Monthly Archives: June 2016

Reading Round-Up, 6/30/2016

Happy (early) Fourth of July to my fellow Americans! I’ll be heading off to Vermont for a long weekend, and I hope everyone, from the U.S. or not, has a good weekend lined up. My weekend will be…fun, for sure, but also probably relative sleepless, as traveling with a 3-year-old has its challenges. But that’s okay.

As for recent reading, one of the highlights is Brian Blanchfield’s essay collection Proxies: Essays Near Knowing. It’s a short collection but one to read slowly: it’s rich and meaty and repays close attention. It’s hard to describe. Each essay has a theme, but they range widely, taking the reader to unexpected places before bringing the reader back to the theme again. They fit the classic definition of what an essay can be: experimental, probing, associative, voice-driven. They play with language a lot. They aren’t for every reader — they require a willingness to dwell in complex thought and language — but are beautiful and rewarding.

I also read and loved Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl, a memoir about life in science. Jahren studies plants, and she writes about plants from their point of view, or at least she tries to, attempting to look at the world as a plant might, with its own concerns and interests. It’s impossible to know, of course, but it feels like she really knows how a plant thinks (or “thinks”). She describes her struggles as a beginning scientist and what it’s like to establish one’s own lab, fight for funding, and establish a reputation. She writes about her struggles with mental illness as well. It’s really great, definitely one to read for anyone who is interested in science, but good for any reader of memoir as well.

Right now I’m reading an essay collection by Teju Cole, Known and Strange Things, a novel by Nicola Barker, The Cauliflower, and a memoir by Elizabeth Alexander, The Light of the World. More on those books later!


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Shadow Notes, by Laurel Peterson

Shadow Notes cover I enjoyed reading Shadow Notes by Laurel Peterson for a whole bunch of reasons, one of which is that it’s a great mystery novel. But more on that in a minute. I also loved it because it’s written by a friend, and I love having accomplished novelist friends. And in this case, she’s also an accomplished poet, and just got appointed Poet Laureate of Norwalk, Connecticut. I also loved reading this book because it’s set in a small town in southern Fairfield County in a part of Connecticut I live near and am familiar with, and it’s so fun to read about places I know.

But about my first reason for liking this book so much: it’s an exciting story with some of my favorite elements. It has a complicated mother/daughter relationship, it’s about a woman returning to her home after a long time away and trying to fit back in, it’s about the trials of the rich and privileged, and it has a satisfyingly troubled and complex main character. The novel tells the story of Clara Montague, a woman in her 30s who has been living in Europe to escape her mother, who is cold and distant. Clara has always had intuitive dreams, and she has just had one telling her her mother may be in trouble. So she returns home.

But soon after she gets back, her mother’s therapist gets murdered, and Clara gets caught up in the effort to figure out what happened to him. She also learns more about her mother’s life as a young woman and then desperately wants to discover the rest of the story and how it shaped her own upbringing. Along the way, she meets an entertaining cast of characters — scheming socialites, corrupt politicians, suspiciously charming, attractive young men. And she has to figure out what she wants to do with her life. She has inherited a landscaping business from her father, and she feels like she should take it over, but she’s afraid of being tied to her hometown and just wants to escape to Paris. I don’t have the inheritance or the money Clara has, but I can identify with this feeling anyway.

It’s such a fun read, a very satisfying mystery, and it offers the promise of another book in the series. I can’t wait to read the next installment!

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Reading Round-Up, 6/5/2016

Ah, summer. Time for some rest and relaxation! And also teaching three online summer session classes, taking care of a three-year-old, finishing up writing projects and starting new ones, attending family weddings, going on play dates, attending children’s birthday parties, and on and on. So, yeah, not must rest actually.

Since I last posted here, I have published a bunch of new Book Riot posts, all of which you can see here. Some of my favorites are my list of 100 must-read essay collections, a post about my reading anxieties, a reading list for mother’s day, and a round-up of books about writing.

As for recent reading, I just finished Pamela Erens’s novel Eleven Hours, which was really good, although really, really not the book one wants to read while pregnant. It takes places in a hospital where the main character is giving birth. Except for flashbacks, all the action is in the hospital, and it’s riveting. I love it that there’s a novel out there entirely about childbirth, and that it’s so good.

On the theme of motherhood, I also read Rivka Galchen’s Little Labors (and picked it as the best book I read in May for the Book Riot Round-up). It’s a short book, made up of short essays/vignettes/anecdotes/whatevers about the experience of being a new mother and about motherhood and children in literature. It’s funny in places, thoughtful, moving, interesting. One of the best parts is a list of famous authors, men and women, and whether they had children and at what point in their lives they did, and at what point in their lives their literary career began. It’s pretty enlightening.

So much reading in the last two months! Other recent highlights include Sallie Tisdale’s essay collection Violation (so, so good — Tisdale deserves a much broader audience), Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White (for my mystery book group — excellent and a great reread), Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words (about her experiences learning Italian — written in Italian! The book includes both the original Italian and an English translation), Kaitlyn Greenidge’s We Love You, Charlie Freeman (a good read, but also a disturbing novel about the history of race and racism in America– but also a coming-of-age story and a bunch of other things), and Vera Caspary’s Laura (for my mystery book group — fun mid-century noir, satisfying).

I hope you have had a good reading weekend and an excellent week ahead!


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