Lots of good books this month! The one I liked best by far is The Imperfectionists, a wonderful and clever story of the staff of a doomed English-language newspaper based in Italy.
And three more, limiting myself to the usual reasonable number:
She Looks just Like You, my favorite memoir of pregnancy (by a never-pregnant mom!)
Critical Care, a smart look at nursing, hospital politics, and caring for the dying and their families
Brilliant, the story of how technological improvements in lighting have changed the way we live
I was hopeful that a book with a subtitle that reads Living Better than Ever in an Age of Less would provide some inspiration and innovative thinking. Alas, The New Good Life is an insipid collection of tips on washing in cold water (has the man ever laundered really dirty clothes?), avoiding soft drinks (do we really need to be told this?) and not buying a house larger than our needs. I’m sorry that the author was one of the many victims of Bernie Madoff, but does he have to make up the difference by selling books with so little substance?
Written by a terrorism expert, Denial discusses her rape as a young teen in a quiet suburban community, her quest for the rapist, and her own struggle with post-traumatic disorder. It is a wrenching story, because of the rape of course but also because of the strange circumstances of her upbringing, with a father who bizarrely remarried but left his daughters to live with his estranged wife (their stepmother, not their mother), and whose supervision and warmth were lacking, in my view at least — but I did not find it particularly interesting or affecting.
Another British book! The Rehearsal is a devilishly clever book that describes a drama school whose first-year students are creating a play based on an affair between a teenager and her teacher at another school, with the sister of the teenager being the girlfriend of the main playwright. Is your head hurting yet? This novel within the play made my head spin, and not in a good way. Even with insightful comments about the mothers of budding artists and well captured portraits of teachers, the story folds onto itself and repeats too much.
I must be the last person on earth to read Harry Potter for the first time… After the debacle of Twilight, my younger daughter insisted that I read a book of her choice, which turned out to be Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Now I’m not going to keep reading the entire series, but I’m happy to report that I had a good time reading the book, despite my sell-documented dislike for fantasy. Unlike Twilight, I found Harry Potter to be pleasantly well written, the dialogs to properly advance the action, and the action to move briskly towards uncovering some of the secrets of Harry’s tortured family past (naturally the author needs to save some for the following six tomes!). That being said, this is a book for older kids, not for adults. And I encountered the usual problems I have with fantasy. If this is all make-believe, why does the wizards’ school function exactly like a standard English private school? Why do students of magic strive to play Quidditch, with its bizarre rules, when they could easily apply their powers to tweak the game? And why do they rely on those silly message-carrying owls when they could use good old email? Fortunately the action managed to make me forget those quibbles while I was reading!
The heroin’s husband dies in an oil rig accident and she can’t quite let go, for years and years afterwards, while raising their three children with very few resources in a bleak Newfoundlands town. The best part of February is the description of the small town and its determined, practical, kind people. The rest of the story didn’t work so well for me. The constant longing, the small events of everyday life, the remembering of each little event in her married life, years later, the minute descriptions of the dresses she sews all added up to a boring whole for me — so I started to look for every false note, from the overdone sprinkling of current events to mark time, to the peaches in November (peaches!)Too bad there were not more Newfoundlands tidbits.
Brilliant tells the story of artificial lighting, starting with the Cro-Magnon caves in Southwestern France. The focus is not on technical improvements but rather on how the availability of light transformed society, the relationships between social classes, work hours, and the way we sleep (and no longer tell stories in the middle of the night). I very much enjoyed this book, which I found to be both well-written and eager to investigate the deeper effects of technological advances.