Books Read in January

“Await Your Reply” a novel by Dan Chaon
We are on our way to the hospital, Ryan’s father says.

I love his short stories, enjoyed his first novel and am back to loving his writing again with this novel. Miles Cheshire can’t stop looking for his twin brother who has been missing for ten years. Lucy Lattimore, longing to leave the small Ohio town where her sister is her guardian, leaves with her former history teacher. Ryan Schuyler learns that his life is not what it seems. I am amazed at how Chaon kept me enthralled by all three separate characters and their stories. The tension is pitch perfect. I am always impressed when a writer makes the story a page turner without sacrificing rich and complex characters along the way.

“Still Alice”
a novel by Lisa Genova
Alice sat at her desk in their bedroom distracted by the sounds of John racing through each of the rooms on the first floor.

I rarely cry as I read a book, but this story did it. Alzheimer’s is such an insidious disease and early onset is even more devastating. Alice is fifty years old, brilliant in her field of cognitive psychology and linguistics, married with three grown children when she starts forgetting things. At first she brushes it off as stress or menopause. But some part of her knows it is something more than that. She assumes brain tumor. She is not prepared for the diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s and neither is her family. The story, seen through the mind of Alice who is aware of what is happening to her, explores what she and family and colleagues go through as the reality of the disease confronts them.

“I’m So Happy For You”
a novel by Lucinda Rosenfeld
Since Wendy Murman had begun trying to conceive, eight months earlier, having sex with her husband, Adam Schwartz, had turned into something resembling a military operation: spontaneity and passion were discouraged; timing and execution were everything.

I laughed out loud at this first line and throughout the whole book. Rosenfeld delves into the rich sometimes fragile sometimes dark world of female friendship. Wendy’s best friend Daphne is the resident basket case, involved with a married man, calling Wendy in the middle of the night desperate and Wendy knows her role. Wendy likes her role as the together friend. When their roles slowly begin to shift, Wendy’s whole identity and world shift too. At times I cringed as every passing petty thought that crosses Wendy’s mind is revealed to us. But as their friendship is revealed from both sides we see how it is a constant balancing act and we walk away empathizing with both Daphne and Wendy.

a novel by Katherine Weber
This is what happened. I was working at my machine, with only a few minutes left before the end of the day, I remember so clearly I can still see it, that I had only two right sleeves remaining in my pile– my sister Pauline, she did the left sleeves and I did the right.

Esther Gottesfeld is the oldest survivor of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire. She has told the story so many times over the years and yet there are still questions such as how did she survive. The story alternates between Esther’s retelling of the fire and the life of her granddaughter, Rebecca and her genius musician/composer partner, George. The story of the fire is fascinating and I couldn’t help but imagine the same kind of novel being written decades from now about 9/11. I was really moved by George’s dedication to his art and the process involved in composing music that moves so many people. I loved this: “Do you the tension in the leap…It’s not just two pure pitches, but the relationship between them that gives it musical meaning. The leap is where we feel the significance.” It applies not only to music but all art.

“When Wanderers Cease to Roam” A Traveler’s Journal by Vivian Swift
January is the warrior month.

Heather Sellers raved about this book so I couldn’t not pick it up for myself. I was not disappointed. It is a book I will read again and again, a companion through days, months and season. It is beautifully written as well as illustrated. What I love is how she finds the beauty in the world right in front of her after she spent so much of her life traveling to exotic places. Now she is in one place and yet she still sees the world through the eyes of an explorer.

Some of my favorite lines:
– “What it takes to get through January is what it takes to get through life.”
– “Everyone has lost something precious.”
– “Take the worst day you had in January and repeat it 28 times. That’s February.”

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