On my last round up post someone asked how I'm managing to read so much, which makes a lot of sense because I'm definitely getting through more books these days. The secret is a new bus commute that's about an hour each way, so, sadly, I have no tips to pass along (other than trying to encourage people to check out public transit?). I try to reserve my commute for reading. It can be tempting to start checking my email on my phone, but I don't do it unless there's a five alarm emergency going on at work that really can't wait an hour. Messing around on my phone makes it feel like a time I need to fill, rather than a time I get to use, which is how I want to see it.
TransAtlantic - I loved this book. It consists of layers and layers of history, centered around Ireland but involving multiple historic and fictional characters. The three main threads are the first non-stop transatlantic flight, Frederick Douglass on a book tour in Ireland and George Mitchell helping broker the Good Friday Agreement. I can't imagine how much research it must have taken, but it ends up feeling effortless in the best way possible. The writing is lovely, of course, I'd expected nothing less after reading and loving Let the Great World Spin a few years ago.
Dept. of Speculation - This is a slim, beautiful piece of writing. I kept stopping to underline phrases and then re-read paragraphs. You can easily tear through this one, but I wanted to slow down. It's a simple premise - tracing a woman's adult life in bits and pieces but the voice is perfect - humorous and honest and beautiful. The plot is not the point. I liked the lack of detail, the way the writing felt like memories and the way the timeline played out with occasional jumps. I re-read it within a week of reading it, because it felt like it was over too fast.
The Dog Stars - This is my FAVORITE book I've read in ages, I think. It is an apocalypse novel, which I'm prejudiced towards, but even if you don't love reading about a post-disaster world, you could love this book. One of the things I enjoy about dystopian novels is the landscape - the eeriness of a world so sparsely populated, the cities silenced and abandoned. This novel focuses on the actual landscape rather than the usual rubble. There are lots of descriptions of quiet rivers and canyons and forests. There is a lot of fishing. I was more than half in love with the narrator, who pilots around in an old Cessna and carefully wraps his old dog Jasper in lovingly scavenged quilts. The language feels exactly right for the character and the writing is beautiful in a completely non-flowery way.
Garlic and Sapphires - I read Ruth Reichl's other memoirs a few years ago and really enjoyed them (and now want to re-read them because I can't remember everything). In this latest one, you get a behind the scenes glimpse of her life as a food critic, which entailed numerous disguises. Did I sometimes feel the agonizing over the deeper meaning of her disguises was a little tiresome? Yes, but it seems like it was a real issue to her. I was (gleefully?) surprised that she was willing to dish so much dirt on her NYT colleagues. Her original restaurant reviews are sandwiched in between the chapters where she discusses researching them and it was a good structure for the book.
Cool, Calm & Contentious - A book of humorous essays. I love humorous essays, especially autobiographical ones and I enjoyed most of these. For a crazy dog person, I have to say that I did not love the ones about her dogs. I think there are some thoughts that should remain internalized and the voices you give to your dogs are probably included.
Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites - I read a lot of memoirs and I still cringe a little when I try to criticize them. Memoirs are a special class of writing because they're dependent on a combination of events, writing and character. You don't have to have all three things going for you. I do think they are fair game for criticism, particularly when written by an established author, but it's difficult because it's easy to sound like you're saying I just don't like this person. But I just didn't like this memoir. It felt both exhaustive and superficial to me and it turned out to be less about indulging appetites than denying them, as the author describes thinking about food but rarely eating it due to a deep desire to be thin. This could have been interesting, but because the denial wasn't really acknowledged with much depth, it just ended up feeling like an unexplored issue. Similarly, there are chapters and chapters about difficult relationships without any real intimation of what exactly is making them so difficult. I felt uncomfortably squirmy when the author described routinely crying in restaurants all over New York, but then, I have a fear of crying in public that probably borders on emotional repression, so maybe that's just my baggage.
The Dinner - This was a pretty intense book. There isn't much I can say about it without giving it away and it's a book that really shouldn't be given away. Which leaves me in a bind. The story took a really dark turn pretty quickly and I considered abandoning it, which is saying something, because I routinely read books about serial killers who hide victims behind wall paneling. This is a different kind of disturbing. I loved the writing, I enjoyed the structure of the book and I was impressed that the author could pull it off, frankly. But I'm not sure I would recommend it to anyone I know.
State of Wonder - A science fiction-y novel set in a Brazilian jungle. I enjoyed the crazy plot but I wasn't particularly moved by it.
Jack Reacher series 1 - 6 - These are re-reads for me. The series sometimes has a miss but on the whole I love the declarative sentences, the detailed descriptions of weaponry and the occasionally unbelievable plots. And no, I did not see the recent movie because I was horrified by the idea of compact, dark haired Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher.