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Posts Tagged ‘nonfiction’

spirit of 76 bookstore interior

We’re halfway through August already (!) and I’m trying to hang on – and diving into all the books, naturally. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home, Natalie Goldberg
I heard Natalie read from this, her newest memoir, last month in Lenox, Mass. She was a delight, and this book about her journey with cancer contains both great pain and moments of joy. Short, lyrical chapters trace Natalie’s diagnosis, treatment and wrestling with her own mortality, all while her partner was also fighting cancer. I carried it in my bag for weeks, reading it slowly. It’s heartbreaking, sometimes lovely, fiercely honest all the way through.

Island of the Mad, Laurie R. King
When a college friend of Mary Russell’s asks Mary to locate her missing aunt, Russell and Holmes find themselves wandering Venice, which (in 1925) is brimming with both carefree aristocrats and grim Blackshirts. I love Russell’s narrative voice – so smart and insightful. The case and the elaborate parties (and Cole Porter!) are extremely diverting.

Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster, Stephen L. Carter
Few people know that a black female lawyer – Eunice Hunton Carter – was part of the team that took down NYC mobster Lucky Luciano in the 1930s. Stephen Carter – her grandson – sets out to tell her remarkable story. A deeply researched, insightful biography of an extraordinary woman. (I also enjoyed Carter’s novel The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln a few years back.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 9).

Tango Lessons, Meghan Flaherty
Flaherty first fell in love with tango as a teenager visiting Argentina, but it took her years to try it for herself. She chronicles her journey into New York’s tango scene, and the ways tango has challenged her ideas about dance, desire, taking risks and many other things. Well written and engaging, if occasionally too self-conscious.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
I picked up this old favorite and fell instantly back in love with Francie Nolan’s story of growing up in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. Francie is smart, thoughtful, keenly observant – so many of her insights still ring true. I also love her fiercely hardworking mother, Katie, and her generous aunt, Sissy. This is a story of deep poverty and struggle, but it’s also about fighting to make your way in the world, being proud of where you came from, and the joys and disappointments of love (romantic and otherwise). So good.

Forever and a Day, Anthony Horowitz
Marseilles, 1950: The original 007 has been killed by three bullets, and the British intelligence service has sent a new man – James Bond – to find out who killed him and why. This prequel gives Bond an intriguing first assignment, complete with a mysterious woman (of course) and associates who may or may not be what they seem. Well done, though the ending fell a bit flat. I’ve never read the original Ian Fleming novels, but now I want to. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 6).

The Valley at the Centre of the World, Malachy Tallack
To most people, Shetland is the end of the world – but to its residents, it’s the titular center. Tallack’s novel follows the intertwined lives of a few people living in the titular valley. Beautiful and quiet. Possibly to review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 6).

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

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dinner list book stripes bench shoes

June means diving into the first stacks of summer reading, amid work and life craziness. Here’s the latest roundup:

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country in the World, Sarah Smarsh
The American class divide is in the news a lot these days. But Smarsh, a fifth-generation Kansas farm girl who comes from a long line of teenage moms, has lived it. A searing portrait of one family in the rural heartland, a timely meditation on economic and social chasms, and a fiercely loving story of one girl’s struggle to embrace and escape her roots. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 18).

A Storied Life, Leigh Kramer
Olivia Frasier has fought hard to build a life apart from her banking family, opening her own art gallery. But when Liv’s grandmother announces she’s terminally ill and appoints Liv her chief decision-maker, Olivia is forced to confront both her family dynamics and her own issues. An engaging, thoughtful novel about grief, love and living life on your own terms. I’m so proud of Leigh, a longtime Internet pal of mine. She sent me an advance copy.

The Dinner List, Rebecca Serle
It’s a common question: who are the five people, living or dead, you’d love to have dinner with? When Sabrina shows up to her birthday dinner, she finds not only her best friend, but a beloved professor, her estranged father, her fiancé, and Audrey Hepburn. Serle’s novel unfolds over the course of the evening, spinning out a narrative of romance, regrets and the complicated ways we love. Funny, sweet and unexpectedly moving. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 11).

The Masterpiece, Fiona Davis
Today, Grand Central Terminal is a New York City landmark. (The ceiling alone is stunning.) But in the 1970s, it stood in danger of being torn down. Davis’ novel tells the intertwined stories of Virginia Clay, a recent divorcée who takes a job at the station, and Clara Darden, an illustrator who taught at the terminal’s art school in the 1920s. Richly detailed and compelling. I especially liked watching Virginia take charge of her life. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 7).

Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution, Julia Alekseyeva
I picked up this graphic memoir off a table at the library, and read it in one sitting. Alekseyeva narrates her great-grandmother Lola’s life story: growing up Jewish in Kiev, surviving several wars and the Holocaust, working for the government and the Red Army. Interwoven are scenes from Alekseyeva’s own childhood in the U.S. (which are frankly far less compelling). Lola was a fascinating protagonist.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, Kathleen Rooney
Lillian Boxfish, longtime New Yorker, former darling of the advertising world, decides to take a long, rambling walk through Manhattan on New Year’s Eve 1984. Since I love walking, NYC, and whip-smart female narrators, I expected to love this book, and I did. It dragged a bit in the middle, but I adored Lillian. I’d walk with her any time.

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

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lands of lost borders book red flats

We’ve made it through May, which is always a whirlwind. But it did include a batch of good books:

Caroline: Little House Revisited, Sarah Miller
I read and reread the Little House on the Prairie books as a kid, and have rediscovered The Long Winter as an adult. I loved this novel that retold the Ingalls’ journey to Kansas from Ma’s – Caroline’s – perspective. Compelling, bittersweet and beautifully written. Found at the wonderful Bay Books on our San Diego trip.

The Corpse at the Crystal Palace, Carola Dunn
When Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher takes her children and their cousins on an outing to the Crystal Palace, she’s shocked when their nanny goes temporarily missing. After she turns up, the nanny can’t remember why she disappeared – nor why there’s a corpse in the ladies’ room, dressed in a nanny’s uniform. Naturally, Daisy can’t resist a bit of sleuthing. A really fun entry in this highly enjoyable series. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 3).

Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road, Kate Harris
Kate Harris has always wanted to be an explorer: to test the boundaries of the known world, to go where few others have gone before. This, her debut memoir, is a lyrical, brilliant, sharply observed paean to wanderlust and an account of the year she spent cycling as much of the ancient Silk Road as possible. (Bonus: she’s spent time at Oxford and MIT, so two of my cities make appearances.) So many gorgeous lines about borders, boundaries, the hunger to explore, the ways we create our world. Made me want to hop on a bike immediately. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 21).

Live and Let Chai, Bree Baker
Everly Swan has just opened her dream iced-tea shop and cafe in her charming seaside hometown. But when a cranky local councilman is found dead next to one of Everly’s signature tea jars, she must fight against a wave of suspicion, plus an anonymous vandal who begins targeting her shop. A sweet Southern cozy mystery and an engaging setup for a new series. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 3).

The Late Bloomers’ Club, Louise Miller
Nora Huckleberry (what a name!) has been running the Miss Guthrie Diner in her tiny Vermont town for years. But when she and her freewheeling sister Kit receive an unexpected inheritance, along with some debt, Nora faces difficult decisions on several levels. Full of warmhearted characters – I especially loved Kit’s boyfriend, Max. I also loved Miller’s debut, The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 17).

Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing, Ursula K. Le Guin with David Naimon
Le Guin needs no introduction from me: she was justly famous for her novels, poetry and incisive nonfiction. These interviews with Naimon cover each genre and more besides. Thoughtful and thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (it came out April 3).

The Penderwicks at Last, Jeanne Birdsall
Birdsall returns to her charming children’s series about the Penderwick family for one last adventure at Arundel, the estate where it all began. A wedding, a huge dog, a sheep, six siblings and various friends join together in a swirl of magic, chaos and fun. Delightful – the setting is contemporary but it feels old-fashioned, and it’s a treat to see the older Penderwick girls as grown-ups.

From Twinkle, with Love, Sandhya Menon
Twinkle Mehra is used to going unnoticed, but she dreams of changing the world through her films. As she prepares to make her first full-length movie, she writes letters to well-known female filmmakers, chronicling her work, her hopes and the everyday dramas of relating to family, friends and boys. I loved Menon’s debut, When Dimple Met Rishi. This one was a slower start for me, but I did enjoy it (and I loved Sahil, Twinkle’s producer/love interest).

Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, David Whyte
I like Whyte’s poetry and was delighted when a colleague passed on this nonfiction book. He muses on work as fundamental to our human experience, and shares part of his journey toward making creative work his full-time job. I thought this wandered a bit, but then, we all do on this journey. Lyrical, honest and thoughtful. I particularly liked the sections on being a creative “outlaw.” Part of my nonfiction #unreadshelfproject.

Pashmina, Nidhi Chanani
This sweet graphic novel follows Priyanka Das, an Indian-American girl, as she discovers a pashmina hidden in her mom’s closet that may unlock some family secrets. Whimsical and warm and lovely, and the illustrations are wonderful. Found at the fascinating Million Year Picnic.

Piecing Me Together, Renée Watson
Jade is a black teenager (and talented collage artist) in Portland who takes every opportunity she’s offered. But sometimes she gets tired of being the person people want to “fix.” A fascinating, thoughtful, honest novel about a girl learning to own her voice and navigate a complicated world. Recommended by Anne.

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

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stars book blue mug

I can’t believe we’re halfway through May already. Travel and illness have made the month fly for me, so far. Here’s what I’ve been reading, through flights and sniffles:

How Lovely the Ruins: Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times, ed. Annie Chagnot and Emi Ikkanda
I found this anthology at the Harvard Coop this winter, and have been savoring it. It draws together heartening words from classic and contemporary poets, in light of our current turbulent moment. Some favorites: Jamaal May’s “Detroit,” Yehuda Amichai’s “The Place Where We Are Right,” and Elizabeth Alexander’s stirring foreword.

The Myth of Perpetual Summer, Susan Crandall
In the wake of family tragedy, Tallulah James left her Mississippi hometown at 17 and never looked back. But when her beloved younger brother is accused of murder, Tallulah is drawn back home to see if she can help him – and to face her own ghosts. A compelling, heartbreaking Southern family saga and a sensitive portrait of how mental illness can affect a family. I really enjoyed Crandall’s The Flying Circus, too. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 19).

Shadowhouse Fall, Daniel José Older
This sequel to Shadowshaper picks up several months later: Sierra Santiago and her friends are learning to use their powers, but trouble is afoot. Racial tensions are threatening to boil over in their Brooklyn neighborhood. A mysterious deck of cards, and the people connected to it, are a further sign of sinister forces at work. Fast-paced, vivid, brutally honest and so good. I can’t wait for book 3.

Cocoa Beach, Beatriz Williams
As a volunteer ambulance driver in World War I, Virginia Fortescue fell in love with a British surgeon. Now, long estranged from him and suddenly widowed, Virginia arrives in Prohibition-era Florida with her young daughter to inspect her husband’s estate. But almost nothing is as it seems. I like Williams’ lush historical novels, though this one didn’t hang together as well as most.

To Die But Once, Jacqueline Winspear
As the “phony war” drags on in 1940, investigator Maisie Dobbs looks into the disappearance of a young man doing top-secret government work. She finds more than she bargained for, while also caring for a young evacuee and supporting two friends whose nearly-grown sons are anxious to do their bit. I adore Maisie and this latest installment was rich and wonderful.

What We See in the Stars, Kelsey Oseid
Humans have read messages in the skies for millennia: constellations, comets, galaxies and more phenomena we can’t even name. Oseid’s gorgeously illustrated book (see above) takes us on a tour of the skies. Informative, accessible and stunning.

A Maze Me: Poems for Girls, Naomi Shihab Nye
I love Nye’s work and picked up this slim collection after re-listening to her episode of On Being. These brief, whimsical poems are aimed at young girls, but many of them resonated for me. Lovely and nourishing.

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

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shadowshaper flowers book

Another month, another reading roundup. Somehow it’s May already (!). Here’s the latest batch of good reads:

Home By Another Way, Barbara Brown Taylor
A friend gave me this collection of Brown Taylor’s sermons last summer. That sounds dry as dust – but as I already knew, she’s anything but. I love her luminous memoirs, and these sermons are brief, thoughtful reflections on scripture and life. They’re pegged to the church year, and I think they’ll be worth coming back to. (Part of my nonfiction #unreadshelfproject.)

Literally, Lucy Keating
Annabelle Burns has her senior year all planned out – color-coded, even. But when an author named Lucy Keating visits her English class, Annabelle learns she’s actually a character in Keating’s new novel. Does she have any control over her choices – even regarding the new boy who’s literally perfect for her? A fun, very meta YA novel, though the ending fell a bit flat.

Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say, Kelly Corrigan
I love Corrigan’s wise, witty memoirs, and this one cracked me up and made me cry. She builds it around 12 essential phrases: “I was wrong,” “I love you,” “No,” “Yes” and others, with funny, honest vignettes from her life. My favorite line is in the first chapter: “Hearts don’t idle; they swell and constrict and break and forgive and behold because it’s like this, having a heart.”

Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older
Sierra Santiago expected to spend her Brooklyn summer painting murals and hanging with her friends. Never did she dream of getting caught up in an epic battle between spirits involving members of her own family. But Sierra is a shadowshaper, heir to a kind of magic channeled through art, and she must figure out how to stop the spirits before they destroy everyone she loves. A fantastic beginning to a YA series with great characters. I’ll be reading the sequel, Shadowhouse Fall.

Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude, Stephanie Rosenbloom
I love a solo trip, so I expected to enjoy Rosenbloom’s memoir of traveling alone. She visits Paris, Istanbul, Florence and her hometown of New York, reveling in the pleasures of solitude in each city. This was pleasant and charming; I wanted a bit more from some of her experiences, but really enjoyed it. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 5).

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
This novel is less well known than Montgomery’s beloved Anne series, but I love it, and I’ve returned to it every spring for several years now. Jane is a wonderful character – wise, practical and kind. Watching her discover Prince Edward Island, her estranged father and herself all at once is an utter delight.

Shopgirls, Pamela Cox and Annabel Hobley
I picked this one up in Oxford last fall (for £2!). It’s a fascinating nonfiction history of women working in shops and department stores in Britain. There’s a lot here: unionization, national politics, sexism, drastic changes in business practices and social norms, the impact of two world wars. Really fun and well-researched. Also part of my nonfiction #unreadshelfproject.

The Lost Vintage, Ann Mah
As she’s cramming (again) for the arduous Master of Wine exam, Kate Elliott returns to her family’s vineyard in Burgundy. Helping her cousin clear out the basement, Kate discovers a secret room filled with Resistance literature and valuable wine. Mah weaves a layered, lush, gripping story of family secrets, wartime and terroir. I loved Mah’s memoir, Mastering the Art of French Eating, and savored every sip of this delicious novel. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 19).

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

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nonfiction tbr book stack

Like so many bookworms, I buy more books than I can read right away.

Part of this is intentional: I like having a stack of books waiting for me. Part of it’s a natural consequence of browsing bookstores at home or on vacation: sometimes I just can’t resist a good-looking book or five. And part of it just seems to happen, especially when I receive books as gifts.

I shared this photo on Instagram back in November: this was, at the time, my nonfiction TBR (to-be-read) stack. Generally speaking, nonfiction takes me longer than fiction, and I have Shelf Awareness review deadlines (and often, library deadlines) to meet each month. So the non-urgent nonfiction tends to pile up.

Six of these books were given to me by friends. The top two came from my trip to Oxford in October. Anne generously sent me a copy of her book, Reading People, when it came out last fall. And the other four I’d picked up on previous travels: one in London, three in New York.

All of them had been sitting there a while.

So when I heard about #theunreadshelfproject via my bookworm friend Leigh, I decided my reading goal for 2018 would be to make my way through this nonfiction stack. It sounded doable: 13 books spread over 12 months. (By the time 2018 rolled around, it was down to 11: I read and loved H is for Hawk and Reading People in December.)

I’ve since read three (more) of the books pictured here: Love of Country, Ordinary Light and Encore Provence. I’ve also added a bonus novel: Brian Doyle’s Mink River, which sat on my shelf for months after I bought it at McNally Jackson last winter. I’m in the middle of Scratch, and hoping to tackle Shopgirls or Crossing the Unknown Sea next.

With any luck, by the end of the year I’ll have either read all of these or decided they need a new home somewhere else. (But even if I don’t love Pigtails and Pernod, I might keep it around: it reminds me of a wonderful afternoon spent browsing the bookshops of Charing Cross Road with Caroline.)

Did you set any reading goals for yourself this year? Do your stacks tend to pile up like mine?

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james baldwin quote books

Here in the middle of Black History Month, I have to start with a disclaimer: any reading list I can offer will be woefully incomplete.

I am reading more books by and about people of color these days, but I have a lot of catching up to do. While I recognize the gaps in my reading list, and the absurdity of highlighting black history during only one month of the year, I wanted to share a few titles that have helped me see beyond my own experience.

These books celebrate the accomplishments of black Americans, ask difficult questions about race and responsibility, and tell a good story – fiction or nonfiction. (For a list of great kids’ books on this theme, see my librarian friend Shelley’s recent post.)

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly is the fascinating true story of the brilliant black women who worked for NASA (doing complicated math the likes of which I can’t imagine) during World War II, the Cold War and the space race. It focuses on their accomplishments but doesn’t minimize the discrimination they faced. I also loved the movie version, starring Octavia Spencer and a knockout cast. Meticulous research + engaging writing + fantastic real-life characters = a brilliant launch.

I’ve recently discovered the work of Tracy K. Smith, who was named U.S. poet laureate last summer. I read Smith’s new collection Wade in the Water (out in April) for review; it’s thought-provoking, often searing, with some gorgeous lines. Then I picked up her memoir, Ordinary Light, which I just finished. It’s beautifully written, and powerful. (I appreciated Smith’s admission that she didn’t want to deal with the hard truths about her heritage for a long time.)

I love young adult fiction, and I’ve recently read several spectacular novels that feature young black women:

  • Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham is a dual-narrative novel that tells the story of the Tulsa race riots of 1921 and also hits on present-day issues.
  • Nicola Yoon’s second novel, The Sun is Also a Star, has one protagonist who’s terrified she’s about to be deported back to Jamaica, where she can barely remember living, when she meets (and falls for) a Korean-American boy.
  • Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give needs no introduction from me. It’s a horrifying portrait of the aftermath of a shooting (from the viewpoint of a witness), but I also loved it for its rich, complicated depiction of family life.

An oldie but a goodie: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was the first book I ever read (at around age 10) that featured a black protagonist who wasn’t a slave. Cassie Logan lives in Mississippi in the 1930s; her family owns their land, but is still dealing, every day, with the legacy of slavery, sharecropping and pervasive, damaging racism. I loved Cassie and her family, and my heart also broke for them every few pages. The sequel, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, is also great.

Fast forward to a recent discovery for me: Brittney Cooper, whose essay collection Eloquent Rage is out this week. Cooper tips her hat to bell hooks, Audre Lorde and other giants of black feminism, but her tone and approach are very much her own. So much here to ponder; so much that made me uncomfortable, for good reason.

I recently read A Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality and the Law (out in March), a transcript of a conversation at NYU Law School by four leading black thinkers and activists: Sherrilyn Ifill, Loretta Lynch, Bryan Stevenson and Anthony C. Thompson. It’s short, but thought-provoking, and reminded me that I still need to read Stevenson’s Just Mercy.

You probably don’t need me to tell you about Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jacqueline Woodson, Jesmyn Ward or Colson Whitehead. Or about James Baldwin, whose quote (above) I found in the bathroom at McNally Jackson in NYC. Some of these authors are still on my to-read list. And they are only the beginning. I know, above all, that I still have so much to learn.

What are the most essential books you’ve read by and about people of color? Please share in the comments.

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