Book Shelf: October & November 2016

Not the books I've read the past two months but a few of my favorites nonetheless.

Not the books I've read the past two months but a few of my favorites nonetheless.

Apparently the arrival of fall and the shortening days means I'm doing more reading!  I've been slowly making my way through The Emperor of All Maladies and finally accepted that it was going to take me awhile and thus it was okay to mix a few other books in here and there.  Do you ever read more than one book at a time? I find I can when only one is fiction; otherwise, I start to mix characters and plots.  Here's a quick rundown of what I've read in the last two months:

Truly Madly Guilty - Liane Moriarty is one of my go-to authors for light-hearted chick-lit and this didn't disappoint.  The plot dragged on a bit while the reader waits to discover "what happened at the BBQ" (I'm not giving anything away), but otherwise this is classic, enjoyable Liane Moriarty.  If you haven't read her novels before, think of her as an Australian Jennifer Weiner or Jojo Moyes. I recommend this for your next day off, trip to the beach, or afternoon by a roaring fire.

Disclaimer - I recently joined a book club and this was our first book - I'd categorize it as mystery or suspense, which isn't a genre I read regularly.  The premise is an incident that occurred many years before and the slow piecing together of what happened chapter by chapter (each of which is told by a different character).  The author completely caught me off-guard with what actually happened and I did find the storyline compelling, but I didn't love this the way I have other recent mysteries/thrillers (all three of the Robert Galbraith novels, for example).  My big hang up was that I didn't love any of the characters or really even like them, so it was tough to feel invested in their outcome.

Navigating Life: Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me - This reads like a combination of memoir and advice written by the author to her daughter as she leaves for college.  It felt intimate and honest and thus sometimes uncomfortable but overall she wrote thoughtfully about topics we all deal with or to which we can relate.  This is a quick read but struggling to actually recommend this book.

The Still Point of the Turning World - I mentioned this book here and can't think of another book I've read recently that affected me so much.  Emily Rapp's writing is phenomenal - she intersperses her thoughts and memories with references to other writing that manage to accentuate and compliment what she is saying.  This is a memoir, but read more to me like a meditation on grief - Emily writes about the death of her son, Ronan, from Tay-Sachs.  If you've experienced loss of any kind in your life, I suspect this book will resonate.  

The Emperor of All Maladies - Subtitled "a biography of cancer," this traces cancer from its first appearance thousands of years ago to the present as doctors and scientists continue to seek a cure for the disease in its various forms.  I'm a voracious reader of medical literature and this was every bit as engrossing and fascinating as Atul Gawande's many books or And the Band Played On, which is one of my all-time favorite books (and very similar since And the Band Played On is essentially a biography of the AIDS epidemic).  I'm reading this on my Kindle so I had no idea how long it was when I started and it wasn't until I saw this on a friend's bookshelf that I realized why it was taking me so long to read.  That said, I'm enjoyed every page.

Leave Me - This is the first of Gayle Forman's novels that I've read and I was completely engrossed from the outset.  It's a fast read and I think it would suck anyone in who has young children and sometimes finds home life to be totally overwhelming.  You may not agree with the main character's actions, but you might relate just the slightest bit...

Today Will Be Different - I tore through Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette? in one day, but the quirkiness of her writing style didn't work as well this time around.  I felt like I was reading about essentially the same character as in her first novel, but with an even wackier background story and a number of plotlines that served only to distract.  This was still entertaining, but it felt too frenzied and jumbled for me to really enjoy (Meg Wolitzer disagrees with me, so perhaps I'm way off on this one!).  

The Wonder - From Emma Donoghue who also wrote Room (which was an intense page-turner), the story of a nurse who travels to the far reaches of Ireland for a mystery 2-week assignment.  What unfolds are the stories of both the patient and the nurse.  I found this riveting - I had an idea of what was really going on earlier than the truth was revealed by the author, but I was captivated by the story.  

The Mothers - This is my book club book for December and I'm really looking forward to discussing it with friends as I'm not sure how I ultimately felt about it.  The novel has been getting a lot of buzz and while I didn't love it, I was swept up in the story and very much wanted to know what happened to Nadia, the main character who's life is incredibly complicated beginning at the age of 17 when her Mom committed suicide and she became pregnant.  Parts of the story felt contrived and predictable, but overall I was glad I read this.

The Boys in the Boat - This might be the book most recommended to me in the last year and I can see why.  I'm not a rower and some of the descriptions of rowing technique get monotonous, but generally the quest of the University of Washington rowing team to win gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is fascinating.  I loved reading about what Seattle was like in that era, the details about rowing, and the interwoven information about Germany and the rise of Hitler, and how the Nazi atrocities were hidden during the Olympics.  

In December, I'm planning to tackle The Vegetarian (Han Kang) and Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance).  What do you recommend?  My last post about books prompted two readers to suggest reading books by Steve Hely (incidentally, he's a friend of my husband) so I have one of his books on my nightstand now, too.  Thanks for the recommendation!