Well, hello strangers. How have you all been? Enjoying good reads, I hope. It’s the holidays. The end of the year already! When did I last contribute about books? I had to look… not since this summer. Shame! I endeavor to do better in 2023. In fact, I’m thinking about a New Year’s Resolution… an attempt to write a little every day. Creatively. Not just emails and work-stuff. That may or may not translate into more blogging, but it certainly can’t translate into less. Want to join me in that resolution? We can check in and tell each other how we’re doing. I’ll let you sit on that offer while you read about a few noteworthy books I read in 2022.
My favorite book of the year was The Candy House by Jennifer Egan. Of course it was. It was everyone’s favorite. It features characters from Egan’s 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner, A Visit from the Goon Squad mostly in their future versions, but also in pre-Goon Squad versions, and from different characters’ perspectives. The characters pop in and out of each other’s lives creating butterfly effects that play out in each of their destinies. In The Candy House, Bix Boutan has developed “Own Your Unconscious,” technology that uses every recording, video, written post, tweet, photo, email, Instagram, tik tok etc.…. available to recreate memories in a real and physical form. Consequently, for better or worse, memories are available to anyone who pays for access. Whereas The Goon Squad was time – you cannot escape time; The Candy House is the lure of social media – we cannot resist it. We nibble and nibble until, like Hansel and Gretel, we, ourselves, are eaten alive by an evil witch that lives inside it. True to Egan’s style, each chapter is ingeniously written in a singly unique form and style to the narrator. It’s inventive, clever, funny, complicated, and riveting. After reading it I tuned in to a live zoom interview with Egan hosted by the new Yorker Magazine. I’m usually adverse to listening to anyone talk about their “process”, but I could listen to Egan talk about her writing, her ideas, and her methods any time. I wanted to go out for a cup of coffee with her afterwards.
Chris Bohjalian writes best sellers. The author of The Flight Attendant (made into a popular HBOMax series) published The Lioness this year. The Lioness is about Katie Barstow, Hollywood’s IT girl in 1964. She’s a true beauty, talented movie star, and genuinely good person. Craving a get-away from her very public life and an adventure, newly married Katie invites a group of friends to meet her and her husband, a not-yet-famous-on-his-own writer, on their honeymoon African Safari. Her entourage consists of her brother and his wife, an actress friend (always the sidekick), her frequent co-star and good friend who is black, and her loyal publicist. After a pleasant meet-up in Paris, they fly to Tanzania. Life in the wild for Hollywooders includes outfitters driving them to see elephants and lions in the wild, workers setting up camp with clean cotton sheets, hauling ice for evening cocktails, and warm water for daily baths. But S hits the F when terrorists from an unknown group invade their camp with guns and the intent to kidnap Katie. Mirroring the food chain of the wild, who is a predator versus who is prey becomes clear within the American tourist group as the story unfolds. Bohjalian, known for fastmoving twists and turns, begins picking off the entourage one by one like a big game hunter. This is a thrilling page turner perfect for when you have time to do nothing but tuck-in to a good story.
I just finished The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith (AKA: JK Rowling). I’ve written about this series before. This was the 6th, and so far, my favorite, in the Cormoran Strike detective series by the Harry Potter author. In this iteration, a young illustrator and YouTube star is being bullied and threatened on-line. She solicits the detective agency for help. Because they already have a waitlist and cyber-crime is not their expertise, they pass on the case. They are then shocked to learn the young illustrator is murdered only days later. The case unfolds with hundreds of clues, hints, and red herrings. It’s fun, but what I like best about this series isn’t usually the mystery itself. I like the ongoing attraction between Strike and his partner, Robin Ellicott, that neither will admit to. I also like that running the agency is part of the story. Managing agency finances, hiring detectives, picking up mundane cheating-spouse cases (because they pay well), needing a day off to go to the doctor or visit a family member, is all eased into the story, and often humorously. There’s only one thing that might keep you from picking up this book, literally, its heft. Every one in the series is a biggy, but Ink Black Heart is 1000+ pages. Admittedly, it’s a fans-only read. But I still think most mystery lovers would be fans if they have strong enough arms to give it a try.
Good reads about women by women:
The Personal Librarian, by Marie Benedict, was good historical fiction about the woman J.P. Morgan hired to organize his personal collection of books and periodicals in 1924. Bella da Costa Greene was intellectual, witty, stylish, and determined. She was also “passing” as a white woman. To hide her heritage, she gave up much of what every human being deserves – friends, love, family and more, for fear of being discovered. This was a really good book that will make you shake your head. When I read it, I felt proud for Bella and her successes, but sad for what it cost her. I also had the regret and embarrassment you get when you see old photographs of drinking fountains, bathrooms, and restaurants labeled “whites only.” This book took place in the early 1900s and women of color are still sorely underrepresented in such positions. Progress slower than a snail’s pace.
Malibu Rising is by Taylor Jenkins Reid of Daisy Jones and the Six fame. It was a warm book, literally, (it takes place in Malibu in the 1980s) and figuratively, (an older sister takes care of her younger sibs after their mom dies, keeping the family together). A drunk unreliable celebrity dad, eighties TV stars, surfing in SoCal, parties, and coming of age plots, swirl together to make for a pleasing read.
Wahala by Nikki May was an equally pleasing read. It takes place in London. It’s about three 30-something Anglo-Nigerian women, who have been best friends since college. They’ve always navigated their professional and personal lives with each other’s unending support. Then a fourth “friend” enters and stirs the pot. This book reminded me of Sex in the City – successful, fashionable women going out for drinks and dates and talking about it. I loved it. Good story, quick read.
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez features Olga Acevedo, a Puerto Rican American raised, along with her brother, Prieto, by her grandmother in New York City. Olga and Prieto were abandoned by their mother at a young age when she joined a militant political group. The story begins with Olga managing her business, her relationships, and her family affairs. She and her brother have done well for themselves. Olga is a famous wedding planner and Priedo is a local politician, poised to move into the national arena. Taking place during Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the story evolves into more serious themes. Olga’s mother, now the powerful head of an unsanctioned militia, is threatening to use Prieto’s career to her advantage (and his downfall) as she makes a play for power in Puerto Rico. The stormy politics highlighting the Puerto Rican U.S. relationship and the condition of Puerto Rican Americans parallels Olga’s life and makes for an engrossing read.
My final entry in this category is Book Lovers by Emily Henry. This is a light rom com kind of story where you think you know exactly what will happen. The protagonist, Nora, an agent in the book industry, meets Charlie, a book editor, and they hate each other. You immediately think to yourself, they’re going to end up in love and happily ever after. Emily Henry makes fun of this notion too, and then she writes that exact story. But she does it so well, you don’t really care. She creates funny scenes, witty dialogues, and unexpected plot turns. And yes, Nora and Charlie end up together. I read this book with little laugh-out-louds and a sappy satisfied look on my face.
In non-fiction I read Remember by Lisa Genova. A very readable and (I think) enjoyable book about contributing factors to memory and cognition as we age. Spoiler alert – there’s lots of things that can cause forgetting before jumping to the conclusion you’re doomed. Yes, even if one of your family members had dementia! Ann Patchett, one of my writer heroes, came out with a book of essays, These Precious Days. Her writing style is so solid, I find her always an enjoyable read. David Sedaris’s 2022 release was Happy Go Lucky. Tragicomic as always, he reminds us that we’re all a little dysfunctional (although, I admit, some of the memories about his father were a little more on the tragic side and made me think he may be over-normalizing). Also this year, I was attracted to graphic novels written by kids of different backgrounds. Not all at the same time, but looking back at my reading list, I brought home several good books that were entertaining and eye-opening about the blended American cultural experiences. I read Who the F are you? by Huda Fahmy, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, and Diary of a Tokyo Teen by Christine Mari Inzer. And finally, I do have a Stinker of the Year Award, and it goes to Verity by Colleen Hoover. I could have put it down. I often don’t finish books I’m not enjoying, but I was having too much fun hating this one about a woman who fakes being in a coma while she spies on her husband and his new girlfriend.
These were the highlights of the year. My to-read list is longer than my already read one, but that’s a good thing. I hope to write again soon.Til then…Happy ’23, and Happy Reading.