Monday, March 15, 2010

Recommended Reads

Read the Printed Word!

I have always been a voracious reader, the kind who doesn't want to put a book down until it's finished. I was the little girl who read aloud to my kindergarten class, stayed up past bedtime to read Laura Ingalls Wilder, systematically devoured my father's science fiction collection, and always tried to read in the car even though it made me car sick. I now average a couple books a week (according to my library history, I've read forty books in the last four months!) thanks to ninety minutes of daily reading time on the subway (another bonus of public transportation over car commuting). On days when I'm without a book, my train ride seems unbearably boring.

I love the thrill of carrying home books, stacking them on my bedside table, and flipping through the pages. Unlike some people who read electronically via kindle and rarely finish the books they start (I don't get those people). So of course it was easy for me to join esb & cevd's campaign to read the printed word, to make sure we're still reading real books in this age of increasingly shorter electronic communication.

I've read a lot of mediocre books lately (I don't understand how publishers can afford to throw book deals at every tom-dick-and-harry blogger, resulting in a sea of nothing-more-than-adequate books that can't be making much in sales). But here are a few diamonds in the rough that I recommend - books that are worth the risk, as Amanda of First Milk puts it so eloquently, of "walking into another land and coming back changed, or not ever quite returning at all."

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
I really, really loved Time Traveler's Wife, and I'm not sure that story can be topped, but Audrey Niffenegger's second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, is another well-written supernatural love story. This book pulled me in with its tales of sisters, ghosts, and romance, frought with mysterious twists and turns and a haunting ending.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood has invented with brilliant detail a dystopian post-apocolyptic reality that serves as a warning to humanity and keeps you reading to the end to see what hope lies ahead. It runs in tandem with its companion book, Oryx & Crake, but I liked The Year of the Flood and its sympathetic characters better. I must also thank agirl for getting me on this Atwood kick.

Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl
Comfort Me With Apples tells the beginning of Ruth Reichl's career as a restaurant critic, alongside the dissolution of her first marriage and the passionate start of her second. Her talent for writing about food and life with relish make it clear why she became a successful food writer. She has written other memoirs, which I will now add to my library list.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin
This is an old favorite of mine. It had been so long that I forgot how the story ended and it was like rediscovering the book all over again; I love it when that happens. The Dispossessed is technically science fiction, but it is so much more than that - it is actually a captivating comparison of an anarchist/communist society versus a capitalist society that fully explores anarchy's capacity for utopia as well as its pitfalls.

"You have, we do not have. Everything is beautiful here. Only not the faces. On Anarres nothing is beautiful, nothing but the faces. The other faces, the men and women. We have nothing but that, nothing but each other. Here you see the jewels, there you see the eyes. And in the eyes you see the splendor, the splendor of the human spirit. Because our men and women are free - possessing nothing, they are free. And you the possessors are possessed. You are all in jail. Each alone, solitary, with a heap of what he owns."

Have you taken the pledge yet? And have you read anything good you'd like to share?


  1. Thanks for the suggestions. I haven't had any time for casual reading lately because I've been reading for work so much. I'm jealous of your commute:) I have issues with the kindle also - I don't think I could ever really replace my books. Also, you inspired me to make my own bread. It came out really well! I'll be posting the recipe later this week...

  2. I just finished her fearful symmetry, I have to say I found it a bit well, wierd. I love love loved her first book, so I was really hoping for that one, and I did enjoy it, I just felt it got a bit odd at some points. it was still very good though!

  3. do you also like non-fiction? i just read a really interesting biography of c.s. lewis called "the narnian". i think i may be pickier about fiction than non-fiction, cause i'll re-read the same fiction over and over (especially "kid's stuff"), but i'm oddly loathe to try new fiction.

  4. agreed, completely! i often have to read the whole book before i can actually be productive on anything. albeit, now i'm reading all of the Lord of the Rings, including the Silmarillion and Hobbit and etc, so i've got a long, long stretch ahead of me...

  5. i took the pledge and i love this post. i wish i could read as much as you do! my goal this year is to read more, so these recommendations came at the right time. let's see....i read the history of love by nicole krauss last month, and now i'm almost through with olive kitteridge. so far, olive kitteridge is really good, but i'll let you know when i'm done.

  6. oh, i forgot to mention that my real goal in terms of books this year was to read Infinite Jest. My boyfriend's favorite writer was David Foster Wallace - he was devastated when he died- and he's gotten me into him over the last few years. I haven't tackled Infinite Jest yet though because it's so huge and daunting. Maybe this summer...

  7. Lindsay - that's awesome about the bread, looking forward to seeing what you baked up!

    Rachael - I like nonfiction too, most of my nonfiction reading involves food and the environment...I think i'd have to reread The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe to better appreciate a bio on CS Lewis.

    Rebcca - you're right, it is a little weird. I guess I was surprised at how much I liked it even though normally the idea of a story about sisters and ghosts would turn me off.

    Melina - i've never actually read the Lord of the Rings books, probably because the idea seems daunting.

    Giovanna - oh I read the history of love a while ago, that one was good. i'm going to check out olive kitteridge, thanks!. i'm only familiar with David Foster Wallace's "Consider the Lobster" essay which I think turned me off his work.

  8. Oh, haven't had a chance to read the new Atwood yet and she's one of my all time heroes! I can't get over her, I've read everything she's written, more than once.

  9. Ok, going to add Year of the Flood to my list.

    I hate to admit this, but I couldn't stand The Time Traveler's Wife, so I am slow pounce on Her Fearful Symmetry, but I've heard nothing but positive reviews. Glad to know you recommend it.

    I've been reading Michael Pollan's early classic, Second Nature, with relish and delight and couldn't recommend it to you more highly, what with your love of food and nature. A must-read.

  10. The last really great book I read was "Water For Elephants" - so rad.

    But since then, the last three books i have picked up i haven't even been able to stomach finishing...especially "Eat, Pray, Love" - everyone kept recommending it, I thought it sucked.

    I'm starting Dan Brown's new book. Pretty excited...pretty optimistic.

  11. Those all look fantastic and I'd love to read them.

    On a side note, I think I'm the only person in America who hated The Time Traveler's Wife. I thought it was brilliantly constructed, but I just hated the characters, and couldn't get past page 200. But I still want to try her new book.

  12. mkay. I just put The Year of the Flood on my library list. but I'm having trouble forgiving you for the DFW thing.

  13. i just finished the Help, which was mighty great. I recommend it. Currently I'm reading la bella lingua which makes me want to run away to italy :)

  14. I've been meaning to read Year of the Flood. I love Margaret Atwood. Have you ever read A Handmaid's Tale?