would wake up tangled, Mia’s arm pinned beneath Pearl’s head, or Pearl’s legs thrown across Mia’s belly. Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare—a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug—and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.”

Image result for Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions,4. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
How do you raise a feminist daughter (or son)? Well, you could start with the thoughtful suggestions featured in this slim book.


Image result for sing unburied sing5. Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward

THIS book. Woooo. I don’t quite have the words yet, but haunting certainly comes to mind… a deep, gorgeous ache. “Some days later, I understood what he was trying to say, that getting grown means learning how to work that current: learning when to hold fast, when to drop anchor, when to let it sweep you up.” Definitely in my top three for favorite books of the year. Here’s what the Times had to say.

Image result for red rising trilogy6-8. Red Rising, Golden Son, and Morning Star, by Pierce Brown

I didn’t know how much I needed the plot-driven revolutionary escapism provided by this trilogy until I pounded through the whole thing in a couple of weeks. Set in an off-planet future dystopian civilization organized in a genetically-engineered caste system, ruled by a brutal and decadent elite class, these books really satisfy that Hunger Games itch. Quick, fun (if not violent) read about a world that doesn’t seem all that unlikely these days…

Turtles All the Way Down9. Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green
John Green remains the king of thoughtful Young Adult literature. Never one to shy away from difficult subject matter (he’s written about teen suicide and kids with terminal cancer), Green brings his signature heart, wit, and depth to this story of loss and mental illness. It’s dark — more so, I think, than his other books, and personal (like his main character, he also suffers from OCD and unwanted “thought spirals,”) and maybe even a little harder to love right away, but I think that’s what makes it so important. It’s really stuck with me.

Image result for i'm just a person10. I’m Just a Person, by Tig Notaro 
You’ve probably heard, but a couple years ago comedian Tig Notaro faced the death of her mother, a breakup, a life-threatening C. diff infection, and breast cancer all within a couple of months. Her resulting stand-up show was nominated for a Grammy. This book is an account of that heartbreaking and terrifying time, and it’s a whole lot funnier than you’d think.


The Dead Bird

Have you ever read a book or heard a song or looked at a piece of art and marveled that you were not the one to create it, so exactly did it reflect some facet of your secret, sacred heart? That’s what happened when I recently picked up a copy of Margaret Wise Brown’s (of Goodnight Moon fame) book The Dead Bird, illustrated by Christian Robinson. A lovely, familiar, poignant poem of a book.



The Dream

It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I urge you to at some point take a break and listen to his most famous speech. It has always given me chills, but never more than today, a time when it is unfortunately, unbelievably, still so relevant.

Credit: Getty Images

Dr. King would have been 88 this month, which is younger than my grandma was when she passed away last summer. Many of the original Freedom Riders and founders of the Civil Rights Movement are still with us. John Lewis is still fighting his ass off for the resistance — most recently protesting this nightmare of an incoming administration by boycotting the inauguration. I’m currently reading his autobiographical graphic novel trilogy March, about his life and the founding of the movement. It’s a visceral history lesson, as horrifying and inspirational as you would expect. The sacrifices these people made — their bravery and dedication — are incredible, and must never be underestimated.

But of course this “history” is current. We’re living in it right now. There is still so much work to be done. Between threats to civil rights and liberties, the dignity of women, non-Christians, and immigrants, international diplomacy, the environment, and the entire freakin’ Earth itself, I sometimes feel like my head and heart are going to explode from disbelief and outrage. But as we continue to fight against and resist this myriad of evil bullshit, let’s also take a minute to acknowledge all the good and necessary work that has come before. Let it feed us.

As King said, The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. So long as we show up.

The Year in Books

Some years ago — at least a dozen or so, in fact — I began the habit of recording every book I read. Upon finishing one, I write its title and author in a small, hardback journal adorned with a rosy finch  perched on a lavender thistle. As many would agree, 2016 has largely been a real bitch of a year for a myriad of reasons I honestly don’t have the energy to discuss here. Instead, I’ll just leave my Year in Books.

I do recommend most of them with varying levels of enthusiasm, but you can catch up on the best of the best in some of my previous posts here, here, and here, or just look for stars next to choice titles. My top seven are in bold, too.

For the most part, the theme of the year was escapism, so these are mostly fiction with a few non-fiction, poetry, and graphic novels in the mix.


The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing — Kevin Young
*Lab Girl — Hope Jahren
*Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude — Ross Gay
The Bone Clocks — David Mitchell
*Station Eleven — Emily St. John Mandel
*Behind the Beautiful Forevers — Katherine Boo
*The Magicians — Lev Grossman
*The Magician’s King — Lev Grossman
*The Magician’s Land — Lev Grossman
First Bad Man — Miranda July
Boy, Snow, Bird — Helen Oyeyemi
*Ready Player One — Ernest Cline
The Museum of Extraordinary Things — Alice Hoffman
*The Lowland — Jhumpa Lahiri
*Blankets — Craig Thompson
*Between the World and Me — Ta-Nehisi Coates
*Gold, Fame, Citrus — Claire Vaye Watkins
*Euphoria — Lily King
Night Circus — Erin Morgenstern
The Nest — Cynthia Sweeney
*Elfquest (Books 1-8) — Wendy and Richard Pini
*Dune — Frank Herbert
M Train — Patti Smith
*Annihilation — Jeff Vandermeer
*Authority — Jeff Vandermeer
*Acceptance — Jeff Vandermeer
*Dear Mr. You — Mary Louise Parker
Cat’s Cradle — Kurt Vonnegut
*Fun House — Alison Bechdel
Beautiful Ruins — Jess Walter
Fables (volumes 10-13) — Bill Willingham
*The Girls — Emma Cline
*Fool’s Crow — James Welsh
*Where’d You Go, Bernadette? — Maria Semple
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child — JK Rowling, J Tiffany, J Thorne
Girl on the Train — Paula Hawkins
*Six of Crows — Leigh Bardugo
*Crooked Kingdom — Leigh Bardugo
Shadow and Bone — Leigh Bardugo
Siege and Storm — Leigh Bardugo
Ruin and Rising — Leigh Bardugo
Purity — Jonathan Franzen
*Little Terrarium — Hannah Fries
Big Magic — Elizabeth Gilbert
*The Wet Engine — Brian Doyle
*The Underground Railroad — Colson Whitehead 

Bonus: Notable Netflix shows:
Stranger Things (creepy 80s nostalgia!)
Black Sails (pirates!)
Peaky Blinders (post-WWI English gangsters!)
Catastrophe (Irreverent marriage/parenting)
The Americans (Soviet Spies!)
Vikings (awesome hairdos!)
Jonathan Strange and Dr. Norrell (Napoleon-era magicians)
Bob’s Burgers (animated family life)
The League (Assholes!)
Frankie and Grace (70-something women reinventing themselves)
Orange is the New Black (life in a women’s prison)
Miss Fisher’s Mysteries (fabulous clothes!)
The Red Road (reservation intrigue and Jason Momoa)
Game of Thrones (basically all of the above)