Claire of the Sea Light

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

3 words: somber, lyrical, layered

Is it because I grew up in landlocked Iowa, that I’ve always loved novels of the sea?

An ocean setting is one of the things I most romanticize. Even when there’s really bad crap going down.

So the title of this book drew me in.

And I’ve been hearing great things about Edwidge Danticat’s books for years, so: another bonus.

The short blurb I read about this book emphasized the plotline involving a missing seven-year-old girl and the effect on the community. But really, that’s just a leaping off point to tell the stories of several people who live in her small fishing village in Haiti.

The novel is constructed as though it were several linked short stories that combine to tell the story of this village.

The central character is a widowed fisherman who is on the verge of giving his young daughter to a more well-to-do woman, so his daughter can live a better life. Then the little girl goes missing.

And that storyline would be enough, but Danticat adds several layers to the story by introducing several more characters and diving deep into their backstory. The town and its residents relationships are really at the heart of this story, which was sometimes mystical, sometimes harsh, and sometimes poignant.

Give this book a whirl if you like… interwoven stories, settings involving the sea, Haiti, and small towns where everyone knows your business

So, my fellow readers… wanna suggest some other books about the sea for me to read?

Gilmore Girls withdrawal cure

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (And Everything In Between) by Lauren Graham

3 words: quick, funny, entertaining

 

 

You know how sometimes, when you really love a TV show, you kinda dread it when one of the actors writes a memoir? Because what if you don’t like them? What if they’re arrogant or  unrelatable or otherwise incompatible with you? Or what if they simply don’t match up with the way you want them to resemble the character you most adore, and that’s just a big old disappointment?

Well, my friends… if you’re a fan of The Gilmore Girls, your mind can rest easy. You can safely enter into this reading experience, knowing that it will all turn out fine in the end.

Because it turns out that Lauren Graham–the actor and real-life human being–is delightfully similar to the fictional character Loralai Gilmore.

I know: weird.

But also: wonderful.

There’s lots of talk about the delight of creating The Gilmore Girls not only once, but twice. But also a candid (and often very funny) description of life as a struggling actor–the strange part-time jobs, the horrible tiny apartments, the hoping against hope.

And more funny stuff about the life of a reasonably successful actor–trying all the diets, being single for a long time (not necessarily totally by choice), and learning that your show’s reboot is happening by reading about it online.

If you’re going to read this book, don’t. Listen to it instead. Lauren Graham reads it herself, so it’s like you’re hearing Loralai telling you the story of Lauren’s life. It’s pretty terrific.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… celebrity memoirs, a chatty tone, and the quick wit of The Gilmore Girls

 

So tell me… what celebrity memoirs have caught your eye lately?

Bookish Tourist: The Book Cellar

On a recent Saturday, the Dear Man and I made a foray into the city (for us, that’s Chicago), so’s I could buy a copy of The Cubs Way for the Dear Man’s dear dad. (He’s the person directly responsible for my Cubs conversion, and he probably already knows most, if not everything, in this book, but still. I’m pretty sure he’s gonna like it.)

So we decided to visit The Book Cellar (one of those Chicago bookstores everyone says a person really should see), and when we looked at Google Maps, we saw this…


And Roots Handmade Pizza: on our list!

So we decided: lunch there first, then bookstore. Cuz we’re tactical geniuses like that.

And then the Dear Man parked the car right next to a Little Free Library, so: further bliss.

Then I had this face, cuz: Nancy Pearl book in the Little Free Library!

 

(Yes, that Nancy Pearl*, who I got to meet last month!)

Then… Roots Pizza. And guys. This pizza is amazing. It’s seriously in my personal Top 3 Favorite Pizzas of All Time. And that ain’t an easy mark to hit. (The others on the podium: deep dish at Pequod’s in Morton Grove, and thin crust at La Rosa in Skokie)

 

Here’s why: Quad City pizza has malt in its crust, which makes the crust a little bit sweet. So the crust is actually fantastic all on its own. Then you add just the right amount of zingy sauce and cheese and onions and green peppers, and you have yourself one winner of a pizza.

After I ate way too much pizza, we walked over to the bookstore, which is in the charming Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago. We hit another shop on the way. And then… bookstore wonderment.
The Book Cellar is not small, but it’s not very big, either. It’s simply packed with books. I felt a little bit like I was swimming through the aisles, with books surrounding me on all sides. That was kind of dreamy.

The Book Cellar is a book store/cafe/wine bar combo, so there were people wandering the stacks with coffee cups and wine glasses, which seemed really homey.

I snapped up the 2nd-to-last copy of The Cubs Way, and then we hit the cafe area of the bookstore for iced coffee, because all that leisure: exhausting.


So, readers...  What’s your favorite bookish tourist destination?

 

*iconic librarian extraordinaire, and inspiration for the librarian action figure

 

The Cubs Way… is to keep me reading non-stop

The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse by Tom Verducci

3 words: personal, detailed, inside baseball

bleacher bums!

Oh my goodness. Such a good book!

If you’re a Cubs fan, then: of course.

If you’re not a Cubs fan, but you are a reader who likes learning the inside story of building a culture of teamwork and success, then this book is also for you.

There’s so much to love here.

First: The people. Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon were of one mind when it came to assembling the perfect team. They agreed that the character of the players mattered as much as their athletic talents. So this team is made up of strong people who are devoted to the group, rather than to themselves. And they’re darn tough guys who have faced and overcome tough times with grace.

And Maddon himself. The guy’s fascinating. (I’m kind of thinking I need a “Try Not to Suck” t-shirt to add to my fleet of Cubs shirts.)

Maddon: a reader’s gotta love him. To draw out Addison Russell, he assigned him to read Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and talk to him about the book every 50 to 100 pages.

I adore this!

Second: The behind-the-scenes stuff is fantastic. For example, that whole story about Rizzo borrowing Szczur’s identical bat and having immense good luck with it during the World Series? Partly fiction!

(with that stance… Bryant)

Third: Even though we obviously know the outcome (spoiler alert: Cubs win the World Series), this book is a page turner. The chapters alternate between each World Series game and the back story that brought the team together from 2012 to 2016.

Fourth: All that psychology. Here’s Maddon: “Too many times in the past, in the postseason, I know we’ve got the other team by the look in the other team’s eyes. There’s a distant look. They’re anticipating bad. It’s almost like a concession look. I never want us to be that team. So know that something bad is going to happen. Know it is. Expect it to happen. And when it happens, we have to keep our heads and fight through it.” (p. 283)

I mean seriously: Isn’t that good?

And then there’s this scene from the rain delay in Game 7, when Epstein eavesdropped on the players-only meeting. “‘I saw our guys meeting and it snapped me back,’ he said. ‘It reminded me of how much I admired them and how tough they are, how connected they’ve stayed with each other, and the great things human beings can accomplish when they set out to achieve for other people, not for themselves.’” (p. 347)

Verklempt! I read this section at Panera and got all verklempt (in public). I try to avoid displays of readerly overwhelm, but sometimes it does a sneak attack. This book got to me.

We might need a short musical break here…

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… baseball, stories of Overcoming, workplace narratives, the behind-the-scenes story, camaraderie, building an organizational culture
Anyone else read any great sports books lately?

Currently… springing into action

So much good stuff this early spring! Here’s the rundown…

Reading | Reliving my childhood by getting my nose stuck in a book…  I can’t, I won’t, I refuse to put down The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse by Tom Verducci. If anyone in my path even seems like they might be interested in baseball (or simply great narrative nonfiction), they’re hearing me rave about this book these days. And then I read that Rizzo & Bryant & Russell & Heyward & Ross are on Instagram, so: Following.

 

Watching | Speaking of the best team in baseball… we watched the Cubs’ opening game, and sure, it didn’t end perfectly, but still: It’s baseball season, people!  (The New York Times is even in the spirit — they published this list of baseball books recently.)

Bryant at bat, 2015 (my 4th time at Wrigley!)

 

Listening (audiobooks)| I hit the trifecta, guys: three audiobooks in progress at once. It happened by accident, cuz: eAudiobook holds… they have their own timeline. So… In the car: Americanah. On the iPhone: A Man Called Ove and Talking as Fast as I Can.

 

Listening (podcasts) | I’ve got the happiest mix of podcasts on my iPhone. There’s What Should I Read Next? and Happier and C-SPAN’s Q&A and Getting Things Done. And a new addition to the rotation: Beyond the To Do List. When I’m warming up for a run, it’s a wonderful dilemma to decide what to listen to.

 

Learning | I’ve been digging into Gallup Strengths, cuz I can’t resist personality type systems. I’m currently reading Strengthsfinder 2.0, which I’ll talk about in a future post. (This is a promise, cuz I’m seriously sucked into this stuff.)

 

Loving | Our St. Patrick’s Day celebration with great friends

all that green!

 

Braving | Rotten shark. I ate it. (Totally not even kidding here.) The Dear Man’s dear sister and dear brother-in-law visited Iceland recently, and we basically dared them to try hakarl (shark that’s buried in the ground to rot, then dug up and eaten.) So instead, they brought some back for all of us to try. It wasn’t so very terrible, though it’s true what they say: smells like ammonia.

(mid-chew)

 

(still mid-chew; the Dear Man made me laugh)

 

Celebrating | 20 years in my little house! It’s hard to believe, but it was 20 years ago last month that I plunked down my life’s savings for a down payment on my own tiny haven.

 

 

“The Little House was very happy as she sat on the hill and watched the countryside around her. She watched the sun rise in the morning and she watched the sun set in the evening. Day followed day, each one a little different from the one before . . . but the Little House stayed just the same.”
— Virginia Lee Burton, The Little House

 

Anticipating | Our 67th pizza. Cuz: yeah... We’ve eaten at 66 pizzerias so far. Here we’re picking off Wayne’s Pizza (well worth the drive).

 

So, good people… what’s going on in your neck of the woods?

A Man Called Ove. She likes it, she likes it!

(photo credit: Wikipedia Commons)

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman

3 words: heartwarming, sad, wryly humorous

Oh, good people. I’m pretty sure I know Ove IRL. And it’s sometimes tough to like a guy like that, but dang it, he wins you over.

This is the book everyone’s been reading, which kinda makes me not wanna read it.

But someone somewhere said something that changed my mind. I wish I could remember who, so I could thank her/him.

And yeah: the curmudgeonly codger with a heart of gold is kind of a tired trope. But there was enough gentle humor in this book to tame the sour and cut the sweet.

And the plot veered a little darker sometimes than I’d expected, which made the heartwarming parts easier to take.

Ove is that grouchy neighbor who hates the world, but eventually his neighbors — and a cat in need of some TLC — make him realize life’s worth living. But he’s not staying alive without a fight.

Give this book a whirl if you like… curmudgeons with a heart of gold, stories of neighbors and a sense of community, getting a new lease on life, and a blend of sorrow and humor

So, readers… who’s your favorite famous grouch?

Unruly Reading: Q1 report

Anyone else wild about statistics? Me, too!

The only college textbook (that’s an actual textbook) that I kept is this little beauty, because I adore it.

I know: I’ve got some issues.

But there are up sides to everything, and in this case, I’ve got some serious numbers about my reading.

Here’s what’s happened in the first 3 months of the year around here:

 

My favorites so far this year:

 

So, good people… What’s the best book you’ve read in the first quarter of 2017?

Elinor Lipman and the power of the comfort authors

On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman

3 words: witty, light, romantic

We all have go-to comfort authors, and Elinor Lipman has been one of mine since the happy day I discovered her books.

My favorite Elinor Lipman books are her clever romantic comedies–books like The Inn at Lake Devine and The Way Men Act and Then She Found Me.

(Some of her other books involve less likeable characters, and I really gotta like the characters!)

So I was flipped out with happiness when I found out that not only was her latest a romantic comedy, but it also involves real estate. And man do I love reading about houses.

So we had ourselves here the kind of book that made me stay up past my bedtime alarm, reading against the rules.

(Unruly? Heck, yeah!)

In this book, Faith is engaged to a probably-unfaithful loser. She works at a school, where she shares an office with a very nice, very single man. So there we have it.

And while her ne’er-do-well fiance is gallivanting around the countryside, taking selfies with old girlfriends (and new?) Faith buys a house. A darling little cottage of a house. Which she neglects to tell him about. Cuz: dude’s lost the right to know things.

And the house… the house is adorable, but it’s got some baggage.

Then there’s her family. Her dad left her (very calm) mom for another woman, and that’s got the family all in a tizzy. Except for the mom, who appears to be taking it in stride. So Faith and her brother (whose friendship is completely charming) try to figure out how to deal with that.

Throw all of these things into a bowl, stir gently, fold into a pan, and bake at 350 for 45 minutes. The results: utterly delicious.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… romantic comedies, books about houses, witty repartee, mysteries from the past, and quirky extended families

So, my friends… Who are your comfort authors?

Strangers tend to tell her things… and I get why

Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home by Amy Dickinson

3 words: sprightly, romantic, domestic

Sometimes life offers you a Perfect Book, and all you want to do is read it and read it and read it.

This is one of those.

I just kept flagging quotes (with these adorable little arrow sticky notes I picked up at Le Target) because Amy Dickinson’s sentences kept delighting me. Here’s a paragraph of good ones:

“I would lie in bed at night in our farmhouse and listen to my mother power up the pump organ by stomping on its wooden pedals until its bellows filled with air. Then she’d start to play the chords to Burt Bacharach’s ‘This Guy’s in Love with You.’ Given the organ’s overall creepy pipe tones and asthmatic volume changes as my mother pedaled faster or slower, it sounded like a lounge act in a horror movie.” (p. 16)

So this book is funny and romantic and light-hearted in parts, and then sad and overwhelmed and dealing with wrenching loss. It’s just like life!

I loved Dickinson’s first memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville, which was the full story of her return to her small upstate New York town, to live among her extended family of women.
In this new book, she finds love mid-life (so romantic! so right!) and loses her mother (so sad and so stinkin’ difficult).

She writes things like this, which made me miss her mom (and mostly miss my own mom):
“There was a special quality and depth to her attentiveness. I often felt she paid better attention–or a better kind of attention–to me than I did to myself.” (p. 182)

And she writes all these things with candor and humor. Yes, she’s the nationally recognized “Ask Amy,” but she’s actually just living her complicated and beautiful and sometimes painful life just like the rest of us. Only she’s got the way of stringing together the words that makes her story absolutely entertaining and real and heartfelt.

And even though I’m kind of small-town-phobic (so many eyes watching a person’s every move), Amy (see how we’re already on first-name terms here? It’s that kind of book) loves small town living and it suits her well. She writes of her town with love and delight, and it almost makes me want to live there, too.

And that’s largely because of the people in this book, who obviously are real people, but the wonderful thing is the way Amy presents them to us, so we actually feel like we know them.

Give this book a whirl if you like… midlife romance, blending families, returning home, books that celebrate small towns and houses, and a mix of laughter and tears

What’s the best memoir you’ve read lately?

LaRose: quiet and surprising all at once

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

3 words: somber, interwoven, lyrical

This is one of those books where you hear the premise and you go, “Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?”

Here’s the premise: a man accidentally kills his neighbor’s young son while deer hunting, so he gives his own child to the neighbor to balance things out.

The hunter is Ojibwe, and this is an old tradition that he’s honoring, in order to repay his debt. A very old tradition, carried out in the current day.

I gotta say: I had to suspend my disbelief that anyone would do this. But then I thought: everyone else is not me.

And while the giving of the child is at the heart of the book, the story expands to encompass the lives of both families — with a focus on the two marriages and the teenage girls in each family — and the priest on the reservation, and a retired teacher, and a ne’er-do-well who’s stealing medication from the older folks.

There’s all kinds of drama coursing through this book, but even so, the book is quiet.

Maybe this came through extra much because I listened to the audiobook, which is read in lovely fashion by the author. She keeps the story sedate, even as people make choices that are fairly eye-popping.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… stories of complicated family situations, reading about contemporary Native American life, mild doses of magical realism, and exploring the effects of long-held traditions

 

I know it happens to us all…  What’s the most recent book that made you suspend your disbelief?