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Posts from the ‘The 5 List’ Category

BookSnob’s Best Reads 2010–Or Your Money Back Guaranteed

You’ve seen everyone’s list of the top 5 fiction, top 100 books, this and that. Even your local bookstore is likely getting in on the action telling you what to buy or read.

It’s been an amazing year for great books.
So I’ll keep this short and sweet. wait, there’s more


Nightstand Piles Up With New Fiction

I know I haven’t been posting as regularly.
I got some private email grief about this, to which I say:


Thanks for noticing.

You’re sweet blog people, you.

While my writing may be sporadic, the night stand is still filled. (Remember? I had them analyzed for god’s sake.)

But while my writing falling behind is one thing, I’m missing those comments from all of you.
I am used to more activity, people.

Well, the book lists usually bring you out in droves–so pile on this!

This month, it’s a bit hardback bound, so get out those Kindles and iPads to save some dough. There’s been some good stuff, new stuff released. So stay on top of it folks.

In no particular order and definitely aspirational….

1. Freedom, Jonathan Franzen (half way through, loving)

2. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender (on the fence here, anyone?)

3. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson (Hat tip: Peter S)

4. What is Left the Daughter, Howard Norman (author The Bird Artist, good review)

5. I Curse the River of Time, Per Patterson (author Out Stealing Horses, wonderful)

This is what is sitting (figuratively in some cases) on the nightstand.

And for the visually inclined, here for easy identification…

What are you reading BookSnobs?

Do Your Part, People. Summer is Coming…

Okay, confession.

I have read the first 50 pages of three books in the last few weeks and like an annoying fly, I can’t seem to land for long (Ahem, Tinkers). My reading selections, for the moment, have seemed to come unhinged. As I dabbled in my new titles, I realized I was deciding whether to read them, rather than actually reading them. It seemed silly.

I imagined that this may be because the new titles were dumbed down for summer and nothing was inspiring. (I have conversations with myself: Is Ann Patchett, Anna Quindlen and Annie Lamott really just the same person? Why do they have so many books out?) Or maybe it is the-every-day-is-a-party-or-major-event-in-the-4-weeks-before-school-ends. (good lord.)

But stay calm, people. I have a grip on the whole thing now. Kind of.

See, at the start of the year, I put together a plan. I poured over the January ‘best of’ lists, did my research, teed them up and let ‘er rip. I guess I was nervous about having a book blog and not choosing wisely, reading bad stuff and then falling behind in my posts and…Well, damn. Here I am.

The pre-selected list is not my usual M.O. I love a well organized to do list, but in my reading? That seems tedious. I’m prone to impulsiveness and the list could be shackles.

Well, I’m turning in my freedom. Because I am not afraid to say I’m adrift. And though I may loathe to plan, the list worked. I read some terrific stuff.

I have my first title.
But I need five more.

Can you share with me your must-read for summer? A review that caught your eye, a book you have always meant to read, a title you just devoured?

You may not hit with me a laundry list of titles.That’s toooooo easy. I am looking for near-perfection, unbelievable, single biggest, not to be missed book for this summer.

I’m making big plans.


For those of you who were curious about the first list…I have put them below in a handy best to not best list.

1. Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann.
Fantastic. A must read this year.

2. Too Much Happiness, Alice Munro.
Also a must read.

3. Raising Happiness, Christine Carter.
I blew off Bad Mother and saw Po Bronson speak on NurtureShock and swapped it instead for Carter’s parenting guide. I even led a book group on it at Motherese. I don’t do a lot of parenting books, but this one was actually a gem.

4. Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling.
I didn’t even post on this one, but the delight of my kids asking every morning: “How far did you get?” every morning was worth every page.

5. The Vagrants, by Yiyun Li.
Tough subject matter, but artfully written.

6. Brooklyn, Colm Toibin.
Despite the critics’ praise, it was pleasant but ordinary.

7. The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver.
Just not worth it.


Warning: Death, Love & Loss Ahead.

Let me hit this one straight on.
Both the books reviewed here are about death and grief.

And that’s not for everyone, I reckon.

It isn’t light-hearted and isn’t funny and likely might not fit with that glorious spring day you are experiencing—wherever you may be.

So I wanted to warn you.

Over the last two weeks, I have read two books that look at death, loss, and grief. That they were read together is a complete accident. That I loved both of them and they spoke to me was decidedly not.

The brutal truth in life is that people we love die.
And the people who are our friends love people who die.

And for some people, and even at certain moments, this is just too painful to examine in real life. But through a book, maybe we can see it and experience it more clearly.

For those of you that might have had recent experiences which deal with the complex emotions around losing someone you love (and please, I assure you, also for those who have not), let me recommend two absolutely excellent books. Their exploration of death–and what follows before and after–is masterfully delivered.

Joan Didion, one of the most prolific writers of our time, wrote a book called “The Year of Magical Thinking” in 2005. She won the National Book Award for her fantastic memoir that describes in harrowing detail losing her husband to cardiac arrest and watching her daughter battle a surprising illness that ultimately takes her life. These tragic events happen simultaneously.

Didion portrays in great detail the hospital, funeral and other iconic moments in death, but reports it in a way as if detached from the situation. But his single scarf on the back of the dining room chair, the notes on a notepad in his office—the symbols of their everyday life as a loving couples and as friends–depicts so clearly the loss and emptiness she feels at John’s passing. The magical thinking refers to the fact that if she wishes hard enough, he may return. She does not give away his shoes. He may need them.

In an era of reality TV and voyeurism, Didion opens up her personal grief in an analogous way. The amazing detail she shares allows you to feel like you are experiencing it with her. But also safely, intellectually, from a distance.

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.  We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death.  We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks.  We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock.  We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind.  We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss.  We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.  IN the version of grief we imagine, the model will be “healing.”  A certain forward movement will prevail.  The worst days will be the earliest days.  We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place.  When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to “get through it,” to rise to the occasion, exhibit the “strength” that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death.  We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day?  We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue.  We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion.  Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we  imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.”

While it is a sad and tragic situation, I want to communicate that it is not depressing. It is simply profound. It is credible, accessible and appreciated. It is a love story of sorts. It feels in some way like a gift. Preparing us for a road ahead which we don’t want to contemplate.

When a male friend insisted I read the “The Spare Room” by Helen Garner, I digested the slim 175-page novel in one glorious, childless plane ride. It consumed me, reading the story of a woman in her mid-60s (“Helen”) who tends to Nicola, an adult friend enduring alternative treatments to her late onset cancer. Unlike Didion’s book, in which death happens instantaneously and we follow her through an excavation that follows, Garner’s book takes us on an imminent glide path to death—the preparation for, the caring of, the letting go. It is a different view and a different kind of pain.

Slyly sniffling on the plane, I read about this dedicated friend who struggled with being selfless and selfish, who wanted to allow her crazy friend hope yet bludgeon her with a dose of reality. Only when I finished did I see the jacket cover describe Garner as ‘Australia’s Joan Didion’.

They share a knack for clean language, brutal honesty and strength with tenderness.

“The Spare Room” is positioned as a novel but the story seems so raw and so real, one can’t help but believe that it is simply a memoir where the facts have been changed. (Call me a rocket scientist, the main character is named Helen). This captivating story simply could not have been created in the imagination; the honesty about the many complex emotions you may feel in the process could not have been so realistically recounted without personal experience.

So, I admit it.
To me too, it seems such a strange post for a warm spring day.

The sun shines. It feels hopeful and warm. The kids play little league and the dog chews on a pinecone and the New York Times gets read and a spouse travels home safely.
It is calm and blissful.

Didion opens her book with these simple words:

“Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instance.
The ordinary instance.”

On the flip side of death and grief, there is gratitude.
Savor your warm, delicious spring day.

We have built “Top 5” list before. Are there any other powerful fiction and memoir you have read about death and loss? Share them here….


MWF Seeks 5 Books to Make Me Laugh Out Loud.

I am searching for a belly laugh.
Not a smirk, nope. Not a smile or giggle.
I want a deep snarky chuckle and a big guffaw.
Out loud.

A list of 5 books that gives you a belly laugh is not an easy task.
I definitely have some ideas…but I know this is a place you can help.

I have been suffering through my husband’s reading of Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You. (Suffering, as in: he is reading it and I am not. It’s pretty obvious he’s enjoying himself.)

After I have long turned out my nightstand light, he lets me know he is going to read ‘just a few more pages’.
And then proceeds to snort, laugh, exhale, chuckle.
And, frankly, it is really starting to bother.

He reads me lines like these:
“Both the size of her heels and the size of her breasts were inappropriate for both her age and the occasion.” The occasion by the way, is a family funeral. A non-practicing Jewish family comes together after their father’s death, only to learn that his dying wish is that they all sit shiva for seven days.

He keeps referring to it as the Arrested Development book. Which, admittedly, is an outrageously funny show to me.

When I go on vacation, Ken Follett never makes the trip. Perhaps as you think about your own spring break, you’ll think about books that make you laugh out loud.

Here’s my contribution:
Then We Came To The End
(Check out the very cool online marketing of this book)

For those of you who have been following Joshua Ferris, who has a new book out called the Unnamed, ATWCTTE was his debut novel. And, it was smartly chosen as a finalist for the National Book Award. It is dark, wildly inappropriate and deeply funny. It is “The Office” type view of the workplace, taking place at an unnamed advertising agency at Chicago.

What is funny, like what’s a good read, is intensely personal.
So this is risky.
(See? Funny.  Truly how risky is this???)

But throw your best pitch. Give me the biggest belly laugh book. Ever.

Collectively, we’ll laugh all the way from our lounge chairs.