By Blood by Ellen Ullman. A fascinating premise about a professor exiled from his university temporarily renting an office next to a therapist. A certain patient prefers to not use the white noise machine, so the man is able to overhear her sessions. He becomes engrossed in the patient's story and even takes steps to get involved in her world. For a story that largely takes place with the narrator sitting silently at his desk, eavesdropping, there is some excellent suspense. Because of the structure - the story being told by a man who is listening to a patient tell the story to the therapist - and because there is a lot of Nazi history, some parts move slowly. The professor's exile and background are only hinted at, but conclusions can be drawn and it seems fitting to not know everything about him, since we never learn his (or the patient's) name. I had no clue what the ending would be like - it seemed difficult to be realistic and not-hokey - but it was very well-done and satisfying, despite not really offering resolution.
Ford County by John Grisham. My first Grisham experience. I was pleasantly surprised by how well-developed his characters were. He explored many interesting premises in this book, like a family dealing with a relative's execution on death row, a man leaving his life behind, an employee swindling the elderly even while making the nursing home a better place. Well-written and entertaining.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. An extreme re-read, of course of course! I can't even guesstimate how many times I've read this book. Even as an "adult" I still found it enjoyable. It's full of cute stories about a fourth grader coping with a younger brother. It's pretty silly but there are still some "life lessons" in there about not smoking dope and obeying your parents that I'm not sure I caught as a kid, but stuck out to me as obvious as an adult. Timeless.
Hilarity Ensues by Tucker Max. Either you love Tucker Max or you hate him. I loved his first book, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell; I recommended it to everyone I knew with a sense of humor. His second installment, Assholes Finish First, wasn't as good. I still read it, I still laughed at it, I still enjoyed it overall. That book seemed more like he was bragging, even cockier than in his first book, and it was tiresome. As for book number three, the tamer title gives the right impression. Tucker is all grown up. His writing has really evolved, and while you still get the sense of someone telling you a story, they're well-written, though not necessarily literary. The stories focus more on wild times with his friends than how he treats women (though there's still a fair amount of that). The reader gets a real sense of Tucker - how he grew up, how he engages with friends and family now, how he's thankful for his success. Don't let these sound like bad qualities - the book still had me cracking up until I cried. But there were sentences that rang of truth, of feeling, of a real person behind the words. Believe it or not, Tucker never stops encouraging people to live the life they want, not what's expected, and it's actually inspirational.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I've read this book before, I know I have, but I can't find a review I wrote about it anywhere. So I either didn't finish it or didn't review it. This time I remedied both.
Anne Lamott has a special way of writing that sounds like you're having a conversation with her… a really eloquent, thought-out conversation. She seems very approachable and realistic and doesn't make writing out to be something only the truly gifted can do. She talks about her struggles and her jealousy and her doubts and how being a published writer hasn't made her life a fairy tale, like many people might think. It was incredibly refreshing to read. It doesn't hurt that she's hilarious in a sly, dark way.
I read this book in two nights before bed, and with every page I wanted to jump up and start writing something, just to be putting words on the page. She's that good.
Some favorite quotes:
- "One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life as it lurches by and tramps around."
- "Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die."
- "Think of those times when you've read prose or poetry that is presented in such a way that you have a fleeting sense of being startled by beauty or insight, by a glimpse into someone's soul. All of a sudden everything seems to fit together or at least have some meaning for a moment."
Syrup by Maxx Barry. A re-read, several times over. I love this book. It's hilarious and light-hearted and creative enough to kick my butt into gear. Scat, a 20-something marketer, gets a million-dollar idea for a soft drink to sell to Coke. He develops it, presents it to the board, and they love it. Then everything goes downhill. It's a great read, very sarcastic and silly and critical of marketing.
Baby Plays Around by Helene Stapinski. Another re-read, but hey, at least I'm reading something! I'm willing to bet I've read this book every year since it came out in 2004. I absolutely love it. The way it's written is absolutely flawless, and I don't say this to get your hopes up. I don't want to say the writing is beautiful because it's not necessarily, not in every line. It's just… exactly right. It's not too flowery or too matter-of-fact. She's a freelance journalist, and her writing shows this in the best way. The book revolves around Stapinski's time as a drummer in an indie band, delving back into her childhood musical beginnings as well as the friendships and relationships she's in at the time. It gets very personal as she openly shares troubles she has in her band as well as in her marriage. For knowing exactly what happens, the book still punches me in the gut at the crucial moments, then soothes me over with the resolution. Absolutely amazing, recommend to everyone.