Tuesday, November 19, 2019
I picked up this book because I adored To Kill a Mockingbird when I read it in high school. A decade and a half later, with an English literature degree under my belt, I can see Lee's talent as well as the ways she protected herself as a white woman. Casey Cep does a masterful job of presenting Lee as a woman who did the safe thing--while she may have believed that racism and discrimination were wrong, she never publicly condemned them.
While Lee is carefully rendered on the page, readers hoping to read 300 pages about her may be disappointed. She shows up only briefly until the last third of the book. The first two sections focus on the man suspected of murdering his family members, and the white lawyer who defended both the reverend and the man who killed him.
Cep is a truly excellent writer. The best nonfiction teaches you and shows you connections you didn't expect; Furious Hours accomplishes this in every chapter. This also may be one of the few books that actually caused me to laugh out loud, and I was surprised to find that I was chuckling about the history of life insurance.
This is a book about individual people--the small town minister who wanted money even at the expense of his family's lives, the lawyer who fought for equality before Alabama was ready for it, and the writer who fell victim to the power of alcohol and fear of failure. But Furious Hours is also a larger look at the cost of success, the victories and corruption of Southern politics, and the power of telling a story.
Wednesday, September 18, 2019
The book starts with a pair of friends hoping to take advantage of a few marks at a fancy hotel, only to discover that the party they've crashed is attended only by ghosts. In The Bad Graft and Bog Girl, characters spend time in nature as a woman pricks her finger on a Joshua tree and a young man falls in love with the body of a woman pulled from the bog. It's not the only pairing, as men consider their purposes in The Tornado Auction and Black Corfu (although careers raising tornadoes and preventing the undead from rising are as different as can be). The final two stories may have been my favorite, though. In The Gondoliers, sisters traverse the dangerous waters of a post-apocalyptic Florida by singing and in Orange World, a new mother encounters a devil who preys on her fears and demands to be fed.
The stories are often funny and always dropping you into strange, new worlds. Russell is a literary wizard who imagines scenarios that could never exist in any other writer's head. Somehow in the midst of ghosts, zombies, and devils, she makes us think about the most vulnerable moments of our humanity and how we make decisions for ourselves and the people we love. I can't wait to see what strange and beautiful places Russell will take us next.
Orange World and Other Stories
By Karen Russell
Knopf Publishing Group May 2019
From the library
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Save Me the Plums is the real-life dishy look inside the day-to-day operations of a magazine that you've always wanted. As you read, you feel like you're tasting a cake in the magazine's kitchen or attending a party with the hottest celebrity chefs. She easily throws off references to Alice Waters and James Beard, but it doesn't come across as braggy; Reichl is just showing you her world from her unconventional childhood to making dinner with her son.
Reichl is a foodie who understands there is more to it than creating a beautiful and delicious plate. She believes that food writing should bring to light the damage we do to our planet in the quest for certain foods and the reality that eating well is not possible for everyone. When she ran Gourmet, she insisted that the magazine feature writing that would inspire and challenge people, instead of continuing to be an old-fashioned magazine for the wealthy. Save Me the Plums is an loving tribute to the heyday of magazine publishing, when fascinating and provocative articles about food were the topics of conversation everywhere.
I can't believe I waited so long to read something by Ruth Reichl. Her love for food is evident on every page, and she has a true gift for telling a great story. I will be happily reading through her backlist this summer.
Save Me the Plums
My Gourmet Memoir
By Ruth Reichl
Random House April 2019
Read via Netgalley
Thursday, May 16, 2019
We Will Feast is not prescriptive; Kendall visits a variety of congregations and cautions that this kind of church does not work for everyone. But she does wonder how we bring people into church who feel uncomfortable with traditional practices. "For those who have grown up in a church, the code and language of that specific setting are learned unconsciously. But for those who have not developed such a training, stepping into a community can be awkward or even painful. Holding a worship service over a simple meal subverts all expectations of behavior...It can challenge a church to use the Eucharist not only as a sign of God's abundance but also as a practice that uses God's abundance to bring together men and women from a variety of social backgrounds."
Every two months or so, I invite the women of my congregation to come to my house for dinner. We answer some discussion questions, but mostly we enjoy enchiladas or lasagna together. I've realized that people are much more likely to open up about their lives over a meal. It's easier to really discuss something when we know that there is time to take a sip of coffee or break off a piece of bread and consider our answers. Coming around a communion table or a table in a church basement gives us the opportunity to really see and hear each other in a way we can't when we say that we're doing fine while running out the door.
The Bible tells us not just to come together once a week to have a service and then go home. It tells us to live together, and that includes sitting around a table to eat pizza on a Friday night or share a crockpot of soup after we take Communion together. We Will Feast is crucial reading for those of us who attend church. It asks us to think about how we welcome people and how we can include the lonely, the questioning, and people who don't look or think like us in our feasting.
We Will Feast
Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God
By Kendall Vanderslice
Eerdmans May 2019
Received book as part of launch team
Tuesday, April 30, 2019
If you read and enjoyed Lyndsay Faye's book Jane Steele, you already know that she has an uncanny ability to tell a dark story that is also ridiculously fun. She makes the same magic happen in The Paragon Hotel. This is a book about people who had no power and no rights in the 1920s--women, people of color, and gay and transexual people. While modern Oregon is seen as somewhat of a liberal mecca, it was a difficult place in the early twentieth century. In fact, is is the only state that banned black people from living there and it had one of the highest concentrations of Klan members in the United States. The Paragon is based on a real hotel in Portland, which was the only place for people of color to safely stay during their time in the city.
As a reader, you are going to be worried about these characters on almost every page. But you are also going to embark on a colorful, joyous adventure with larger-than-life characters. And at certain moments, it does feel like too much. Surely not every single person can be so charming, so fascinating, and have such an unexpected backstory. As you read along, it feels almost as if you are watching a movie because the stakes are always so high and the characters are always bright and compelling. Lyndsay Faye has written another story you won't want to put down.
The Paragon Hotel
By Lyndsay Faye
G.P. Putnam's Sons January 2019
From the library
Friday, April 26, 2019
I am in the minority on this one. Many readers loved this very unique story, but I found it incredibly frustrating. Because Aiden bounces around from one person to the next, it is difficult to remember who is who and next to impossible to really care about any of the characters. In the last bit of the book, the reason for Aiden being there is revealed, along with the framework that holds him on the estate and sends him into the different people. While that was the most interesting part of the story for me, it is quickly case aside in favor of getting back on the merry-go-round of discovering who committed the murder.
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
By Stuart Turton
Tantor Media September 2018
Narrated by James Cameron Stewart
I have to confess I chose this book specifically because Laura Benanti was the narrator. She is a Tony-award winning actress who most of you know as the actress who plays Melania Trump on the Colbert Show, but I will always remember as the actress who shone brighter than even the great Patti Lupone in Gypsy. When she is narrating as Karolina, you can hear shades of her work on the First Lady. Benanti takes a somewhat predictable novel about the extravagances of the wealthy and choosing between your children and your work and elevates it to a fun listening experience.
When Life Gives You Lululemons
The Devil Wears Prada #3
By Lauren Weisberger
Narrated by Laura Benanti
10 hours, 14 minutes
Tuesday, April 23, 2019
It is almost difficult to write about The Far Field, because it encompasses so many things. It's a story about the shift from naive childhood to adulthood, about grief and finding the edges of your knowledge of someone you loved and lost. It's a story about privilege and poverty and politics, and realizing that you know so little about the world around you. In the opening pages, Shalini tells readers that "I am thirty years old and that is nothing." After that, the book moves in parallel timelines, as she remembers growing up with her unpredictable, vibrant, sometimes cruel mother, and tries to learn more about her mother and herself in the present.
The book is beautifully written. It's hard to believe that this novel is Madhuri Vijay's debut, because she reveals human emotion and failing so well, while simultaneously making you feel that you are really walking narrow mountain pathways or wandering through the streets of Bangalore. The Far Field is an intimate and sprawling story at the same time, as Shalini comes to terms with the loss of her mother and learns what her place is in a tumultuous, uncertain world.
The Far Field
By Madhuri Vijay
Grove Press January 2019
From the library