Friday, January 1, 2016

Welcome to 2016, and my odds and ends from 2015!

There is a short stack of books I read in recent past months that I just never got around to reviewing. Because I want to start 2016 off fresh, I just have to get those off my to-do-blog list. 

I'm looking forward to reading more in 2016 than I have in the last few years. I began to really fall off on my pace for a number of reasons, most of which don't bear examination. As a wise friend reminds me constantly, it is what it is. Losing my job as a bookseller will free me up considerably to read solely for myself, and I'm already enjoying being able to stop making lists of which customers just have to read a book I've loved, or who should be gently steered away from one. I never read a book alone, really. My customers were always swimming around in my head, and I welcomed having every one of them in my reading brain for these past many years. Not having them there anymore is bound to affect my reading experience. 

All of that said, here are the books that I've read of late but haven't written about. I'll make this as quick and painless as possible. 

I can really blame my reviewing lethargy in recent months at least partially on this one. For weeks and weeks -- both before and after its release -- it's all we talked about in the store. I don't know that I have anything truly fresh to say about it at this point, but here are some of my condensed thoughts. If you have suffered through any conversation about it with me before now, there'll be nothing new here, so y'all can just scroll on down. 

1. I'm glad I read it, which is not the same thing as saying that I really liked it. 

2. I was sort of jazzed by the thought that when her friends in New York, the Browns, gave a very young Harper Lee a subsidized year in that city to sit and write the book she needed to write, this was what spilled out, in its imperfect, messy glory. 

3. I need friends like the Browns. 

4. Every child of the South who has left has looked back with a critical eye, and made an effort to distance themselves from the worst parts of it by separating themselves from all of it. Somehow, almost to a one they discover that they love more about their home than they hate, and learn that you can embrace the culture of the South even if you don't (and shouldn't) love all its bits and pieces. This plays out with great clarity in this novel. 

5. Virtually no child of the South who grew up here in the many years before the Civil Rights movement doesn't understand that fundamentally good people can hold fundamentally bad beliefs. I grew up in a household in which it went without saying that racial slurs were not permitted, one in which those who cared for us were as beloved as blood kin (and in some cases, even more); but it was also a household in which I didn't ever think to ask if Ida Mae had a family of her own, or wonder what her life was like when she stepped out of ours. The promise of this novel is borne out, though, in the realization that each successive generation of decent people have been able to let go a layer of the vestiges of racism, even as we still have work to do. 

6. Reading GSAW is a stunning example of how valuable is the work of a great editor. Ms. Lee's editor, Tay Hahoff, must be applauded for her recognition of where the diamonds lay amidst all the coal. Her role in the enduring success of what became Ms. Lee's finished novel cannot be overstated. It is so easy these days to have a novel published without going through the hands of a gifted editor, and it breaks my heart that there may be another To Kill a Mockingbird out there, hidden under layers of unpolished writing. 

7. And finally, no, I do not think Ms. Lee was manipulated, taken advantage of, or coerced into publishing this glorified manuscript. I'm beyond wanting to argue the point with anyone. I know very well the reputation of her friend Wayne Flynt, and hold him in highest regard. I believe he knows her better than any living soul, and his opinion has held the greatest weight for me. 

The rest of the reviews are, mercifully, more abbreviated. 


Reading Ruth Ware's thriller, In a Dark, Dark Wood, was the literary equivalent of binge-watching one of those Netflix series that rightfully never won an award but was perfect while you were stuck in bed recovering from a little outpatient surgery. I recommend it for those sorts of circumstances, as it was a more than adequate way to kill some time. 

Published in hardcover August 2015
Available in paper edition April 19, 2016
Scout Press
Simon & Schuster, Inc. 


I happened to start reading Lindsay Starck's gloomily lovely novel Noah's Wife at the very beginning of what would turn out to be more than a week of constant rain here in my town. Noah is an energetic young preacher who asks to be the replacement for a clergyman who wound up stepping into a river and drowning under mysterious circumstances. The small town in which this church is located is being swallowed up by unrelenting rain. Obviously a retelling of sorts of the story of that Noah, but on occasion I felt the author was laboring to make the allegory fit that narrative. There were some lovely moments, and more than a few beautiful turns of phrase. Here's one I dog-eared: 

"We all belong to to someone else, in one way or another. There's all kinds of people who have shaped us, made us who we are--not just the people we keep close to to us, but also tens and hundreds of other people we don't even remember, strangers we stood behind in line and talked to for a minute."

On sale January 26, 2016
G.P. Putnam's Sons


I am fascinated by the lifestyle of polygamists. I have two children whose names I often mixed up while they were little; how does a man with a gazillion of them keep it all straight? And who are the women who enter into these marriages? Ruth Wariner grew up in one of these families, in a compound just beyond the border in Mexico. While her mother was married first to one of the founders of this particular group, her remarriage after his death placed her way down on the spousal totem pole of Wariner's stepfather. They lived a life of physical and emotional and practical deprivation, and my heart so very nearly broke for her and her sibblings so very many times I lost count. I could not put this book down, although it was not as insightful or poetic as Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle. I am happy to recommend it, though, and would have directed people who loved Walls' memoir to it.

On sale January 5, 2016
Flatiron Books

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  1. As a fellow bookseller, I know exactly how you feel about never reading a book alone. I love what I do, but sometimes I wish I could just read what I want. I mean, I could, but it's hard for me. Sometimes someone will mention a book that was published a few years ago that I haven't read, and it seems almost irresponsible for me to go back and read something from the backlist when there are so many new books and ARCs piled up waiting for me. Best of luck to you -- and by the way, I couldn't put The Sound of Gravel down either!

  2. looking forward to many more reviews!!