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The view from my bed

January 26, 2011

Several of you have asked what I am reading, or what I have read, and so I took a picture of the bookcase next to my bed, with the idea that it might amuse.  This is an unedited bookcase: on closer inspection, you can see a couple of embarrassing self-help books (gifts from well-meaning friends, and actually helpful in varying degrees) cozied right up with the rest–a mix of history, novels, poseur literary theory (Benjamin?  At bedtime?  Why, why?), a few kids’ books, poetry, essays, detective fiction, and the undeniably cheap thrill (I am possibly the only person in the world who found the Girl/ Dragon Tattoo books tedious–though I could not put them down while reading them, I walked away grumpy at the time spent. I love murder mysteries, detective series, whatever you call them–I have happily plowed through Scarpetta, Hannibal, Dick Francis, Martha Grimes, Donna Leon, the Bangkok books–I could go on and on–sometimes getting several from the library at once, the better to put one finished volume down and pick the next one up immediately, mid-snack.  But reading whats-his-face I felt the whole time that I was being told a very interesting story by a very, very boring person.  A person so literal and humorless that he would,  if I interrupted at any point to say, no, yes, okay, I get it, I remember the thing you’re painstakingly referencing, now quick quick back to the murders, please, stare at me quizzically and begin, patiently and with even more painstaking attention to Ikea-based detail, to re-explain the plot. Heresy, I know, and let us not speak ill of the dead.)

The bald baby is my older son, aged six months; we are in a cheesy motel at a friend’s wedding in the photo.  Last year’s promise chicken obscures my head.  The egg that is barely visible to the right is one of my favorite objects; it was given to me by my grandmother.   I bought the bookshelf at an unfinished furniture place and painted it years ago.  The books it holds are all books I brought up to the new/old marital bedroom when I reclaimed it last winter–so they’re either books I’ve read recently, or wanted to read, or thought about reading.  If you buy them using the links I’ve posted below, my own Amazon account will be fortified, I think, and thus books will beget books, and my shelves will burst with happiness.

This was the best book I read last year: The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt.

Possession remains my favorite Byatt novel; I’ve read it so many times it’s a bit shameful.  I read The Children’s Book last summer during a hot, dreadfully upsetting couple of weeks.  “What’s it about?” people kept asking me, and I’d say, “I’m not really sure.”  I suppose you could just say it’s about an eccentric English family in the years before World War I, but that does not do it justice.  It’s amazing.  And makes an excellent doorstopper when you’re through.

Another winner, though you’ve probably read it already: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

A brilliantly vivid historical novel–I think it’s partly because Mantel wrote the whole thing in the present tense.  Deserved to win the Booker, and oh, you’ll never look at Thomas More the same way again.  Nor Thomas Cromwell.

There’s also the third volume of this trilogy: Edmund Morris’s Theodore Roosevelt Trilogy Bundle: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Rex, and Colonel Roosevelt

For three summers, my ex-husband taught a three-week long course at an institute on Long Island, and the kids and I went along. Our last year, I was aimlessly driving around w/ the kids in the back seat, exploring, when we saw the Theodore Roosevelt Audubon Nature Center, and went in. After looking at the hawks and owls and signing up for a week-long nature camp, we wandered outside to find Teddy Roosevelt’s grave. I was stunned.

Of course if I’d known anything at all I’d have known that Sagamore Hill, his beloved house, was about a mile away. The kids and I visited, and even spent fourth of July there (speeches! A Roosevelt impersonator! Rough Riders! A band!) I checked the first two volumes of the Morris biography out of the Oyster Bay library (feeling rather thrilled that I was reading about Roosevelt right where he’d lived) and then had to wait years for the last one, Colonel Roosevelt, to appear. (It came out in November.  I’m halfway through it, already worried that eventually it will be over.)  They’re the best biographies I’ve ever read, hands down.

And this book: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick

The real life story behind Moby Dick. I stayed up all night reading it, saucer eyed. Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.

So that’s a good start, I think:  Novel, historical novel, biography, non-fiction.  Four of last year’s highlights.  And now I have to solicit reader recommendations:  I’m going away for a week for my birthday, with my mother, and I need books to take along.  Lots of long plane flights and lots (I hope) of lazy hammock reading.  Once, my ex-husband and I were marooned in central Turkey for a week with dreadful stomach problems, and all we had to read was Nietzsche’s On The Genealogy of Morals and Three Novels (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable) by Samuel Beckett.  The horror!  The horror!  Ever since then I have become increasingly paranoid about running out of books while away from home.  So I need LOTS of recommendations, is what I’m saying.  If you tell me your suggestions as soon as you can, I’ll have time to hit the library or order them before I leave.

And I’ll continue to recommend books–one reader asked what my kids are reading and have read, and another (long ago) asked about translations and/or scholarship in classics.  Pedant that I am, I can’t wait to oblige.

83 Comments leave one →
  1. January 26, 2011 10:40 am

    Ha, as a Swede I find your aversion to Stieg Larsson’s oeuvre quite refreshing. As you probably know he’s up for beatification over here, not least because of the horrendous legal aftermath of his death. (Though it is crystal clear – if you’re not married to your partner and don’t have a will in his/her favour, your heirs will get the lot, in this case father and brother. Morals and common sense? Well, that’s exactly why we have a legal system, no?)

    Be that as it may: I felt exactly the same irritating response when reading the books. Unputdownable but very annoying.

  2. January 26, 2011 10:51 am

    My boy & I plowed through the Percy Jackson series last spring in a frenzy; they might be something great for you to share w/Younger One if you have any deep-seated interest in Greco-Roman mythology like I do.
    Otherwise for grownups I recommend anything by Margaret Atwood; her two most recent novels Oryx & Crake, and After the Flood have her at the top of her always-excellent form…

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 26, 2011 10:57 am

      My younger kid has read the Percy Jackson series (probably twice)–he loved them, and loved the new Rick Riordan (first volume in a new series, apparently?) I haven’t caught up w/ him yet on that particular series, but I have read everything by Margaret Atwood (alas)…

      So excited a real live Swede agrees w/me about Larsson! That copy in my bookshelf is one I got for free–I was supposed to review it ages ago. Now I forget why I finked on the assignment, but I kind of wish I’d said what I thought–that it was thoroughly mediocre–because it was long before the canonization.

    • cruella permalink
      January 26, 2011 3:46 pm

      Atwood is always interesting, even though I haven’t read anything by her for a long time – until last week when I finished Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood in three days flat (I put it full time working hours too:-).

      She’s really amazingly up to date, always. Ahead even.

  3. January 26, 2011 11:21 am

    Your to read/ just read/ wish-to-read-sometime-but-not-exactly-sure-when-and-thus-cannot-put-away-lest-I-forget-I-was-just-about-to-read shelf looks much like mine (although I am still married, so my husband gets grumpy about the “clutter,” so I do occasionally prune. Luckily, the bulk of our actual books are in our bedroom, so I can fall asleep looking at the books I’ve happily read, I’m happy to be able to read yet in the future, or I really really want to read. Sometime.)

    The novels that I most enjoyed last year were Wolf Hall, The Help, The Three Weismanns of Westport, The Little Stranger, Await Your Reply, and In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. All thoroughly delicious. I also have reluctantly had to concede that Chronic City, while irritating and tiresome to read (think Pynchon in his most sixtiesish Pynchonly mode), has stuck with me. Oh, oh, and Veronica! That was awesome. And also Pearl S Buck in China (not a novel, although it could have been).

    • cruella permalink
      January 26, 2011 3:50 pm

      The Help! That one really got to all our family. Husband brought it back from one of his travels, he read it, I read it, mother-in-law read it, brother-in-law, sister-in-law. The copy looks rather tattered now as you can imagine:-)

      I loved The Little Stranger and would love to discuss what was really going on there… Have to find a book circle willing to oblige!

  4. January 26, 2011 11:40 am

    Gawd, yeah – “The girl with the dragon tattoo” – my eyes nearly rolled out of my head.
    I thought I was the only one!

    I must get my digits on The Children’s Book, so. Will be back with inspiration, if any occurs.

  5. January 26, 2011 12:10 pm

    Oh, oh, oh, The Children’s Book – loved loved loved it. I’m reading The Man Who Loved Children right now; Franzen gave it an A+ somewhere recently and at first it reminded me of Byatt, because of the sprawling family, but soon it became just wonderful on its own. Disturbing, though. Did you like Edgar Sawtelle? Another favorite. Have you read any by Lionel Shriver? She’s very smart, very, I don’t know, applicable? Also for great airport reading – Tana French. Whodunits with loads of literary merit. Room by Emma Donoghue is amazing. Penelope Lively is very sweet. Crooked Letter Crooked Letter – riveting, and terrific at making the steamy south feel real, which is such a help during these frozen winter months.

  6. almostclouds permalink
    January 26, 2011 12:29 pm

    The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is one of my favorites of all time. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is great, but depressing, fyi. I loved Little Bee. Also depressing.

    Husband introduced me to the Game of Thrones series by George R R Martin, which I thought I would hate, but instead I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.

    Anything and everything by Haven Kimmel is a MUST.

    Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore is hilarious, one of the best books I’ve ever read. Wonderfully irreverant.

    The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is amazing.

    I could go ON AND ON AND ON. I shall stop. For now.

  7. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    January 26, 2011 12:31 pm

    Oh god, Room freaked me right the fuck out. Seriously. Yes, it was amazingly written and imagined, but oh (and I LIKE scary books) did it terrify me. I can’t stop thinking about it.

    Notes are being taken, keep suggestions coming.

    Edgar Sawtelle–loved! Hamlet, but with dogs, in case anyone hasn’t read.

    Twangy–oh yes you MUST read Children’s Book.

  8. almostclouds permalink
    January 26, 2011 12:33 pm

    Similar to Room in the… it will FREAK YOU THE FUCK OUT way…. is Gemma by Meg Tilly. Unbelievably written. Unimaginably awful, awful, awful.

  9. almostclouds permalink
    January 26, 2011 12:39 pm

    See, i can’t stop.

    I loved Gods in Alabama for light/cotton candy reading. Also for fun: the Chelsea Cain books. Sweetheart and Heartsick.

    I always recommend anyone who has not read To Kill a Mockingbird in the last 365 days should reread it. It is perfect in every way.

    If you read nonfiction: all of Jon Krakauer’s books are impossible to put down.

    Zeitoun was great. Methland was fascinating.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 28, 2011 2:23 pm

      Agree re Krakauer but have read all of them, wish I hadn’t so I could take one of his on a trip–perfect travel reading….

      • Pinkie Bling permalink
        January 28, 2011 6:12 pm

        Even the Pat Tillman one?

        • irretrievablybroken permalink*
          January 29, 2011 9:22 am

          Actually, you’re right, not that one. I take it back.

          • February 2, 2011 3:20 pm

            Where Men Win Glory. It is HEARTBREAKING in every way.

  10. January 26, 2011 1:30 pm

    Okay, what about Maugham, Colette, Mavis Gallant, T. Williams, Mr. Capote…? Where do they fit in the hierarchy of time or are these just the best books you read last year? I find your list very intriguing…

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 26, 2011 2:01 pm

      Best books I read for the FIRST time last year would, I suppose, be more accurate. Maugham would make any all-time list (he’s in the small bookcase on the OTHER side of my bed, matter of fact), as would Henry James, who appears more than once in the photo (I think there are two copies of The Ambassadors, for some reason) and let’s see, Roald Dahl (who is cuddled up to Sir Richard Francis Burton on the shelf) and Daphne du Maurier and Mary Renault and OH, this excellent book called The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard that I read last year, too. With the exception of Maugham, every book I’ve mentioned is one of the best books that I read for the first time last year that just happen to be in my bedroom bookcase…so a rather random assortment.

  11. jen permalink
    January 26, 2011 2:03 pm

    ooh, book lists. Elif Batuman, The Possessed, was one of the best books I read last year. If you like Russian fiction and/or have been to graduate school in the humanities, I can almost guarantee you will love it. They are not new, but for historical fiction I love Madison Smartt Bell’s trilogy on the Haitian Revolution (very violent, though) and Pat Barker’s on WWI. I also loved Wolf Hall and will now check out The Children’s Book. I have drifted away from Byatt since Possession. Hilary Mantel has a memoir, Giving up the Ghost, which is not at all like Wolf Hall but is excellent. Um, one more, much cheesier — David Nicholls, One Day, is mostly a really enjoyable novel which stuck in my mind much more than something so fluffy should have.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 28, 2011 2:22 pm

      I love Batuman’s stuff in the New Yorker, and we share the same graduate school and even the same department, though she graduated well after I did and I didn’t know her. And I love Russian literature–got in trouble in grad school for “wasting” a year taking a three-part series on Russian Lit in Translation (“This would be fine if you had come to graduate school to enrich yourself INTELLECTUALLY–but if you actually hope to get a JOB, it’s a DISASTER,” said my awful adviser, whom I promptly broke up with.) You’ve reminded me that I mean to splurge on her book in hardcover…

  12. Susan permalink
    January 26, 2011 2:04 pm

    I found “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett to be un-put-downable. Also, have you read the Mockingjay trilogy by Suzanne Collins? Wonderful. Stieg Larsson was too gritty for my taste–I prefer cozier types of mysteries. Although Lee Child writes a terrific thriller–if you haven’t tried any of his books yet, do!!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 26, 2011 2:22 pm

      My older son just read the Mockingjay books! He loved them.

  13. SarahB permalink
    January 26, 2011 2:10 pm

    If you haven’t read everything by Anne Patchett or Barbara Kingsolver already, a relaxing trip seems a good time. I could barely sit still in my office knowing I had more pages of Bel Canto (by Anne Patchett) in my purse.

    • Celeste permalink
      January 26, 2011 8:36 pm

      LOVE Ann Patchett. My favorite is The Patron Saint of Liars.

  14. January 26, 2011 2:26 pm

    How about Charlotte Mendelson? I LOVE her writing. The one about Oxford – Daughters of Jerusalem, I think, and When We Were Bad, a brilliant London Jewish family saga. And my perpetual, most fervent recommendation is What Was Lost, by Catherine O’Flynn. Clever and sad and terribly funny, a slight little novel about a child who likes to play detective and a shopping centre.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 26, 2011 4:36 pm

      oooh I’ve read When We Were Bad but not the other. And not What Was Lost.

    • January 26, 2011 8:11 pm

      How odd – I read What Was Lost a couple years ago and had utterly forgotten about it until reading this recommendation for it when the whole taut atmosphere of the book came suddenly back. How could I completely blank on such a good book? Another in that vein is anything by Suzanne Berne. These women and their imaginations…

  15. January 26, 2011 3:27 pm

    To keep my dad entertained in the hospital recently I read him “Him, Her, Him Again, The End of Him,” by Patricia Marx. World’s most cumbersome title, but it had us laughing out loud. For a non-fiction page-turner that reads like a novel I would recommend “Devil in the White City,” which is excellent.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 27, 2011 9:34 am

      I remember reading about that book and wanting to read it, then forgot (the Marx one)–have read “Devil in the White City”–and it was excellent, yes.

  16. Becky permalink
    January 26, 2011 3:32 pm

    For mysteries I love Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak novels. I think it’s the isolation factor. Barbara Kingsolver is great too. Thanks for your recommendations.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 28, 2011 2:17 pm

      I don’t know the Kate Shugak books! This is great.

  17. lucy permalink
    January 26, 2011 4:07 pm

    Best book I read last year was David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Beautifully written, soulful literature. Check out his other work, e.g. Cloud Atlas, Ghostwritten. He makes my soul ache.
    And one not to read EVER: let myself be tricked by all the publicity and tried reading Tony Blair’s biography, The Journey. What on earth has possessed me? Don’t even know what to say, it was that bad! And BTW: found you through Waffle (of the Belgian kind) and love your writing. And your bookshelf…

  18. lucy permalink
    January 26, 2011 4:16 pm

    And now I’m turning into a stalker and leaving two comments in a row, but if you want crime that’s not too gritty and is written with exceptional skill and has properly developed characters in it, you should definitely try Kate Atkinson and her Jackson Brodie novels. And her older ones, such as Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Simply brilliant.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 26, 2011 4:35 pm

      LOVED Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I think it’s due for a reread, though.

  19. January 26, 2011 5:18 pm

    Started reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and abandoned it – I didn’t like being introduced to all the characters via a who-lives-where chat. It didn’t help me remember who the hell was married to who or related to who at all.

    My mother summed it up: ‘It would have been a really good book in the hands of a better story teller. Like Jeffrey Archer.’ OK – she blew it a bit at the end, but I know just what she meant. Will just go and see the films.

    Loved Wolf Hall to bits! Took me a little while to get into it – having more than one character called Thomas was a bit confusing and I found that there was fairly random use of personal pronouns which forced me to re-read several paragraphs to find out what was happening to whom. LOVED IT though!

    Not read the AS Byatt book, but really fancied it – so now am more determined to read it.


  20. January 26, 2011 6:17 pm

    I’d like to think that if Stieg (sp?) had lived longer he would have edited out the parts that were particularly annoying. Like the fact that in book #2 everyone went to 7-11 to eat. What is up with 7-11? I don’t eat there, in fact I rarely go there unless a slurpee urge strikes in the middle of summer. I feel the same way about the trilogy, and I skimmed many of the boring background parts. My favorite book is East of Eden. I suppose that says a lot about me.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 28, 2011 2:16 pm

      I have borrowed my best friend’s copy of East of Eden and lugged it on three trips–figured it would be something to sink my teeth into, nice and hefty, and she loves it–maybe I’ll hit her up again and this will be the time I actually tackle it. It’s one of those books I’m kind of scared of and have no idea why. Which I remember feeling about To Kill A Mockingbird when I was a little girl–I was intimidated to start it, and the more people who urged me to read it the more I shied away. (Happily, I finally did, and have reread and reread since. And my older son read it last year in school, which I think is kind of funny–my mother read it in school, I read it in school, and now he is–is there nothing new under the sun?

  21. January 26, 2011 7:22 pm

    I adored The Children’s Book. Maybe more than Possession. It might not be as perfect in some ways but might have had more heart? I entirely second Pat Barker’s World War I trilogy and any David Mitchell. Cloud Atlas may have been my book of the decade. Totally different in style that I also really love is pretty much all Haruki Murakami. Favorite recent mystery series include Qiu Xialong’s Inspector Chen books, Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri books, and Eliot Pattison’s Inspector Shan Tao Yun books.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 28, 2011 2:10 pm

      Agree re Children’s Book–absolutely devastated me at the end, and yes, left me wanting more about WWI, so Pat Barker is in order. LOVE the mystery recommendations, have never heard of them, thrilled. David Mitchell is wonderful.

  22. caro permalink
    January 26, 2011 7:50 pm

    The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, the mystery series by Louise Penny and a mystery series
    that takes place in ancient Japan by I.J. Parker. I hope you have lots of lovely hammock reading

  23. Celeste permalink
    January 26, 2011 8:48 pm

    I love all Barbara Kingsolver.

    I despised The Little Stranger.

    One of my all-time favorites is A Widow For One Year. If you haven’t read it I hope you will. It seems so you.

    Another that is just incredibly written and will really stay with you is The Story of a Million Years.

    Into the Lake of the Woods
    Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
    Open Secrets by Alice Munro
    anything written by Andre Dubus
    The Tortilla Curtain, and Drop City, both by TC Boyle (but all the rest of his work leaves me wanting)
    I find Jane Smiley to be insufferable
    Anne Tyler is my guilty pleasure
    A River Runs Through It
    The River Why
    Snow Falling on Cedars
    The Weight of Water–Anita Shreve (a page turner extraordinaire with a shattering ending that was left out of the movie version) but all other Anita just bores me
    The Wonder Boys

    I’ll stop now; I’m rambling. I would really like to have book discussion with this group.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 28, 2011 2:08 pm

      I actually like Jane Smiley (some more than others)–see another comment below where I say I hope we can agree to disagree…Have you read Water Music, my favorite TC Boyle? He imprinted on me early b/c my parents had a copy of his first short story collection lying around (Descent of Man) and I read it furtively, feeling VERY adult, when I was about twelve. I have not read The Weight of Water b/c I share your antipathy to Anita Shreve…I hated The Little Stranger too, SUCH a disappointment after waiting ten fucking years (or was it longer) after The Secret History.

      Loved Snow Falling on Cedars, though later I read an article that suggested I was a putz for liking it–loved Wonder Boys, have not read River Why despite being urged to, love Andre Dubus, not so much Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and no reason, really, to feel guilty about Anne Tyler (unless I should, too…)

      • January 28, 2011 2:40 pm

        SO agree re Little Stranger. But Secret History was so good, it would be hard to beat. Imagine the stage fright!

        • Celeste permalink
          January 28, 2011 7:51 pm

          Well now I want to read Secret History! Little Stranger was a birthday gift that left me feeling cheated of both a read and a gift, if that makes any sense at all.

      • January 28, 2011 4:01 pm

        Found…”Jane Smiley to be insufferable”

        Ditto; I TRIED, I honestly TRIED on several occasions, but finally had to toss “Horse Heaven” across the room in frustration…
        She crippled her mare & completely missed the point. Mistakes are supposed to TEACH you something.
        I just can’t get on board w/treating a horse like an investment or an unfeeling piece of equipment – not that I’ve never made mistakes, but I do by God try not to repeat the same ones!

        • irretrievablybroken permalink*
          January 28, 2011 11:38 pm

          But what about some of her more sappy, human oriented novellas or short stories? The Age of Grief? Come on. It was GOOD.

          • January 29, 2011 9:07 am

            Sorry, I was so disenchanted after trying to plow through Horse Heaven, never have picked up another JS work…
            Just to show how hopelessly uncool I am, I DID finally get into a VI Warshawski novel – I think my former MIL gave it to me, MANY YRS AGO?!? – so there’s a “new” old series for me to get into (here I come, Half Price books!)

      • BethRD permalink
        February 1, 2011 8:13 pm

        I think you guys are talking about two different books. Donna Tartt’s book (the author of _The Secret History_) is called _The Little Friend_ and came out in 2002. _The Little Stranger_ is by Sarah Waters and was published in 2009.

        • irretrievablybroken permalink*
          February 10, 2011 12:42 pm

          Oh, you’re right! Wait, I think I LIKED The Little Stranger. But not The Little Friend.

  24. January 26, 2011 9:56 pm

    have to add to the list, Khaled Hassan’s Thousand Splendid Suns, and The Kite Runner. Also books by Jhumpa Lahiri – The Namesake, and others, P.G. Wodehouse for light reading, The Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez …

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 28, 2011 2:14 pm

      I keep meaning to read The Kite Runner and Thousand Splendid Suns. Adore Jhumpa Lahiri, and Julia (of Here Be Hippogriffs) has urged me to read Wodehouse (whose name I mispronounced and she made fun of me for) for years–he’s her favorite. But I feel I never know where to begin, there’s so much–where should a neophyte pick up Wodehouse?

      • January 29, 2011 1:07 am

        ooh P G Wodehouse is a favorite of mine, i read all his books in grade school, then again as a real adult, and now i’ve started reading/collecting them one by one … i have to admit, i read them all out of order (depending upon availability from the library or bookstore). The Man with Two Left Feet is a collection of short stories, and the first appearance of Jeeves, then get My Man Jeeves, then The Inimitable Jeeves, Carry On Jeeves (which I’m reading at the moment!) …
        Well, I LOVE the way Julia writes, so humorous! So you must take her suggestion and run with it! Cheers!

      • January 29, 2011 1:14 am

        You have to read Thousand Splendid Suns – it describes women’s strengths in the face of unutterable adversity – a friend of mine gave me that book to read when i first filed for divorce – the timing was perfect! i read/returned her book and bought myself a copy to keep! it is a source of inspiration.
        Another really short book that I have read so many times, now when I read it, I just open it and read whatever page it opens upon is Siddhartha by Herman Hesse (well a translation)
        I just posted about a few on my bookshelf!
        thanks for this post!!!!

  25. Hawkeye permalink
    January 27, 2011 9:44 am

    Looking over my goodreads of favorites:

    The Secrets of the Fire King (I adore short stories, and I found these haunting)
    Anything Wally Lamb (my absolute favorite being I Know This Much is True)
    Anything Chris Bohjalian (favorite = Midwives)
    Plainsong, Kent Haruf
    I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith (fantastic characters! written in the early 20th cent, but timeless)
    I echo the Lionel Shriver suggestion – especially The Post Birthday World
    Widow’s War, Sally Gunning
    If you haven’t read Shadow of the Wind, you need to!
    I really enjoyed The Coalwood Way by Homer Hickam – it’s the “sequel” to The Rocket Boys, but I didn’t read that first, and I still found it fascinating.

    Our book club is reading many of the suggestions on here for our spring sessions… but here are a few coming up I’m excited about:
    White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
    Let the Great World Spin, Collum McCann
    Walking Across Egypt, Clyde Edgerton.

    I could go on forever…! Happy reading! Let us know how you liked any of the books you’ve picked! I’ve enjoyed reading many of people’s suggestions on here… helped me beef up my own to-read list.

    • Celeste permalink
      January 27, 2011 1:22 pm

      I adored Plainsong, and the followup Evensong was good, too.

      • Hawkeye permalink
        January 27, 2011 3:40 pm

        I haven’t read Evensong yet… I can’t wait though. My to-read list is massive.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 28, 2011 2:11 pm

      I Capture the Castle is a perennial favorite…my grandmother gave it to me when I was a kid, and I have read it many times since…

  26. Celeste permalink
    January 27, 2011 1:20 pm

    I want to add this one, which I just finished:

    It’s sort of self-helpy, but it really made me look at my relationship from a different angle. I was really struck by how you can be a different person in a different relationship based on how the one you’re with behaves towards you…and how that can change over time.

  27. January 27, 2011 2:15 pm

    here’s everything i read last year: favorite fiction of 2010: “slaughterhouse-five,” “the shipping news,” “to kill a mockingbird.” but i also read several new novels that i really liked; “so much for that” comes to mind, and “model home.” i’ve been reading the harry potter novels with my 8-year-old, and was surprised to find during #3 that i was as into them as she was. we’re closing in on the end of #5 now.

    “creation” is a lovely biography of charles darwin’s experience (dare i say….evolution!) following his daughter’s death. “eating animals” was very good, too, even if you’ve already read (as i have) michael pollan and eric schindler, et al.

    also, i just finished “zeitoun,” and i’d go so far as to say every american should read it. not just because it’s an amazing story, but because what it reveals about the state of american emergency preparedness (it’s about hurricane katrina) is seriously terrifying.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 27, 2011 3:48 pm

      I gave my ex-husband Zeitoun last year (or two years ago?) for Xmas–I loved What is the What, and am a bit miffed I had to give away “my” copy of Zeitoun before reading it. I asked to borrow it back, but so far no dice. I also gave him The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks this year–asked to borrow, no dice. Ah, well. Now I will make a point of reading Zeitoun, though.

    • Celeste permalink
      January 27, 2011 8:24 pm

      Zeitoun is on my list, but I second The Shipping News. I love Annie Proulx, and it’s probably my favorite work of hers.

  28. January 27, 2011 2:17 pm

    (schlosser, not schindler…my bad! next time i’ll proofread my comment…)

  29. Libby permalink
    January 27, 2011 2:26 pm

    Ooh, how exciting – a book discussion. I adore your description of the Dragon Tattoo books, as it was exactly how I felt as well – annoyed that I spent the time reading them, but couldn’t put them down either. If I read another line about coffee and sandwiches I was going to scream. I did enjoy his feminist themes running simultaneously with

    The two most recent books I’ve read were both completely wonderful – Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, and Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon. The first made me want to volunteer with Partners in Health, and the second made me wish I was married to Michael Chabon, ha ha.

    • Libby permalink
      January 27, 2011 2:28 pm

      Well shoot, hit post too soon. Meant to say “I did enjoy his feminist themes running simultaneously with pretty much all women wanting to sleep with him. Not sure why, but it amused rather than annoyed me.”

  30. January 27, 2011 3:26 pm

    now that i’ve gone through and read the previous comments (i was so excited at first i just had to throw my assorted-cents’ worth in): yes, yes, yes to kate atkinson, i need to reread “behind the scenes” as well and loved the jackson brodie stories except i was never able to get past the crime scene in “when will there be good news;” think it had to do with my having a one-year-old named joseph at the time i picked it up…. also, as i mentioned, harper lee, it was a reread for me and i can’t believe how much more incredibly perfect that book was the second time. i agree it should be on everyone’s list every couple of years. and i see dan chaon made someone’s list with “await your reply”! this excites me because he’s a fellow clevelander and taught me years ago when i was a student of writing. “await your reply” is great, and “you remind me of me” is, in my opinion, even better. “among the missing” is his best story collection, and if you search a bit, you can find “imagine a great white light,” by his late wife, sheila schwartz. she was another terrific writer.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 27, 2011 3:42 pm

      I love Dan Chaon. How cool that you were his student.

  31. Jen permalink
    January 27, 2011 7:55 pm

    I usually lurk but can’t resist weighing in on a good book list! I’ll echo the recommendations for The Help, I Capture the Castle, and anything by Tana French. Also, I never miss a chance to plug Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susannah Clarke. It took me a while to get into it but I truly loved it. Happy reading!

  32. Susan permalink
    January 27, 2011 9:54 pm

    How timely! I’ve just now finished the most amazing book: The Gold Bug Variations, by Richard Powers. It’s dense, but very very good. I couldn’t wait to finish it, but was also sad to turn the last page. You know how that goes.

    I second (third? fourth?) the David Mitchell recommendations. Also, have you read anything by Robertson Davies? I would start with The Deptford Trilogy. What about A Novel Bookstore, by Laurence Cosse? Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety is good too: I feel I have a much better understanding of the French Revolution now, having read it. Anything by Isak Dinesen, Vikram Seth or Geraldine Brooks – can’t go wrong there.

    I too have read Possession repeatedly. Each time, I come out with something more. Amazing book, that.

  33. January 27, 2011 11:56 pm

    Wow, I can’t believe how in sync I am with all of these recommendations…we commenters and you would have the best book club ever. I adore Tana French and Kate Atkinson–I wish I could pick any of their stuff again for the first time. And I preach the gospel of Edgar Sawtelle regularly.

    Some others you (all) might like, based on our eerily similar tastes:

    Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
    Winter’s Bone is such an amazingly beautiful book, it stunned me
    The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia was sweet and surprising
    I also love and recommend everything by Kate Christenson.
    The Curtis Sittenfeld books are all great too, and perfect for vacation reading in that they are engrossing but not at all saccharine or dumb

    • Hawkeye permalink
      January 28, 2011 9:48 am

      I really enjoyed Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, and American Wife was pretty good too. Edgar Sawtelle is amazing.

      I just added everything you listed to my goodreads list – every single recommendation looked fantastic. Thank you!

      • January 28, 2011 9:56 am

        I loved American Wife. Except now I consistently confuse the character in the book with the real Laura Bush!

  34. youngest wren of nine permalink
    January 28, 2011 4:24 am

    Andi’s “Oh, oh, oh” about sums up my own reaction to your praise of The Children’s Book. Me too, me too! (I printed out the character list from wikipedia to get me through those first fifty or so pages, and after that it was smooth sailing. Now I really want to go to the Viktoria & Albert — I’ve never been.) “Wolf Hall,” too — loved the different take on Thomas More.
    What’s the Alice Munro on your bookshelf? Have you had a chance to read “Axis,” her latest story in the Jan 31 New Yorker? There’s a passage in there for all us parents to ponder… (also, I love it when a story goes in a completely different direction from what I assumed at the start).
    Reading recommendation: Jane Smiley “Ordinary Love & Good Will”. The story of your divorce made me think of the first novella in that book. Really amazingly written — hope it’s not too close to home, though.
    Ah, it’s too bad you’re so far away! The lunches we could have… Have a wonderful vacation!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 28, 2011 2:02 pm

      I actually really like Jane Smiley (an earlier commenter did not–we will agree to disagree, no?) and have to say that rereading Good Will last summer completely undid me–especially the last paragraph, the last sentence.

      I adore Alice Munro (who doesn’t?) but thought the story in the New Yorker was a bit thin, but I think I know the line you’re referring to (that eventually our kids are just people you know)–was that it? It’s funny because my mother has said that to me many times (thanks, Mom!) Anyway, the Munro that shows on the bookshelf is a Collected Stories I got for a buck at a library sale, but I think my favorite collection of hers is Friend of My Youth.

      • youngest wren of nine permalink
        January 28, 2011 3:42 pm

        Yes, that was the line I meant — either your mom is one tough cookie, or I’m just not at that point yet (my oldest is only 17). Fwiw, my favorite Munro collection has got to be ‘”Moons of Jupiter.”

        The Smiley that slays me is “The Age of Grief” — amazing, and the ending is so unbearably sad.

        So (since you’ve also read “The Great Fire” and I bet you’ve read “Olive Kittredge,” right?) how about Carol Shields, “Unless”?

        Then again, the Terry Pratchett books about Tiffany Aching would probably make excellent vacation reading, too. (“The Wee Free Men,” “A Hat Full of Sky,” “The Wintersmith” and there’s a new one out — I forget the title.)

        Bon voyage!

  35. anon permalink
    January 28, 2011 6:28 am

    Kepler and The Untouchable by John Banville

  36. Ellie permalink
    January 28, 2011 10:06 am

    I have heard about Room. They are not mentionned so here – I love Alexander McCall Smith’s series, he is a Scottish philosopher writing fiction and it is just lovely to follow his characters’ thoughts. I love Paul Auster. I don’t know what you have read already but if you haven’t yet you can grab A confederacy of dunces by John Kennedy Toole and books by Mikhail Boulgakov – The master and Margarita, Life of Mr De Molière

  37. January 28, 2011 2:48 pm

    Oh, I also love Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan.

    Oldie but excellenty Geek Love.

    Heartbreakingly beautiful book is The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken

    (Gee, wonder what the connection between those three books is? My mind is so weird sometimes.)

    Also a great book no one seems to have read in my life is Any Human Heart by Charles Baxter. And to continue that train of thought:

    Mating by Norman Rush (I hated Mortals)
    A Primate’s Memoir by Robert Sapolsky is REQUIRED READING for everyone who loves books
    Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

    I want recommending books based on other books people like to be my job. Like a human Amazon algorithm, or a bookstore employee with a much higher salary.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 28, 2011 11:43 pm

      Oh my fucking god, Mating was great, Mortals gave me hives, Primate’s Memoir is one of my all time favorites (there’s a Sapolsky book in the shelf, actually! Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, upper left hand side, see it? But the ex took Primate’s Memoir, as well he should have, because it was a gift from me at some point) and Sapolsky, too, had the dreadful experience of being trapped with only one book and having it suck—do you remember??? And I loved Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs but hated everything after. And I have reaped exactly one dollar and thirty cents to my Amazon account via readers who have clicked on these links, so I have no hopes for a high salary recommending or discussing books–but wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?

      • January 28, 2011 11:46 pm

        Sapolsky+Mating+Alexandra Fuller=you HAVE to read Any Human Heart by Charles Baxter immediately!! If we knew each other I would show up tomorrow at your house with it. You will love it, I promise.

        • irretrievablybroken permalink*
          January 29, 2011 12:51 pm

          Wait–William Boyd, right? I read Brazzaville Beach–that’s who you mean, right? Or am I mixing something up?

          • January 29, 2011 11:10 pm

            Yes, William Boyd–sorry! I have been misrecommending that book for years now. I loved Brazzaville Beach too!

  38. February 1, 2011 3:53 pm

    Late to the party, as usual! But piling in with my fourpennorth anyhoo, as asking me to recommend a book always brings out the Talkative in me!

    Adding my voice to those that others have mentioned: I’m a recent late convert to Byatt, and have only tackled Possession so far. Read it through the night, as I end up doing with everything that really grabs me around the throat. Looking forward to Childrens Book.

    I was in a couple of talks given by the perennially delightful David Mitchell at Hay festival last year, and bought signed copy of 1000 Autumns which is sat (still!) on my To Read shelf. *rubs hands gleefully*

    Wodehouse? Oh, let me URGE you to expedite Wodehouse! They are beauteous historical fiction by now, as well as being such gurglesome books – particularly the Jeeveses. They were always post-miscarriage prescribed reading for me.

    Recently popped my Jackson Brodie cherry, and keen for more, whilst the Alexander McCall Smith Ladies No1 Detective Agency series are such warm, gentle books. Thoroughly enjoyed.

    I have read Terry Pratchett since I was a child, and had lunch with him many, many, moons ago. I struggled with Nation, his recent non-Discworld book, but all of the rest are absolute gems.

    Now: onto MY particular babies! I am in danger of continuing ad infinitum if left to waffle. Tell you what: I will confine myself to lauding a mere 3 series from a single genre: historical fiction!

    Manda Scott’s Boudica series is sublime. I’m not sure that they were ever promoted much in the US, but I thought they were utterly and completely superb, and they re-configured my views on a number of topics. Recommend! Recommend!

    Diana Galbaldon’s Outlander series is, surely, the ideal dysentery companion! They’re not demanding enough to struggle with, yet the pace is brisk enough to keep one distracted from… well. Whichever end is causing the problem at that moment in time!

    I have, as you may imagine, left the best until last. I have recently been utterly knocked off my feet by a series I had, for complicated reasons, delayed reading for some years. Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond chronicles are, quite simply, absolutely the best example of the genre I have ever encountered. I cannot think of superlatives to do them justice, although all the Amazon reviews contain plenty!

    I think once a month for books is a fabulous idea!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 10, 2011 12:44 pm

      Thank you, thank you, thank you–I really can’t thank you enough. I have been meaning to get to Dorothy Dunnett for some time and now I will. God, all these recommendations are like having money in the bank, aren’t they?

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