I've added a bunch of good-looking books to my shelf over the past month or so. Here are some I'm particularly looking forward to reading.
Herman Koch, author the crazy-good Dinner, has a new book coming from Hogarth in June, The Ditch, about another morally-challenged European and the shenanigans he gets into. I have avoided him since The Dinner made me want to hide under my sofa, but I'm ready to dive back in.
I can't resist Ian McEwan and while spec fic doesn't excite me too much, I haven't read him in a while and want to see what he's up to these days. I gather Machines Like Me, out in April, is about a robot.
The Pisces, by Melissa Broder, is out in paperback now; it's about an unconventional romance between a young woman and a merman. The reviews on it are mixed and polarized, which I love- either way I'm bound to have a strong reaction.
Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli, is kind of a hipster-it-book, "an emotionally resonant, fiercely imaginative new novel about a family whose road trip across America collides with an immigration crisis at the southwestern border–an indelible journey told with breathtaking imagery, spare lyricism, and profound humanity." It's out in hardcover now and making some serious waves.
Finally when I was in Los Angeles I picked up Blackfish City at the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore near San Diego- and what a cool bookstore that was. Blackfish City is a Hugo-nominated science fiction novel about a floating city in the Arctic after climate change has wrought big changes to the world. I'm looking forward to it.
And it's probably a fairly uncontroversial point. I was thinking about this as I was watching the Fox adaptation of Justin Cronin's The Passage, about to enter the wind-down phase of season one. I don't think it's been announced yet whether there will be a season two; I certainly hope so. And this adaptation is far from literal or perfect. But it's good enough to keep me watching and hoping for more.
That said, there is so much else out there, and so much more coming up. Between Netflix and the other streaming services, and cable, and even the occasional network offering like "The Passage" it's a great time to be a book fan and a TV fan too. It's like us book nerds no longer have to choose; we can read our favorite books and indulge in the TV version too. We don't have to look down our noses at TV (or pretend to) because TV is giving us what we love- our favorite books.
Of course the biggest thing on the horizon is the eighth and final season of HBO's "Game of Thrones," based on the epic and as-yet-unfinished fantasy series by George R.R. Martin. That's opened the door not just for more Martin TV shows, which are coming, but for other fantasy/science fiction adaptations as well. Once executives realized there was actual money to be made from catering to us, the floodgates opened up. So we've got "Umbrella Academy" on Netflix, and "The Magicians" from SyFy and "Lovecraft Country" coming from HBO and Jordan Peele.
The list goes on and on but it's not restricted to comics and fantasy. HBO's "Big Little Lies" and "My Brilliant Friend" are great shows designed to appeal to women. "The Man in the High Castle" from Amazon was adapted from hard-science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick. "The Son," on AMC was adapted from a wonderful book by Philipp Meyer and "The Goldfinch" based on Donna Tartt's Pulitizer winner is forthcoming later this year. We're even getting a "Good Omens," based on the popular novel cowritten by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. My husband's gonna be all over that one.
The only book from the last post I'm still on is The Widow Clicquot, and I'm still really enjoying it. If you are interested in business, wine or women's stories, it's a great read.
My subway read is Los Angeles Noir, a yummy crime anthology I picked up at The Last Bookstore during January's California trip. It's a mixed bag, as these things usually are, but very enjoyable. Crime is a great palate cleanser in between more "serious" books. Not that crime writing isn't serious or important. It can tell us a lot about people and ideas that don't get explored much in more "literary" fiction. But it also has a distinct tone. And it's fun.
Bedside I'm starting Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, by Craig Brown. I'm not a royal watcher (or admirer) but I've heard great things from people I respect about this book and I'm curious.
My current hardcover fiction read is October, by Zoë Wicomb, a South African writer who is telling a story about a middle aged woman who comes back to South Africa from a life she's built in Scotland. So far, so good.
What are you reading as February is winding down? What are you looking forward to? I need to do a post about new galleys and upcoming books I'm excited about. What about you?
Happy Birthday to me! I get to spend today sewing, reading and eating- a perfect day.
Betraying Big Brother, by Leta Hong Fincher, is a fascinating overview of the rise of feminism in modern-day China and the price many activists have paid for standing up for dignity and equality. The Widow Cliquot is Tilar Mazzeo's biography of Barbe-Nicole Cliquot Ponsardin, the Frenchwoman who took over a fledgling champagne company and built into a powerhouse, in 19th century France no less. It's really interesting both about her and about the wine industry as well. I'm doing this on audio and enjoying it very much.
Insurrecto is a weird book by Gina Apostol, about a woman making a movie in the Philippines and her father, a renowned artist. I'm still in the opening pages so I can't say too much more.
Finally I'm enjoying Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje, about two children growing up in post-War Britain and the secrets their family keeps long after the war is over. What are you reading?
French Exit, by Patrick DeWitt. Published 2018 by Ecco. Audiobook narration by Lorna Raver.
As some of you may know I was a pretty big fan of Patrick DeWitt's 2011 Booker-Prize-nominated comedy The Sisters Brothers. So much so that I honestly hesitated to read his latest, French Exit, for fear that I would be disappointed and not have the same delightful experience. Well I needn't have been afraid.
The premise of French Exit is a little less enticing, I have to admit- wealthy widow and man-child son lose their money and must spend their declining time in, of all places, Paris. Poor dears! But the physical location is only incidental to their situation; it barely even registers, honestly. They could be anywhere; what matters is what's going on inside them.
Frances Price is the stunning widow of Franklin Price and the survivor of a scandal that she caused when her husband died. Malcolm is their 30ish son, who still lives with his mother, has no profession and few relationships of any kind. There is Susan, a woman who loves Malcolm, and a cat, Small Frank, who seems attached to Frances for some reason. Frances has a friend named Joan, another wealthy woman who lends Frances and Malcolm her Paris apartment when Frances discovers that their money is gone and they are about to be evicted from their home. Quickly selling what possessions she can, Frances takes her son, her cat and a wad of Euros on a one-way cruise to the Continent, where she picks up a ragtag assortment of friends and enacts a plan.
Patrick deWitt's sense of black humor and his pitch-perfect character building, not to mention talent for the arch phrase and knowing wink of the pen (if there is such a thing) make this story absolutely delightful. I really enjoyed every minute. Lorna Raver's narration shapes the book into theater, with her slightly scratchy, mannered Frances and lumbering-dolt Malcolm especially good. The ending is predictable and the book takes a turn towards the bittersweet at its approach; nevertheless I was still shocked at the last-minute violence of it. It's just a wonderful book, frivolous in just the right way and serious when it counts.
FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary audiobook from libro.fm.
Hardcovers Last year I set a general intention to read from my hardcover pile so that I could finally get to some books I'd carted around through a few moves over the past few years- and I did that, I read a bunch and sold them and made room for new stuff. (But I have bought fewer books than I read, and actually opened up some room on the shelves.) This year I'm going to try to get the pile down by another third. I have thirty or so hardcover fiction titles right now so after I get through ten of them, I'll start on
ARCs I've collected quite a few advance copies over 12 years of book blogging and book selling; I read them steadily but just like the hardcovers there are a bunch that I've hauled from place to place too. I'd like to get to some of the dustier ones and then send them on their way. (Don't worry- I don't sell them. I leave them on a table in the hallway of my building for my neighbors.)
Nonfiction I'd like to read between 10 and 20 nonfiction titles bedside in 2019. I was reading nonfiction at the gym but I haven't been going as much lately and haven't been reading much when I am there, so maybe it's back to magazines for a while.
Diversity Last year I read 16 books by people of color; I'd like to get that number up to between 20 and 25. I'm starting off strong with My Own Country by Abraham Verghese and There There by Tommy Orange. I can cherry pick from my hardcovers and ARCs and nonfiction too. It's just a matter of making choices.
Reducing Paper I'm making a vow to only buy craft e-books; no new paper quilting books in 2019. The only things I should print out are sewing templates that get recycled after use.
Volume Last year I read 70 books. I don't know if I can reach that number again this year; I read a lot of books in holding rooms on background jobs, and I don't anticipate doing much background in 2019. My goal is going to be a more modest 50 books, including audio. We'll see if I make it- or exceed it.
Is it still OK to say Happy New Year? Happy New Year! I finished 2018 strong and I'm on to a whole new slate of books. My first finish of 2018 was Ruby Namdar's The Ruined House, a very literary Israeli prize-winner about a middle-aged man's mid-life crisis, a kind of psychotic/religious mental breakdown that coincides with the attacks of 9/11/01 although the attacks are never explicitly mentioned. Anyway it is a beautifully written, haunting novel that I'm probably going to be mulling over for a while.
My carry-around read is Milkman, by Anna Burns, a somewhat stream-of-consciousness novel that just won the Booker Prize, coming from Irish writer Anna Burns, about the life of woman who can't quite live by the rules of her Northern Ireland sectarian community. It's a slow read but very compelling.
Bedside I'm reading Tommy Orange's it-book There There, about indigenous Americans in southern California. I just started it so I'll be able to tell you more soon.
I'm a few days away from finishing Abraham Verghese's luminous My Own Country, a memoir about his experiences treating patients with HIV/AIDS in rural Tennessee in the 1980s. His was one of the first medical memoirs to cover HIV/AIDS; he went on to write the wonderful novel Cutting for Stone years later.
In audioland I'm enjoying the heck out of French Exit, by Patrick DeWitt, author of The Sisters Brothers. This is about a fading socialite and her man-child son and what happens when their family fortune goes away. What are you reading this week? Let me know in the comments.
2018 was a so-so year of reading. One of my goals, which I accomplished, was to really dig into my collection of hardcover fiction and nonfiction; I have moved house twice in the last five years, and there were a lot of things that frankly I don't want to have to move again. So I spent some time late in 2017 grouping all of my hardcover fiction together and started reading it bedside, since I don't like lugging hardcovers around in my purse. I read a whole bunch! I read things that have been sitting on my shelf for ten years. And some of those books were great, but a lot of them went into the sell pile after 50-100 pages.
So a bunch of the fiction wasn't that thrilling. But some of it was, and since I didn't write a lot of reviews this year I'll tell you about those now.
I also wanted to read more nonfiction by and about women, and I did that, too. This was much more successful and some of my favorite reads of the year were stories about and by women I read because I made the time to do so.
Favorite Fiction of 2018 My Cat Yugoslavia, by Patjim Statovici. Surreal and strange and almost impossible to summarize, it's about immigration, coming of age, marriage, finding love and finding yourself. It covers two generations of an Albanian family from the Balkans to Scandinavia.
Buddha, by Osamu Tezuka. Reading Tezuka's 8-volume manga series about the live of Buddha is something I've wanted to do for years and it is so incredibly worth it. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Never Mind and Mother's Milk, by Edward St. Aubyn. The first and fourth volumes of the Patrick Melrose series are my favorites- but I have #5 still to go. St. Aubyn's writing is precise, crystalline and tight; every word counts, and boy do those words add up. His characters are pretty awful, but his style, insight and character-building can't be beat. Waiting for Tomorrow, by Nathacha Appanah. Appanah wowed me a few years ago with The Last Brother, and her followup didn't disappoint, about a couple living in France who hires a nanny from the wife's native country of Mauritius and the fallout.
The Devoted, by Blair Hurley. This is a very well-crafted, psychologically astute story of a late-twenties coming of age, set in NYC and Boston, about a young woman leaving an emotionally complicated relationship and building a life for herself.
Babel Tower, by A.S. Byatt. The third of Byatt's Frederica Potter series may be my favorite, although it's been about 20 years since I read the first two. Frederica is married and leaving her husband, taking her young son into a new life for both of them. Women Talking, and All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews. Both novels based on real-life situations, Toews writes about women's lives with clarity and tenderness. Women Talking is about the fallout from a series of rapes in a Mennonite community in Bolivia; Sorrows is about a young writer's relationship with her talented, mercurial and suicidal sister. Both are wonderful.
Favorite Nonfiction of 2018
Code Girls, by Liza Mundy. This is a fascinating and addictive story of the American women who broke codes during World War 2, a story I knew nothing about. Women came from all over the country and every background you can think of to help the war effort with their mathematical, linguistic and mechanical skills. It's a story that needs to be told. Sargent's Women, by Donna Luce y. Lucey gives us insight into the lives of privileged Gilded Age women through mini-biographies of four who intersected with famed portraitist John Singer Sargent. I loved this peek into women whose lives took very different paths. Calypso, by David Sedaris. Sedaris's latest memoir is moving, sad and hilarious, about growing older and living with the life you've made. He has done pretty well for himself, but that doesn't mean there isn't tragedy, or loss, alongside his phenomenal success as a writer.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, by Samantha Irby. By far the best time I had listening to a memoir this year, Irby's book is also moving, hilarious and sometimes sad, but with more of an emphasis on the funny. That said she tackles some tough stuff too, like her difficult relationship with her mother, that I found touching and real. And that poor cat. Good Lord, that poor cat.
Queer City, by Peter Ackroyd. Ackroyd's book takes us through a history of London through the eyes of gay history and it's a really interesting and unexpected read. I enjoy Ackroyd's books about London and this is a great addition to his bookshelf.
I'm already picking my next reads for 2019. What did you love in 2018? What are you looking forward to? Tell me in the comments!