Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Only three more days until the official first day of spring. I actually went outside without a coat yesterday. Winter was a great reading season, but there are so many wonderful books to read this spring I can hardly keep track of them all.
Yes, there is one book written by an Irish author on my list of 10 books to read this spring — A History of Loneliness, by John Boyne. I’m sorry I didn’t include Boyne in my post on Irish authors last March, because he’s a spectacular writer whose books run the gamut from a children’s book about the Holocaust (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) to a ghost story for adults (This House is Haunted). In A History of Loneliness, Boyne explores the life of an aging Irish priest confronting his past and the scandals rocking his beloved church.
If you’re in the mood for something lighter, The Bookseller, by Cynthia Swanson, might fit the bill. I can never resist any book about bookselling, and Swanson’s debut novel — which is on the March Indie Next list — sounds enchanting. It’s about Kitty, a struggling,single bookstore owner who dreams every night about being Katharyn, a married woman with a house and a loving family. Eventually she begins to wonder which of her lives is real. One of my colleagues read this book and enjoyed it, but thought the ending was a little “sappy”. So consider yourself warned — but sometimes I’m in the mood for a sentimental book. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry could certainly be described that way, but I think you’d have to be a real cynic not to love that book!
Hausfrau, Jill Alexander Essbaum’s first novel, is certainly not sappy. Sue Boucher of the Cottage Book Shop says it’s “creepy . . . but kind of perfect.” Essbaum is not your everyday writer of psychological thrillers — she’s published four collections of poetry. The “hausfrau” of the title is Anna Benz, a modern-day Anna Karenina and expatriate housewife in Zurich who “will provoke strong feelings in readers well after the final page”, according to the starred Publishers Weekly review.
I’m reading The Dream Lover, by Elizabeth Berg, and absolutely loving it. The novel is an exploration of new territory for Berg, who has never written historical fiction before. She delves into the heart and mind of writer George Sand, born Aurore Dupin, who was the first female bestselling author in France. In an interview with Nancy Horan, which appears at the end of the book, Berg says that “George Sand entered my subconscious. I began to dream like her; then I thought, to dream like her . . . I believe she captured me, and I was a most willing prisoner.” I am similarly captivated by Berg’s marvelous book, which will be out on April 7.
Also due on April 7 — Inside the O’Briens, by Lisa Genova, which I think is her best book yet. Genova is enjoying newfound popularity because of the success of the movie based on her first book, Still Alice. The story of a loving family in crisis, Inside the O’Briens focuses on Joe O’Brien, a tough Boston cop who is devastated when he learns that he is suffering from Huntington’s disease — and that his four children may have inherited the disease from him. I would like to ask readers a provocative question, though: when is a novel literature and when is it propaganda? I don’t mean propaganda in the negative sense of the word, but in the sense that the purpose of the book is to promote a cause.
I don’t read many self-help books, but every so often one really resonates with me. Usually the ones that do are books that combine self-help with business or psychology. (Greg McKeown’s Essentialism is a perfect example.) Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, by Gretchen Rubin, was entertaining to read and also packed with helpful tips for developing good habits — and breaking bad ones. (Just don’t ask me how successful I’ve been in putting those tips into practice.)
The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America’s Youngest Serial Killer, by Roseanne Montillo, is reminiscent of The Devil in the White City. It’s the true story of a 14-year-old Boston boy who preyed on children in the late 19th century. The criminal investigation raised legal and medical questions that are still being debated today. The book is particularly fascinating in light of the current trial of the Boston marathon bomber.
Mary Norris, author of Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (due April 6), is much more than a copy editor; she’s a delightfully wicked and witty writer. Norris has been on staff at the New Yorker since 1978, upholding the magazine’s notoriously high standards. The New Republic describes “Norris’s very funny, lucid, and lively new book” as “part memoir, part language guide, and part personal account of life at the New Yorker.” I enjoyed every page, and learned a few things besides. By the way, a truly awful article in the Wall Street Journal on March 13, entitled “There is No ‘Proper English'”, says “. . . you may use ‘they’ as a singular generic pronoun; you may say ‘between you and I.’ The pedants’ prohibitions on constructions like these are not supported by the evidence of general usage.” What would Mary Norris say? Or my grandmother, for that matter?
When George Hodgman lost his editorial job in New York, he returned to his hometown of Paris, Missouri (“population 1,246 and falling”) to care for his 91-year-old mother. Hodgman’s honest and affecting portrait of their relationship, Bettyville, moved me both to laughter and tears. As Hodgman told Terry Gross in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, “a good part of my role is to just do little things that make her as happy as possible all along the way – every day.”
I have been hearing amazing things, including lots of comparisons to The Goldfinch, about A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. Publishers Weekly says that the 700-page “epic American tragedy”, which covers 30 years in the lives of four college friends, is:
. . . a novel that values the everyday over the extraordinary, the push and pull of human relationships—and the book’s effect is cumulative. There is real pleasure in following characters over such a long period, as they react to setbacks and successes, and, in some cases, change. By the time the characters reach their 50s and the story arrives at its moving conclusion, readers will be attached and find them very hard to forget.
And because it’s too hard to stop at 10, please indulge me while I mention three more new spring books I’m excited about: What Comes Next and How to Like It, by Abigail Thomas, a lovely collection of essays that follows A Three Dog Life; At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen (author of Water for Elephants), historical fiction that takes place in the Scottish highlands during World War II; and The Children’s Crusade, by Ann Packer (author of The Dive From Clausen’s Pier), the chronicle of a California family, spanning five decades.
For more lists of great books to read this spring, check out the lists at The Broke and the Bookish.