. . . These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.
We read to know that we are not alone.
We’re all housebound now. In the past, I loved those days, few and far between, when for one reason or another (a snowstorm or a sore throat), I got to stay home and curl up on the couch with a good book. Now, faced with an endless number of days at home, I’m trying to think of this time as the perfect opportunity to read as much as possible.
I’m also planning on reinvigorating Books on the Table. When I started this blog in 2013, I posted book reviews, as well as thoughts on reading-related topics, every week or two. Gradually, my posts were less frequent, until about six months ago, when I ran out of steam. Now — with some extra time on my hands and a backlog of books to recommend — I’d like to reconnect with other book lovers near and far.
We need books more than ever right now — not only to entertain us and help us escape, but to comfort us, to keep our minds active, our hearts open, and to remind us that we are not alone.
Here are books that I’ve recently found entertaining and/or inspiring:
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell — OK, maybe “entertaining” and “inspiring” aren’t the right words to describe this novel. It’s seriously creepy, but I couldn’t put it down. The topic is an abusive relationship between a high school student and a teacher. Read the excellent New York Times review, which explains why fiction sometimes is the best avenue for getting at the truth: “Fiction, good fiction at least, goes for the singular, the conflicting, the impossible to pin down or reduce.” I can’t imagine a better book club selection.
Writers and Lovers by Lily King — Just about every sentence is perfect in this lovely book, which captures the experience of writing better than any book I’ve read. Emma Straub’s blurb makes me laugh: “If you loved The Friend but wish it had had more sex and waitressing, get ready for Lily King’s Writers and Lovers. Delicious.” I did love The Friend — and the waitressing scenes in Writers and Lovers are pitch-perfect. I’ve adored every one of King’s novels; if you haven’t discovered her, I recommend her four earlier books as well.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich — Based on the life of Erdrich’s grandfather, who worked at a factory near the Turtle Mountain reservation in North Dakota and battled for the rights of Native Americans during the 1950s, The Night Watchman will captivate you and take you to another time and place.
Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin — A Connecticut family of four vacations at an idyllic Caribbean island, and Alison, the eighteen-year-old daughter, is murdered. Saint X is much more than a whodunit, although it’s a well-crafted mystery. It’s a character-driven story, focusing on Claire, Alison’s younger sister, as she navigates life in the wake of her sister’s death, and Clive, the local resort employee suspected of murdering Alison. It’s the kind of book you read in a day, and don’t forget.
The Glass Hotel (Emily St. John Mandel) –Mandel’s Station Eleven is one of my all-time favorite books, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend reading it now. (It’s about a pandemic called the Georgian Flu that wipes out 99% of the earth’s population.) The Glass Hotel (to be published on March 24) is about a Madoff-type Ponzi scheme and how it affects a variety of people, who are interconnected in surprising ways. It’s a really unusual and creative book, peopled with interesting characters — including several from Station Eleven. I read an advance copy two weeks ago on a lounge chair by the pool in Florida, which seems like a lifetime ago.
Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and the Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow — The audio version of this book, masterfully read by the author, kept my husband and me riveted for eleven hours on a recent road trip. Ronan Farrow (the son of Woody Allen, from whom he is estranged), broke the Harvey Weinstein story in the New Yorker (along with New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor) after his employer, NBC News, fired him and killed the story.
The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Edith Eva Eger — Everyone should read this book, written by a concentration camp survivor who became a psychotherapist after arriving in the United States as a penniless refugee after World War II. Without diminishing her painful experiences, Eger shows how it’s possible to make the choice to forgive, without forgetting: “You can live to avenge the past, or you can live to enrich the present.” (Thank you, Kay, for the recommendation!)
When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father’s War and What Remains by Ariana Neumann — Born and raised in Venezuela, Ariana Neumann knew very little about her family’s past until after her father died, when she found some letters and artifacts. For years, she researched her family’s history, discovering through diaries, interviews, and photos a story of survival against incredible odds and learning who her complicated father really was. I know some readers have World War II fatigue, but don’t miss this one — it’s amazing.
Really, there’s no need to feel guilty about reading anything. But these two biographical novels are fun, easy reads. You could pick up Sonia Purcell’s excellent biography, Clementine: The Life of Clementine Churchill . . . or you could read Marie Benedict’s CliffsNotes version, Lady Clementine. I enjoyed every page . . . and I also flew through Kerri Maher’s The Girl in White Gloves, about Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, perfect for royalty fans. I even learned a thing or two!
Please keep in touch and let me know if you’re reading something terrific.
P.S. Jessica, thanks for the blog title!