The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander
(Grand Central Publishing, 2015, 209 pages)
This memoir about what it’s like to unexpectedly lose your husband was beautifully written, poignant, and heart-breaking. Alexander is a poet and that background shines through in the way she writes this memoir. Much like when you read poetry there would be sections of the book where I would finish and then just have to stop and reflect on what I’d read.
Even though the subject matter is sad it makes you appreciate the people you have in your life and the fact that no day is guaranteed to us. It also shines light on the fact that you WILL survive your grief. Just because someone is no longer physically beside us on this earth doesn’t mean their presence and the impact they had on your life disappears. It’s tragic, yes. But the fact that they have played a role in influencing the person you have become remains a beautiful thing to hold on to.
House of Women by Sophie Goldstein
(Fantagraphics, 2017, 200 pages)
In this black and white graphic novel, four women go to a planet to help civilize the natives who live there, particularly the children. The natives, who look part Grinch, part human, do not speak the women’s language, except young Zaza. The women aren’t prepared for an unexpected transformation that occurs when the young natives, including Zaza, hit puberty that could endanger their lives. A man living on the planet who seems human, but strangely has four eyes, provides understanding of the natives, but has also formed a sexual bond with them.
The book leaves unanswered questions, including information about the man’s past and the fate of the natives and the women, perhaps leaving it open to a sequel! I recommend House of Women for a quick read for fans of science fiction and graphic novels.
Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta
(Scribner, 2017, 309 pages)
I wasn’t blown away but it was an entertaining read.
Here’s the blurb from Amazon:
Eve Fletcher is trying to figure out what comes next. A forty-six-year-old divorcee whose beloved only child has just left for college, Eve is struggling to adjust to her empty nest when one night her phone lights up with a text message. Sent from an anonymous number, the mysterious sender tells Eve, “U R my MILF!” Over the months that follow, that message comes to obsess Eve. While leading her all-too-placid life—serving as Executive Director of the local senior center by day and taking a community college course on Gender and Society at night—Eve can’t curtail her own interest in a porn website called MILFateria.com, which features the erotic exploits of ordinary, middle-aged women like herself. Before long, Eve’s online fixations begin to spill over into real life, revealing new romantic possibilities that threaten to upend her quiet suburban existence.
Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot
(Penguin Classics, 2011, 880 pages)
After multiple attempts and months of stopping and starting I have finally finished Middlemarch. I’m sure that doesn’t make it sound appealing but truthfully I loved every minute of it and it really speaks more to my flaws than to the novel’s appeal. After finishing Middlemarch I read a New Yorker article “Middlemarch And Me What George Eliot teaches us” by Rebecca Mead and decided that instead of giving a plot summary I would just include a quote from the article that I think speaks to what I found most interesting; the novel is sometimes biting and satirical but never at the total expense of the characters:
But Eliot’s satire, unlike Austen’s, stops short of cruelty. She is inveterately magnanimous, even when it comes to her most flawed characters; her default authorial position is one of pity. Rosamond Vincy is foolish and intractable—her husband refers to her in his later years as his basil plant, because it was “a plant that had flourished wonderfully on a murdered man’s brains.” But the sequence of chapters in which self-involved, trivial Rosamond realizes that Will Ladislaw is in love with Dorothea, not her—she is “taken hold of by an emotion stronger than her own, hurried along in a new movement which gave all things some new, awful, undefined aspect”—is a masterpiece of sympathetic imagination. A reader marvels at Jane Austen’s cleverness, but is astonished by George Eliot’s intelligence.
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
(Random House, 2017, 320 pages)
Idaho was the January selection for a book club I’m a part of. Set in (surprise) Idaho we are brought into the world of Wade and Ann Mitchell. They’ve been married a few years, but Wade was married before and that marriage came to a tragic end. Since they’ve been together Ann has been trying to piece together more information about Wade’s life before her, but this grows harder with time since Wade is fighting early-onset dementia and his memory is quickly fading.
Ann’s struggle to uncover more of Wade’s past is only part of the story. Idaho jumps back in forth in both time and perspective. We see things from the point of view of a number of characters, including Wade’s ex-wife Jenny. This book keeps you reading because you want to learn more about what happened to its characters and see how they progress.
Ruskovich is a talented writer and I was always eager to get back to reading her work. Even though I didn’t think I was a fan of the way the book ended, the more I reflect on it the more sense it makes. This is a worthwhile read from a debut author.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
(Grand Central Publishing, 2017, 496 pages)
I’m sure you remember seeing Pachinko on “Best of 2017” lists everywhere this past December. It was primarily because of this that I bumped it up in my reading rotation. I’d previously read Lee’s Free Food for Millionaires and really enjoyed it so I had already planned to grab this at some point. All I can say is that this lived up to the hype and exceeded my expectations. I honestly didn’t want to put it down. I was so invested in the characters and their lives… It was a fantastic read.
Pachinko follows the lives of a Korean family throughout the 20th century. We are introduced to Sunja, our family matriarch, as a child in Korea. Then we go through generations of her family who struggle with holding on to their Korean identity while being exiled and ostracized.
To quote from Goodreads, this is “a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.” It’s a definite recommend.
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
(Random House, 2017, 207 pages)
I was introduced to Ariel Levy through the Longform podcast. That led me to her 2013 essay in The New Yorker, “Thanksgiving in Mongolia.” It’s powerful and devastating. When I started hearing the buzz about The Rules Do Not Apply I immediately added it to my to-read list.
The Rules Do Not Apply is a memoir about Levy’s journey to becoming the woman she is today. In the midst of losing her child, her marriage, and the life she’d previously believed was waiting for her in the future she learns (the hard way) that no one ever really has control over their life. No one knows what might be in store for them. She has to reclaim her sense of self and she takes the reader along with her. You grieve with her for the loss of her marriage and the loss of her child and you end the book wanting to know more about Levy’s life and how things are going for her.
The book ends on a hopeful note, leaving the reader with the notion that her life could have any number of outcomes – who is she to say she knows which one will come to pass?
The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South
by Michael Twitty
(Amistad, 2017, 464 pages)
The premise of Twitty’s book is to explore how African-Americans influenced Southern cooking as we know it today. He uses his own family history to trace this influence. It was interesting to learn about slaves being sent abroad to learn French culinary techniques so they could cook the cuisine their owners wanted. I also appreciated learning a bit about how slaves adapted to their new surroundings by seeing what was comparable to food they had back home or by finding ways to introduce their own culinary traditions to the new world they were a part of.
This book had received such acclaim and it dealt with issues I love reading about (food and race) that I was eager to finally pick it up. But it didn’t deliver for me. There are people that thoroughly enjoyed it, I just think it was billed as a different book than what it actually is. A considerable amount of the book was spent going through Twitty’s genealogy. Unfortunately, it read pretty dry to me and I felt like more time was devoted to figuring out his heritage (valuable, to be sure!) than talking about the culinary component (the whole reason I picked up the book).
Like I said, some people loved this book. I didn’t find the writing particularly compelling. The focus of the book should have been more on the food than on Twitty. I did learn some new things, but it was a slog trying to get through the book.
The Christmas Wish by Richard Siddoway
(Harmony Books, 1998, 203 pages)
Heartwarming Christmas tale, inspiring, mystery
The Wreath of Snow by Liz Curtis Higgs
(WaterBrook Press, 2012, 224 pages)
Victorian Christmas, novella, love, forgiveness