All my life I wanted to be a professional reader, just be paid to sit and read books. For the last nearly two years, I’ve worked at the public library, where most days there is absolutely no time for reading, but because my favorite part of the job is reader advisory, it kind of feels like getting paid to read books. I’m never going to get rich reading for money, but it’s fun to realize that this dream I harbored for my whole life manifested itself when I wasn’t even looking. One of the questions I get asked most often is what I’m reading lately, so without further ado, here’s this week’s reading list.
Playing with F.I.R.E. by Scott Rieckens and The Frugalwoods by Elizabeth Thames. Earlier this month I shared about mid-life being the stage of life where we envision what we want next. At my house our overwhelming response to this question is freedom. We’re pursuing lifestyle changes that increase our freedom to choose where we live, how we live, and how we fill our days. This nearly-empty-nest place is so exciting, but none of what we want will just slide into place. Now is the time to really work for it, and so we are. While I very much enjoyed both books, there is far more “how-to” in Playing with F.I.R.E. alongside the memoir portions. The Frugalwoods is mostly memoir, an exmaple story, with fewer how-to details, which doesn’t detract from its charm, but may leave you wanting further information.
The Frugalwoods is available through the PINES library system. I read Playing with F.I.R.E for free on Hoopla, also with my library card.
The Last Year of the War. Susan Meissner is well-known for her detailed historical fiction, and this book doesn’t disappoint in that respect. Elise Sontag is a typical 14-year-old American girl in 1943, except that her parents are German and America is about to go to war against their homeland. When Elise’s father is arrested under suspicion of being a German sympathizer, her family is left destitute and without community support. Eventually they will end up in an American internment camp where she will meet Mariko, a Japanese-American teenager whose family suffers a similar fate.
Weaving back and forth from past to present, Meissner uses the backdrop of war to examine prejudice, cruelty, fear, love, and courage. How Elise learns who she truly is and wrests control of her life from the wreckage of war is both heartbreaking and inspiring. While I wanted there to be more story set in present day with Elise and Mariko, I still found the book, as whole, entirely satifying. Recommended for those who enjoy WWII fiction, like The Nightengale or stories with strong female protaginists and female relationships like City of Girls or Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons.
I read Last Year of the War free for unbiased review from Net Galley.
Henry, Himself by Stewart O’Nan. O’Nan is the master of powerful understatement. His work is neither flashy nor exciting, and yet, he makes the ordinary seem both deeply important and meaningful. Henry, Himself chronicals a year in the life of Henry, a seventy-five year old husband and father who is unflinchingly human. At times petty or selfish, Henry is also deeply in love, profoundly content, confused by his (adult) children, nostalgic, overwhelmed and tired. I recently shared that I love “aging” fiction and this is the perfect example of the genre. This simple book isn’t about much of anything, except that it’s about everything that makes up a life. Recommended for those who like Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Edgerton or fans of Wallace Stegnor or Marilynne Robinson
I read Henry, Himself free for unbiased review from Net Galley
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. This book was our After Hours book club choice this month. In December of 2003, Joan Didion’s daughter was put into a medical coma to help deal with complications from pnumonia and sepsis. One night, after coming home from the hospital, Joan and her husband John Dunne sat down to dinner. One moment she was having a conversation with him, and the next moment he was dead of a major cadiac event. What follows is an exploration of grief, of change, of a forty year marraige and of what happens to a person when everything she thought was certain is taken away.
While the subject matter is heavy, I found this book to be honest and relatable to some of my own grief experiences. Joan Didion is unflinchingly honest about the waves of pain and the random bursts of madness (or as she calls it, magical thinking) that we employ to survive the next moment when the worst imaginable thing happens to us. This book is beautiful and difficult, strange and delicate. In a world where we seldom want to take the time to stop and examine grief, Joan Didion has opened the door and invited us in to sit by the fire.
I read the Year of Magical thinking for free by a book shared with me, which I have since passed on to another.