While I was on vacation, my friend Dawn asked for some book recommendations and so I thought I would round up some favorites here, under a few different headings. I won't spend a lot of time on describing the books, just a few thoughts on why I loved the title. We are all looking for something different in our summer reading: sometimes I want a funny book that moves quickly. Sometimes I want something deep and engrossing, the lack of humor made up for by the depth of character. The beauty of summer reading (or winter reading, for that matter, if you are in the Southern hemisphere) is the joy of immersing yourself in just the right book. Hopefully something will strike your interest!
I love to laugh. Laughing is my favorite.
The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde. Set within a world of popular nursery rhyme characters and their crimes... what really happened to Humpty Dumpty? Start here, and move on the the follow up, The Fourth Bear, before trying your hand at Fforde's Thursday Next series.
Bossypants (Tina Fey), Yes, Please (Amy Poehler), Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Mindy Kaling). Caveat: Not everyone will like these books - I don't always love this style of humor. But aside from some good laughs (see Tina Fey's story of her honeymoon cruise) what I really appreciated about each of these memoirs was that you could really see into the process of what being a comedian, writer, storyteller means for each of these women. As a woman, this is a big deal. Each of these books have taught me something about writing, crafting a story, and taking the risk to get the laugh.
Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple. This novel contains some of my favorite lines: "This is why you must love life: one day you're offering up your social security number to the Russian Mafia; two weeks later you're using the world calve as a verb." There are a lot of humorous and poignant observations in this novel, but what I found most compelling in this novel was the need for answers and the need for humor when we take on fear and change.
Every once in a while, I just like to sit down with a book of poetry and dip my toes in the graceful waters. I am not a poet (and I know it) but I can appreciate the value the work of those who are so skilled. A few recommendations:
Sailing Around the Room Alone and The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins - both collections of Collins' work. He has a wonderful observational eye.
A Thousand Mornings and Dog Songs by Mary Oliver. As a starting place, Dog Songs is wonderful if you have a favorite puppy in your life. Oliver captures the joy and sorrow that come with loving and sometimes losing a dog.
Fire in the Earth by David Whyte. This one gave me words and images in a season of life when I was dry, trying to understand myself. I just got his new collection, The Bell and The Blackbird. I cannot wait!
A lot can go under the heading of 'Fiction' but here I am choosing a few novels that I thought were especially thoughtful about the beauty of life and the world in which we live... or the lack thereof.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I have a hard time staying away from Dystopian novels... but this one was especially moving. A story about the connections of human life, art and culture, the things we will keep and the things we will want to remember. I will think of this novel every time I fly or hear Shakespeare, and that is a good thing.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. Set in the Appalachia of Kentucky, this is a novel that weaves various threads together into a stunning tapestry of the natural world and human appreciation (or dismissal) of the beauty that surrounds.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Another Dystopian novel, but one that is funny and witty and full of 1980's references and Easter Eggs (if you can do it, listen to this book as read by Wil Wheaton). Raises some excellent questions about reality, freedom, and what it means to be real.
'Cause it's real, y'all.
My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'Homme. Child's nephew interviewed and wove together a charming tale of her life with her husband, Paul, during his embassy assignment to France in the aftermath of World War II. Yes, this is where she learned to cook. But it is also a beautiful story of how Julia (as she is known in my house) found her craft and learned to love the whole of France.
Just Kids by Patti Smith. New York in the 1960's terrifies me and fascinates me. Smith was a firsthand witness to cultural revolution of the 60's, and writes vibrantly and eloquently about her pursuit of art, the world she inhabited, and the people who journeyed with her in that time. Not a book for the squeamish, but certainly a book full of passion and appreciation of beauty.
Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. I just read this over the end of winter and the hints of springtime emerging... perfect for a lovely meditation on the new life of parenting (twin boys), a new culture (Rome), and writing a new book (an eventual Pulitzer winner).