My reading habits have been in a little bit of a disarray this year because of the Read Great Books literature challenge and my participation in a new local book club. Suddenly I have two "assigned" books each month, and that's knocked into my purely pleasure reading time. It's worth it, though, and I've still managed to fit in a book or two a month off my ever-increasing To Read list.
(Last summer I read three life-changing books in a row. In case you're interested in having your world rocked.)
A few notables lately:
Love and other ways of dying by Michael Paterniti
This is some of the best writing I've ever read. The first essay took my breath away, I had to set the book down and just stare at the window. The storytelling here is dense and heavy, and for this reason not everyone in my book club loved it as much as I did. But since each essay stands alone, you can walk away from it for a few days if you're looking for lighter fare.
I can't say it enough times, in enough ways: Michael Paterniti's writing is brilliant. These stories are creative non-fiction, so they're long-form, some journalistic, some closer to memoir. I bored my husband to tears every night as I enthusiastically tried to tell him about every piece when I was done. The three that stay with me the most were the plane crash (I know), the Giant, and the road trip with Einstein's brain.
This book is just a complete work of art. I highly recommend you read it for yourself, but it also would make a really good gift for the not-afraid-of-heavy reader in your life.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
I know that I'm late to the Neil Gaiman game, but I was so captivated by The Ocean at the End of the Lane that I went out and bought several more of his novels to enjoy. (Neverwhere is only $7 on kindle).
Neil Gaiman's writing makes me feel like a giddy teenager just discovering fantasy novels. I've never even been all that into fantasy novels, but his are so fun. He's creative and easy to read and with both books I felt immersed in the world he had created.
I look forward to reading most of the Neil Gaiman library because I love what he's doing. (He's great on twitter, too.)
We Are Called To Rise by Laura McBride
I really like books like this, character driven with the focus on our humanity, with plot lines that don't converge until halfway through. This was a good one, there was definitely a perspective or two that I hadn't thought about before. And a book that makes me think differently is usually a recommend from me.
I will admit that I was a little distracted when I read We Are Called to Rise (we had a lot of houseguests that week), so I didn't totally lose myself in it. Still, it was a good read and well written.
Everything Is Perfect When You're a Liar by Kelly Oxford
I stumbled across Kelly Oxford on social media (twitter and Instagram) and thought she was funny. I heard a few personal mixed reviews on this book, but I gave it a whirl anyway. I do love memoir as a genre, and I think it's interesting when readers don't guide you so much as lay it out as something that happened, interpret as you will.
There were three sections of this book that stood out to me the most: her light-bulb, transformative moment while drunk at a high school house party, a wild weekend in Los Angeles with a friend, and a summer adventure living broke and high in an RV. While the premise of these stories may or may not appeal to you, she so captured the angst and listlessness of being young, punctuated by complete clarity of who you are at your core. I don't know her at all, though when I was finished I felt a little bit like I really did.
And while it seems like that should be true of all memoir, it's not. Some writers are telling you a story, and some are letting you in on a story. Oxford's is the latter.
Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
In a complete 180 degree turn from Everything's Perfect....is Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. I've long been a fan of Held Evans online, and I knew that this spiritual memoir of fanaticism, doubt, struggle, and then a strange kind of peace would resonate.
What I have always liked about Rachel Held Evans is that she talks about the things that, for a long time, people my age only whispered about. If you came out of '90's church youth group culture, you were only allowed two eventual paths: straying or not. But a lot of us were neither of those things, and almost all of us stayed silent about it. When she started giving voice to the natural doubts of what is taught in Sunday school, I was so excited and relieved that someone was finally starting these conversations in a real way.
Searching for Sunday covers some new ground than her blog or previous books, from her young know-it-all self to the pariah she sometimes felt like in faith communities after she started her blog, to the heartbreak of a failed church plant. Not all of her story is my story, of course, but there was enough similarity that saw myself and my (former) culture in hers, which makes for a good read.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Like almost every other reader I know, I've gone through all of the emotions of Go Set a Watchman: skepticism over it's release, excitement over what it might contain, disappointment over the early reviews, and worry over how it might change the Great American Novel.
Now that I've read it, I can shrug all of those things off (except, perhaps, the tiny fear that Lee isn't the driver's seat on some of the publishing decisions). The book is a hot mess, but there are a few redeemable things about it that render it worth reading. The exception is that if you are a major fan of To Kill a Mockingbird and don't think you can handle mixing the two. Because they should be read very separately.
I deeply understood the plot line of Go Set A Watchman, of Scout returning to her hometown after of years of living in NYC and not finding the community to be as picturesque as she had remembered. She had changed and the town had changed and the times had changed. Her struggle was real, even if it played out in rant after irrational rant. (For almost all of Go Set a Watchman, Scout seems emotionally unstable. But I maybe we all are at 26.)
I saw where Lee was going in what is surely an autobiographical story, and I can also see where To Kill A Mockingbird came out of it. By the end of the book, I understood Atticus a bit better as well, and did not fault his 1950's self in the same way one should in 2015. By the last page, they're all coming along. Go Set a Watchman, while technically a sequel to one of the greatest civil rights books of all time, is about a people in progress.
It's fascinating to see how Harper Lee took this tangle of story and emotion and turned it into the far clearer and more effective TKAM. If you're into literary commentary, and you can be objective about TKAM, you might find Watchman interesting. As a stand alone book, however, I won't recommend it. It's sloppy and, at time, belligerent.
On my immediate To Read list:
The Martian by Andy Weir. Have you read the story of how this self-published-from-his-blog novel became a best seller with a movie starring Matt Damon? Pretty interesting!
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King. Because I love him, and I have heard good things about it.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson because everyone keeps talking about it, and it seems so relevant to what is going on in our country right now.
People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry was recommended on one of my favorite podcasts Crime Writers. This is a true crime book with really good reviews. I gobble up this genre when done well. (I wrote about my favorite True Crime books here.)
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay because it was my brother-in-law Dave's favorite book, and he was a community changer.
The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith because I've met her and heard her speak several times in L.A., and have been impressed each time. Also, the reviews on this memoir are great.
Start Where you Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron because this is just exactly what I want to be reading right now.
Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles because I picked his up in Austin last month on the recommendation of a bookstore, and it just looks really interesting. Plus, let's be honest: I liked the cover.
What are you reading lately, or what is next on your list? I'd love to hear!