The first chapter book I read was Charlotte’s Web. I was six-years-old, and my mom bought me a hot fudge sundae from Frisch’s Big Boy as a reward. When I was a child and teenager, I was a fast reader, and it never took me long to get through each week’s stack of library books.
Today I call myself a slow reader. My “to read” pile is as high as it was fifteen years ago, but it takes me three times as long to get through it. The voice I hear when I read silently moves at the same speed as my speaking voice. It is often deliberate and slow.
- “Sarah’s Key,” by Tatiana de Rosnay
- “The Marriage Plot,” by Jeffrey Eugenides
- “Boomerang: Travels in the Third World,” by Michael Lewis
- “Thirteen Reasons Why,” by Jay Asher
- “Then We Came to the End,” by Joshua Ferris
- “Rules of Civility,” by Amor Towles
- “Maine,” by J. Courtney Sullivan
- “The Plain Janes,” by Cecil Castellucci
- “The Paris Wife,” by Paula McLain
- “State of Wonder,” by Ann Patchett
- “Divergent,” by Veronica Roth
- “Wench,” by Dolen Valdez-Perkins
- “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” by Jennifer Egan
- “Room,” by Emma Donoghue
- “One Day,” by David Nicholls
- “The Uncoupling,” by Meg Wolowitz.
- “Cutting for Stone,” Abraham Verghese. This book has been a hot item at the library for over a year, and I finally jumped in to the 600-page best seller. Verghese is a doctor who has two published non-fiction books, and “Cutting for Stone” is his first novel.
- “The Illumination,” by Kevin Brockmeier. I’d previously read Brockmeier’s luminous novel “The Brief History of the Dead” and short story, “The Year of Silence,” and really enjoy his style of writing. His worlds are familiar, yet slightly different. In “The Illumination,” pain is made visible. One afternoon, and from that day on, cuts glow. Cancer glows. Depression glows. The more severe the pain, the more glorious the light. It is a neat conceit. And while the parts are greater than the whole in this book (I wonder if it would have worked better as a short story, or a novella), I enjoyed it from beginning to end.
- “Memory Wall: Stories,” by Anthony Doerr. The stories in this collection deal thematically with memory. Memories affect the characters in different, often tragic, ways. The writing is beautiful, and the characters fully-developed. Doerr wrote that he liked short stories, as opposed to novels, because he didn’t have to create an entire world; he could just create one slice of it
- “The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett
- “Great House,” by Nicole Krauss. Krauss’ novels are populated by intelligent, reflective characters, and in her latest (short-listed for the National Book Award), four interconnected stories–each told as a monologue–allow us to better get to know and empathize with the various narrators. While the stories are only loosely connected in terms of plot, they are closely related in terms of theme: loss, regret, a search for meaning in one’s own life. This was not a beach read. I found myself reviewing pages I’d already read, double-checking names, hoping to find closer ties between each plot line than ultimately existed. But, like her previous book, “The History of Love,” this was a very satisfying novel.
- “Freedom,” by Jonathan Franzen. This book has been hyped–Oprah pick! glowing NYTimes Reviews!–and has even suffered some backlash from the hype. But the praise is well-deserved. It is a “male” and contemporary version of my favorite book, “The Poisonwood Bible,” by Barbara Kingsolver. Even though one of main characters in “Freedom” is a woman–and in some ways, she is the only one who directly speaks for herself–it is a decidedly male book. Whereas Kingsolver uses a mother and her daughters to comment on American imperialism (among other things), Franzen uses his characters, mainly men, to comment on American society today. What are our values? What does it mean to be “free”? How does my search for personal freedom affect your quest for it?
- “Mathilda Savitch,” by Victor Lodato – I checked this book out of the library after someone recommended online, and it didn’t disappoint. From a review I wrote for the library:The book is ostensibly a coming-of-age tale, as Mathilda struggles to understand herself and the world around her. She is an unreliable narrator yet brutally honest. “Mathilda Savitch” is Lodato’s first novel; that he is already a playwrite and poet is evident on each page of the book. Publishers Weekly wrote that “Mathilda’s observations read like a finely crafted epic poem”:
Everything started to spin, and then time went funny again. A few years passed or maybe they went backwards because the next thing I knew, Da was carrying me into the house and putting me in bed. Which is something he used to do a million years ago when I was a baby. When I was the angel of the world. When we were the luckiest people ever to live on the face of the Earth.
- “And Venus Is Blue: Stories,” by Mary Hood – This exquisite collection of stories by Southern writer Mary Hood is a stomach puncher. It contains seven short stories and, my favorite of the book, a novella. The novella, “And Venus Is Blue,” deals with the aftermath of suicide and begins with one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking analogies I’ve read:
Imagine a photograph album, with a bullet fired pointblank through it, every page with its scar. Murder attacks the future; suicide aims at the past.
- “Never Let Me Go,” by Kazuo Ishiguro – I got this book out of the library as soon as I saw the preview for a movie adaptation starring Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan. (Let’s face it — 9 times out of 10, the book is better than the movie!) It is about friendship, love, loss, and clones. Yes, clones. “Never Let Me Go” was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 2005.
- “Olive Kitteridge,” by Elizabeth Strout – This collection of 13 linked short stories won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. The most important and dynamic character throughout the book is Olive herself, a bossy, opinionated mother, wife, and teacher. She is not in every story, though her presence looms in most of them. By the end, we’ve gotten to see her — and the town in which she lives — from many different angles.