A few great books I’ve read recently. What are you reading right now?
Ms. Marvel – Marvel Comic Series
In November, 2015 Marvel introduced Kamala Khan – the first Muslim superheroine and Avenger’s newest butt-kicking team member. Or, reintroduced, as she had appeared in several comics where readers were able to first get a glimpse of her powers. She is fantastic!!! Here’s her Marvel wiki bio
The Best American Short Stories 2013 ed by Elizabeth Strout
The stand outs – “Malaria” by Michael Byers (from Bellevue Literary Review) and”The Semplica-Girl Diaries” by George Saunders (from The New Yorker). Available from Portland Public Library.
Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel by Gaile Parkin
From the publisher Penguin Random House: The novel introduces us to Angel Tungaraza: mother, cake baker, pillar of her community, keeper of secrets big and small. Angel’s kitchen is an oasis in the heart of Rwanda, where visitors stop to order cakes but end up sharing their stories, transforming their lives, leaving with new hope. It is delightful and smart!! Published in 2010, available from Portland Public Library.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
A fantasy novel with dragons and Arthurian knights set in the early part of the Middle Ages by the author of Never Let Me Go and Remains of the Day. Ishiguro’s newest book brings an escape from the real world and delivers a creative story.
The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan (February 14, 2017)
From the publisher Penguin Random House: As England becomes enmeshed in the early days of World War II and the men are away fighting, the women of Chilbury village forge an uncommon bond. They defy the Vicar’s stuffy edict to close the choir and instead “carry on singing,” resurrecting themselves as the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. We come to know the home-front struggles of five unforgettable choir members: a timid widow devastated when her only son goes to fight; the older daughter of a local scion drawn to a mysterious artist; her younger sister pining over an impossible crush; a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia hiding a family secret; and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past.
Evicted by Matthew Desmond – **Paperback release February 2017
One of The New York Times top ten books of 2016.
For one year, Matthew Desmond, a professor of social sciences at Harvard University, lived in two of Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods to tell the story of eight families who struggle to find and maintain affordable housing.
America’s housing crisis looks something like this: Unable to afford soaring rents, millions of people are evicted every year. In Milwaukee, a city of roughly 105,000 renter households, roughly 16,000 adults and children are evicted in an average year. This is equivalent to 16 eviction cases a day.
The psychological impact eviction has on these families’ lives cannot be underestimated. Their personal things piled on the curb or trucked off to a storage facility where there is a chance it will be auctioned off.
Perhaps it is Desmond’s personal background – his parents lost their home in foreclosure – or his commitment to tell the truth – he avoids judgment, but offers empathy.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Published in 1963, there is no better piece of writing to examine race in America. At that time and from what I have read – now.
Baldwin was a legendary essayist, novelist, and social critic from Harlem, New York.
The Fire This Time – an anthology of essays about race edited by National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward
I most enjoyed the essays “The Weight” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, “Lonely in America” by Wendy S. Walters, “Da Art of Storytellin’ (a Prequel) by Kiese Laymon, and “Black and Blue” by Garnette Cadogan.
From the publisher Simon and Schuster: The Fire This Time is divided into three parts that shine a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestle with our current predicament, and envision a better future. Of the eighteen pieces, ten were written specifically for this volume.
In the fifty-odd years since Baldwin’s essay was published, entire generations have dared everything and made significant progress. But the idea that we are living in the post-Civil Rights era, that we are a “post-racial” society is an inaccurate and harmful reflection of a truth the country must confront.
Homesick for Another World: Stories by Ottessa Moshfegh (January 2017)
Dear reader you are not going to like the people Ottessa presents, or their world, but you will not be able to turn away either. Rather, you will feel impatient wanting to know more and with the time you spend upon finishing the book thinking about these pitiful souls. Do not be deceived, once you begin one of Ottessa’s stories it is too late for retreat. And you will not be released upon reading the last word.
*My friend B, also an avid reader, who encouraged me to read Eileen – also written by Moshfegh and my favorite read of 2016 – had this to say: Moshfegh is very skilled at creating these miserable characters that become endearing in ways, or at least interesting and appealing enough to devote time with (Eileen so far has been the best). Of the characters in Homesick for Another World–I too kind of hate them, or pity them, but need to know what happens.
A treasure!!! – One short story from 2016 edition of The O.Henry Prize Stories – “Slumming” by Otessa Moshfegh from The Paris Review
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Finally read it this coming-of-age tale when I saw her bio A House of My Own on the shelf. Haven’t read the bio yet, but grateful to have read this impressive novel.
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (May 2017) LOVED!!!
Paula Hawkins’ second novel is even better than Girl on a Train. It is a sophisticated story of such imagination handled in such a thoughtful way that you cheer for certain characters, grieve for them, and urgently want to know who killed who and who could be next.
I crawled inside and didn’t want to come out. It thrust itself into my life. Sitting by the fire in my cozy living room I imagined walking the mossy path by the river up to the old cabin with these secretive emotional – some hateful – characters and was so happy. A must read.
The Jealous Kind by James Lee Burke
I began reading Burke after catching this article in my favorite periodical – Garden and Gun Magazine. Now I’ve got his books lined up on my shelf and am giddy exploring his stories. He just nails it all – the characters, the setting, the stories. Epic reads!!!
Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash
A beautiful book which explores the multifaceted experience of being Muslim today. This is an example of the cultural power of literature. Let this intelligent compassionate book inform you!!!
Little Deaths by Emma Flint (January 2017)
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2017 BAILEYS WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION
Flint pulls the reader into the finely observed working-class neighborhood of Queens, New York, in the 1960s. A work of fiction closely inspired by the case of Alice Crimmins, a beautiful sexual woman living who stood trial as much for the crimes she was accused of as for living an unconventional life.
I can’t wait for Flint’s sophomore novel – “I think everything that I write is going to be based on real crimes,” she says. Her next book is set in 1970s London Soho, near where she lives. Cannot wait!!
The Little French Bistro by Nina George (June 13 2017)
A truly delightful tale of second chances. THE feel good book of the year.
Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart by Alice Walker
Soulful. This book embraces you. Alice Walker oxoxoxo for all your words!!!
The One Inside by Sam Shepard (February 2017)
It’s him, it’s not him. Could be about Sam Peckinpah as much as Shepard.
Paris for One by JoJo Moyes
Accurate – “An old-fashioned, feel-good love story. . . It’s as if Moyes has booked a vacation and is taking us along. To Paris. Amour!” –USA Today
Prince Charles by Sally Bedell Smith (April 4, 2017)
A fan of “The Crown”? You might just really enjoy this. From the publisher Penguin Random House: This vivid, eye-opening biography—the product of four years of research and hundreds of interviews with palace officials, former girlfriends, spiritual gurus, and more, some speaking on the record for the first time—is the first authoritative treatment of Charles’s life that sheds light on the death of Diana, his marriage to Camilla, and his preparations to take the throne one day. It is insightful and even-keeled. I felt I understood Prince Charles by the end, but did not like him or dislike him anymore than before.
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2017)
For those who want to better appreciate how refugees try to build new lives for themselves and their families.
First short story collection by the Vietnamese-American writer Viet Thanh Nguyen, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer (2015). Stories vary sharply from one to the next. Most are set amid the Vietnamese exile communities of California.
Nguyen himself arrived in the US in 1975, living in a camp for Vietnamese refugees.
Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin
The book covers Martin’s life, as well as the aftermath of the deadly shooting and how it sparked protests across the nation. **Harvey Weinstein and Jay Z JUST bought the rights and yes they are looking at a series and film. Really happy for Martin’s parents. They didn’t get justice in the courtroom, maybe they will get more closure now.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Published in 1968, this is Didion’s first work of non-fiction and one of her greatest. A collection of essays mostly set in California in the 1960s. Didion is neither shy, nor does she pass judgment. She tells a good story with the skill of a high-wire artist. Subjects range from a murder in Redlands to Joan Baez and Howard Hughes.
Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
The author is a Baptist minister and professor of sociology at Georgetown University. The book calls white people out and asks them to look at how much they have benefitted from black Americans while they suffer. I found many of Dyson’s points extremely valuable, but ultimately put the book down when it got mired in all his love for celebrities. Definitely worth a read.