Posts Tagged ‘cities’

strand bookstore cookbook shelves

Early December always leaves me breathless. But – thank goodness – there are the books. (Photo from my recent trip to the Strand.)

Here’s the latest roundup:

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, Abbi Waxman
I loved Waxman’s debut, The Garden of Small Beginnings. (I was ambivalent about her second novel, Other People’s Houses.) And I liked this, her third novel following introvert, bookseller and trivia whiz Nina Hill as she deals with various unexpected pieces of news. Really witty, though a lot of the characters felt two-dimensional. I liked seeing Lili and her daughters (from Small Beginnings) again. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 9, 2019).

How to Be a Heroine: Or What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much, Samantha Ellis
In her thirties, Ellis began to wonder: did the literary heroines she’d loved as a child still have something to teach her? The answer, of course, is yes. I loved Ellis’ memoir of finding her way as a person and a writer, and revisiting characters like Sara Crewe, Scarlett O’Hara and others. Some are my heroines too (Anne Shirley!) and some are newer to me, like Lucy Honeychurch and Scheherazade. So much fun.

Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future, Pete Buttigieg
Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and his memoir traces his journey to public service and his experience in the mayor’s office. He’s a Harvard grad, a Navy reserve veteran, a data-driven geek and a warm, thoughtful writer. City government may not sound exciting, but I found his narrative so compelling and hopeful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 26).

The Proposal, Jasmine Guillory
Freelance writer Nikole Patterson is blindsided when her actor boyfriend proposes via the JumboTron at a Dodgers game – and he spells her name wrong! When Carlos and his sister rescue Nik from a camera crew, Carlos and Nik become friends and then something more. But what, exactly? A really fun romance with lots of tacos, cupcakes and women’s empowerment messages. The latter felt a bit heavy-handed, but I enjoyed the story – especially since I knew (and liked) Carlos from Guillory’s debut, The Wedding Date.

A Borrowing of Bones, Paula Munier
After a tour in Afghanistan where she lost her fiancé, Martinez, Mercy Carr has retreated to rural Vermont along with Martinez’s working dog, Elvis. When they find an adult skeleton and a baby girl (very much alive) in the woods, Mercy teams up with game warden Troy Warner to find the baby’s mother and the identity of the victim. A well-plotted, thoughtful mystery; first in a new series. Reminded me a bit of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s mysteries, which I adore.

Hope Never Dies, Andrew Shaffer
After the 2016 election, former VP Joe Biden is bored and restless. But when his favorite Amtrak conductor dies under suspicious circumstances, Biden and his old friend Barack Obama team up (with Obama’s requisite Secret Service escort) to solve the mystery. A fun, often witty bromance and a pretty good mystery. (I love the premise almost more than the execution.)

So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
Conversations about race are often fraught, and Oluo, a black activist and writer, pulls no punches in this primer about how to talk and listen. It’s meant (mostly) for well-meaning white folks like me. Powerful and thought-provoking.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith. If you’re shopping for holiday gifts, please consider supporting indie bookstores – either in your community or by ordering from them online. 

What are you reading?

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(Image from Hooked on Houses)

I have this fantasy of a life in New York or Paris, where I live in a walk-up apartment filled with light, which holds all my possessions but somehow does not feel crammed (except, of course, for the overflowing bookshelves). I dream of doing all my food shopping at greenmarkets, swinging a tote bag over my shoulder, or at impossibly chic, overpriced corner markets filled with exotic cheeses, meats and wines. I dream of living my life in one city neighborhood, like so many New Yorkers do, without a car or a basement or a long commute, able to find everything I need within a few square blocks. (Including green space, because woman cannot live on concrete alone.)

In my daydream, which is clearly a result of having watched a handful of Nora Ephron films many times over, I manage to jettison the boxes of extra things-I-might-need-someday, the odd items of clothing, kitchenware or nostalgia that clutter the cabinets and drawers and spare room in my current apartment. (As it happens, I live in a second-floor walk-up, filled with light and also with overflowing bookshelves.)

In this dream, I finally get a handle on buying and keeping only what I need; I do not spend hours on public transportation every day; and the places where I live and work are within walking distance of one another. And life is manageable, because it has shrunk to a radius described by the path my feet can take on a given day.

But of course that’s not how my life really is.

I was raised in a sprawling, midsize town in a part of the country where people do not take public transportation unless they cannot afford to drive, and where no one lives in adorable little apartments or shops at chic city markets for the simple reason that there are none. (The one exception to the first rule: my tiny, adorable garage apartment during my first year out of college.)

I grew up with an attic and a walk-in closet and several big-box stores within easy driving distance, and that is (mostly) how I lived in the first years of my marriage, when my husband and I rented a three-bedroom house in a town similar to (and only a few hours away from) my hometown. We drove everywhere and we shopped at Target and we had, as my mother never failed to remind us, way more furniture and household goods than she and my dad had when they started out as newlyweds.

When we moved to the Boston area in 2010, we struck a compromise: an apartment in the first ring of suburbs, splitting the distance between the city itself (where we couldn’t have afforded the rent anyway) and his new job 25 miles south of Boston. As a result, we – especially I – live a sort of split-personality, urban-suburban life.

I park my car on the street next to our house. I do laundry in our basement. I store Christmas decorations and boxes of oddments down there. I drive to the grocery store and the library weekly, to the hair salon and Target every couple of months, and we drive to church on Sundays. Most of my best friends live farther out in the suburbs than we do.

But every weekday morning, I walk two blocks and then take the subway to Cambridge, where I walk to work and to lunch, to the post office and the bank, sometimes to the overpriced deli/market, and (soon, I hope) to the farmer’s market. It was this way when I worked in downtown Boston, too: I had a beat, a neighborhood, a series of paths, a set of places I went to shop and eat and do business. It was limited in distance, and it felt – it still feels – manageable, somewhat close to that New York fantasy. And yet every day I commute home, and the contradictions – space, logistics, mindset – surface again.

Most of the time, I am grateful for my glimpses of both worlds: the glamour, culture and walkability of a city, combined with the lower rent, relative spaciousness and affordable parking of the suburbs. But sometimes I wish I could live wholly in one place or the other, instead of always having one foot in each. I think it might be easier, or at least simpler, and less exhausting.

What do you think? Do you live in the city, the suburbs, a small town? Or do you live a life in between, like me? Do you like the situation you have, or do you wish you could trade it for something else?

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