Perfect for book discussion

Montana 1948 by Larry Watson

3 words: riveting, quietly dramatic, haunting

 

There’s a reason this book, first published in 1993, is still flying off the shelves today. Actually, there are lots of reasons.

I’m pretty sure we can consider it a modern classic.

Here’s why…

First, this story is sadly timeless. A doctor from an influential family has been molesting Native American women, and it’s only when he commits murder to cover it up, that his brother–the sheriff–discovers this horrific misconduct. In these days of #MeToo, this novel’s narrative is timely in a way that just hurts. But Watson’s treatment of the subject is sensitive and honest. For a book group, this is one remarkable book to discuss, because while there’s a villain, there are no true heroes. It’s complex and messy and sadly real to life.

Second, Watson’s writing style perfectly fits the story. It’s clear from the length of the book (fewer than 200 pages) and the power of the prose that he’s also a poet. Every word is carefully placed, which a reader only realizes upon reflecting later–because while you’re reading this book, you’re gonna be turning the pages fast. Watson pulls you right into the story from the start and makes you care about the characters.

David, the narrator, is a preteen boy at the time of the story’s events. But he’s telling the story from the perspective of his adult years, which adds some nice complexity to the narrative.

If you’re looking for a great book discussion book, or a fast-moving work of literary fiction, or a modern Western, or just a remarkable book to fall into… this one’s a winner.

Give this book a whirl if you like… an adult perspective reflecting on a traumatic event witnessed as a child, succinct and powerful writing, coming of age stories, #MeToo, Native Americans, modern Westerns

 

What’s the best book you’ve discussed with someone recently?

 

Royal weddings — what’s not to like?

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

3 words: sparkling, sprightly, romantic

 

The only thing that’s shocking about my liking this book is that it took me so long to read it. It’s only in the aftermath of the most recent royal wedding that I picked it up, so late to the party.

Which brings us to the following short story…

Why It Shouldn’t Have Taken Me So Long, or, My Lifelong Royal Wedding Watching Credentials

 

Royal Wedding #1

Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer

I was in elementary school, and thankfully, Charles and Diana were married in the summer, so my mom had no qualms about honoring my request to be awakened in the wee pre-dawn hours to watch the wedding on the telly. I believe I took notes (cuz that’s precisely how geeky). Then I proceeded to coax my mother into purchasing large coffee table books containing gorgeous photos of the blessed event.

Then we learned what a skunk of a husband Charles was, and so much for all that.

 

Royal Wedding #2

Prince William and Catherine Middleton

Ahhhhh… the defining moment for me was watching Kate walk down the aisle, and seeing the view from above. There were trees in the sanctuary!* It was so lovely I cried.

This marriage I have a good feeling about. I know much was made of “Wait-y Katie,” but I find it wise that they knew each other well before marrying.

This is the relationship that was the inspiration for The Royal We, although the American commoner element in the novel was eerily prescient of the arrival of Meghan Markle on the scene.

 

Royal Wedding #3

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

All I can say is: thank goodness for YouTube. Because when this wedding took place, we were on vacation in a television-free, Internet-free log cabin in the woods. The place had been reserved well in advance of a wedding date announcement, so I forewent viewing in real time. Because we live in a splendidly modern era, I watched the thing the following week, and, as a bonus, got to skip the dull preachy parts and boys’ choir. (I know: wrong. This is wrong.)

They’re a beautiful couple who had a gorgeous wedding, but I gotta say: makes me a little nervous that they knew each other less than 2 years before the wedding. Who knows? It might work. (I wish them well, but I have my doubts about this one.)

 

So if you mash up William/Kate and Harry/Meghan into a single storyline, you basically have The Royal We. A young American college student attends university in England and meets the Prince of Wales. They chum around, and then they fall in love. And the American commoner marries the prince, but only after the usual boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl business plays out.

 

It’s sparkly, it’s light, it’s stylish, it’s fun, but it’s not silly. You can read this novel and have just a hint of the guilt but all of the pleasure.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… royal weddings, rom-coms, unlikely love stories, the success of the girl next door

 

Anyone else a fanatical watcher of royals committing matrimony?

 

*there’s not a public domain photo available, but if you Google Prince William wedding trees, you can see it

Uncommon Type: uncommonly good

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks

3 words: engaging, wide-ranging, creative

 

Tom Hanks — the dude can write! Word on the street was that his new collection of short stories — his first book — had it goin’ on. And I gotta say: True.

I’ve been raving about it for the past few weeks. I plan to continue this behavior for quite some time.

The first story was funny and wry, and the second (“Christmas Eve 1953”) was so idyllic at the outset that I knew it had to have a dark side. (It did. It nearly broke my heart.)

There’s some pretty impressive range here — in perspective and voice and place and timeframe and tone.

I was especially gratified that he can write convincing female characters. He got that really right.

So the whole collection pleased me.

And then there was the story “These Are the Meditations of My Heart.” This one blew me away. It made my heart sing; it made me verklempt. It made me do a little gasp of happiness at the end, even though the ending was not dramatic. He didn’t write it for effect. But it had a profound effect on me nonetheless. The story sounds simple: A young woman buys an old typewriter and takes it to a repair shop, where the owner informs her it’s a toy and he will not fix it. Conversation ensues. At one point, I laughed out loud, and at the end there was that gasping thing. It was quite perfect.

I listened to the audiobook, which Hanks narrates himself. It was also quite perfect. The only problem was the dilemma of listening to short stories. When each one ended, I needed to give it a little breathing room. It seemed the only decent thing to do. It’s just that it’s nicer to pause between stories when reading the words on a page, because you can get up and refill your cup of coffee and swap out the laundry and then you might be ready for the next. In the car, there’s just dead air time.

Each of the stories includes a typewriter, and by the end I was in full typewriter lust mode. Having seen someone recently actually using a typewriter, I have decided my laptop suits me fine. But the romance of an old typewriter… it’s a thing.

I’m not a big reader of short stories, but these…  These are winners. Often poignant, frequently quiet, sometimes funny, always deeply human.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… celebrity authors, well-evoked characters, short stories from a variety of viewpoints, typewriters

Telling stories

(Photo by Alysa Bajenaru on Unsplash)

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

3 words: sharp, modern, clever

 

Sometimes books actually live up to the hype. American Housewife: it can handle the hype.

Once I started listening to this audiobook, I was sold.

These stories are smart and sharp and pointed and surprising. They’re snarky and sometimes grim and sometimes hilarious and always rewarding.

The tone varies among stories, which is another thing I really like in a story collection because it shows the author’s range and keeps me wondering what’ll be next.

And Ellis seriously makes you wonder, because she’ll go from a wicked neighborly feud via email to vaguely dystopian tale of a writer hired (and forced) by Tampax to write a novel. And then there’ll be an increasingly creepy story of a woman who lives in a high-rise building, and a tale about book club initiation rites, and a really great one about an author on a reality TV show.

Given its title, I expected these stories to focus on marriage, but they really focus on the wife. In many of the stories, she stands alone.

And that’s just fine, because the women in these stories are fascinating all on their own.

For a quick dose of something bracing and thoroughly enjoyable, oh I sure hope you’ll read this book.

(And then stop back by, so we can gossip about it. I’m aching to discuss it with someone.)

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… a quick and rewarding read, clever use of words, a fair amount of snark, creative stories, the occasional dark twist, variety in tone among stories

 

My fellow readers… what book are you aching to discuss with someone?

 

Comforting and genteel… the loveliest novel

(U. S. Department of State photograph in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

My Mrs. Brown by William Norwich

3 words: genteel, leisurely, comforting

Some books pull you in by their driving narrative. Others hold onto you because of their compelling characters. This is one of those.

For bedtime reading, I’ve rarely found a more suitable book. This story is soothing and gentle and filled with good, decent people.

Yet… there’s an intriguing plot that keeps a reader turning the pages, however leisurely.

Mrs. Brown, an unassuming salon cleaning lady, becomes taken with the idea of owning a couture suit. Actually, if we’re honest, she becomes obsessed. But not in a creepy, all-encompassing way. Instead, in a life-changing, affirming way.

It’s like she’s being reborn.

It’s a bit of a Cinderella story, but without the fanciful bits. And without the prince.

In her unlikely quest, Mrs. Brown encounters kind people who go out of their way to help her. And meanwhile, she’s also helping a young woman who becomes her friend — even though they’re living very different lives.

And there are some haters, too, because what’s a story without some conflict?

But the overall feeling is: comfort. A perfectly lovely book.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… dressmaking, novels about fashion, quiet lives, intergenerational friendships, Elinor Lipman, fulfillment of modest dreams

 

What’s the best bedtime reading you’ve encountered lately?