It’s Presidents Day. Let’s read.

OK, guys… it’s Presidents Day.

(photo credit: Pete Souza)

And since this day is about honoring them as a group, today I’m offering up a few books that look at multiple presidents all in one book.

And because I’m a sucker for the 20th century presidents, that’s a focus of these books.

 

If you like journalistic memoirs written in a humorous voice, try this one…

Thank You, Mr. President: A White House Notebook by A. Merriman Smith

 

 

If you like looking at photos and reading their behind-the-scenes stories, try this one…

The President’s Photographer: Fifty Years Inside the Oval Office by John Bredar

 

If you like seeing that our presidents are sometimes just like us, try this one…

Presidential Doodles: Two Centuries of Scribbles, Scratches, Squiggles and Scrawls from the Oval Office from the creators of Cabinet Magazine
What are your favorite books about U.S. presidents?

Week 2 of #riotgrams

OK, good people… Week 2 of #riotgrams on Instagram!

Here’s what we’ve got goin’ on for February 7-14.

What I learned:

  • I own only one graphic novel, and it’s Maus, which I continue to marvel at.
  • I own only two books with pink covers, and they’re both children’s books.
  • I own only one kissing book.
  • I’m wishing there were a category like “Tragedy” or “War” or “History,” cuz I could rock those categories.
  • (Is there something wrong with me?)

 

Black History

 

Author Who Shares My Name

 

Comics

 

Favorite Children’s Book

 

Outside

 

Pink Covers

 

Kissing Book

High-flying lying: gymnastics & family secrets

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

3 words: tense, secretive, unputdownable

The only mistake I made in reading this book is that I didn’t choose it for my book club. Cuz now all I want to do is discuss it. And it’s not my turn to pick the book for another couple of months.

Here’s what I want to discuss…

First… Does this book reflect the reality of family life for Olympic level teenage athletes?

Second… Who is the most flawed character in this book?

Third… Who is the most admirable? (Is anyone?)

Fourth and fifth and sixth… All kinds of things I can’t mention here, because: spoilers.

Here’s what I can tell you…

This novel is set in the high stakes world of elite gymnastics, where the training of those tiny powerhouses of girls is the most important thing in their families’ lives.

So already: we’ve got ourselves a powder keg of a set-up. There’s gonna be drama.

Then throw in a beautiful young man who all the girls (and their mothers) are gaga for.

And, voila: match to powder keg. Watch out, people!

This book has all the stuff that’ll keep you turning the pages: jealousy and a prodigy and all-the-eggs-in-one-basket and lies and money trouble and betrayal and dumb things young people do and dumb things grown-ups don’t see.

Give this book a whirl if you like…gymnastics, stories of intense young athletes under pressure, and reading about secrets within families

What’s the most recent book you just couldn’t put down?

Week 1 of #riotgrams

Our friends over at Bookriot are hosting a month-long Instagram challenge, and I’m IN.

Here’s the daily #riotgrams challenge list…

 

 

And here are my photos for February 1-7…

Shelfie

 

Where I Read

 

One Word Title

 

Favorite Villain

 

Bookish Goods

 

Current Read

 

My Local Library

 

Anyone else playing along? If so, what’s your Instagram handle, so we can check out your #riotgrams this month?

Hungry for more true tales by Jennifer Weiner

Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing by Jennifer Weiner

3 words: funny, frank, conversational

This was the book that kept me up past my bedtime because I just didn’t want to put it down.

Sometimes that was because the storytelling was so good, and sometimes it was because the stories were so surprising. And sometimes it was just because it was fun hanging out with Jennifer Weiner.

Even though it was my first experience spending time with her, because (shameful revelation) I’ve never read her fiction.

She’s well known for the Weiner/Franzen Feud, which she discusses in this book.

But the book is way more than that. It’s stories about her family when she was growing up, and her children, and her divorce, and her father’s mental illness, and her struggles with body image… and I know none of this sounds very funny, but it is. Even though it’s also dead serious stuff.

But when a situation is one of those “laugh or cry” scenes, she’s gonna laugh. And she made me laugh, too.

It’s like hanging out with a really funny friend who’s been through it and doesn’t mind spilling.

Big thanks to Bybee for sending this book my way via Bybee Book Mail.

Give this book a whirl if you like… unvarnished truth, some snark, memoirs of unconventional families, stories of writers’ lives, and feminism with a dash of humor
So folks… ever read Jennifer Weiner? If so, which novel do you recommend?

Ann Patchett for reals

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

3 words: warm, candid, conversational

Ann Patchett not only writes a wickedly good novel and owns a ridiculously beautiful bookstore, but the woman can scale a wall.

For reals.

Her dad was an LA police officer, and she went through the police academy there, which required that she leap over a wall. And she started training, and then she did that thing.

And that’s just one of the completely unexpected facts you learn when you read this book (or listen to it, which I recommend, because Patchett reads it herself and her voice is perfect for the reading of the books).

While the title essay is about her marriage (and the way, and the reasons, she resisted marriage for a long time), the other essays are about things like this: her loving care of her grandmother, and the time she drove around in a motorhome she was supposed to detest (but fell in love with it instead), and how she concocted the plot of her first novel while waitressing at a TGI Friday’s.

And one of the essays describes how she became a bookstore owner. And I was enraptured. And now all I can say is…

Nashville and Parnassus Books… I’m coming for you.

The Dear Man and I have a date with a donut, and we intend to keep it.

Last time we were in Nashville, we made these two mistakes: 1) I forgot that Ann Patchett and her bookstore live there, and 2) We blew past the very enticing Donut Den even though we really wanted to go to there. The Donut Den, which is like 3 feet away from the bookstore! We’re gonna fix this.

Give this book a whirl if you like… authors describing what it’s really like to do their work, memoirs of women’s lives, and some serious candor

What author do you wish would write a memoir?

Reading recent Morrison

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

3 words: complex, unsettling, layered

You know how some books improve after you’ve read them?

This is one of those.

As I was reading, I was reasonably engaged with the story and the characters. But when I finished the book… wow.

It became something altogether better.

The flavors all melded. The storylines converged. The layers lined up (though not too neatly).

This is also a book that surprised me, because I thought I knew where it was going–a story of a woman and her mother. But then it took some unexpected turns — not in the “Oh my gosh, what a plot twist!” way, but in a way that was more like real life, where the story unfolds in ways we just don’t expect.

This is the story of a woman who names herself Bride, who dresses all in white to set off her blue-black skin. And it’s the story of the mother who was ashamed of her. And the man who abandons her. And the friend who might not be a friend to her.

And then there are hippies living off the grid, and a woman torching bedsprings, and all of these things make sense.

I listened to the audiobook, which Toni Morrison reads herself. Her voice is quiet and expressive, but in a mild way. She lets her words do the work, and her voice is just the vehicle. It works just right.

Give this book a whirl if you like… literary fiction, multiple narrators, hints of magical realism, and a story that’ll keep you thinking long after the reading is done.
So, readers… What’s a book that improved after you read it?

Book club update

Book club snacks!

 

Yep, we’ve been doing some reading… Here’s the report from the living rooms.

 

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe  

Discussability score: 4

Because: We kept talking about how relevant and timely this book remains, despite the fact that it’s known as a Novel of the 1980s. We also all agreed that we were glad we’d read it, because it serves as a cultural touchstone. And we had plenty to say about the structure of the novel, with its various viewpoints. Some of us liked it; some of us did not.

 

The North Water by Ian McGuire

Discussability score: 2

Because: Only one of us had the stomach to read the entire book. I bailed (with permission!) halfway through, because man this book is gritty. So: we discussed why the book didn’t work for us as readers.

 

On Writing by Stephen King

Discussability score: 5

Because: Man, what a discussion! We talked about this book for a long time, and we were all leaping into the conversation with lots to say. And this, despite the fact that we all liked the book. We looked at other books through the King Writing Rules lens, and that was some serious fun. I’m pretty sure we’re gonna keep referring back to this one… especially since 11/22/63 is our next book club pick. (Stephen King: we just can’t get enough.)

On reading On Writing

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

3 words: sharp, encouraging, spare

 

So let’s just start with this: Stephen King scares the living daylights out of me.

When my book club chose to read The Shining, I got 3 tracks into disc 1 of the audiobook, sensed looming menace and unease, and bailed.

 

But I’ve been hearing about his book On Writing for years (it keeps showing up on lists of the best books about writing), and it seemed safe enough.

 

And so it was.

 

Until that very last section, in which King writes about the car that hit him. And while it’s not horror, it’s horrifying. He’s so matter of fact about it, which makes it all the more chilling.

 

So I got to experience some King fear factor after all.

 

But let’s talk about the bulk of the book, which consists of two parts:

  • a brief autobiography of his development as a writer
  • a handbook on the art of writing

 

The thing that blew me away was the strength of King’s writing. Of course, dude is writing a handbook about how to write well, so he darn well better have some game. But I still found myself surprised at his sentences and his paragraphs: fresh and succinct and perfectly formed.

 

He discusses some of the mechanics of writing (he hates adverbs, which kinda makes me adore him), but he also addresses how to actually be a writer. Which, of course, is by writing. Throughout the book, he’s encouraging, without ever being coddling.

 

And this leads us to my next surprise: Stephen King seems like a genuinely nice person. And he’s a man who loves — and likes — his wife. The way he writes about her… it made me happy that they’d found one another.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… workplace narratives, books about books, a peek behind the curtain, and a zippy writing style

 

OK, your turn. What’s your take on Stephen King?

 

Feeling all the feels: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Actual real-life small town in actual Iowa

3 words: stark, moving, somber

 

Oh, Marilynne Robinson… you make me so sad. And so happy-sad. But mostly so sad-happy.

 

If you’re reading a book by Marilynne Robinson, here’s what to expect: lovely writing, deep and quiet inner lives, and an in-depth examination of the ways we care for–and sometimes fail–each other.

 

She puts her characters, with their harsh lives, into a mean world and then comforts them with other characters. But then the mean world barges in and threatens to mess things up.

 

And since the characters have become people we care about… this is tough to take.

 

Yet: I keep coming back for more.

 

But only at measured intervals, because my heart can only take so much.

 

Like the other two Robinson novels I’ve read, Gilead and Home, this book revolves around the lives of the Ames and Boughton families in small-town 1950s Iowa.

 

In this book, Lila, the “old man” preacher’s young wife, is the central figure, and her story is a sad, sad, sad one. She’s probably an orphan, and she’s homeless, and she doesn’t know her actual last name. Dear heaven.

 

It’s the kind of book that made me specially grateful for the simple things, like my sturdy-roofed little house with running water. It’s even got electricity this house!

 

So there’s Lila’s resilience and self-reliance. And there’s the unlikely love story of Lila and Rev. Ames. And there’s the simplicity of the story, plus its complexity.

 

It leaves me feeling wildly melancholy yet hopeful.

 

What about you? Ever read a book that made you feel so emotionally conflicted?