The five best books I read in 2012

My reading has been all over the map this year, from gossipy cooking memoirs to hefty literary novels to travel writing and to, well, fluffy, escapist beach reads. But looking back over the 50 or so books I finished, five stand out. Four of them are novels. Two are written by women. Two are slim and novella-esque. Four are recent releases, with 2011-2012 pub dates, but one is 40 years old. After writing up these reviews I realized 4 of the 5 feature the Western U.S. I’ve been drawn to books about the West since realizing my stay in California was more permanent than temporary – I suppose it’s my way of trying to understand what remains, still, a foreign place. Anyway, here they are:

bernadette  1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? A witty novel by TV script writer Maria Semple (Arrested Development, Mad About You, SNL, etc.) that combines emails, psychiatric documents, police reports and letters. I enjoyed the playful knocks against Seattle and its “Subaru parents.” It’s original, funny and refreshingly different.  Looking forward to seeing more from this writer.

2. The Sense of an Ending My bookclub chose this 2011 Booker Prize barneswinner back in the spring and I admit I was reluctant and expecting stuffiness and/or tedium from British author Julian Barnes. Well. I read this slim novel in one sitting and was blown away. It’s masterful. The writing, the storytelling, the subtle plot twists … it’s so carefully woven, you’ll want to read it more than once to absorb it all of its intricacies.

3. Wild: From Lost to Found on the wildPacific Crest Trail  This one is on everyone’s end-of-year ‘best of’ lists, and with good reason. Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of hiking solo on the Pacific Crest Trail while reeling from grief and life missteps manages to be readable, honest and a well-balanced emotional ride. The intimate voice made me feel I’d been told a long, riveting story by a close friend and after I finished I kept retelling bits of the book to everyone I knew. Like all of Strayed’s writing, it sticks with you.

traindreams4. Train Dreams Jesus’ Son and Tree of Smoke author Denis Johnson has written a lovely meditation on the nature of the West and its development. Johnson’s beautiful writing is crafted with a subtle hand. Train Dreams was nominated for the Pulitzer in 2012.

stegner5. Angle of Repose “It should not be denied… that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led West.” Wallace Stegner’s masterful novel of the American West is not new (it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972) but for some reason, despite numerous recommendations from friends and family, I kept putting off reading it. What a mistake! I now count it among my favorite novels and hope to read it again this year. It’s cinematic and evocative, written as a story within a story. When I read this I was reminded how modern lit has changed and changed our reading habits – there’s no sell-it-quick first chapter to reel you in. Stegner starts slow and expects the reader to follow. But writing like this deserves the slow build and careful pacing it’s given.


The Best Female Travel Writer You’ve Never Heard Of

I just finished reading a memoir of sorts by the late New Yorker writer Emily Hahn (1905-1997), entitled No Hurry to Get Home. The book is actually a collection of Hahn’s New Yorker articles which she strung together upon encouragement from others who thought she should write a memoir. She herself was less intrigued by the idea (she didn’t like to revisit old ground, according to an introduction in the book by her biographer, Ken Cuthbertson.)

Hahn wrote 54 books and more than 200 articles for the New Yorker over her 68-year association with the magazine. According to Cuthbertson’s intro to No Hurry to Get Home, Hahn had been making a living as a writer from 1929 onward, and by 1970 she was producing at least one book a year. Her books ranged from novels to short stories to biographies, histories, humor and travel writing. Strange then, that few people know her name. Strange too, because she was a woman who pushed the boundaries of the female experience during her time, and attracted attention for it. She describes many of these incidents in No Hurry to Get Home, including the period in which she and her sister wore knickers to school at a time when such dress for women caused an uproar, and how she decided to major in Mining Engineering at the University of Wisconsin because some male students and professors told her it couldn’t be done – no woman had ever majored in Mining Engineering before, and the general consensus (by the male faculty members and students) was that women simply didn’t have the head for it. Whether Hahn was actually interested in Mining Engineering was beside the point; the prevailing attitudes presented a challenge, which she accepted.

Later, her unconventional life led her to live, work and travel in Africa, England and China. She kept pet gibbons. She became addicted to opium for one year, until a hypnotist cured her. She lived in Japanese-occupied China, where she began an affair with a (married) British spy, Charles Boxer, and gave birth to a daughter at the start of World War II. Boxer was interned as a prisoner of war in Hong Kong and Hahn kept both he and their daughter alive with food acquired on the black market.

All of these experiences are chronicled in No Hurry to Get Home, which reads like a childhood memoir-turned travel adventure story. Roger Angell has described Hahn’s tone as “the offhand first-person casual.” Her laid-back response to some of the situations she gets into, for example blundering onto private mining land in the Belgian Congo and being faced with some angry gun-toting Belgians who accuse her of spying, or dodging bombs in China while being seemingly unaware of the danger or urgency of the imminent Japanese takeover add suspense to already-exciting adventures. Her sense of humor, though dry and offhand, is always present.

Some might find Hahn’s writing’s old-fashioned in that these pieces lack some of the emotion and the share-every-detail mentality of modern memoirs. Hahn is not out to detail her emotional responses to her challenges, however, but the experiences themselves, and yet she conveys feeling all the same. She describes her failed attempt at suicide matter-of-factly, with that same casual tone, which perhaps makes the writing more impactful. Only in the last piece in the book does she hint at the lasting traumatic effects the war had on her and her new family, and even that she achieves without becoming maudlin or self-pitying.

It was refreshing to read this book, a memoir that covers sexism, depression, addiction, war and other challenges but never goes over the top to describe every single disturbing event. It made me want to read more by Hahn, and more memoir – a genre I have been turned off from of late, after being overwhelmed by too many books that were far too hard to get through due to their heavy-handedness.


Emily Hahn’s obituary in the New York Times

Ken Cuthbertson’s biography of Hahn

A incomplete listing of Emily Hahn’s many books


In which I make a brief appearance to talk about books and writing and the hectic pace of modern life.

Ahem. Hello? Hello. Is this thing on?

Apparently it has been two months since I last posted here. Yikes. Hello, dear patient reader.

The summary version is this:

– In early October, I wrapped up a six-month editing gig at the newspaper where I have been employed on and off for years. I vastly underestimated the impact working there part-time would have on my writing and parenting, as well as, let’s face it, on how clean the house is and the likelihood we would all be eating frozen pizza for dinner. So the past months have been more hectic and unpredictable than months already are with an energetic toddler in the house. I’m in catch-up mode now.

– Somehow, during the past six months, I have revised, finished or polished 3 short stories and two sections of two different novels. I am enrolled in a short story workshop right now, which has been instrumental in pushing me to get a move on with two of those short stories. The workshop has been reminding me how much I like to be involved in workshops, and how I would like to teach one someday soon. And how much I really need to get a writing group going.

– My brother- and sister-in-law and their twin girls recently moved to Australia, and as a result I picked up Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country. I had forgotten how much I enjoy Bryson’s writing, his humor, and his masterful way of meshing information with experience. So I picked up A Walk in the Woods, which I also liked (though I didn’t think it was as strong a book as Sunburned Country, which is interesting, since Walk appears on numerous lists of top 100 nonfiction books, but I suppose that has more to do with some kind of American self-centered-ness. Ahem.) Anyway, the point is, Bryson has inspired me to think about writing more nonfiction, which as you may recall, was the focus of my MFA degree, and for a long time, the only genre I wrote in. So, I’ve been reading, for research, and making some notes on a potential book idea which I am quite excited about. If I could grab enough uninterrupted time to get going on it in earnest, that would be, well, great, but something that is unlikely to happen until after the New Year.*

-I have been trying to put my writing before social media and blogging, which I suppose is the biggest reason why I haven’t been posting here. I am easily distracted, especially, I find, by Twitter. So I’ve been trying to lay low(er) and devote what little time I have for writing-related tasks to actual writing. (What a crazy idea!) This doesn’t mean I’m off social media, or that I will stop blogging, but if I disappear for a while, that is one reason** why.

-I’m currently wading through David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas which is good, overwhelming, hard, six books in one, and brilliant, if a tiny bit gimmicky.

-Two days ago, I returned from a weekend in Denver, where it was beautiful and 80 degrees and the trees were in full fall colors. Today Denver is expected to get a foot of snow.

So there you have it. Hello again.


*See also, upcoming travel, visitors, holidays, spouse business trips, toddler tantrums, toddler birthdays, etc. Whew.
**For other reasons, see above.

A Korean deli and the Paris Review

I just finished reading one of the more enjoyable memoirs I’ve come across in a while, Ben Ryder Howe’s My Korean Deli: Risking It All For A Convenience Store. 

What’s not obvious from the title of this book is that Howe was, at the time in which this book is set, a senior editor at The Paris Review. And thus while the memoir is ostensibly about the author,  his Korean wife and mother-in-law buying and running a Brooklyn deli, there’s a subplot about the final years of the Review under its venerable editor, George Plimpton.

Howe manages to weave his life at the Review, the trials of running a small business in New York, and, perhaps most compellingly, the tangle of emotion and obligation in his wife’s family’s life vs. his extremely Puritan New England upbringing. He’s a descendant of  those who came over on the Mayflower (and his family never left Plymouth, MA) and as the book progresses he finds himself learning to understand and support his immigrant mother-in-law, and to give in to his wife’s sense of family duty. It’s an interesting perspective, and as a reader you can sense the anxiety it caused him. George Plimpton and the struggling Paris Review are another source of anxiety and stress, and yet Howe has written a humorous, loving memoir that displays both his discomfort with and respect for the ways Plimpton and his mother-in-law do things.

The descriptions of the inner workings of The Paris Review are intriguing, sometimes funny. (They would, I suspect, be funnier if I wasn’t submitting my own work to lit magazines.) For example:

One of the quintessential Paris Review experiences is opening a cupboard to look for a coffee mug and having an avalanche of short fiction land on top of you. You open a closet meant for coats and there’s a stack of cardboard boxes containing unsolicited manuscripts. You sit down at your desk and stretch out your legs, and bump—there’s a whole milk crate of human creativity. There’s slush on the shelves in piles reaching up to the ceiling, slush in the basement in ice coolers and picnic baskets, slush under the toilet, slush over the sink … There’s so much slush it makes you wonder if everyone in the country, instead of watching reality TV and playing video games, is writing short stories.

The magazine lacked any employees handling the business aspects — marketing and permissions, for example, which led to mistakes by and complications for its editors, including Howe. And Plimpton’s failing health presents challenges that no one at the magazine is prepared to handle. Meanwhile Howe and his wife are living with his in-laws on Staten Island, working night shifts at the financially teetering deli and watching his mother-in-law work harder than he ever imagined possible. He must learn about her past and understand why she is the way she is. She’s a force in the book, a character that Howe presents perhaps more completely than he does his wife, a corporate attorney who works shifts in the deli after a long day in her Manhattan office. The family learns to manage employees, how to handle deliverymen who try to extort them, and they battle undercover officers trying to catch them in the act of selling cigarettes to minors. Of course, as in any convenience store, there’s also the added concerns about crime, small margins, and difficult customers. You can’t help but want to know how it turns out.

Great novels about work

This week I returned to the business newspaper where I’ve worked on and off for the past ten years. For the next six months I’ll be filling in there a couple of days a week for an editor who is on maternity leave. Aside from the fact that I’ve now thrown myself another ball into the air to juggle, this change, along with a lot of pondering of my novel-in-progress, got me thinking about novels about — you guessed it — work. (The novel-in-progress contains quite a bit of its characters’ working lives. Work is itself a character.)

And so I thought I’d put together a listing of novels about work. I tend to look for “model books” when I’m writing, to see how other authors have tackled certain topics/themes, and thus I love to see and collect lists of books that have themes in common. There’s more fiction about the workplace than you might think. After all, everyone who’s had to make it through a slow Friday afternoon on the job knows that work can be tedious, and how does one go about making a novel out of that?

-It happens that a couple of books have been released recently that focus on the workplace: David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel The Pale King (arguably also about tedium) and an anthology edited by author Richard Ford Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar: Stories of Work.

-Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End is perhaps my favorite novel centered on work, and especially on office life. He captured the strange time of the dot-com boom and bust of the early 2000s in writing about employees of an ad agency.

-Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates. What a fabulous example of the great American novel! It’s Mad Men, before there was “Mad Men.” And it’s all here: the house in the suburbs, the commute to the city, the disconnect between working life and home life. Working life in the ’50s.

-You might not think of it this way, but The Great Gatsby has a work theme. (Plus I just love the novel, and will bring it up whenever possible.) TGG takes place at a particular time in economic history, much in the way Ferris’ novel does, in which young people are arriving to New York in droves to work for banks. I can’t help but include this lovely graph, in which Nick is working late in his office in Manhattan:

I wanted to get out and walk eastward toward the park through the soft twilight, but each time I tried to go I became entangled in some wild, strident argument which pulled me back, as if with ropes, into my chair. Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.

Other places to find work in fiction: Richard Ford’s Sportswriter trilogy; John Cheever’s stories (at the very least, the commute is prominent, as is the disconnect between work and home life, much as in Yates’ novel. Cutting for Stone is one of the finer novels I’ve read involving the medical profession; Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists examines the life of expat journalists; Allegra Goodman’s Cookbook Collector tackles both life at a pre-9/11 dot-com and work at a Berkeley antiquarian bookstore. Melissa Bank’s Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing includes quite a bit on starting out in publishing. Of course there are the more popular novels: The Devil Wears Prada, The Firm, Vertical Run, etc., etc.

And so, back to the grind. Happy reading!


The Independent’s “In search of novels about the working life” takes a look at why there aren’t more novels about work (“Work’s relative absence from the novel is all the odder when you consider its absolute ubiquity. Not only is it a universal leveller, it is also one of the great venues for social interaction.”) and considers some of the great books involving the workplace, including Ferris’ book, Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, and other classics, like The Jungle.

Six great work/business novels (The Daily Beast) Includes Yates’ novel and Joseph Heller’s follow-up to Catch-22.

Ian McEwan’s Five Favorite Novels About Work (Salon) Obviously, we can’t leave out Updike.

An impressive compendium from Library Booklists (a great resource, BTW) Financial, Work, Business, and Math Fiction

Richard Ford on his new anthology, on public radio’s Marketplace

NY Times’ review of DFW’s The Pale King

six degrees of separation

Speaking of reading, I’ve been immersed in two books over the past couple of weeks that I wanted to mention here. Both have ties to my MFA alma mater Emerson College. I’ll admit, I might not have been aware of them had I not been keeping an eye out for mentions of Emerson, and that’s why I wanted to bring them up here — they are worth noting.

The first, Day for Night, is by Frederick Reiken. I had Reiken for a lit class on short stories and it was one of the best classes I took in my MFA days, largely because he geared the class toward writers, and thus when we read a short story we spent a lot of time considering how it was written and consequently the class was as much a craft class as a lit class. Reiken has some terrific and very understandable theories about craft (you may have seen some of his essays in The Writers Chronicle). Anyway, Reiken’s command of craft is evident in his latest novel. It’s a kind of wild ride, this novel, with a “six degrees of separation” kind of premise that brings the reader from Florida to Utah to San Francisco to Israel and traverses time and, maybe, reality. There’s a bit of the fantastical here, and yet there’s also some historical reality — The Holocaust — that keeps Day for Night grounded. At first I wanted to classify this one as a collection of linked stories, but about a third of the way through the book it became clear that this is very much a novel, albeit with many different narrators. They are all telling the same story, in a way, though with varying degrees of knowledge of the big picture. Each offers a piece of the puzzle and Reiken is able to bring what seems like many disparate stories together in a way that I found pretty satisfying.

The second book is a collection of short stories by a recent Emerson grad … wow, wow, Laura van den Berg‘s first book, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us is fantastic. I’m a little late to the party –this collection has been lauded all over the place since it came out in late 2009. The book was a 2009 holiday selection for the Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” Program, shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor Award, and long-listed for The Story Prize. There’s a quiet sorrow in all of these stories, which have in common themes of loss and loneliness, despite their disparate geographic settings. (Van den Berg deftly writes about the Congo, Boston, Madagascar, and New York City, among other locales.) There’s a strangeness here to that contributes to the desolation (a Bigfoot impersonator, a store that sells Balinese masks, a search for the Loch Ness monster, a little brother who has found a tunnel to the other side of the world…) but doesn’t ever feel forced or, well, strange. Such is van den Berg’s talent.

I am eagerly awaiting her next book.

A year of reading

I read about 65 books in 2010, which is a recent record for me. Even during years involving the most-reading intensive semesters of grad school I think I only hit about 50ish books — a book per week. And in recent, busy years in which I spent far too much time on the Internet instead of with my nose in a book, my yearly reading totals plummeted to about 30. There were costs to hitting 65 books. The biggest was that I stopped reading the New Yorker regularly, for the first time in about a decade. I actually unsubscribed, since at any one time there might be (and still are) about 12 magazines laying around that I hadn’t gotten to (and might never?). I miss it, but I enjoyed the fact that I got through so many more books instead. So now I’m well-read, but under-informed. Hrm. We’ll see how long my New Yorker hiatus lasts. There must be a way to balance books and a weighty weekly magazine.

Anyway, so what did I read in 2010? I’ll spare you the entire list, but here are some highlights:

Best books I read in 2010:

The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver: This may be the best book Kingsolver has written yet. Trotsky! Diego Rivera! Frida Kahlo! As you’d expect from her, it’s precisely researched and beautifully written — to the point where I often found myself reading a sentence and then stopping in wonder to read it again and again. How does she do that?

The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen: I count this novel, along with The Great Gatsby and Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, as three stunning examples of “the great American novel.” It’s hard work, this novel, and it’s pretty depressing at times, but worth the effort.

, by Colm Toibin:
I picked this one up at the library on a whim, knowing nothing about it or the author, and ended up devouring it in a weekend. I find myself thinking back to it often. Toibin managed to create a vivid portrait of Brooklyn in the 50s, of Ireland in the 50s, and of a young woman who leaves one for the other.

This Boy’s Life, by Tobias Wolfe: No doubt this book makes the best-of lists of 20th century memoirs. Wolfe handles a troubled childhood with care; this material could have easily veered toward overwrought or angry. It doesn’t, and Wolfe’s talent for subtle humor in unexpected moments makes this memoir all the more powerful.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte: Shocking but true: I had never read this novel before. It absolutely blew me away. It’s one of only a few novels I’ve ever read that when I finished I wanted immediately to begin again.


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
by Aimee Bender:
A review I read of this novel described it as “subtle surrealism,” which I suppose is an apt description. Whatever you want to call it, I loved the quiet strangeness of this novel, and the rainy-day mood it evoked.

An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard: What can I say? It’s Annie Dillard, and it’s delightful.



Some other books I read in 2010 that I highly recommend:
Delicate Edible Birds and other stories,
by Lauren Groff
Old School, by Tobias Wolfe
Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby
Book of Clouds, by Chloe Aridjis
Miles From Nowhere, by Nami Mun
Ron Carlson Writes a Story, by Ron Carlson

Michael Cunningham on writing

I have been making my way through Novel Ideas: Contemporary Authors Share Their Thoughts on the Creative Process, by Barbara Shoup and Margaret-Love Denman. The book is one-third writing text and two-thirds author interviews. It’s a useful book, if only for the interviews. (I haven’t read all of the fiction writing how-to section yet – what I did read I felt would be good for an intro course on novel writing. It’s drier and less inspirational than other writing how-to books I’ve encountered, yet provides the basics.)

I love reading author interviews and getting glimpses of how writers’ minds work, how they worked on their books, and learning about mistakes they made. Aside from (hopefully) learning a little bit from their experience, it’s nice to be reminded that authors are human, that they struggled with their writing as much as I do. If the interview is with an author whose work I have not read, I am sometimes inspired to go out and pick up their work. Such is the case with an interview with Michael Cunningham that’s in this collection. I am probably the only member of a bookclub who hasn’t read The Hours — and after reading this conversation with him, I’ve put it at the top of my reading list for the new year. I’m intrigued by the fractured narratives he seems to be drawn to – in that book and in some of his others. (I may or may not be writing such a novel myself. I can’t tell yet.) Some interesting excerpts from the interview:

On developing characters:
“One of the things I’m always aware of … is the fact that any character in any novel I write, no how minor, is visiting this novel from a novel of his or her own.” Every character is part of some “really gripping novel” that’s not written yet, Cunningham says, and it’s important to keep that in mind as that character develops in the novel at hand.

On MFA programs:
“I think MFA programs, though they can do harm as well as good, are great. It’s not like there’s anything else out there for young writers. … MFA programs are sanctuaries, places where [writing is] taken properly seriously.” Cunningham talks about the camaraderie he felt at Iowa — though he suggests that Iowa is certainly not the reason for his success and that it wasn’t always a positive experience.

On writing novels

I think one of the reasons this interview resonated with me so much, more so than the others in this book, is that Cunningham’s responses felt honest and open. (One of the authors interviewed in this collection seemed to be trying to create the image that he never hits stumbling blocks while writing his books, for example.) Of writing The Hours Cunningham said, “Of the books I’ve written, it was the one that felt most often and obdurately like it was just nothing, like it wasn’t going anywhere. It was just pieces, and they weren’t going to add up.”

I just appreciate knowing that, in the way that I appreciate knowing the story behind Junot Diaz’s Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. We all have days in which our writing seems stuck or awful, and days in which we wonder if this is the right career for us, and it’s nice to be reminded that we are not alone in that.

Cunningham wrapped up the interview with this:

“I think we spend our lives learning how to write novels, and die still learning. A writer’s body of work is really a chronicle of his or her long attempt to learn how to write, by writing.”

Friday things.

Oh hai! I’m still here, believe it or not. I’ve been … well, this month has been … nonexistent.

What I mean is that I was just trying to get back into a writing routine after two weeks of vacation on the East Coast when — wham! I caught a nasty virus that lasted for three weeks. Three! Mr. Fog City Writer caught it too, and we spent two weeks moaning about our respective fevers, coughs, and sinus congestion while trying to maintain some energy to entertain the boy (who of course had the virus for only three days) and the dog. On the third week, my dad arrived for a weeklong visit. I got sick again, this time with a more typical cold, and, well. Here we are. All that’s finally over and done with, but just about nothing else is.

I’ve written almost nothing since the end of July, with the exception of the two-part revision post here. I’ve not been successful in completing revisions on a story that is oh-so-close to being done. I’m still coughing. I can’t summon the enthusiasm I had for writing the novel I conceived of over the summer. I can’t seem to remember what the novel was going to be about, even after I look at my notes.

On the plus side, I have read quite a few books in the past two months, most notably:

-Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. I had pretty much sworn off Hornby after reading two novels that failed to live up to High Fidelity and About a Boy. In Juliet, Naked, Hornby’s talent for dry humor is back and his ability to write about both music and the intricacies of personal relationships shines. I’m a renewed Hornby fan.

This Boy’s Life, by Tobias Wolff. This one has been on my list for a long time. I read Wolff’s novel Old School earlier in the summer and fell for the writing, the intelligence (the vocabulary!), and Wolff’s subtle sense of humor. This Boy’s Life contains the same great writing as Old School — but my respect for Wolff grew exponentially reading it, because This Boy’s Life is a memoir. It could have easily been overdone, or maudlin, or full of bitterness, but Wolff managed to write a subtle portrait of a difficult childhood in the 1950s that is infused with humor and honesty. Really impressive.

Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín. This is my second attempt at reading Tóibín’s work – I tried The Master a couple of years ago but couldn’t get into it. I might try it again now that I know what the payoff will be: Tóibín is a masterful novelist. Brooklyn was amazingly detailed and well-crafted. I thought about it constantly when I wasn’t reading it, and though I finished it yesterday I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It was one of those books that makes me not want to pick up another book for a while; what follows will not be as satisfying.

June writing links: book review ninja edition

It’s summer, apparently. Could have fooled me! (In San Francisco it’s sometimes hard to tell. Hello, 50 degrees, fog, and gusty winds!) But no matter what your version of summer feels like, summer is for reading. As in, kick back in a lounge chair under an umbrella, listen to the ocean and sip tropical drinks while devouring some extremely engaging literature. (Or, you know, bundle up in a fleece and hide in the one wind-protected corner of your deck hoping to glimpse some blue sky behind all that rushing white stuff. Or, perhaps, head out to the ocean and have the wind and sand give you that microdermabrasion treatment you’ve been thinking about.)

Anyhow, June’s links are all about books:

First up, a nice little reminiscence of an alley full of used bookstores in Bangladesh.

Next, memoirs of illness –there are a lot out there, this M.D. writes, and they’re not all necessarily good, in the conventional literature sort of way. But: “there is no story out there that is not a great story.”

I’ve always wanted to be a ninja. Probably “book review ninja” is as close as I’m going to get.

A excellent, bookish cause.

Jonathan Franzen, whose writing I am in awe of, this month published “Rereading ‘The Man Who Loved Children’” in the NY Times. Whether or not you care about The Man Who Loved Children, the writing in this piece is stellar. It called to mind Franzen’s essay “How to Be Alone,” which is one of my favorites.

“She didn’t care if none of it seemed possible. It wasn’t possible, but it was true.” A couple of summer reading possibilities. I’m loving the term “subtle surrealists.”