7 Min read
Contemporary Fiction and Nonfiction
Books on Writing
I read because to not read is to live one life. To read is to live many lives. Then, I ask, what should I read and with whom should I spend my time? Reading is to inhabit another’s mind, thoughts, sense of being in the world. Reading connects us across time and cultures.
When folks ask what I read, it takes a moment to answer because I have an expansive palette with an interest in out-of-print books, unusual topics, and just about anything on language or grammar or writing. That said, I enjoy books I would not have chosen, such as gifts from others or selections by my book club. Contemporary fiction helps me stay in touch with today’s readers. I have a special place for authors who make me laugh, such as David Sedaris and Helen Ellis!
In the photo, quite by accident, is my favorite translation of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations (by Gregory Hays with cover of red bird and feather). It is a source of strength and sanity during difficult times.
Recent reads from the TreeHouse shelves
If you’re looking for gifts or books to read over the winter break, I pulled these titles from the TreeHouse with my short takes below.
This list is a gift for you, dear reader. Thank you for taking the time to visit THL and feel free share.
- Maid by Nita Prose is fun, a mystery with a protagonist who loves to clean. The writing is good, the pacing is fast. The next book is out if you liked the main character, Molly, who is now the head maid: The Mystery Guest.
- The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. I learned a surprising amount about life in a senior home. Many titles in this section were chosen by my reading group, a theme of mass market / genre writing to see what folks are buying and why.
- Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a fictional account based loosely on Fleetwood Mac. It follows the band members in the critical formation of the group and through its end. It’s a clever structure, with lyrics to songs (written for this book) at the end. It has been made into a film series. I watched the first episode but found the book was better.
- The Little Liar by Mitch Albom is his latest novel (2023). It is timely and it is perfect for readers interested in WWII. Characters are from the large Jewish community in Salonika, Greece. It’s an interesting conceit which reminds me of Zusak’s Book Thief and its unusual narrator, Death. Mitch Albom, of Tuesdays with Morrie fame, is eminently readable and the characters will pull you in and break your heart. As with tales of the holocaust, scenes are graphic and horrific, poignant reminders in the wake of the October 7 attack on Israel.
- Horse is written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks. Narratives from 1850, 1950s and the present are woven together. A bit heavy-handed with the message, but lots to learn about horse racing during a critial period in history. Suitable for the literary reader. I want to read other notable works by Brooks after listening to her speak at a local event.
- Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus is set in the 60s with limitations on roles for women. Chemist Elizabeth Zott makes a space for herself in what becomes a wildly popular woman’s cooking show. Zott is hilarious.
- I Will Find You by Harlan Coben is a page turner and suitable for readers who like crime and an engaging story. Opening line: I am serving the fifth year of a life sentence for murdering my own child.
- Mastery by Robert Greene has been around and he’s a best-selling author. This was a gift I finally got around to reading and I loved the profiles of historic figures and their challenges, their progress, their mentors. This is for those serious about their passion, sharing what mastery looks like and how to get there. A college student told me recently that Greene’s book, The 48 Laws of Powers, has been banned in prisons. I’m reading that now.
- What Narcissism Means to Me by Tony Hoagland is a poetry collection suitable for the average reader. He challenges norms, forces you out of your comfort zone. It’s good. I’ve been thinking of it often.
- Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis. This is a collection of laugh-out loud essays, true stories. I’ve given copies as gifts. Epigraph for the book. Southern Lady Code | noun | a technique by which, if you don’t have something nice to say, you say something not so nice in a nice way.
- I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy. This memoir is a tragic and comically dark read. There’s the first half before her mother dies and the second half after she dies. Most folks will recognize the author as the child actor, Sam Puckett, in iCarly. This made for a spirited discussion in my reading group. Many had recent parent deaths so the topic was raw, plus the mother-daughter relationship is on full and ugly display. Eating disorders, the perils of childhod acting. It’s a difficult but provocative story.
Books about Writing
- Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose by Thomas and Turner. The authors explain the classic style of writing and offer examples to demonstrate what is and is not classic. This is for the serious and thoughtful writer of nonfiction. Though, all writers would benefit.
- Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison is not just for songwriters. Written by notable professor at Berklee College of Music, this will help any writer dive into the music in the words, what makes good songs and why such writing resonates. Very organized with exercises and lyric examples.
For the Serious Reader and “Seeker”
- Lydia Davis’s recent translation of Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert has been widely reviewed. She does not disappoint and the characters leap off the page. For readers who enjoy the classics, this translation provides a rollicking look into Flaubert’s genius for character and the writing on the line. Thank you Ms. Davis! This edition is the Winner of the French-American Foundation Translation prize. On the new translation: THL on Sex over 70 and the Synecdoche
- OUT OF PRINT and highly worth the mention, saving the best for last. The Wheel of Life by John Blofeld is for the Buddhist and the seeker; this is one of the most powerful books I have read about finding meaning. It is the autobiography of a Western Buddhist who spends a lifetime looking for answers, meeting the gurus and lamas and monks and zen masters and enlightened beings. He is many things, a sinologist and British scholar, a teacher and cultural attache, and ultimately, most humbly, an ordained Buddhist. Each chapter is a gem and many are astonishing explorations of faith and belief. The tone is one of incredible humility.
Merry Christmas! Happy Hannukkah! Happy New Year!
*Reader favorite with the full text of Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. Makes for a good read-aloud story with family and friends. My introductory note: Here is a gift, a thoughtful and powerful tale about the true spirit of the day. Regardless of your beliefs, there is something here for everyone. It’s the best story I’ve read this season and I’m not sure I will ever think of fruitcake in the same way.
*I have at long last, found a recipe for fruitcake (4.6, 818 ratings) and will make my own this week. If you’re not a fan, neither was I, until I took it upon myself to find a ‘good’ fruitcake for a friend and shut-in, who when pressed about what I could bring him, said ok, a bit of fruit cake is nice. Found ‘good’ stuff at a gourmet grocer and discovered I liked it a bit.