Book Recommendations–Bookstore Memories

When I finally retired from Darvill’s Bookstore in April, it was with as much excitement as regret.  After working there for over 11 years, it felt like home. I met people from all over the world, and talked ardently with so many of them about books.  The store’s sunny yellow walls, huge multi paned windows, views of the water, eclectic music, fresh flowers, carefully curated mix of gifts and books, excellent espresso, and of course, enthusiastic and intelligent staff all combined to make it an inspiring and delightful place to work. Talking to people about what they had read and loved and what I had read and loved was my favorite part of the job. It was infinitely satisfying to put special books into customer’s hands. Here are some of my favorite novels, of which I sold many copies but have not yet reviewed in this blog.

 

9780143113461_p0_v1_s114x166Five Skies, by Ron Carlson

This small gem, which both Jenny and I read and loved and sold to customers many times over, has a strong sense of place and unusual setting–the dramatic Snake River Canyon in Idaho.  Three men, all haunted by different demons, drift together and form a crew to construct a huge ramp in the “middle of nowhere”. If you have ever worked outdoors, particularly on construction, this book will strongly resonate.  The feel of the weather, the emotional work of fitting in with a crew, the lack of distractions in a remote location, all combine to make this character-driven novel so memorable. In particular, a troubled young man who joins the crew is mentored by the foreman in a way that is subtly skillful and caring, without appearing so. Carlson, an underrated writer of award-winning short stories, writes in a spare and elegant style that strongly appeals to me.

 

Snow Hunters, by Paul Yoon9781476714820_p0_v2_s114x166

In this debut novel, Yohan, a young Korean who was a POW at the end of the Korean War is able to emigrate to a small port town in Brazil to start a new life. He is emotionally damaged, but in his newly adopted country he is treated with generosity and kindness which surprises him.  He is taken in by an old Japanese tailor and becomes his apprentice.  They live a quiet, almost austere existence, and the book poetically and gracefully unveils their years together, and Yohan’s search for connection and love, which mostly eludes him.  Through the years, he meets and comes to know others with his same aloneness–in particular two young orphans who often enter and exit his life, like butterflies. Yoon illustrates in this elegantly written novel that memories are key to shaping our identities; we need them to make sense of our place in a world that often seems to make no sense.

 

9780143036661_p0_v1_s114x166March, by Geraldine Brooks

If I were forced to pick one favorite author today, Brooks would be on the short list of contenders.  All her books have captivated me, and this is one of her best–a Pulitzer Prize winner in 2006. The novel is based on the character of Peter March, the absent father from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and is also based on Alcott’s own father Bronson, a transcendentalist. The story surprised me with its intelligent and well-developed depiction of life during the Civil War. March, who left his home and family to serve as a chaplin for the Union army, had his idealism and abolitionist values marred by the harsh truths of slavery and brutal costs of war. His life is followed for twenty years, including his return home and attempt to reintegrate with his family. Not too different from the challenges of any soldier in a time of war–any war.

 

City of Thieves, by David Benioff9780452295292_p0_v2_s114x166

Never have I encountered two such mis-matched and intriguing characters as the unlikely heroes of this coming of age-story, set at the time of the siege of Leningrad during WW II. Lev, the intelligent and self-doubting son of a well-known Jewish poet, is arrested for stealing, and finds himself sharing a cell with the handsome and confident Kolya, a Slav from the Russian army arrested for various wartime infractions. In prison, they are one day given the chance to save their own lives by agreeing to obtain a dozen eggs for a party official’s cake.  In a city of the starving and dying, the two young men set off on a journey of terror, humor, desire and despair. How Benioff pulls off balancing the horror and humor of the situation is astonishing–I was left with delight and pathos after experiencing this story and its characters.

 

 

9780375705854_p0_v1_s114x166Plainsong and Eventide, by Kent Haruf

Two of my favorite books we keep selling at the bookstore are these beautiful and plainspoken companion novels, set in rural Colorado among small towns and isolated farmers. The older, sometimes crotchety pair of McPheron brothers live on a cattle ranch inherited from their parents, outside of the small town of Holt.  Their routine and very quiet lives are upended when they agree to take in a local pregnant teen-ager, Victoria, whom they gradually adopt as “family”.  Plainsong is the first of the two books, published in 1999, and was a finalist for the National Book Award.  In the sequel, Eventide, Victoria has stayed on the ranch after the birth of her baby, but must leave because she has a chance to attend college. Change comes in multiples in this equally compelling follow-up, and the family the brothers have slowly created over the course of the two stories becomes family to me, also.

 

 

Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe9780385474542_p0_v1_s114x166

It was years before I finally read this classic, and when I did, I wondered why I had waited so long! Set in Africa in the 1890′s at the beginning of the colonial era and arrival of Christian missionaries, it is loosely based on Achebe’s own life. Okonkwo, a highly respected Igbo tribal elder, experiences the beginning edge of this cataclysmic change in his country of Nigeria. He approaches it slowly, with intellect, skepticism, and the many deep emotions that this change evokes. First published in 1958, and never a Pulitzer Prize winner, the book has actually eclipsed all awards by becoming the best selling African novel in the world, an honor which it still holds. A book ahead of its time, of its time, and for always.

 

Book Recommendations–Summer Reads

When I see lists of “good summer reads”, they often veer toward light romances, new thrillers, or stories that do not need much engagement by the reader.  To me, a good summer read has some substance to it, but is not a slog.  This spring I read a number of new fiction books and a couple of non-fiction that I believe are “worthy” reads, without being too easy to put down or forget about and leave on the boat, the beach, or the floor of the back seat of the car.  I love reading outside and inside in the summer, and especially love stories that will transport me to another world, like the following new titles have.

 

9780345516534_p0_v4_s114x166Under the Wide and Starry Sky, by Nancy Horan

This newly published novel, by the author of Loving Frank, is stronger and more engaging than her previous best-seller, but also quite a bit longer. The story of Robert Louis Stevenson and his older, artist-wife Fanny Osbourne is a heady and tortured love story, and is strongly imprinted with the artistic temperament of the times in which they lived.  Stevenson was crippled by illness nearly all his life, and when he met Fanny she had just fled from an unhappy marriage in the States with her three children in tow.  They met at an artist’s colony in the French countryside.  She was not impressed at first, but he was immediately smitten, and after a rocky start, they both fell in love.  She nursed him, and served as part-muse, part-warden to try to preserve his health and energy for his writing. Their story takes them as far as Samoa, where he died in his 40′s.  Both lovers are vividly rendered by Horan. But note that I was one of those children who memorized most of A Child’s Garden of Verses.  I was enthralled with this fascinating account of Stevenson’s childlike wonder and dogged commitment to his writing and Fanny’s struggle to support him, care for her children, and support her own dreams.

 

The Family, by David Laskin

Not a light nor airy read at all, this true story of the author’s family three generations back nevertheless had me reading late into the night.  The story centers on a Russian-Jewish couple who have numerous children, each9780670025473_p0_v1_s114x166 one of whom makes very different life choices from each other.  One branch of the family immigrated to the US before WWII, where they became successful businessmen and women.  The oldest daughter co-founded the Maidenform Bra Company, and became a millionaire.  Two other family members immigrated to Palestine, before the creation of Israel, and several other family members continued to live near their towns and villages of birth, only to disappear in the Holocaust.  Very different lives, all equally compelling, as developed by Laskin (a Seattle author).  My knowledge of Jewish culture and history, which is a subject of great interest to me, shot up the scale after reading this. I believe it is the first book I have read on the subject which gave me a new and wider perspective on the creation and politics of Israel.

 

9780525426721_p0_v1_s114x166The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

This novel really surprised me; while I liked Gilbert’s famous Eat, Pray, Love bestseller a number of years ago, I did not consider her a very serious writer.  But numerous readers came into the bookstore this spring and raved about this novel, and Jenny and I said “one of us should read it”.  Since i have more time, I decided to try it and was very entertained.  Set in the 1800′s in the newly developing United States, it chronicles the life of a young woman born to a well-off Pittsburgh family who chooses to become a scientist.  Her upbringing and parents were unique, and encouraged her engagement with adult conversation and reading about all kinds of topics starting early in her life.  As a result, she became a well-respected scientist (her study of mosses being the first of its kind) who married a man who did not want to engage in physical lovemaking. Always aware of her own sexual needs, she was stunned and hurt.  The results of this discovery motivated her to travel more widely than she would have, partly to discover secrets about his life and death.  The book reminded me a bit of Andrea Barrett’s lovely short stories in Ship Fever. Gilbert’s talent has risen considerably in my estimation with this fully-realized, beautifully written story.

 

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Doerr is one of those authors I strongly believe in, and will follow (almost) anywhere–his novel About Grace was my favorite of a few years back (2005)–so of course I was set to tackle his new novel which came out with a great deal of buzz in the book world this spring.  When I started it, I groaned “not another book about WWII!” as I have read so many in the past couple of years, and all were wonderful.  So I started the book a bit wary and suspicious, but after a few chapters had renewed awe about Doerr’s talent as an 9781476746586_p0_v2_s114x166author.  There are a few reviewers who have said there is too much lyrical writing in this story, but I am not one of them. His writing often leaves me breathless.  However, he constructed this book with short chapters, a blessing, which gives one time to catch a breath between the stunning sentences, movement back and forth in time, and jumps between characters. It was complex, but he did not lose me in the process because I was so caught up in the juxtaposition between Marie-Laure, a blind girl living in occupied Saint-Malo, France, and Werner, a young and talented German radioman who becomes another of the many pawns of the Nazi regime. The lives of the two main characters become intertwined through radio transmissions, accidents of war, and memory. What a winner!

 

Gemini, by Carol Cassella

9781451627930_p0_v2_s114x166In my very first post, over two years ago, I reviewed Cassella’s first novel, Oxygen, which bowled me over and had me hanging until the very last page.  Gemini, her newest novel, is not quite as breathtaking, but it did have me engrossed in another of her “medical mysteries”, in a setting that is infinitely familiar to me–the Olympic Peninsula.  A woman is brought into the ER in Seattle with no ID and no way to contact her family, and clearly she is dying.  Doctor Charlotte becomes alarmed at the lack of action by the police in trying to identify the victim, an apparent hit and run, and finally starts exploring that part of the mystery herself.  Along with her boyfriend Eric, whom she has recruited to help, Dr. Charlotte slowly unravels the mystery of the identity of the victim, contacts the victim’s family, and uncovers an unexpected connection to them.  Cassella is very adept within this genre, with good reason: she is a practicing anesthesiologist in Seattle. Her stories go beyond traditional mysteries on many levels, exploring issues of race, class and other contemporary social issues wrapped in an engaging story.

 

Astoria, by Peter Stark

There is something sweet and historic about Astoria, Oregon, and its setting is absolutely beautiful.  So I was intrigued enough to pick up this book to read about Astoria’s history, not knowing I would be immersed in a tale9780062218292_p0_v2_s114x166 so thrilling, so harrowing, that it left with my mouth hanging open.  Shortly after the Lewis and Clark expedition ended, President Jefferson and millionaire John Jacob Astor envisioned a plan to settle a part of the West that they saw as crucial to developing trade and establishing headquarters for a potential global network.  To that end, Astor financed a Jamestown-type expedition–sending one group by sea and one by land over the Rockies to the Columbia River.  The story covers the expedition’s hardships and discoveries between 1810 and 1813; the colony was not ultimately self-sustaining, but the West had been “opened” in a new way, the Oregon Trail established, and the rest, as they say, is history. And what a rich history this little-known story in the settling of the West adds.  I will never view Astoria the same again, and can’t wait to visit, either.

 

 

 

Book Recommendations–Salter and Stern

The other day I browsed through the reading journal I have kept for 40 years, and the names of two authors I read and loved many years ago jumped out–James Salter and Richard Stern. What lovely memories I have of their books!  Stern, who died in 2013 was a long-time teacher and mentor to Phillip Roth, and often referred to as “the best writer of whom you have never heard”.  James Salter, the better known of the two, is fortunately still living and writing at 88.  He has published a smorgasbord of delicious writing–from erotic novel to travel to food writing.  Here are some “appetizers” you may want to try.

 

9780810151468_p0_v1_s114x166Other Men’s Daughters, by Richard Stern

This was the first book I recorded in my reading journal in 1974.  When I first read Stern, I was leaving a marriage and the world of academia, which is why the subject matter appealed to me.  The story line is a well-trod one:  middle-aged professor with kids meets younger, adoring student and the results–a messy divorce and devastated children–are predictable. In Stern’s hands, however, the results end up seeming more restrained, humane, even elegant. He is able to portray each character with an underlying generosity that would not be found in the hands of less skilled writer. I wrote in my journal that Stern’s books were “little jewels”, in spite of the sometimes difficult (and common) subject matter, and in re-reading parts of this book again, I would not change that assessment at all.

 

Light Years, by James Salter

Many well-known authors, including Jhumpa Lahiri and Saul Bellow, claim Salter’s works 9780679740735_p0_v1_s114x166are under appreciated masterpieces, and many readers agree.  Like Stern, he has not sold as widely as friends Roth, Heller, Mailer, and others of his generation. However, there are only two of his works that I have not read, and I plan to read those, believe me. I would prescribe this story be read in good chunks (like an exceptional French bread), rather than small bites, otherwise the unfolding beauty of his writing might not be fully experienced.  It is the story of an enviable couple, Nedra and Viri, who seemingly have it all, until near-invisible cracks start expanding and the marriage becomes irretrievable.  Like Stern, the subject matter may not be original, but his writing is clear, resonant, sensual and profound.

 

Natural Shocks, by Richard Stern

9780810151475_p0_v1_s114x166 A well-known journalist, already divorced, gradually learns of the impact of his life’s “natural shocks” on himself, and what it means to be a decent person, in spite of his very human mistakes.  The love and grief he experiences as the result of a young woman’s malignant melanoma sharply outline these themes for him. In my journal, this novel seemed to make an even stronger impression on me than his other works. Or at least I quoted from it more:

The sexual subway shuttled between farce and torture…the oldest aphrodisiac of old relationships poured in: pity. (There were so many varieties).”  And  There seemed to be no end to self-discovery.  Perhaps decency was getting as much of oneself as possible on the record, then letting other people figure out the results.”  This story holds up strongly upon a second reading, some 37 years later.

 

Burning the Days, by James Salter

This is Salter’s autobiography, or as close as he will probably come to writing one, which 9780394759487_p0_v1_s114x166fascinated me because it was not at all the story I expected.  Most of the book recounts his student life at West Point, during WWII, and his life as a fighter pilot in the Air Force during the Korean War.  Born into a life of privilege in 1925, the last thing I would have expected to have been a huge part of his life (the well traveled, gourmand writer that he is) was the military, and flying.  And even though the military life is not one that attracts me, I raced through the first two thirds of the book where he describes a life of flying like a poet.  The last part of the book, about his years writing scripts for movies, feels more like a lot of name-dropping, but the first part held me so strongly I finished with a more firmly committed love of this writer’s style, and his other books.

 

A Sistermony, by Richard Stern

9781556114762_p0_v1_s114x166 Fiction writer Stern even invents a word–sistermony–to describe this intimate memoir of his older sister’s death and legacy. Ruth died a long, slow death from cancer at 67, and Stern starts to sort out, for the first time in his life, his relationship with her during her dying and following her death in 1991.  What he comes up with is a rich melange of rivalry, jealousy, curiosity, and protectiveness. During her illness, they rehash and re-imagine life with their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and mutual friends.   He also realizes he wants Ruth to tell him about his infancy and toddlerhood, “the life I’d lived but didn’t remember.”  He is masterful in his progressively accurate descriptions of the details of slow dying: injections, draining of fluids, black-and-blue skin, administering ice chips to relieve a dry mouth, lapses into semi-consciousness, and Ruth’s deathbed humor. He has created a small masterpiece, an American classic on death, dying, and sisterhood.

 

 

A Sport and a Pastime, by James Salter

One of the most erotic novels I have ever read, which is what many reviewers said back in 9780374530501_p0_v1_s114x1661967 when it was first published.  Set in provincial France, it chronicles the passionate and affair between a young shop-girl, Anne-Marie and Philip Dean, an American college dropout. Their love affair is imagined and told by an unnamed narrator, who leads us through the story and (his) own fantasies with sensual and haunting prose.  Considered ground-breaking when first published, due to its blend of fantasy and eroticism, one may suspect it to have not aged well, but I do not think that the case. It showcases Salter’s tremendous talent and versatility.  When you think about reading Salter for the first time, consider this an unique starting point.

 

 

Book Recommendations–Graphics

When I first became aware of manga (essentially, Japanese comics of all genres)  and other  books termed “graphics” that young people seemed to be reading, I thought “now they let school kids read comics instead of books?” I was Horrified, having conveniently forgotten how faithfully I had followed Dick Tracy, Dondi, and Archie every Sunday growing up. Graphic novels and nonfiction as a genre have exploded in the past few years; they are obviously not a passing fad.  So I hopped on, tried out a few, and was instantly converted.  Here are some of my favorites–mostly memoir.

 

9781596433755_p0_v1_s114x166The Photographer: into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders, by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefèvre, and Frédéric Lemercier

Here is a vivid picture of Afghanistan you will see in no other way– it gave me a perspective that news analysis or reading books never did.  The now-famous Doctors Without Borders was founded in France in 1971, and this book is an emotionally gripping mix of Lefèvre’s intimate, empathetic photographs and Guibert’s colorful graphic interpretations of a 1986 mission in Afghanistan, when the Soviets were still at war in that country.  The story details a mission Lefèvre took with a group of daring French doctors (known as MSF teams) to illegally supply a hospital in eastern Afghanistan.  Lefèvre was naive about the risks of this undertaking, and almost died after making a decision to leave the group on his own right before winter. His open-hearted innocence, belief in the mission, and passion give an eye-opening and mind-altering view of the country before the U.S. declared war. A fantastic, award winning book that sold over a quarter million copies in France, and deserves even more exposure in this country.

 

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast9781608198061_p0_v3_s114x166

I have long followed Chast’s drawings in the New Yorker, bought her books, and always recommend them to others, as her very quirky sense of humor speaks to me profoundly.  Jenny brought back a signed(!!) advanced copy for me from ABA’s Winter Institute in January, and I could not be more thrilled. This new memoir of her dealing with aging parents, not due out until May, and is a must-read by anyone who ever has, will, or might, deal with parents. I felt not quite so alone after helping care for my 95 year old mother, (who died last February), and you will laugh hysterically even as you cry.  Chast was an only child, growing up in Brooklyn with parents who saved everything–need I say more? Her memoir is a unique blend of her hand printing, photographs, and of course, those delicate and twisted drawings I so love!

 

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh 9781451666175_p0_v13_s114x166

This amazing book just showed up on the IndieBound (independent bookseller’s) best seller list seemingly out of nowhere last fall.  However, the author has been blogging since 2009, and has a huge following (think James Patterson of the internet).  Wow!  Not only do her graphics, done in vivid, childlike color (using Paintbrush software) capture me, but her stories–ranging from training unruly dogs, to growing up with her sister, to dealing with her own depression, are hilarious and poignant. I often see younger people in the store looking at the book and laughing while viewing it, but even those who religiously follow Brosh’s blog (hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com) buy the book.  A great gift for yourself, or others you may know with a slightly skewed view of the world.  Not at all dystopian, absolutely delightful and just the thing for a grey, rainy almost-spring day.

 

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michaelangelo & Me, by Ellen Forney9781592407323_p0_v2_s114x166

You may be starting to think I read too much about depression, and I have good reason, with a family member who struggles with this tragic illness.  So do 1 in 10 other Americans–an incomprehensible number.  A therapist friend of mine told me her office waiting room will now be graced with copies this book. It is one of the best things I have ever read about bipolar disorder, and the complexities of diagnosing, treating and accepting this illness in a person’s life.  Filled with more laughter, pathos, and information than traditional self-help or textbooks about the illness, I highly recommend it for those who have struggled with depression, know someone who has, or just want to know what it can be like to deal with.  Not at all depressing (ironically) but wryly humorous and very unique.

 

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel

9780618871711_p0_v1_s114x166-1 Bechdel’s books are few but powerful; The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (2008, and based on her long-runing syndicated comic strip), and Are You My Mother? (2012) are already classics in the genre.  In 2006, Bechdel published this autobiographical “tragicomic” tale of her childhood and the years before and after her father’s death. It is essentially the story of growing up with a perfectionist father (can anyone relate?) who she finds out has more in common with her than she realized: they are both gay. This title catapulted her onto the bestseller lists, and received numerous awards: named one of the best books of 2006 by The New York Times, The Times of London, Time magazine and  Publisher’s Weekly, to name a few.  Her commentary is smart, cryptic and authentic, and her line drawings are an incredible, graceful counterpoint to her voice. I certainly hope to hear more from her–she is unique, even in the very unique world of graphics.

 

Persepolis, by Marjorie Strapi

This was my first graphic read, and now considered a “classic” in the genre (along with9780375714832_p0_v1_s114x166 The Complete Maus, by Art Spiegelman, who is the “grandfather” of graphics here in the U.S.) Strapi grew up in Iran, before the overthrow of the Shah, and these two books (combined into one for this edition) follow her life from a young girl to a woman who marries, divorces,  moves to Austria before finally returning home.  Her memories of the pre and post-revolution chaos and challenges in a predominantly Muslim country left me frequently awed, and very, very grateful for the freedoms I have. Marji is rebellious, outspoken, torn between loyalties to family and her strong need for freedom.  It is a universally human story, told by an engaging, bold and candid woman.

Book Recommendations–Older, Now

 

Even being relatively healthy and still a tad under 70, I am beginning to get a bit grumpy about aging. No longer am I anxious to tell people how old I am, as their reaction is usually to give me a slim grimace of pity.  So I have resorted to doing what I know how to–reading about aging, trying to keep moving and frequent bakeries less often, and keep laughing.    The following books have helped me better understand my universal predicament and laugh about it more. All aspects are necessary, I am finding (except maybe the bakery ban).

 

9780896728233_p0_v2_s114x166The Fifth Season, by Lisa Ohlen Harris

The discovery of this lovely book was purely accidental: a woman writer came to the bookstore last month, and gave me a bookmark with her email on it.  I was curious, because the topic was a memoir about caregiving of the author’s mother-in-law during her last years. I had spent years helping my own mother as she aged, so I could relate.  So I ordered it because of the topic, my instant liking of the author, and the book’s beautiful cover. Harris’ writing has that rare quality of balance between the emotional and rational.  She was given a tough challenge–Jeanne, her mother-in-law lived with them, had advanced lung disease because of a life spent smoking, and was by no means a sweet and compliant woman. Plus, Harris and her husband (who works full time) had four daughters at home to raise.   I wish I had read it sooner, and anyone with the challenge of caregiving of an aging loved one will learn and feel support from reading this honest and beautiful story.

 

Somewhere Towards the End, by Diana Athill

9780393338003_p0_v1_s114x166

Our book group read this about a year ago, along with Julian Barnes’ Sense of an Ending–a great pairing, although most of us preferred this title.  Athill, who at this writing is in her 90′s, writes unabashedly about the things one gives up as they age, and her feelings about those losses.  Finally!  A book about aging that tells me something beyond “keep exercising”.  She tackles topics as diverse as sore feet and sex with a directness that is refreshing, and unusually reassuring at times.  For instance, she reminds me that there are some perks to not living forever, such as not worrying about global warming, the military industrial complex, or the National Debt anymore. And I’m quite sure those dilemmas will be with us long after most of us are gone.

 

9780143116059_p0_v1_s114x166Deaf Sentence, by David Lodge

Not all books about aging are grim–Lodge is an under appreciated writer who always makes me laugh (and sometimes cry).  As the title suggests, the central character is a somewhat grumpy, aging former professor of linguistics who is particularly stung to his hearing loss. His life is not what he had hoped for in retirement: an 89 year old father who is a constant source of worry and frustration, a wife who is getting younger with the help of cosmetic surgeries and a new career, and an emotionally erratic graduate student who badgers him about helping with her thesis on suicide!  What more could saddle this poor man, you might say. But his challenges are more complex because he cannot hear well, which leads to even more complications.  If you do not know Lodge’s witty and hilarious style now is the time–this is his 14th novel, and his writing is still just as strong, if a bit darker and more poignant.

 

Emily, Alone, by Stewart O’Nan

O’Nan is another of those writers, somewhat like Lodge, whose work is not as widely 9780143120490_p0_v1_s114x166known as I wish it would be.  His body of work is just as large, but he is American, and quite a bit younger than Lodge.  All of the books I’ve read of O’Nan’s are very real and tender, what one might call quiet, with exquisite detail.   I particularly liked Last Night at the Lobster, and this more recent title. How he created Emily, such a believable aging widow whose world has become smaller and less vibrant, shows off his immense talent as a writer.  Emily’s worries are her children, who live away and visit infrequently, the changes in the Pittsburgh neighborhood where she has lived so long, and the failing health of her sister-in-law and only friend.  Lovely, with a character who in the end musters spunky resolve not to end her life by simply fading away.

 

At Seventy, by May Sarton

9780393310306_p0_v1_s114x166Now here’s a writer whose books have been on my shelves and often reread for at least 30 years.  Her years living alone have been chronicled in a number of her books, and her Journal of a Solitude, which I adored, is considered classic. Sarton’s take on aging was also classic: when asked what was good about getting old, she answered “Because I am more myself than I have ever been.”  Her journals are so intimate, sharing not only on the small beauties of life–daffodils from her garden, for instance–but the struggles of being an artist, and balancing solitude with relationships that nurture her.  Sarton died in 1995 at the age of 83, and lived alone in New England for much of her adult life.   This particular journal reflects on a past relationships, her writing life, and the natural world.  Her writing always transports me, makes me reflect and appreciate how vert rich my own life is.

 

Shouting Won’t Help, by Katherine Bouton

Anyone who has hearing loss, knows someone with hearing loss, or ever knew someone with 9780374263041_p0_v1_s114x166hearing loss or deafness could benefit immensely from reading this book.  I know you may think this the most bizarre recommendation ever, but I refer to this book all the time in conversations with others.  Not only is Bouton a science editor for the New York Times, she has struggled to hear most of her adult life, and now has cochlear implants. She lost a job at one time because she was afraid to talk about her hearing loss, which may have spurred her on to become somewhat of an expert on the subject. The latest research and scientific discoveries about the deafness are interwoven with her own story.  I found all of it fascinating, and what I wish is for all of you to have a copy of this book on your coffee tables!  When you read it you will see why–and why I do not shout or raise my voice anymore if someone says “what?”.  I look at them straight in the eye, enunciate clearly, and hope they will do the same when talking to me!