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Posts Tagged ‘essays’

shakespeare and co bookstore upper east side nyc

The hubs and I spent a recent long weekend in NYC, dipping into a few bookstores as we hopped around the city. This is the lovely Shakespeare & Co. on the Upper East Side, and here’s my latest reading roundup:

The Kite and the String: How to Write with Spontaneity and Control—And Live to Tell the Tale, Alice Mattison
Mattison, a novelist and poet, gives practical, down-to-earth advice and shares her own experience as a writer. I liked her dryly humorous voice; some wise advice here, though more centered on fiction than nonfiction. Recommended by my writer friends Hannah and Elena.

Books for Living, Will Schwalbe
I loved Schwalbe’s first memoir, The End of Your Life Book Club. In this book, he writes brief essays on the books that have resonated throughout his life – relating to such topics as Napping, Connecting, Remembering, and Choosing Your Life. Witty, wise, totally unpretentious and so good. I’d love to get coffee and talk books with Schwalbe. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 27).

The Champagne Conspiracy, Ellen Crosby
Crosby’s seventh Wine Country mystery (the first I’ve read) finds vintner Lucie Montgomery trying to untangle a mystery involving murders past and present, complicated family relationships and blackmail. A light mystery with a compelling plot and a likable protagonist. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 1).

Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture, Matt Goulding
Goulding, an American food writer living in Barcelona, takes readers on a tour through Spain’s regional cuisines: tapas, paella, migas and much more. My favorite parts are his anecdotes of memorable nights in this or that Spanish city, and his deep love for his Catalan wife, Laura. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 15).

Just One Damned Thing After Another, Jodi Taylor
I heard Liberty mention this one on All the Books. Madeleine Maxwell (“Max”) joins a coterie of time-jumping historians at St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, and all hell quickly breaks loose. Dinosaurs, romantic tension and a nefarious conspiracy, told with dry wit, lots of (literal and metaphorical) explosions and countless cups of tea. So much fun. First in a series.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, Alan Bradley
Flavia de Luce, chemist and sleuth, is back in England from Canada, and back to solving mysteries after she finds an elderly woodcarver hung upside down from his bedroom door. I love Flavia’s narrative voice, though her loneliness (which she never admits) breaks my heart.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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brattle bookshop doors boston

Fall is the time to dig into new books (though, really, that’s every season around here). The doors above are from the outdoor sale lot of the fabulous Brattle Book Shop in Boston, and the books below are what I’ve been reading lately:

A Very Special Year, Thomas Montasser
I heard Liberty talk about this novel on All the Books and picked it up at Three Lives & Co. Valerie takes over her aunt Charlotte’s bookshop after Charlotte disappears. Despite her career plans, Valerie (of course) finds herself utterly seduced by the shop’s books and readers. A truly delightful slim novel, in the vein of The Haunted Bookshop or The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
I’d heard about this sweeping time-travel romance series from a dozen friends, plus my mom. Claire Randall is traveling with her husband in the Scottish Highlands after WWII when she steps through a circle of standing stones and finds herself in 1743. It’s a wild (often violent) ride as Claire adapts to an entirely different world and becomes tightly linked to the clan MacKenzie and a young outlaw called Jamie Fraser. Powerful storytelling, fascinating history and dry wit, though with waaaay more sex and violence than my usual fare.

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, Katherine Rundell
Wilhelmina “Will” Silver relishes her life running wild on the farm her father manages in Zimbabwe. But after his death, she’s sent to England and finds herself completely unequipped for the foreign, catty world of boarding school. I found the book’s African scenes much more fully realized than the English ones, but I loved Will’s fierce, bold spirit and Rundell’s writing. Found at Book Culture.

The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing, Richard Hugo
I’d never heard of Hugo’s poetry, but I found this essay collection at Book Culture and loved much of his wry, thoughtful advice on writing poetry and being a poet (two different things). Witty, aphoristic and encouraging, if a little uneven. A good read to start off the fall.

First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies, Kate Andersen Brower
The role of First Lady is visible, public and largely undefined – so each woman who takes on that mantle truly makes it her own. Brower draws a sharp, thoroughly researched, fascinating portrait of First Ladies from Jacqueline Kennedy to Michelle Obama. Really well done (and, obviously, so timely).

The Bell Family, Noel Streatfeild
I discovered Streatfeild via You’ve Got Mail, so I was delighted to find this novel at Book Culture on the Upper West Side (shades of The Shop Around the Corner!). The Bell family lives in a crowded vicarage in the East End of London, and their adventures are funny, sweet and altogether delightful.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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becoming wise book sunflowers tea

“I’m a person who listens for a living. I listen for wisdom, and beauty, and for voices not shouting to be heard.”

These are the opening sentences of Krista Tippett’s luminous memoir, Becoming Wise, which distills the best of what she has heard, and learned, in nearly 15 years of hosting the radio show On Being.

Each week, Tippett interviews a guest about his or her work in a stunning range of fields: from poetry to physics, counseling to yoga to social activism. She has listened to doctors and actors, priests and lawyers, people who are household names and those who work in quiet, unheralded spaces. Becoming Wise introduces us to some of those voices, and lets us listen in as they talk with Tippett about the big questions of what it means to be human.

If you’re a regular reader, chances are you’ve heard me rave about Becoming Wise in recent months. I’m over at Great New Books today, talking about it more fully. Please join me over there to read the rest of my (glowing) review.

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strand bookstore awning nyc

My reading pace has been fairly slow (for me) this month. New apartment, still-new job, lots of other things crowding into my brain. But I’ve still found a few good books. Here they are:

A Sense of Wonder: The World’s Best Writers on the Sacred, the Profane and the Ordinary, ed. Brian Doyle
An eclectic, luminous, often demanding collection of essays first published in Portland Magazine. My favorites are by Heather King, Robin Cody and Pico Iyer, but they are all worth reading. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 15).

Crowned and Dangerous, Rhys Bowen
This 10th entry in Bowen’s Royal Spyness series, which I love, finds Lady Georgiana Rannoch unexpectedly in Ireland with her beau, Darcy, trying to exonerate his father of a murder charge. Frothy, fun and smart, like this entire series. (I adore Georgie.)

The House of Dreams, Kate Lord Brown
Journalist Sophie Cass interviews artist Gabriel Lambert about his experience as a refugee in Marseille during World War II. The true story of Varian Fry and others at the Emergency Rescue Committee, who worked tirelessly to get artists out of France, is fascinating. But the novel’s framing story was less so, and I did not like the ending. (I loved Brown’s previous novel, The Perfume Garden.)

Love for Sale: Pop Music in America, David Hajdu
Music critic (and self-professed music geek) Hajdu takes readers on a tour of pop music in the U.S., from Tin Pan Alley to Broadway, 45s to LPs to mixtapes and MP3s. Smart, entertaining and surprisingly deep. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

The Queen’s Accomplice, Susan Elia MacNeal
Mathematician-turned-spy Maggie Hope returns to WWII London and gets pulled onto a gruesome Scotland Yard case: a Jack-the-Ripper copycat serial killer targeting young professional women. I like Maggie (this is her sixth adventure), but this book was daaark. Also, the comments on the treatment of women felt heavy-handed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 4).

Faithful, Alice Hoffman
Since the night of the accident that left her best friend in a coma, Shelby Richmond doesn’t believe she deserves to live. Faithful is the slow, rich, heartbreaking story of how Shelby finds her way, with help from her stalwart mother, a few stray dogs and a few highly unlikely friends. Bleak and gritty at times (Shelby messes up over and over), but also beautiful, and ultimately hopeful. Hoffman has written many books, but I’d never read her before. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 1).

The Boy is Back, Meg Cabot
Pro golfer Reed Stewart hasn’t been back to his Indiana hometown in a decade. But when his parents end up in the news (and in financial trouble), he returns to try and help out – which means facing his ex, Becky Flowers. Cabot tells this hilarious story through emails, texts and newspaper articles. Fluffy and really fun – smart chick lit. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

Wonder Women: 25 Inventors, Innovators and Trailblazers Who Changed History, Sam Maggs
We are hearing a lot lately (it’s long overdue!) about brilliant, brave women whose stories have been overlooked. Sam Maggs writes bite-size biographies of 25 such women in this snappy, girl-power book. The colloquial tone got a little wearing, but these women – inventors, spies, scientists – are amazing. Would pair well with Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, which I loved. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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central park yellow flowers nyc

Confession: I had a hard time at first coming up with books for this post.

There are a million books set in NYC, but the New York in my head is the New York of TV and movies: Friends, Castle, pretty much every Nora Ephron film ever made. (I once spent an entire solo vacation pretending to be Kathleen Kelly.) Plus, New York is always changing: every book set there captures a slightly different city, filtered through a different historical era or narrator’s perspective.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t gather up a handful of books about this beautiful, gritty, bewitching city. So here are my New York favorites for you. Please add yours in the comments!

Children’s Lit/Classics

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
I loved this book as a child – dreamy Francie, her hardworking mother and exuberant Aunt Sissy, and the hope and heartbreak of growing up in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn.

The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright
I adore this first book in the Melendy series, about four siblings who live in a big, comfortably shabby brownstone with their father and their housekeeper-general, Cuffy. The siblings take turns exploring the city by themselves on Saturdays, and the sense of wonder and independence is exactly right.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsberg
Claudia and her little brother Jamie run away from home – to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as one does. When I visited the Met for the first time as an adult, I thought about them sneaking through the halls at night and scrounging coins from the fountain.

Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet’s childhood was so different from mine: a brownstone with a dumbwaiter! Ole Golly! Tomato sandwiches and chocolate egg creams! It all seemed fantastically exotic to me. But Harriet is a New York girl through and through.

Remember Me to Harold Square, Paula Danziger
This fun middle-grade novel is built around a New York scavenger hunt undertaken by three kids – so it contains lots of city trivia. But it’s fast-paced, funny and highly entertaining.

strand books nyc exterior

Nonfiction/Memoir

Here is New York, E.B. White
White wrote this long essay in 1949, after the city and the world had been transformed by two world wars. But reading it in the wake of 9/11, it still feels eerily relevant. He evokes so well the combination of hope and possibility and fear, the vibrant rhythm of the city streets. (I found my copy at the Strand, pictured above.)

Act One, Moss Hart
An inside look at the mid-century NYC theatre world from one of the great playwrights. Hart’s voice is wry, witty and warm. (I picked this one up at Three Lives & Co. in the West Village.)

My First New York, various authors
New York is beautiful and brutal, and it glitters with possibility. This collection of about 50 essays captures the dazzling range of New York experiences: gorgeous, bewildering, always exciting. (I bought my copy at Shakespeare & Co. on the Upper East Side.)

Eat the City, Robin Shulman
Despite its reputation as a concrete jungle, NYC teems with food production: gardens, breweries, farms. Shulman explores the city’s history through its food producers, past and present. (Another Strand find.)

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin
Colwin writes with wit and grace about food, love, and tiny New York apartments. I especially love “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant.”

Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl
Reichl visited dozens of restaurants as the New York Times food critic, often in disguise. This is a rarefied New York, but it’s so much fun (and mouthwateringly described).

brooklyn brownstones light

Fiction

Rules of Civility, Amor Towles
A glittering tale of high society, love and ambition in 1930s New York. Gorgeously written.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie Benjamin
A razor-sharp, elegantly written imagining of Truman Capote and the circle of wealthy socialite “swans,” notably Babe Paley, who were his darlings in 1950s NYC.

The View from Penthouse B and The Family Man, Elinor Lipman
Lipman writes witty comedies of manners, and these two novels both draw New York in quick, loving strokes.

Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown, Jean Kwok
Kwok’s novels both feature Chinese-American protagonists struggling to make their way in NYC. She draws the sharp contrasts of New York – enormous privilege next to great poverty; immigrant traditions and the siren call of the new – so well.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
This novel is tragic, moving and sometimes very funny . It is an incredible mosaic of New York: all the lives and the loneliness (and the post-9/11 cocktail of fear, love and loss).

Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
Eilis Lacey emigrates from her small Irish town to Brooklyn in the 1950s, struggling to build a life for herself. This is a lovely evocation of a vanished New York, with a quietly appealing main character.

Bunheads, Sophie Flack
A well-written YA novel about a young ballet dancer in New York – who starts to wonder if the world of ballet is where she truly belongs. Captures the constant possibility that thrums through the city.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are your favorite books about (or set in) NYC?

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winter breakfast poetry

We are deep into the season of down coats and fleece-lined tights, of snowflakes swirling down from white-gray clouds or the poetry of bare branches against a vivid blue sky.

Winter is here, and while it isn’t my favorite season, I do have a few coping strategies, including a stack of seasonally apt books. So, in case you’re shivering too (because it seems that a lot of us are), I thought I’d share my wintry picks with you.

Winter: Five Windows on the Season, Adam Gopnik
I picked up this essay collection a few winters ago, mostly because I loved Gopnik’s memoir Paris to the Moon. Gopnik examines winter from several angles: historical, literary, cultural, philosophical. He admits to being a lover of winter, and his prose evokes the best of the season: walking home under a snowy sky, ice skating on a frozen pond, watching the snow fall from behind the comforting barrier of a windowpane. He explores winter’s potential for recreation and daydreaming, its vital place amid the cycle of the seasons. For those who struggle, as I do, to develop “a mind for winter,” Gopnik’s musings are enjoyable and thought-provoking.

The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I read and reread the entire Little House series as a child, but I’ve picked up this book every winter since I moved to New England. Laura is such a keen-eyed, relatable character, and I always hope to channel a little of her indomitable spirit. She also tells a good story – the prose is simple but powerful, and the struggles of that harsh winter are sharply drawn. I especially love the scenes around the table, when Pa plays his fiddle and sings, and his reminders that “it can’t beat us!” Winter, even on the Dakota prairie, doesn’t last forever.

A Mind of Winter: Poems for a Snowy Season, ed. Robert Atwan
This collection is a new acquisition for me; I picked it up at the Bookstore in Lenox, Mass., this fall. I knew I’d need a few reminders of winter’s beauty when the temperatures dropped after Christmas. The poems here are varied and lovely – Frost, Dickinson, Jane Kenyon, Marge Piercy, Mary Oliver and more – and many of them capture images of winter in words as brief and crystalline as snowflakes.

The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
Based on an old fairy tale about a girl fashioned out of snow, Ivey’s debut novel beautifully evokes the landscape of Alaska: its harshness, its isolation, its often stunning beauty. It’s a story of love: Jack and Mabel, devoted to each other, yearn for a child. When they build a girl out of snow, a young human girl appears as if summoned, and though they come to love her deeply, she can’t be tamed or kept. Heartbreaking and so, so lovely.

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Maud Hart Lovelace
Most of Lovelace’s books, which are set in Minnesota, contain a few wintry scenes: sledding, ice skating, sleighing parties. This fourth book in the series has some of the best: Betsy’s cozy afternoons in the new town library, bobsled parties under the stars, sipping hot chocolate (with whipped cream, of course) on cold days. And shopping for Christmas ornaments. So fun.

What are your favorite books to read in the wintertime?

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith

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julies bookshelves book stack

I’m starting 2016 off right – with a few good books. Here’s what I have been reading so far this month:

After You, Jojo Moyes
The sequel to Moyes’ blockbuster Me Before You finds Louisa Clark stuck in neutral after losing the man she loved. When a lonely, angry teenage girl turns up on her doorstep, Lou is forced to make some tough choices. Compulsively readable, like all Moyes’ books, though I was consistently frustrated with Lou and her decisions.

The Witches of Cambridge, Menna van Praag
Hiding in plain sight among the spires of Cambridge (England) is a group of witches: sisters Kat and Cosima, Heloise and her daughter Amandine, outspoken Noa and shy George. During a turbulent year, they employ a little (white) magic to help each other through personal challenges. Fluffy and enjoyable; sprinkled with gentle magical realism. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 9).

The Hired Girl, Laura Amy Schlitz
Joan Skraggs longs to better herself and to see the world, but she knows she’ll never do either working on her father’s farm. Running away to Baltimore, Joan changes her name to Janet Lovelace and ends up working for a wealthy Jewish family. I loved Joan’s narrative voice – guileless, plainspoken, often funny. Also a sensitive exploration of faith, both Jewish and Christian. Recommended by Shelley and Nina.

Heirs of the Body, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple’s 21st case hits close to home: helping her cousin Edgar, Viscount Dalrymple, find the heir to the family estate. Several potential heirs from various countries make up an ill-assorted house party, and when one candidate ends up dead, Daisy and her detective husband Alec must help solve the mystery. Reminded me of the first season of Downton Abbey (with a mystery angle). Really fun.

Flight of Dreams, Ariel Lawhon
On May 6, 1937, the airship Hindenburg met a spectacularly disastrous end when it went up in flames over a New Jersey airfield. The cause was never clear, and the ship’s fate has long been a subject of debate. Lawhon brilliantly weaves the facts together with several intertwined narratives of passengers and crew members, over the ship’s three-day journey from Frankfurt to the U.S. Taut and well-crafted, with complex, vividly drawn characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 23).

The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Life from a Wedding Reporter’s Notebook, Ellen McCarthy
As the weddings reporter for the Washington Post, McCarthy interviewed hundreds of couples, and gleaned some solid advice for how to find “the one” and make love last. She shares what she’s learned through wise, often hilarious anecdotes, with glimpses into her own love story. Funny, smart and so readable. Recommended by Anne.

The Year of Miss Agnes, Kirkpatrick Hill
Teachers don’t stay long in Frederika’s remote Alaskan village. The smell of fish and the lack of amenities drive them away. But Miss Agnes is different. Fred tells the story of Miss Agnes’ time in their village, and how she makes everyone see the world in a new way. Fun and fresh and well told. This is the first pick for the Reading Together Family Exploration Book Club, co-hosted by Jessica and Sheila.

Ruby Red, Kerstin Gier
Gwyneth Shepherd comes from a family of time travelers, but she never expected to become one. But when she suddenly finds herself thrust backward in time, she has a lot to learn: about her own history, a secret lodge of time travelers and an infuriating (but handsome) time-traveling boy. A reread, and so much fun.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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