I’ve read all of Reichl’s previous books so am looking forward to this really short one.
In Not Becoming My Mother, bestselling author Ruth Reichl embarks on a clear-eyed, openhearted investigation of her mother’s life, piecing together the journey of a woman she comes to realize she never really knew. Looking to her mother’s letters and diaries, Reichl confronts the painful transition her mother made from a hopeful young woman to an increasingly unhappy older one and realizes the tremendous sacrifices she made to make sure her daughter’s life would not be as disappointing as her own.
Growing up in Cleveland, Miriam Brudno dreamed of becoming a doctor, like her father. But when she announced this, her parents said, “You’re no beauty, and it’s too bad you’re such an intellectual. But if you become a doctor, no man will ever marry you.” Instead, at twenty, Miriam opened a bookstore, a profession everyone agreed was suitably ladylike. She corresponded with authors all over the world, including philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, political figures such as Max Eastman, and novelists such as Christopher Marlowe. It was the happiest time of her life.
Nearly thirty when she finally married, she fulfilled expectations, settled down, left her bookstore behind, and started a family. But conformity came at a tremendous cost. With labor-saving devices to aid in household chores, there was simply not enough to do to fill the days. Miriam-and most of her friends-were smart, educated women who were often bored, miserable, and silently rebellious.
On what would have been Miriam’s one hundredth birthday Reichl opens up her mother’s diaries for the first time and encounters a whole new woman. This is a person she had never known. In this intimate study Reichl comes to understand the lessons of rebellion, independence, and self-acceptance that her mother-though unable to guide herself-succeeded in teaching her daughter.
White is for Witching: A Novel – Helen Oyeyemi
I actually saw this during my last trip to the library. My eyes paused on its spine as I scanned the ‘new arrivals’ shelves, but I never did pick it up (perhaps because I’d not heard of it before?). It was only after I read Eva’s thoughts on the book that I realised what a mistake that was. It definitely sounds like a book I’d read. Luckily it was still on the shelves when I hit the library this week.
Miranda is at home—homesick, home sick …”
As a child, Miranda Silver developed pica, a rare eating disorder that causes its victims to consume nonedible substances. The death of her mother when Miranda is sixteen exacerbates her condition; nothing, however, satisfies a strange hunger passed down through the women in her family. And then there’s the family house in Dover, England, converted to a bed-and-breakfast by Miranda’s father. Dover has long been known for its hostility toward outsiders. But the Silver House manifests a more conscious malice toward strangers, dispatching those visitors it despises. Enraged by the constant stream of foreign staff and guests, the house finally unleashes its most destructive power.
With distinct originality and grace, and an extraordinary gift for making the fantastic believable, Helen Oyeyemi spins the politics of family and nation into a riveting and unforgettable mystery.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – Patrick Suskind
I’ve been wanting to get my hands on this for a while now. And was quite pleased that this library had a decent copy (the other branch – now closed for renovation – had a rather grimy one!)
In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift-an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille’s genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and frest-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the “ultimate perfume”-the scent of a beautiful young virgin. Told with dazzling narrative brillance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity
Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World – Claudia Roth Pierpont
Oh dear, I can’t remember where it was that I first heard of this book! It’s for the Women Unbound Challenge.
With a masterful ability to connect their social contexts to well-chosen and telling details of their personal lives, Claudia Roth Pierpont gives us portraits of twelve amazingly diverse and influential literary women of the twentieth century, women who remade themselves and the world through their art.
Gertrude Stein, Mae West, Margaret Mitchell, Eudora Welty, Ayn Rand, Doris Lessing, Anais Nin, Zora Neale Hurston, Marina Tsvetaeva, Hannah Arendt and Mary Mccarthy, and Olive Schreiner: Pierpont is clear-eyed in her examination of each member of this varied group, connectng her subjects firmly to the issues of sexual freedom, race, and politics that bound them to their times, even as she exposes the roots of their uniqueness.
The Anthologist is narrated by Paul Chowder — a once-in-a-while-published kind of poet who is writing the introduction to a new anthology of poetry. He’s having a hard time getting started because his career is floundering, his girlfriend Roz has recently left him, and he is thinking about the great poets throughout history who have suffered far worse and deserve to feel sorry for themselves. He has also promised to reveal many wonderful secrets and tips and tricks about poetry, and it looks like the introduction will be a little longer than he’d thought.
What unfolds is a wholly entertaining and beguiling love story about poetry: from Tennyson, Swinburne, and Yeats to the moderns (Roethke, Bogan, Merwin) to the staff of The New Yorker, what Paul reveals is astonishing and makes one realize how incredibly important poetry is to our lives. At the same time, Paul barely manages to realize all of this himself, and the result is a tenderly romantic, hilarious, and inspired novel.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery – Alan Bradley
I don’t usually read mystery/crime fiction, but everyone’s been blogging about this one, so I figured that I ought to see what all the fuss is about.
It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.
For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”
The Dream Hunters (Sandman, Book 11)
I was really looking for Fables and Reflections, the next book in the series, but that wasn’t on the shelf so I was about to walk away when this slim hardcover caught my eye. Dream Hunters is actually a novella, with some gorgeous illustrations.
From Amazon: Sandman fans should feel lucky that master fantasy writer Neil Gaiman discovered the mythical world of Japanese fables while researching his translation of Hayao Miyazaki’s film Princess Mononoke. At the same time, while preparing for the Sandman 10th anniversary, he met Yoshitaka Amano, his artist for the 11th Sandman book. Amano is the famed designer of the Final Fantasy game series. The product of Gaiman’s immersion in Japanese art, culture, and history, Sandman: Dream Hunters is a classic Japanese tale (adapted from “The Fox, the Monk, and the Mikado of All Night’s Dreaming”) that he has subtly morphed into his Sandman universe.
The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
One of the first questions people ask about The Things They Carried is this: Is it a novel, or a collection of short stories? The title page refers to the book simply as “a work of fiction,” defying the conscientious reader’s need to categorize this masterpiece. It is both: a collection of interrelated short pieces which ultimately reads with the dramatic force and tension of a novel. Yet each one of the twenty-two short pieces is written with such care, emotional content, and prosaic precision that it could stand on its own.
The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, the character Tim O’Brien who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. They battle the enemy (or maybe more the idea of the enemy), and occasionally each other. In their relationships we see their isolation and loneliness, their rage and fear. They miss their families, their girlfriends and buddies; they miss the lives they left back home. Yet they find sympathy and kindness for strangers (the old man who leads them unscathed through the mine field, the girl who grieves while she dances), and love for each other, because in Vietnam they are the only family they have. We hear the voices of the men and build images upon their dialogue. The way they tell stories about others, we hear them telling stories about themselves.
With the creative verve of the greatest fiction and the intimacy of a searing autobiography, The Things They Carried is a testament to the men who risked their lives in America’s most controversial war. It is also a mirror held up to the frailty of humanity. Ultimately The Things They Carried and its myriad protagonists call to order the courage, determination, and luck we all need to survive.
Washington Square – Henry James
My pick this week for a book older than me
When timid and plain Catherine Sloper acquires a dashing and determined suitor, her father, convinced that the young man is nothing more than a fortune-hunter, decides to put a stop to their romance. Torn between her desire to win her father’s love and approval and her passion for the first man who has ever declared his love for her, Catherine faces an agonising dilemma, and becomes all too aware of the restrictions that others seek to place on her freedom. James’ masterly novel deftly interweaves the public and private faces of nineteenth-century New York society; it is also a deeply moving study of innocence destroyed.
Oops forgot to add this earlier. I’ve started reading it and it’s quite interesting so far!
Award-winning New York Times-bestselling author Mark Kurlansky takes us back to the food and eating habits of a younger America: Before the national highway system brought the country closer together; before chain restaurants imposed uniformity and low quality; and before the Frigidaire meant frozen food in mass quantities, the nation’s food was seasonal, regional, and traditional. It helped form the distinct character, attitudes, and customs of those who ate it.
In the 1930s, with the country gripped by the Great Depression and millions of Americans struggling to get by, FDR created the Federal Writers’ Project under the New Deal as a make-work program for artists and authors. A number of writers, including Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, and Nelson Algren, were dispatched all across America to chronicle the eating habits, traditions, and struggles of local people. The project, called “America Eats,” was abandoned in the early 1940s because of the World War and never completed.
The Food of a Younger Land unearths this forgotten literary and historical treasure and brings it to exuberant life. Mark Kurlansky’s brilliant book captures these remarkable stories, and combined with authentic recipes, anecdotes, photos, and his own musings and analysis, evokes a bygone era when Americans had never heard of fast food and the grocery superstore was a thing of the future. Kurlansky serves as a guide to this hearty and poignant look at the country’s roots.
From New York automats to Georgia Coca-Cola parties, from Arkansas possum-eating clubs to Puget Sound salmon feasts, from Choctaw funerals to South Carolina barbecues, the WPA writers found Americans in their regional niches and eating an enormous diversity of meals. From Mississippi chittlins to Indiana persimmon puddings, Maine lobsters, and Montana beavertails, they recorded the curiosities, commonalities, and communities of American food.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?
What did you get from your library this week?
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