What to Read Next — April 2016

“Snow in April is abominable,” said Anne. “Like a slap in the face when you expected a kiss.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Ingleside

It was April in Minneapolis and snowing, the flakes coming down in thick swirls enchanting the city”
Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

As I write this post, snowflakes are swirling outside my window. Even though I’ve spent 34 springs in Chicago, I’m still surprised when April brings cold winds, sleet, hail, and snow instead of sunny days with warm breezes. I won’t be reading on my porch anytime soon; I’m glad we still have plenty of firewood because I anticipate quite a few more cozy evenings reading by the fire.

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Coming in paperback April 26

Right now, as usual, I’m reading two books, switching between them according to my mood. The first, Anne Tyler’s 20th novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, covers territory familiar to Tyler’s readers: the complicated relationships between the members of a middle-class Baltimore family. I love Anne Tyler’s writing, which I find comforting and wise at the same time. Critics seem to have a hard time classifying Tyler. Is she a (God forbid) women’s writer?  Is she really a literary author? One New York Times reviewer snidely dismissed her books as “middling” and “middlebrow”.  The Atlantic Monthly says: “In the eyes of many longtime readers, Tyler is especially gifted in her ability to deliver graceful, touching tales of the ordinary'” I agree — and evidently the Booker Prize judges did as well, since it was one of only two American novels shortlisted for last year’s award.

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Our new family member, Frosty

The second book I’m working my way through is one I can only recommend to new dog owners: The Art of Raising a Puppy, by the Monks of New Skete. If you’re as crazy as my husband and I are, and have decided to disrupt your life with a puppy, I suggest this book. It’s been many years since we brought home our last puppy, so a friend passed along her copy of The Art of Raising a Puppy. I’m finding it very helpful, and it’s fascinating reading . I guess when we had puppies before, we also had human children, leaving no time for reading about the monks’ thoughts on canine behavior!

I’ve just finished two recent releases that I can highly recommend:

9781101883075I stayed up way too late reading Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly’s debut novel. Anyone who loved The Nightingale, Salt to the Sea, The Invisible Bridge, or All the Light We Cannot See will find this book both unforgettable and hard to put down. Historical fiction at its best, the novel tells the powerful story of female prisoners subjected to medical experimentation at the hands of the Nazis.  Three narrators — a Polish teenager, a German doctor, and an American humanitarian, all based on real women, lend their distinctive voices to this meticulously researched story of heartbreak and courage.

While touring  the actress and socialite Caroline Ferriday’s estate in Connecticut, Martha Hall Kelly noticed a black and white photo of a group of Polish women.  “They are the Lapins–the rabbits,” the guide said. “Caroline took up their cause after they were experimented upon by the Nazis at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.” Hall says:

I looked for a book about Caroline, but there wasn’t one. . .  Somehow bewitched by the house and Caroline’s story, I thought of nothing else on the ride home . . . I set out to learn everything I could about Caroline Ferriday and the story of how she rallied America around The Rabbits. How she dedicated her life to making sure these women were not forgotten.

I’m already thinking about my top 10 books of 2016 — after all, the year is 25% over — and Lilac Girls will definitely make the list. Even if you think you’ve overdosed on World War II literature, don’t miss this one.

the-books-that-changed-my-life-9781941393659_hrLike most book lovers, I adore books about books, and I thoroughly enjoyed Bethanne Patrick’s The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians, and Other Remarkable People. It’s a perfect book for your nightstand, because each of the essays is no more than three pages long. Each essay writer starts with a selection of a a life-altering book and a quotation from that book. They run the gamut from Gillian Flynn, who chose The Westing Game, to Rosanne Cash, who picked The Little House on the Prairie, to Tim Gunn, who selected Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Bethanne Patrick says:

One of the parts of the project that makes me happiest is that although no one interviewed was given a list from which to choose and although none of them were told others’ choices in advance, there is only one duplicate title on the list . . . There are children’s books, poetry collections, biographies, classic novels, modern favorites, and even a comic book included.

The Books That Changed My Life is pure pleasure. It will make you think about which book — or books, because it’s hard to narrow it down to one — have had the greatest impact on you. It will also provide you with a list of books to add to your to-be-read list, since some of the contributors’ choices will intrigue you. I think book club members would enjoy discussing this book and the books that have influenced their own lives.

What’s next for me? I’m looking forward to reading Anna Quindlen’s latest novel, Miller’s Valley, and Bill Beverly’s debut, Dodgers,  literary crime fiction about a Los Angeles gang member sent to kill a witness hiding in Wisconsin. I’ve been hearing great things about both of them.

Happy Spring!

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8 thoughts on “What to Read Next — April 2016

  1. I’ve heard great things about Dodgers and might pick that up at some point. I tried Lilac Girls, but didn’t get too far before WWII fatigue and the thought of 500 pages caused me to put it down. But, I may not be the best audience for that one…as I only thought The Nightingale was OK and couldn’t make it through the sample of All the Light We Cannot See.
    My aunt is a huge Quindlen fan, so I’ve been meaning to try something by her…I’ve been hearing good things about her latest!

    • I love Anna Quindlen — if I were you, I’d start with her book about being a bookworm — “How Reading Changed My Life.” It’s very short — can’t remember how many pages, but definitely not 500! I give it for gifts all the time.

  2. I’m glad to hear you liked Lilac Girls – I like books about WWII, and I’ve been waiting to hear about it. I also love to read about other people’s favourite books (no big surprise there – don’t we all?)!
    It’s still wintery where I am, too, but we have run out of wood and right now I’m relying on a little space heater. Not long now, right?
    Congratulations on your new family member!

  3. I’m right there with you regarding Anne Tyler. A Spool of Blue Thread crept up on me with its loveliness and depth. She’s an American treasure.

    And Gillian Flynn selecting The Westing Game! Who knew?! (It’s always been one of my favorite re-reads.)

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