Book Recommendations–Stormy Weather

After the over-predictions concerning last weekend’s Pacific Northwest storms, and my obsession with reading all the charts, graphs, newspapers and blogs about it, I realized I have become a weather nerd.  Some of the most engaging reads have been about  weather, too. (My blog about Hurricane Katrina from September 2015 was one of my favorites to write) And, the topic of weather has reached a new level with the fear, activism and denial around climate change. More and more writers are now joining the spirited conversations.


Isaac’s Storm, by Erik Larson

9780375708275_p0_v4_s118x184-1My favorite of all Seattle author Erik Larson’s books is one that is lesser-known. (I must admit to abandoning that best selling Devil in the White City after 100 pages, as it was too creepy for my taste!) In September of 1900, the town of Galveston, Texas found itself almost completely destroyed by a huge hurricane came on suddenly and killed 6,000 people. It remains the greatest natural disaster in American history, one that could have taken fewer lives if a local meteorologist named Isaac Cline had taken its prediction more seriously early on. His miscalculations and arrogance make for a particularly riveting story, about the disaster that cost him much more than his beloved home. The losses of this storm did propel the science of hurricane and storm behavior ahead many decades, but at a huge cost to the community of Galveston and Cline’s family. Personally, I think this story is Larson at his best!


Thunder & Lightning, by Lauren Redniss

Of all the books that showed up last fall in time for holiday giving, this is the one I 9780812993172_p0_v1_s118x184-1most wanted under my tree!  Redniss, a quirky yet superb graphic artist was also the author of  Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love and Fallout, which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2011.  She also teaches at the Parsons School of Design.  This book demands attention to detail and defies portability–that is, I did not carry it in the car to read bits and pieces here and there.  Instead, it delivers excellence and many insights for those willing to invest the time; I was mesmerized and spent a week reading and studying it at home at my desk. In the end, her text and art work left a magical impression on me–this is how human beings coexist with nature, something absolutely greater than ourselves, that is changing quickly and often violently.  We have a sometimes difficult choice–to fight it or learn to coexist.


Rain, by Cynthia Barnett

9780804137119_p0_v4_s192x300-1Why would someone who lives on the western side of the mountains in the Pacific Northwest want to read anything about rain?  Because there are so many fascinating facts about it, and stories of human efforts to change nature to secure more rain or less, depending on circumstances.  The places that Barnett takes us in her efforts to thoroughly cover the topic are diverse and delightful. There are anecdotes about England’s reluctance to embrace new contraptions like the umbrella, then later on their raging enthusiasm (particularly for black).  And stories of the challenges of modern manufacturers to produce waterproof rain gear.  She takes us to India to explore a perfume made from the mud of the monsoon rains, and to Scotland to tell the story of the ubiquitous Macintosh.  She explores rain from all angles: science, art, literature, politics, history and music.  And it surprised me that I was not at all bored by such a thorough examination!


The Wave, by Susan Casey

Nearly every book that even mentions surfing has my immediate attention and extra patience. Casey, much like the writer mentioned above who explored rain, takes on the sea, and 9780767928854_p0_v1_s192x300specifically mega waves. Unlike the book Rain, however, this account follows a group of surfers headed by  mega-surfer Laird Hamilton who chase around the world looking for at least 100′ waves in an attempt to surf them.  Juxtaposed are studies by scientists and others to as to why such waves exist and how they are formed. Over 200 large, ocean-going ships have disappeared in the past 20 years, and until recently, the idea of 100′ or more rogue waves was an unproven theory.  Only after an oil rig in the North Sea was nearly destroyed by such a wave were scientists able to finally prove their existence.  Casey’s book, to be honest, is more about surfer Hamilton and the big wave surfers than it is about the science of waves. However, that is not at all negative in my world, and makes the book all the more readable.


The Children’s Blizzard, by David Laskin

9780060520762_p0_v3_s192x300-1When I spotted this book by Seattle writer David Laskin, I was thrilled, as I loved his book The Family (Winner of the Washington State Book Award 2104) so much.  Otherwise, I would not have tackled this heartbreaking story of a historic blizzard in January 1888 which blanketed the Dakota Territory that killed over 200 children and adults.  It is the kind of historical documentary that Laskin does so well: part history, part family saga, weather analysis and medical information.  At times, it was painful to read, but I learned more about weather, remembering a story my Dad once told me about how he almost died during a blizzard in 1922 while logging with his Dad in the Minnesota woods.  For some, there may be too much detail in the telling of this story, such as meteorological data and the histories of Scandinavian immigrants who came to this country seeking more space and financial independence, but for me it was absolutely riveting. I read anything Laskin writes.


The Perfect Storm, by Sebastian Junger

A classic from almost the first day it was published, Junger (author of such best sellers9780393337013_p0_v2_s118x184 as A Death in Belmont, and Tribe), follows the fate of the crew of fishing vessel Andrea Gail, from Gloucester, Massachusetts, which was fishing for swordfish off the coast of Nova Scotia in the fall of 1991.  While the boat and crew were lost during one of the worst storms to suddenly hit the Atlantic seaboard, Junger vividly recreates what he thought may have happened by using accounts from various meteorologists, other fishermen and family members. Both life on board a fishing boat, and the science of storms are richly described, and the tragedy of the lost lives and their families are given even billing.  The book read, to me, better than most of the best fiction thrillers I have loved, and pays a lasting tribute (even better than the memorial statue) to the loss of the lives of the six young fishermen. The book was so suspenseful that I doubt I would have the stomach for the movie version, which I heard was also amazing. If you are feeling bored with politics, pick up this book!


The Weather of the Pacific Northwest, by Cliff Mass

9780295988474_p0_v1_s118x184Mass  is a character in his own right, as anyone who follows his weather blog will attest.  A professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington, his understanding of the challenges of forecasting and explaining weather in the Northwest corner of the country is probably unmatched. (Many mountains, the Pacific Ocean, the Straits of Juan de Fuca and assorted other geographical oddities abound).  His weather blog is read by thousands, but one is almost as likely to read about the Seattle School Board elections as the coming storms. The book, published in 2008, is my go-to guide for all things weather related. I can open any page and read a section about snow on the Cascade Crest Trail, for example, and not have to read the chapters before or after.  For those who are curious about weather anywhere, it is a great resource, endlessly fascinating to me and some of my nerdy science friends. And many others, obviously, as the bookstores I frequently work in keep selling and selling this volume, even eight years later.



Book Recommendations–Hard at Work

Like many of you, I have been on vacation during this past month, hence the lag time in posting a new blog. But carpenters are pounding away on the lot next door, rebuilding a neighbor’s home, which reminds me that many people work harder in the summer than at any other time of year.  The pounding also reminds me of the years I spent as a laborer and carpenter apprentice myself.  Work is a subject that consumes so many hours of our lives, and there are some thoughtful and challenging reads that describe that experience beautifully.  Here is a handy toolkit of poetry, fiction and non-fiction suggestions on the topic of work.


9780143114420_p0_v1_s118x184Last Night at the Lobster, by Stewart O’Nan

This was the first novel by O’Nan that I read, and he has became a special favorite of mine–a slightly-under-the-radar writer.  This small, vivid book has a simple premise: it follows the last work shift of a crew at a Red Lobster that has been closed by management. Through the eyes of the underpaid, overweight and overworked manager Manny, O’Nan portrays this routine work with a subtle hand.  O’Nan is a master of portraying the lives of these characters working at the poverty line–they can make ends meet, but just barely, and their aspirations for “The American Dream” will go unmet. Manny’s last day includes detailed duties that evoke the tedium and sadness of minimal wage jobs, and the sadness Manny feels for his doomed relationship with an ex-girlfriend who works with him.  But ultimately, the sadness he feels is larger–it is for the comfort and familiarity of the restaurant and those he has spent his work life with. I love this writer!


The Alaskan Laundry, by Brendan Jones

Newly published (in paperback only), is this unique take on a woman working in a man’s world: the harsh and demanding one of fishing and fish processing in9780544325265_p0_v3_s192x300 Alaska.  Like most who migrate to Alaska, seeking to start a new life after suffering old wounds or becoming bored with “life in the lower 48”,  Tara Marconi is no different. She quickly learns that her past training as a boxer is no preparation for the hard work she’s taken on.  The descriptions of life on the bottom rung of the fishing industry are vivid and engrossing, and as one would expect, there are plenty of “characters” who populate the story. I found myself seesawing at times between the tenderness of her relationship with the boyfriend she left behind, and the harsh lessons she learns when she falls in love with a rundown tugboat she wants to buy and restore. Well done!


Nickel and Dimed: on not Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich

9780312626686_p0_v2_s118x184Hard to believe this is the 15th anniversary of this landmark book, and having just read it again, it rings even truer today then it did when I first read it. Ehrenreich researched her book by heading out into the world of minimum wage jobs, to see if she could make it.  She worked as a waitress, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart salesperson, moving around from Minnesota, to Florida and Maine to see whether geography played a role.  She found out it didn’t–her work experiences exhausted her, and she found she had to have “at least two jobs if I wanted to live indoors”.  I have recently read a long, rather smug rant about this book at an online website, but the guts of the author still astonishes me.  She could have just interviewed people in low wage jobs, but she lived in those jobs and tried to survive on the $6-$10 an hour wages she earned, and find food and housing. Better than most journalists and writers would do–this book is still a classic, and unfortunately its findings are still true.


Journeyman’s Wages, by Clemens Starck

In all fairness, I must say that knowing Oregon poet Starck personally and being a student of his9781885266026_p0_v1_s192x300 almost 20 years ago made me fall in love with his poetry.  Like Clem, I had worked in blue collar construction jobs (as has he), so this particular book  resonated strongly with me. I love his deceptively simple and economic style, using the everyday, the mundane to set the scene, much like the brush strokes of Japanese calligraphy.  Some my favorites in the collection: “Me and Maloney” (the relationship between foreman and worker) “Slab on Grade” (the timelessness of a simple concrete floor), and “Why We are Afraid” (the psychological depletion when one lives in a country that “has it all”). Starck is not only a carpenter, but a student of Russian, a scholar and performance artist (hearing him read is to appreciate poetry in a way you may never have before).  He will be reading from his new book “Old Dog, New Tricks” at Village Books in Bellingham on October 1st.  Don’t miss it!


The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, by Alain de Botton


de Botton, ever the witty and imaginative philosopher, has tackled the unusual again with his musings on the nature  and meaning of work. Previous works of his (The Art of Travel; How Proust Can Change Your Life) are like cherished old friends–ok, maybe middle-aged friends: comfortable yet still able to surprise.  This work, published in 2008, covers an eclectic assortment of people in wide-spread places and professions:  French rocket scientists, tuna fishermen from Madagascar, a Scottish engineer, an English cookie designer. There is a wide variety of jobs I had never thought about included here.  At times he seems somewhat bored with some of the work (offices most distress him), yet he is quirky and self-effacing enough to own up, hence get away with it.  He covers his own work (writer) as well, which he hints may be the most boring office job of all!  I’ll try anything he writes, and am looking forward to dipping into his newest novel, The Course of Love.


Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, by Alan Sillitoe

Nearly 60 years after its publication, Sillitoe’s sharply rendered novel of the political9780307389657_p0_v1_s192x300 awakening of working class Arthur Seaton in rural England is as poignant and timely as ever.  Considered one of the “angry young men” of post-war literature, Sillitoe wrote prolifically yet his most well-known works were this title and a collection of short stories, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Arthur is a bright yet angry and cocky lathe-worker who lives a rowdy, undisciplined life.  Many readers were shocked at the descriptions of his affair with a pair of married sisters, but his writing arches over the unsentimentality into poetry.  What I remember most were his lyrical renderings of sharp cold mornings, the lively warmth and small comforts of English pubs, and the aching realization that he must grab whatever is at hand to stave off life’s loneliness. This writer should not be forgotten!



Book Recommendations–Fashionable

Growing up with a fashionable mother who designed and made most of her own clothing (and ours), I had no choice but to adopt a love of textiles, clothing design and sewing from an early age. My alter-ego is a fashion designer, I am quite sure.  So I collect coffee table books about sewing and fashion, embellish and restyle vintage clothing, still read Vogue magazine, and think a vacation should always include a leisurely visit to a unique fabric store or exhibit of a famous designer’s clothes at a museum. When I visited Britex Fabrics in San Francisco a couple years ago, I knew I was close to heaven!


Advanced Style, by Ari Seth Cohen

If there is one book that always gives me delight when I look at it, it is this one; incredible photos of older (at least mid-60’s and as old as 103!) women who have9781576875926_p0_v1_s118x184 original style.  Inspired by his own grandmother’s sense of fashion, Cohen set about photographing and interviewing women in New York and published the book in 2012. It quickly became not only a best seller, but a whole “enterprise”, with related documentaries, a blog, and a second volume (just published) titled Advanced Style: Older and Wiser. The best take-away here is that what comes through is the self-confidence with which these women wear their unique clothing, accessories and make-up.  Why should I worry about my sagging neck or failing upper arm muscles when I have these imaginative fashionistas to inspire me?


9780812993356_p0_v1_s118x184Grace: a Memoir, by Grace Coddington

An even more charming book, by the now-famous Grace Coddington (of The September Issue documentary fame).  She started work as a fashion model in England in the 1960’s, then as a stylist for British Vogue before leaping to America in the 1980’s, and her story is not that unexpected in some ways (except that she works closely and successfully with the infamous Vogue editor Anna Wintour (of The Devil Wears Prada fame) and has for many years.  She is the designer and creative genius behind most of Vogue Magazine’s success over the past 30 years, and I have to believe one of the most delightful and talented sketch artists around.  The book’s design, heft, generous photographs and especially the sketches on nearly every page make it a unique work of art.  And any fashion guru who can include several chapters about her cats and still hold my interest is well worth reading about! A yummy delight.


One Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes

I had never read this tender book, written in 1944, which was a Newberry Award Honor Book (for juvenile fiction).  The story, about the exclusion of a young girl raised in poverty in a small town, shows the impact on the lives of all children when class 9780152052607_p0_v2_s118x184differences arise and are accentuated.  Young Wanda is constantly teased by her classmates for wearing the same faded blue denim dress each day, and to defend herself tells them she has “one hundred dresses, all lined up” in her closet.  This leads to even more teasing and name-calling.  Then an art contest at school confirms that Wanda did indeed have a hundred dresses–all her own designs illustrated and colored on paper.  She won the school illustration contest, and her former tormentors were ashamed, but by that time it was too late: her father had moved the family to a bigger city, where he hoped they would be more accepted. Subtly  illustrated by Louis Slobodkin, a Caldecott Medal Winner for 1943, a memorable story for children and adults alike.


The Language of Clothes, by Alison Lurie

Over 30 years ago, one of my favorite novelists of that time period (Foreign AffairsThe War Between the Tates) surprised readers by writing this informal history of fashion.  She particularly focused on how politics, class, and sexual mores influence 9780805062441_p0_v1_s118x184fashion trends.  One particular chapter that fascinated me was on hair styles, beards, and hats, in which she cleverly demonstrates the correlation between length and style of facial hair with artistic and creative self-expression.  In another, she analyzes color and patterns (grey, for example, symbolizing modesty or mystery, and sometimes both).  The book is well-illustrated, although in black and white, and while it does not cover contemporary fashion, it does cover a great deal of the history of fashion in a witty, easy to read style.  I enjoyed reading it again even more now than I did 25 years ago!


Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth Cline

This is a “trend” I have been following for years–whenever I go to Macy’s or Target or the Gap (which is blessedly not too often), I see racks and racks of flimsy, mostly 9781591846543_p0_v3_s118x184garish, unimaginative cheap clothes. When I see acquaintances  and family members buying these clothes, many of which are never worn, I wonder how we got to this place.  Surely it is not all about free trade, but much of it is.  I wish I could force everyone who buys clothes to read this book, and I hope a few of you will.  When it comes to clothing nowadays, I either buy from a consignment store, make my own, or purchase new with the plan to pay more now, but make it last longer.  Sounds suspiciously like my father’s “you get what you pay for”.  To that I would add: the cheaper the item, the more likely it was made on the backs of child labor, underpaid workers, and in unsafe working conditions in another country.


Women in Clothes, by Heti, Julavits, and Shapton (editors)

Here is a book I would rather label a catalog; over 600 women weigh in on clothes and fashion with photographs, interviews, short essays and plenty of humor.  I would say it 9780399166563_p0_v4_s118x184is beyond eclectic, and though it was published in 2014, it is not that easy to find. Still, it is worth it for entries such as “the ring cycle” where 15 women photograph their hands and talk about their rings, or musings from “an older woman going through her closet”. Particularly unexpected and familiar is a dialog between two friends (Helen King and Sheila Heti) who go bra shopping together!  Pick almost any page, and find amusement, creative ideas, poignant memories, hilarious photographs, historical reminiscences, and more aspects about clothing and dress than I have ever seen in one place. A book to own, for sure!


Book Recommendations–Marriage

Since getting married this past summer for the second time in my life, the subject of marriage has been on my mind a lot.  I often wonder what marriage actually is: mostly a financial contract, a steady undying love, a deep, deep friendship, a caring of another person and being cared for in return, a respectability hideout, an antiquated political or religious institution?  All of the above? The topic is rich and varied. Here are some favorite reads that cover a wide range of the above aspects of an old tradition that does not seem to be dying out, regardless of the reasons for entering into it.


9781594634475_p0_v3_s118x184Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff

Marriage from both sides is vividly delineated in this award winner from Groff, author of acclaimed novels Arcadia and The Monsters of Templeton.  One may not have to think too hard about which side is the “furies”.  The “fates” part of the story features the husband, Lotto, an actor from a wealthy family who struggles before finally becoming a famous playwright (somewhat by accident rather than hard work and talent). He marries the striking and regal Mathilde (the “furies” part), who had been his classmate at Vassar.  She adores him, supporting and smoothing the way for him both before and during his career rise, but she also keeps some deep secrets from him. And one cannot disregard the sex in this book: Groff throws her best and nearly limitless prose at it like a blizzard. Her writing almost overwhelms at times, yet it is also impossible to ignore. The writing and surprises and sudden curves at the end make it a most unique read.


By the Iowa Sea, by Joe Blair9781451636062_p0_v3_s118x184

What stuck me so strongly about this memoir was its unadorned, brutal honesty about a man’s mid-life affair, and its impact on him, his wife and children. When Joe and Deb got married, they jumped on a motorcycle and took the whirlwind trip of their dreams.  They then settled in Iowa City, bought a small house had four children (one severely autistic), then discovered their golden dreams turned dull and rusty. Joe’s challenging family life finally led him to have a brief affair.  Why and how he went back to his family was riveting, painful and courageous. I have often wondered what the “guts” of infidelity must feel like, and how it would affect a marriage. This beautifully written memoir has echoed again and again in my consciousness. I keep wondering what Joe’s wife felt upon reading this story; there are obviously two courageous people in this vivid, memorable memoir.


iuMrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge, by Evan S. Connell9781593760601_p0_v1_s118x184

Favorites from years ago (Mrs. was first published in 1959, and Mr. ten years later). Set just before WWII in an upper middle class family in the Midwest, it would be easy to underestimate the depth and nuance of both characters.  Mr. Bridge is a successful lawyer, who is all about gaining affluence and respectability in his community.  Mrs. Bridge, a traditional housewife seems weak, passive, and unaware when first introduced. Yet Connell ‘s understated writing and droll wit captures the characters and their times perfectly.  Also made into a lovely movie a number of years ago with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward as the Mr. and Mrs.  Read the books, see the movie, or better yet, do both: they are that closely matched!


9780393341744_p0_v3_s118x184One Hundred Names for Love, by Diane Ackerman

If ever there was a beautiful testament to married love and deep friendship, it was this story of acclaimed author Ackerman and her care for her novelist husband Paul West after his debilitating stroke at age 74.  They had met when he was a literature professor at Penn State, and she a somewhat hippie undergraduate.  Together, they explored and kindled each other’s passion for words and writing. So it was an ironic tragedy that West’s stroke affected the language center of his brain, and he was not expected to recover.  Ackerman has explored the realm of the mind before, in her 2004 book An Alchemy of Mind. But this very different challenge was not academic–it was a fight for his survival, his ability to recover communication and a fight for their marriage.  Ackerman’s work to help her husband heal and recover is breathtaking in its energy and stamina and unequaled in its commitment.  Now this is a true love story.


The Journal of Best Practices, by David Finch9781439189740_p0_v1_s118x184

What if your marriage partner sat you down at a computer one night and made you take an online test that would change your life?  Finch experienced just that when his wife confronted him with the fact that she thought he might have Asperger Syndrome.  He was 30 years old, his work life was successful, but after five years his marriage was in shambles.  He “passed” the Asperger test, and found he was relieved to find an explanation for challenges like his “clinical strength inflexibility”, his meltdowns in social situations, and his inability or unwillingness to communicate in general. Finch decided to embark on a self-help plan by keeping a notebook of the things he needed to change, doing journaling, and having “performance feedback” with his wife. The story is at once hilarious, poignant, and demonstrates that marriage challenges can be mastered if both parties are equally committed. Unique and charming.


9780307277893_p0_v1_s118x184Nothing Was the Same, by Kay Redfield Jamison

In many memoirs, the wider view of what a marriage has meant and how it worked does not happen until one loses a spouse. Hence the popularity of memoirs such as Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. For Jamison, who has written several brilliant books (An Unquiet Mind,  Exuberance, and Night Falls Fast), the loss of her second husband was devastating. She married Dr. Richard Wyatt, a noted authority on schizophrenia, in 1994. He was diagnosed as having inoperable cancer fifteen years after they were married, and died in 2002.  By any standards, it was a warm, loving marriage, challenged by Jamison’s long diagnosed bi-polar disorder, for which she was treated. Her mental illness stretched the bonds of their relationship many times, yet their marriage was rich and full, both professionally (both were doctors in the mental health field) and personally.  Jamison’s portrayal of Wyatt is fully fleshed out–I felt like I had known him and lost a valued scientist and friend. And her journey after his death is nuanced and just as full, trying to keep mentally balanced while riding the tidal waves of her grief.  Excellent!


Also recommended:  Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill; Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages, by Phyllis Rose, Then Comes Marriage, by Robert Kaplan with Lisa Dickey.





Book Recommendations–Books about Books


If there is a favorite avocation of mine, it is discovering titles that I have not yet read, have forgotten about, or never heard of:  that is the reason I hang out in bookstores and libraries so much.  The fabulous (and my former SPL co-worker) Nancy Pearl has done all readers a great favor by publishing her three Book Lust volumes, and there are more of my favorite “books about books” below.  I recommend not trying all these at once, lest you become so overwhelmed with suggestions you cannot ever decide what to read.


9781846682667_p0_v1_s192x300Howards End is on the Landing: a Year of Reading from Home, by Susan Hill

Charming and meandering (in the best sense of both words), is this 2010 memoir about reading, by well-known British author (the Simon Serrailler crime series) and blogger Susan Hill. While looking for a book she had”misplaced” one day, Hill realized that she had enough books at home she had not yet read (who can imagine!?) to last at least a year.  “I wanted to repossess my books,” she wrote, “to explore what I had accumulated over a lifetime of reading.” Her choices were varied and eclectic, if decidedly British:  books by Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Elizabeth Bowen, George Orwell and many others.  Her comments about Iris Murdoch not being read very much anymore are ones I agree with, yet lots of people giving her feedback on her book blog disagreed.  Yes, the book was very satisfying, as it reminds me there are many others who also can’t possibly read all the books they buy and stack around the house.


Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores, Hans Weyandt, editor

Many of the greatest indie bookstores in the US are featured in this compact and valuable Read-this-97815668931381-370x535guidebook to reading, compiled in 2012 and published by Coffee House press.  You could not ask for a better list when looking for a great read in a library, bookstore, or online.  Small and compact, it will fit in a back pocket or purse, and covers booksellers from 25 top independent bookstores.  Each bookstore owner is briefly interviewed, the bookstore described, and lists of 20-50 of their favorite recommendations.  Just last week, I was inspired to pick up two titles I had not yet read:  James Agee’s A Death in the Family, and J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. What amazing reads! What eclectic picks!


9781631490675_p0_v2_s192x300The World Between Two Covers, by Ann Morgan

Morgan, a book blogger and author, decided in 2012 that she would read one book from every country during the course of a year (196+ books!) because she felt she was too limited in her reading. But unlike many books about books, this explores the ideas around thinking about what you read, and why you read it, rather than recapping each book she chose. One of the unique aspects of this book is how difficult it was for her to find publishers and examples from each country, which reinforces how Anglo-centric the publishing world remains. A few examples are rather unimaginative (James Joyce representing Ireland, for example). But most were unfamiliar to me, and will open up a “whole new world” for any adventurous reader. There is a list in the back of the book with the titles and countries they represent, and I counted over 180 authors and titles I have yet to explore. Such potential riches!


By the Book; Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from the NYT Book Review, Pamela Paul, editor

I slavishly read the column “By the Book” in the New York Times Book Review9781250074690_p0_v3_s192x300 every Sunday, and am seldom disappointed.  Of course, reading the columns only prompts me to add to my bulging list of “books I have not read but must do so soon”.  On the plus side, I find out more about favorite authors and am never bored reading the answers to questions such as “what books are overrated, disappointing or just not good”.  Some 65 of these columns have been collected in book form, complete with the articulate drawings of authors by Jillian Tamaki.  I can pretty much guarantee you will find these articles fascinating, enlightening, and you will come away with your own list of books you will want to (or not want to) read.  Great book for  book groups, too.


84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff

9780140143508_p0_v1_s192x300 I would have felt ashamed to leave this title off the list. There must be a few of you readers out there who have not read it; it is short and lovely. And those of us who have read it should re-read it every few years.  A true story, the book consists of letters between Hanff, a rather flamboyant American writer searching for cheap books, and Frank Doel, and rather staid and buttoned-up antiquarian English bookstore (Marks & Company) employee. The correspondence between them lasted from 1949 through the mid-1960s, and beautifully illuminates their different personalities, tastes in literature, and growing friendship.  Hanff ultimately became friends with Doel’s wife and other bookstore employees. Another enlightening aspect of the book are the discussions about politics and cultural changes happening in both England and the United States after WWII. A beloved classic!


When Books Went to War, by Molly Guptill Manning

Because my own father was in WWII, and often wrote to my Mom about what he was9780544570405_p0_v2_s118x184 reading, I sometimes wondered if he had access to a library while in the Army. So this book caught my eye when published a couple of years ago.  What an eye-opener!  I knew that the Nazi had burned 100 million books starting in the early 1930’s as a way to exert their own agenda.  But I had no idea that librarians, in an uproar over the book burnings, collected 20 million hardback books to send to U.S. troops.  Then in 1943 the War Department and the publishing industry enlarged the program by producing 120 million lightweight paperbacks to distribute to troops. Called Armed Services Editions, the list of authors and titles (in the back of this book) is amazing.  And just as amazing is the list of authors “banned” by the government for printing and distribution. A fascinating read, for anyone interested in history.