Well, of all the things I thought might happen this March I could never have come up with where we are now. I’ll spare you the contents of my brain churning with the anxiety I have not only over family and friends flung across America, but all the people who have lost their jobs, the people sick and struggling. I feel helpless.
So, while it feels a little frivolous to write about books, I’m working on the assumption that some of you have been told to stay home in your state and might like some reading ideas. The tiny bit of good news is that while March was another mixed bag, mostly due to my increasing inability to focus, there were some outstanding reads this month.
Uncommon Type is actor Tom Hanks’s first foray into writing. Much in the same way his acting always feels genuine and, even in dark roles, comforting, so do these stories. The theme throughout is typewriters, but the stories range from a billionaire in the future who keeps spending millions to time travel to the past, to a divorced woman put off by the too-friendly teacher next door. Each is humorous and touching in its own way. I’d recommend the audio because Hanks’s voice is always wonderful.
Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore: 5 stars, review to follow
If you’re looking for distraction then Oona Out of Order may be the perfect book for you. It’s fiction that demands attention because the plot is so unique. Oona’s birthday is on New Year’s Day. When the novel begins she is 18 and about to turn 19. Except midnight comes and she is thrown into another time. Internally she is 19, but her body and her life are 51. This is just the first of many hops Oona makes every year. If it sounds too confusing, don’t despair or opt not to read. The author paves the way and makes following Oona’s humorous and touching life easy. Also, there is a twist later in the novel that completely blindsided me so, extra points for that.
The Herd by Andrea Bartz: Murder mystery set in a contemporary female-centric company. Review to follow
Adrienne Miller was the fiction editor for Esquire for nine years. She documents her path to getting there and what life was like working for a men’s magazine in her memoir, In the Land of Men. Once at Esquire she edited and had an affair with David Foster Wallace. Which was as dysfunctional and creepy as you would imagine.
I don’t need my memoirs to read like The National Enquirer or TMZ especially when they’re about the publishing world, but Adrienne Miller goes a bit far in the opposite direction. Yes, she was the fiction editor for Esquire, but her numerous, repeated references to Greek mythology, Martin Amis and Nabokov made me feel like I was back in a senior year Literature class at college. They stopped the pacing of her life dead in its tracks and began to sound like showing off.
After a while, as much as I wanted to read about the world of magazines, writers, and NYC, I had to give up on this one. Where was her editor?
I read The Shape of Family hoping for an exploration of the varied terrain of marriages between different cultures. Keith is Midwest America personified and holds true to the capitalist dream as an investment banker. Jaya is the daughter of an Indian diplomat and is cultured and well-traveled. They have two children—Karina and Prem. Their marriage is a loving one until tragedy strikes their family.
I realize grief impacts everyone differently. I was prepared for that and I appreciated Jaya and Keith’s stories, even when I didn’t understand them. They felt real. Prem’s voice was also touching, in trying to cope with what’s happened to the people he loves. It is Karina’s path that lost me. It may be that it’s a subject/option that’s been played with a lot in recent years and so didn’t feel fresh or realistic, but it dragged the novel down.
I had hoped for depth in The Shape of Family, but instead it was a bit like A Good Neighborhood—a plot that kept expanding outward without ever digging down. A good option is you’re looking for outsized plot to keep you reading.
That’s for me this month. How are you doing? I know I’ve never met most of you, but I appreciate your support of my blog and would love to hear how you’re doing in these difficult times. Please feel free to comment, even if it’s not about books.
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