Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Books!



Update: Here is another list: 100 Books Every Woman Should Read (Fiction). 

My dears,

I am finishing up a few good months of reading, figuring I won’t have much time once the babe is born. Here are a few that I went through this Fall.

Recently Read Books

When in New Zealand, I was on a bit of a local kick, reading books about the Pacific Northwest and California.

My ‘big read’ of the trip, because I felt like I should have this one under my belt: Wallace Stegner’s Angle of ReposeA classic novel of the west.

Angle of Repose tells the story of Lyman Ward, a retired professor of history and author of books about the Western frontier, who returns to his ancestral home of Grass Valley, California, in the Sierra Nevada. Wheelchair-bound with a crippling bone disease and dependent on others for his every need, Ward is nonetheless embarking on a search of monumental proportions -- to rediscover his grandmother, now long dead, who made her own journey to Grass Valley nearly a hundred years earlier. Like other great quests in literature, Lyman Ward's investigation leads him deep into the dark shadows of his own life.


Currently I’m wading through The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin. I’ll admit, I’m struggling a bit with this one, simply because I don’t love the characters. I lose interest when I have trouble identifying with the personalities in the book. I don’t have to adore the whole person, but do have to find some common spark, tidbit of personality, or something with the lead character and I’m not finding it here.

At the turn of the twentieth century, in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest, a reclusive orchardist, William Talmadge, tends to apples and apricots as if they were loved ones. A gentle man, he's found solace in the sweetness of the fruit he grows and the quiet, beating heart of the land he cultivates. One day, two teenage girls appear and steal his fruit from the market; they later return to the outskirts of his orchard to see the man who gave them no chase. Feral, scared, and very pregnant, the girls take up on Talmadge's land and indulge in his deep reservoir of compassion. Just as the girls begin to trust him, men arrive in the orchard with guns, and the shattering tragedy that follows will set Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect but also to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.

My most favorite was recommended by my friend Amy: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. This is a fast, hilarious read that is especially fun because it takes place in Seattle. One of my favorite books of the year.

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom. 
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle--and people in general--has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic. 
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence--creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.

The book I thought I’d love but actually hated: Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein (the author of The Art of Racing In The Rain, which I really enjoyed). Also a Seattle-based book but not of the good kind. Pregnant women with toddler sons should not read novels in which the main character’s young son drowns while on a fishing trip in Alaska. Especially if you happen to travel to Alaska and take fishing trips there.

When Jenna Rosen abandons her comfortable Seattle life to visit Wrangell, Alaska, it's a wrenching return to her past. The hometown of her Native American grandmother, Wrangell is located near the Thunder Bay Resort, where Jenna's young son, Bobby, disappeared two years before. His body was never recovered, and Jenna is determined to lay to rest the aching mystery of his death. But whispers of ancient legends begin to suggest a frightening new possibility about Bobby's fate, and Jenna must sift through the beliefs of her ancestors, the Tlingit, who still tell of powerful, menacing forces at work in the Alaskan wilderness. Armed with nothing but a mother's protective instincts, Jenna's quest for the truth behind her son's disappearance is about to pull her into a terrifying and life-changing abyss.


Here’s a rare book in which I couldn’t identify with any of the characters, yet couldn’t put down: Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier, by Tom Kizzia. Fascinating and horrifying. I would so love to meet the family members, to see what they’re like today.

When Papa Pilgrim appeared in the Alaska frontier outpost of McCarthy with his wife and fifteen children in tow, his new neighbors had little idea of the trouble to come. The Pilgrim Family presented themselves as a shining example of the homespun Christian ideal, with their proud piety and beautiful old-timey music, but their true story ran dark and deep. Within weeks, Papa had bulldozed a road through the mountains to the new family home at an abandoned copper mine, sparking a tense confrontation with the National Park Service and forcing his ghost town neighbors to take sides in an ever-more volatile battle over where a citizen’s rights end and the government’s power begins.


I’ve got Chris reading one of my favorite books of all-time: The Book Thief. I’m curious to see what he makes of it.

The extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller that will be in movie theaters on November 15, 2013, Markus Zusak's unforgettable story is about the ability of books to feed the soul. 
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. 
Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.


Books On My List

The Seattle Times just came out with their 31 ‘best titles’ of 2013. I’m always of two minds about these lists as they are so subjective. For example, I’ve never been a huge fan of celebrated Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl’s recommendations. What grabs her fails to inspire me. But there are a few books on the ST list that look intriguing, especially the Ivan Doig book, as he is an exceptional author. Here are a few that I’m adding to my library wish list:

“Sweet Thunder” by Ivan Doig (Riverhead). Seattle novelist Doig returns to his native Montana for this epic tale of loyalty, politics, love and newspapering set in the gritty labor wars of early 20th-centry Butte. Doig is at his best in his historical novels; this one dazzles with fascinating characters and contemporary themes. — Tim McNulty
“The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert (Viking). Botany has never seemed more exciting than through the eyes of Gilbert’s fictional heroine, Alma Whittaker, whose energetic pursuit of plants and the man she loves captures the 19th-century thrill for discovery. — Ellen Emry Heltzel
“Hild” by Nicola Griffith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). “Hild,” by Seattle author Griffith, spins taut threads from the elements of treacherous kings, desperate bandits, brilliant tapestries, and dying gods, weaving them into a marvelous story of a seventh-century Englishwoman’s coming of age. Nisi Shawl
“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown). The long-awaited new novel from the author of “The Secret History” is the sort you get happily lost in; combining page-turning plot twists with achingly beautiful prose. It’s a story about the love of beautiful things; about spending youth searching for something undiscoverable; about how life can shackle us to a perch, unable to move forward. Moira Macdonald



Any favorites that you’ve enjoyed recently, my dears? I’d love your recommendations.

xo,

Sonja

2 comments:

  1. Not quite sure we have the same taste -- or that you will be able to identify with the main character, but I thought Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers was very vibrant and interesting. A friend is borrowing it now, but I would be happy to lend it to you once she returns it.

    I liked the first 2/3 of Bernadette, but was turned off by the ending. Still a great skewering of Seattle and it's people.

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  2. Yes, would love to borrow it!

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