Thursday, December 4, 2008

Book Bonanza!

Some things I've read over the past few months that I think are worth mentioning:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
". . . Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers." I'm not claiming to be a perfect reader, but I am so glad this book found its way to me as I simply adored reading it. Drawn in by its title and by a blurb about it in Entertainment Weekly, I bought this book on Amazon on a whim one day. A couple of weeks later, I saw a family friend at a baby shower who told me she had just read the book and thought of me. She just had a feeling a would like it. Indeed, I read it a few weeks later and loved it. The story is told in letters (I'll give a prize to the first reader who can name the adjective for that--leave a comment) and its protagonist is a writer. The novel's authors are clearly book-lovers. Before reading this book, I really had no idea where Guernsey was nor did I know that it was occupied by the Nazi army during WWII. If you've read any of my other book posts, you know I love books in which unlikely characters forge a sustaining sense of community and friendship. I will forever remember this novel as the first one I read post-dissertation (i.e., without one nagging thought about whether I ought to be doing something schoolwork-related instead).

Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone by Beth Lisick
Beth Lisick spends a year devoting herself to self-help, trying out a different guru/approach almost every month. She goes on a Sweatin' to the Oldies cruise with Richard Simmons, practices the 1-2-3 Magic approach to parenting, contacts an organizational expert, attends a Mars and Venus seminar, and etc. What I love is that Lisick could have taken a really sarcastic approach that assumes that all self-help gurus are slicksters peddling empty promises and that all self-help seekers are naive, misguided, or flighty. Instead, she manages to be open-minded and level-headed and, I believe, honors the good intentions of so many who seek to improve and change their own lives or to help others do so. Her writing is extremely witty and thoughtful throughout, and her conclusions at the end were truly moving and inspiring to me.

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
This is a very short novel, told from the perspective of a Red Lobster manager on the last day his location of the chain will be open. As a former employee of the Olive Garden (in the same restaurant family as the Lobster), I was reminded of some of the inner workings of the food service industry while reading. As a human being (and a softie), I was delighted by the many moments of kindness, understanding, and humanity that occur over the course of this last night at the Lobster. Lovely book.

Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions by Christian Lander
I listened to this book on my ipod and was really amused. Lander isn't really using "white people" as a racial category here. The book is a list and description of the stuff "white people" (who do not have to be white) like. On some of the stuff, I was thinking, "Busted!": eating outside, Apple (computer) products, New Balance shoes, David Sedaris, graduate school. Some of the other items "white people" like made me wonder if the ultra-observant Lander actually lives in my neighborhood: expensive strollers, Whole Foods, farmers' markets, and NPR, for example. Lander's book started as a blog. If you check out his blog, try to read several posts to get a feel for it. I found my understanding of "white people" grew (as did the humor in it all) as I was exposed to more and more items on the list. If you or people you know are the kind of "white people" Lander describes, you will likely have a good laugh, often at your own expense.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
I also listened to Loving Frank on my ipod. It's a novelized account of the love affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, who left their families to be together. This book would be great for a book club selection as there is so much to talk about: Wright's personality and aesthetic, women's roles, love and marriage, motherhood versus fatherhood, architecture, and on and on. All I knew when I pressed play was that Frank Lloyd Wright was an architect and that this book was about an affair. When listening to a downloaded audiobook, I do not have access to the book's back cover description so I totally missed the key fact that the book (as did their actual affair) culminates in a tragedy. I don't want to be a spoiler so I won't say what that tragedy is. Let's just say if you are listening to this story on your ipod in the middle of the night while nursing your baby and totally unprepared for certain types of events to be narrated, you will be mighty shook up. You might even have to go downstairs and play on the internet for a while to try to recover before you can go back to sleep. But then, instead of mindlessly cruising facebook, you might find yourself searching out websites about Frank and Mamah and the tragedy, further unsettling yourself. All said though, I am glad I listened to Horan's novel, despite being ill-prepared for what I heard.

Below are some books that I have been meaning to mention over the past few months. I don't have the energy to describe them and can't guarantee that you will enjoy them (not that I can guarantee that you will enjoy those featured above either), but I figure I will list and helpfully categorize them for you. If any of the titles or categories appeals to you and you want to know more about the book in question, just leave a comment or send me an email! Here goes . . .

Books in which unmarried young adults have sexual relations in their parents' homes:
Film Club: A Memoir by David Gilmour
Of Men and Their Mothers by Mameve Medwed
Slam by Nick Hornby
I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle

Books that made me feel uneasy about young womanhood in America:
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown (also fits in category above)
Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch

Books featuring characters who are English professors:
Lady of the Snakes by Rachel Pastan
Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrand
The Bronte Project: A Novel of Passion, Desire, and Good PR by Jennifer Vandever
The Professors' Wives Club by Joanne Rendell

Happy Reading!


SMF said...

I will repeat the following quote from today's post:
"Lander's book started as a blog."
Hint, hint.

E... said...

Epistolary. I don't need the prize, though, because I already got mine in copies of two of the books mentioned here. Your note is on its way, but THANK YOU. I am LOVING Last Night at the Lobster so far.
I purchased Loving Frank to give as a Christmas gift, and am thinking now I may have to rethink it -- while I can subject myself to a shock, not sure if I can deliver it to someone else.
I'm intrigued by your categories, and having read I think one on each list, I'm interested in checking out the others. I too, am concerned about the state of young womanhood and don't need to increase the concern, so I'll stay away from that one.

CaraBee said...

I saw the review in EW of TGL&PPPS (hows that for an acronym?) and thought I should read it. As usual, though, I forgot to write it down and haven't yet done so. Following your glowing recommendation, I will most certainly put it on my must-read list. Also, Last Night at the Lobster. I, too, worked in an "upscale" chain restaurant that likely shares many characteristics with The Lobster. As a fellow human being (and softie) :), I suspect I will like this one, too.

On an aside, have you seen the blog It's a woman who has vowed to live for one year on the advice of Oprah, books, food, whatever. It's interesting. (The self-help book made me think of it.)

LAP said...

I am always surprised at how entertaining I find your book blogs, even when you and I both know that the chances of me reading anything you mention (despite my trust in your taste in books) are quite slim.

I really enjoyed the categories at the bottom.

Amy said...

I'll have to look some of these up. I'd be interested to know what you thought about Barefoot. Read it this summer and have mixed feelings on it.

Actchy said...

It's pretty much a sure thing that I won't be reading Lady of the Snakes, based, of course, upon the title.

Glad to get the recs and was laughing out-loud at your unsettling late-night reading experience. Poor MEP!

I can't recall who brought the "White People" thing to my attention (I'm thinking it was either NY Mag or NPR) but I do know I reviewed several items on the list and was busting a gut. I will be checking out the book for sure!

Anonymous said...

I am seriously heading to the library to check out many of these! Intrigued with the Frank LW and Lobster book!

Steph said...

Wow - I am going to check out that first one. Sounds very good. And thanks for all the other recommendations, too!!

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