Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell
I’ve heard a lot about Vowell and listened to an interview with her on this really great podcast a couple weeks ago, and decided to pick up Unfamiliar Fishes as a result. It’s basically the history book I would write if I had more time to research. She is witty (sometimes too witty) and nerdy about history. This one is about the annexation of Hawaii, which is a great book to read in the summer. I’m not done with it yet, but loving it a lot.
This one got a lot of press in the literary community when it came out last year. It’s the story of an Iraq veteran who recounts his days in the sandbox. Holy shit. This book is amazing. I don’t think I liked the plot as much because there are a bunch of questions not wrapped up at the end, but Powers is a poet, and it shows. Everything he writes is shimmering and translucent and serious, and I think this is going to become the war novel of our generation. The first sentence of the novel is, “The war tried to kill us in the spring.” I have not seen a perfect first sentence like that in a long time.
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
My forever go-to book for when I get in a writing rut is Bird by Bird, but this is going to come a close second. I had to read Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for assigned reading in 11th grade, so I recognized her name when I was trolling for writing encouragement/advice. She gives it to you straight. Writing is hard, you are pulling out something word by word, and you should write somewhere where you have no view so you don’t get distracted. But she also outlines her own struggles writing and makes you feel like you’re not alone, which is all a writer can really hope for. Also, I got a used copy of this book and it smells really good. Found it via here.
I actually bought this book last year, but it’s taken me a long time to finish because I read snippets of it before bed. It’s a graphic novel that is the size of a Bible (or Quran, in this case), and it’s the story of two misfits in an arechtypical Middle Eastern city that grows from desert, to bazaar, to manufacturing town, intertwined with stories from the Torah, Bible, and Quran, mythology, and beautifully-drawn Arabic calligraphy. I have to say, I couldn’t get into it. I found the story too preachy and the pacing too long, but the illustrations are beautiful to look at.
Easily one of the best books I’ve read all year. Hilarious. Great pace. Makes fun of yuppie Seattle culture while at the same time exploring the relationship between mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, what we’ve become as a society of Americans, dashed hopes and dreams, and how much digital crap we leave lying around after ourselves. Read this book.
Oh, you know, just the usual. Book research. 1937. Stalin. Purges.Life-ending events. Etc. Starts out with a great analysis of my favorite book of all time, Master and Margarita and really just digs down into this period of history. Meticulous research that goes on for hundreds of pages. Great beach read!
One family’s year in Tuscany. I actually read this while I was in Italy and it was a really helpful book in terms of understanding Italian culture. It’s also heartwarming, funny, and one of those books where you want to meet the author for coffee. Although I couldn’t get over the fact that they probably had a couple million dollars to spend on this adventure.
If you ask me whether I read this in person, I will deny it the same way I will deny loving Clueless. But it was good and funny, in the same way that rose water is a good palette cleanser after a long meal.