Not unlike this entire blog, I find that my reading interests are all over the place. I say this not to impress but rather, to explain that I have always been curious about many things at the same time. I often meet people in my line of work who will only read one author obsessively till they have exhausted the supply and then start reading their entire body of work all over again because there is “nothing else.”
I don’t understand this on so many different levels.
Right now, I have in an unstable tower beside my bed, a rotating pile of library books ranging from a biography of bad boy D.H.Lawrence to The Sweet Potato Lover’s Cookbook to Julian Barne’s Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art.
I also have a thing about books that offer tips to make life more organized or beautiful, preferably both, and to that end, I highly recommend the Pogue’s Basics: Life Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That no one bothers to tell you).
Mr.Pogue, who is an entertaining New York Times bestselling author and TED talk veteran with over a million Twitter followers, covers everything from removing water rings on wood instantly with mayonnaise (actually works SO well!) to choosing the day your credit card bill will be due, to using a single stick of spaghetti to light multiple candles or as a taper.
And TONS more in-between.
(Tip: There’s another Pogue book devoted entirely to technology – equally good!)
I have also loved reading Kate Atkinson’s haunting and brilliant novels, Life after Life and A God in Ruins, two of the best written and memorable books I have read in a very, very long time.
The General and I read these books in tandem and discussed the characters over breakfast, spreading marmalade thickly and nodding in-jokes through tea as though the characters (called by their first names) were our own friends.
These are both fiercely original works focusing on a few time periods since Atkinson challenges our concept of time with her heroine dying and being re-born many times over, but Life after Life opens in 1910. (Interestingly too, the two books can be enjoyed independently or one after the other, as the same family members appear in both volumes).
For me, these were also absolute page-turners with such sophisticated, flawless writing that I found myself depressed and inspired in equal parts.
(Okay more depressed, actually, because I can only aspire to this level of writing and plot wrangling … I bow to you Kate Atkinson, and have been a fan since your first book Behind the Scenes at the Museum which incidentally, scored the Whitbread book of the year, beating out Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh. Her first book, people! And she has never been fully lauded for her talent in my opinion, a pox on you, British press, as outlined here by Hilary Mantel … )
Both books follow this shape-shifting series of reincarnation/“It’s A Wonderful Life” premise (admittedly, a bit confusing at the onset) featuring a British family called the Todds, not overtly posh but certainly well-to-do, with an idyllic ‘Big Hice,’ memorable, poignantly drawn pets, and whip-smart, intelligence-fueled one-liners. Be forewarned that Atkinson’s wry and sometimes disturbing observations about family and life in general make these books too thought-provoking to ever be a mindless, cozy read; it’s always clear that this is not Downton Abbey even though the time frames may be similar.
The unflinching, detailed, graphic descriptions of wartime will stay with me forever and shamed me for the gaps in my own knowledge and understanding, making me fervently wish that I had talked to my parents more about this before they were gone.
This excellent reviewer says it best when she observes that “Atkinson has done her research and then, as novelists should but rarely do, lit a rocket of her own under it.”
The endings of both books are completely breath-taking and unexpected.
Because I was not ready to say good-bye.