Books Read May-July


“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” a novel by Maria Semple

The first annoying thing is when I ask Dad what he thinks happened to Mom, he always says, “What’s most important is for you to understand it’s not your fault.”

This is the first book I read on my Nook. At first, I had trouble sticking with it. I thought it was the structure of the novel—multiple forms of communication from emails to memos to emergency room bills among different different characters. But now I think it was more about getting used to reading on a screen for an extended amount of time instead of just scanning—my usual MO for anything on a screen.

The unique structure in the beginning gives the reader access not only to the various characters but their relationships as well. It also serves as a nice echo for later in the book.

Bee Branch is a smart 15-year-old who has been promised a trip to Alaska for good grades. She plans on collecting this gift in spite of her mother, Bernadette’s, agoraphobia and general odd behavior that could be seen as bordering on a breakdown. When Bernadette disappears, Bee refuses to believe the worst and sets out to piece together all the information and clues she can get her hands on to try and understand her terribly misunderstood mother, along the way uncovering a secret past her mother has been hiding.

This story tugged at my heart and also made me laugh out loud— a perfect combination that reveals the complexity of our familial relationships with a tender yet light touch, making it a perfect summer read.

What I learned: To not be afraid to play with structure and to be funny even in a “literary” movel.

“Ashes to Ashes” a YA novel by Melissa Walker

I wake up with a jerk, not certain what startled me.

Callie is your average teenager, in love with her boyfriend, lost her mom, lives with her fairly strict dad, has a best friend. She loses it all in an instant in a tragic accident. Instead of finding herself in some beautiful version of Heaven being greeted by her long lost mom, Callie finds herself in what is called the Prism. It’s kind of a stop gap before Heaven. A place where souls go to haunt their loved ones. But haunting doesn’t mean what Callie has always been taught. No ghosts rattling chains, scaring people on earth. At least, it’s not supposed to be that. It’s supposed to be a time of bringing peace to your loved ones, helping them to let you go. Once that happens, Callie is free to let go and move on as well. But when Callie falls in with the wrong crowd of ghosts, she is faced with some hard decisions that threaten the lives of her loved ones as well as her own existence.

What I learned: The details are crucial for creating a world whether it is realistic or fantasy.

“I Can’t Complain” (all too) personal essays by Elinor Lipman

I came late to the essay-writing genre, when various magazine and newspaper editors asked me to expound on a particular topic and I felt it was not only polite but also a good deadline discipline to say yes.

These charming essays offer readers of her fiction or new readers a delightful insight into Lipman’s life. Topics range from parents, children and marriage, sex ed to “Sex and the City”, to the writing life, life and death. They feel like she drew the curtain back so we could all take a peek at the life of a writer behind her fiction. It made me want to start writing my own collection of essays.

What I learned: That our own lives are a rich bounty of material waiting to be mined if only we look carefully.

“Stitches- A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair” by Anne Lamott

It can be too sad here.

indeed it can.

Anne Lamott began writing these little gems of wisdom and comfort in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. As always, her raw, vulnerable, honest, gracious perspective brings comfort to me as she questions how we stay connected and balance when so much evil and such catastrophes befall our world.

What I learned: No matter where I am at in my life, there are the words of Anne Lamott to guide and comfort me.

“Drunk Mom” a memoir by Jowita Bydlowska

One evening I find a baggie of cocaine.

And that is one of the more benign things that happen in this riveting and disturbing memoir.

After three years of sobriety, Jowita Bydlowska finds herself enjoying champagne- lots and lots of champagne. Suddenly, her sobriety is out the window and she is immersed in the downward spiral of addiction with the lies to others and herself and skewed logic that it comes with. Reading this was harrowing. She was young mother of a young son and even that couldn’t make her stop drinking. Her bad choice after bad choice just made me cringe. But her raw honesty as she exposes the dark underbelly of addiction was inspiring.

What I learned: That you just never ever know what anyone else is truly going through.

“Life Drawing” a novel by Robin Black

In the days leading up to my husband Owen’s death, he visited Alison’s house every afternoon.

Confession: Robin Black is my latest writer crush. You know, that writer you want to write like, the one that you’ll read anything they write—even a grocery list. I first discovered her through her short story collection “If I Loved You I would Tell You This.” I was so very bummed when I learned that was her only book and have been waiting for her next one. I had the pub date for “Life Drawing” written on my calendar and bought it that day.

It tells the story of a long marriage between Gus and Owen, a painter and writer. She reveal the complexities of marriage with such compassionate precision that it left me breathless at times.

My favorite lines:

There are often two conversations going on in a marriage. The one that you’re having and the one you’re not. Sometimes you don’t even know when the second, silent one has begun.

I loved the intimate, behind-the scenes look at a marriage after betrayal as well as the dynamics between two artists living, working, creating (perhaps competing?) together.

It was one of those books that I wanted to race to the end to see what happens but also I wanted to slow down and savor every scene and sentence, never wanting it to end.

What I learned: To observe and write from that place of compassionate precision.


2 thoughts on “Books Read May-July

  1. I tried to read “Bernadette” but found it annoying–not so much the flips from narrative to memo, etc, but the voice didn’t ring true to me, like the author was trying too hard to be cute and outrageous. Just didn’t work for me, although almost everyone else in my book club loved it.

    I’m looking forward to reading “Life Drawing.” I’ve hear so much good about it and your review clinches it. I love that quotation about the two conversations in a marriage too! So true.

    • I hear what you’re saying, Deborah. I’ve also been in book clubs where everyone loved the book and I, well, did not:) Would love to hear what you think of “Life Drawing.”

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