I’ve been reading, but of course you know that if you know me at all. I’m always reading. It may be “worthwhile” reading that educates or improves me in some way or expands my mind—that covers quite a bit of territory there—or pure escapist fare. And I frequently engage in the guilty pleasures of the latter, even as I hear my mother's voice inquiring in a delicate, sincere, and non-judgmental manner, “Teresa, don’t you often find that they are not as well-written?” This from the woman who primarily read good literature, books that warranted the descriptor, Literature.
That said, here are some of the books I’ve read in the last few months, arranged alphabetically according to author’s last name:
We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother/Daughter Memoir, by Jennifer Coburn. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2014
Coburn is a young mother, convinced that she will die young, who wants her daughter to have special memories of their time spent together. In 2005 they go to Paris and London together, followed by Italy in 2008, Spain in 2011 and Amsterdam and Paris in 2013. Coburn writes of their adventures, some revolve around must-see tourist attractions that often involve climbing hundreds of steps to a high vantage point. As I continued to read the book I realized that Coburn is seeking to view her own life with more clarity. She writes as much about her relationship with her deceased, jazz musician father who popped into and out of her life with regularity as she does about the countries that she and her daughter visit. Coburn is adventurous and anxious at the same time, both as a traveler and as a parent. The trips start when her daughter is 8 and ends when she is 16. Humor, pathos and their experiences in Europe made this enjoyable reading for me and reminded me of my mother’s “Grand Adventure” when she and I took a tour of four European countries the year after my father died.
The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.
A National Book Award Winner, this memoir by Didion captures the year following the sudden death of her husband and the grave illness of their only child. Didion and her husband, author John Dunne, are members of the New York literati whose lives are different from most of her readers’ lives, but she writes with such clarity and sincerity that the book is accessible and memorable for all. As she seeks to understand these events in her life, she intersperses her personal saga with references to research she does in her search for answers. I read this following the death of my mother, yet I didn’t find it depressing.
Leaving Before the Rains Come, by Alexandra Fuller. New York: Penguin Press, 2015.
I love all of Fuller’s earlier books, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier, and Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness as she describes her fascinating and slightly dysfunctional family and their adventures in Africa. Fuller eventually married, had children and moved to Wyoming with her husband. She continues her memoir as she examines her marriage, which is disintegrating despite the regard and loyalty that she and her husband feel for each other. Part of the memoir takes place in Africa but most of the action and contemplation of taking action occurs in the U.S. While I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as her earlier ones, her descriptions and writing style continue to make her one of my favorite authors.
Star Island, by Carl Hiaasen. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2011.
Stormy Weather, by Carl Hiaasen. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.
What can you say about Carl Hiaasen ‘s novels? They aren’t like any others. They are always outrageous and often crude. The action takes place in Florida with recurring characters Skink, the former governor of Florida who has gone off the deep end and subsequently into the depths of Florida’s wild swamplands where he lives as a half-crazed environmentalist, dedicated to saving Florida from overbuilding and exploitation, and his old friend Jim Tile who comes to Skink’s assistance when he is spinning out of control. Skink eats road kill and helps people in trouble when their paths cross his in some highly outlandish way. Hiaasen definitely has developed a formula for his books but, for some reason, I find them humorous and entertaining.
Grace Against the Clock, by Julie Hyzy. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2014.
A friend passed this book along to me, so I read it but it is not one I would recommend. Hyzy writes several mystery series, the White House chef series and this Manor House Mystery series. This book is part of the latter. Grace Wheaton is curator and manager for the Manor House museum. The museum has agreed to host a charity gala to raise money to restore the town clock, their community’s equivalent of Big Ben, but the project gets off to a rocky start when one of the sponsors drops dead before his speech. There is no shortage of suspects, and Grace must move quickly to prevent additional deaths. Those who start reading at the beginning of the series may find this book more enjoyable than I did.
For every book I read, it seems ten more appear in my library that I want to read. I am swimming against the tide. So many books, so little time….