“Decoded” by Jay-Z
I saw the circle before I saw the kid in the middle.
“Decoded” not only tells the story of an artist but also of an entire culture that then goes on to illuminate the politics of a nation. Even after Oprah raved about this book on her favorite things show, I still wasn’t moved to read it. Then my book club selected it and I am forever grateful. It opened my eyes to an entire genre of music that I tended to dismiss out of ignorance. Jay-Z reveals his journey from a hustler to musician to artist. The way he describes his relationship with his craft of writing music is so similar to mine with writing fiction. He lays bare his lyrics annotated with footnotes to decipher their meaning and his process of choosing one word or phrase over another. The book is illuminating, not to mention beautifully designed.
What I learned: That craft is craft no matter what you write or create.
“Once Was Lost” a YA novel by Sara Zarr
The whole world is wilting.
Sam is a pastor’s kid who is experiencing a crisis of faith after her mother enters rehab and the whole town becomes privy to their business, a young girl goes missing and her father seems more concerned with his congregation than his daughter. Zarr’s prose weaves grace and perception with beautiful storytelling.
What I learned: To weave several threads to create a quiet yet intense plot.
“The Rules of Survival” a YA novel by Nancy Werlin
As I write this, you are nine years old, too young to be told the full and true story of our family’s past, let alone be exposed to my philosophizing about what it all meant.
Matthew sets out to tell the story of their family in a series of letters to his youngest sister, Emmy. The story is dark and violent with moments of light and clarity. I could not put it down. Literally. I read it in one sitting.
What I learned: To write right into the dark heart of a story.
“Lost and Found- Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money” by Geneen Roth
I was standing in my kitchen wondering what to have for lunch when my friend Taj called.
Roth is known for peeling back the layers shame we hide behind with food and now turns her attention to the shame and other complicated feelings we have about money. After losing her life savings in the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme, Roth is sent reeling. Instead of succumbing to victimhood, she takes she learned about her unconscious patterns with food and applied them to her relationship with money. What she finds is illuminating and can serve as a wake up call for everyone regardless of wealth.
What I learned: Our patterns are our patterns whether we apply them to food, money or relationships and awareness can break the pattern.
“Room” a novel by Emma Donoghue
Today I am five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra.
I borrowed this book from my sister after she got to about page 45 and stopped. When I started it, I wondered if I’d be able to read it through to the end. Although the subject is dark, that’s not what was holding me back. The voice of a five-year-old is tricky as a narrator then add in the fact that Jack has lived every moment of his life in this eleven by eleven room and his voice and perspective become that much more difficult to follow. But when I got to about page 50 and not only did the voice of Jack become easier to follow, things start seriously happening and I couldn’t put it down. It’s an amazing story of a mother’s fierce love for her son rivaling her own fierce desperation to save them. It’s a book I won’t soon forget.
What I learned: The choice of the right narrator is essential. If Jack hadn’t told this particular story, it would lose it’s beauty and intensity.
“Delerium” a YA novel by Lauren Oliver
It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure.
With that first sentence, Oliver sets up an America in the not-too-distance future and makes it chillingly believable. I don’t want to give anything away. This is a page turner. See for yourself.
What I learned: That I want to be Lauren Oliver when I grow up:)
“Husband and Wife” a novel by Leah Stewart
My name is Sarah Price, and I’m married to a fiction writer.
There are certain types of books I adore: adult and YA dystopian/speculative fiction; any novel the explores marriage and novels that feature writers as characters. “Husband and Wife” encompasses the last two. Sarah was once a poet but somehow gave it up after she married and started a family. She struggles with the issue of art versus motherhood, not sure that two can co-exist within her life. Her husband is a novelist with his latest about to be published and presumably quite successful. Until he lets her know that said novel, “Infidelity” isn’t strictly fiction. What follows is a detailed exploration of the geography of their marriage. I found myself seduced by certain sentences:
“We were each other’s reality, each other’s history, each other’s daily bread. We were each other’s most necessary person, the one you lean on when life gives you trouble, the one you take the trouble out on, the one person who can help you through it, the person you sometimes hate, partly because you need them so much and they can’t always –who could?– live up to that need.”
“There’s subtext to the subtext, every argument a rabbit hole.”
What I learned: That I need to try writing the kind of book I love to read.