Working full-time in an independent bookstore, I find myself reading more than ever before. I finally have not only time, but motivation to make reading a daily part of my life. One of the many perks of my job is that I regularly take home free ARCs– Advanced Reader Copies– unedited, not yet published versions of books that won’t reach bookstore shelves for months after I’ve read them.
Unable to resist the piles of free books that arrive daily, I find myself reading authors and books I’d never have picked up before and what would you know, I’m enjoying them, mostly. I’ve rekindled my appreciation for fiction after a five year hiatus. Also on the list you’ll find many non-fiction titles as I still would rather learn something from a book than be swept away into some imaginary world (though admittedly you can learn plenty from fiction. To quote a line from a book I began just this morning, “Perhaps someday, if that is to be the will of God, my countrymen will hear about my wondrous adventures and take from them what wise men should: truth in the guise of entertainment” ~The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami).
Though I always remember my reaction to books, the plot, characters, and details often fade away quickly after I’ve turned the final page. I’ve decided to start this blog post that I will update regularly as a way of tracking all that I’ve read. I’m passionate about my job as a bookseller and get great joy from matching books with readers, so I thought making my list public might benefit us all.
As a disclaimer to my readers, I receive no loyalties or compensation for writing or reviewing books here. Though this is the way many bloggers get money for what they write, I have yet to make the leap from hobbyist to paid freelancer. If at any point I make the shift I would maintain clear and honest communication with you, my readers. I don’t intend to sell you anything from what I write (though come into the bookstore where I work and that may be a different story). What follows is as much for myself and my own records as it is for you.
Have a suggestion for what to read next or want to share a book you’ve read recently? Just post it in the comments below.
Books I’ve read since August 2015:
Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell: This was the first book I read after moving to North Carolina. It takes place in Boston– the author and her close friend, Caroline Knapp, forge a friendship walking their dogs through New England woods and rowing along the Charles River. It’s a story of loss– Caroline dies tragically and quickly of lung cancer. Poignant and heartbreaking, an intimate look at true friendship.
Let’s Pretend this Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson: A bestseller years ago, I picked this one up at a local used bookstore days before I was hired at the indie where I now work. Author of the popular blog The Bloggess, Lawson shares wildly hilarious stories from her childhood and adult life complete with pictures. More like a compilation of blog posts, I read the first 100 pages in a single night, then took longer to find my way through the remainder of it. The stories are absolutely wild and hilarious and unbelievable, though clearly true because you just can’t make this stuff up.
I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50 by Annabelle Gurwitch: I was committed to loving this book before I began, but found myself let down by the only-sometimes funny narrative. I thought it could just be that I hadn’t yet made it to the edge of 50, but others in the book club I read this for agreed it wasn’t all they’d expected. If it hadn’t been so closely preceded by Lawson’s book I might have enjoyed it more.
#Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso: Yes, I actually read a book with a hashtag in the title and a pink cover by someone who manages a company called “Nasty Girl” vintage apparel. And who would have guessed I really enjoyed it. You don’t have to be a girl or a boss to get valuable business tips from this book. It’s a fun, simple read for anyone wishing to start his/her own business. One part memoir, one part business guide. I’ll admit I only made it 3/4 of the way through, but mainly because I felt I’d sampled enough and there were stacks of books awaiting my perusal to get to.
The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna: I often miss the boat with anything popular and such is true for this article turned book that got it’s start through social media sharing. Luna, like me, decides to completely change her life and follow her passion– for her it’s painting. She’s republished an edited and illustrated version of the original essay that made its rounds on the internet. For anyone who is unhappy in life, it’s a realistic guide for what to do next. It’s not reasonable or realistic to act like we did– selling everything, quitting your job, and moving– but there are small steps anyone can take to living their “must” instead of always listening to all the “shoulds.”
The Same Sweet Girls’ Guide to Life: Advice from a Failed Southern Belle by Cassandra King: This falls squarely in the “would-never-read-if-I-weren’t-working-in-a-small-southern-bookstore” category, but I loved it. It’s a small book, perfect for gifting to recent graduates or anyone in need of inspiration.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Another small book for gifting. This one is based on the author’s Ted Talk that a respected student of mine recommended to me years ago. I’m glad I finally found the time to read her words. She brings up powerful points with real-life instances from Nigeria that aren’t far off from our reality here in the United States.
$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer: I abandoned this book after just the first few chapters. I thought it could have been more successful with added personal stories (of which I’m sure there are more based on the book jacket) interspersed with the sometimes too-detailed history of poverty and politics in America. I don’t shy away from political books, but this was just too heavy, too matter-of-fact to hold my attention. Something I did learn though that I hadn’t known before is that welfare was created to help the widows of Civil War Veterans in America and has only gained it’s bad reputation after intentionally biased presidential candidates (no name shaming here) voiced their disapproval by highlighting individuals who did not represent the true face of welfare recipients, but have nonetheless become part of our collective consciousness around government aid.
The Oh She Glows Cookbook: Over 100 Vegan Recipes to Glow from the Inside Out by Angela Liddon: Do cookbooks count? This one should. I’ve read the recipe titles cover-to-cover numerous times and it’s become a permanent fixture on my kitchen counter. I’m so glad to add so many more simple recipes to my arsenal of healthy and cheap vegan food options.
Southern Fried Lies by Susan Snowden: The author is a regular at the bookstore where I work and I’ve dubbed her my “southern mother” because she jokingly offered to adopt me since she’s “always wanted a literary daughter.” She gifted this book to me and I loved it (not just because it was free.) It’s a great coming of age story that takes place in Atlanta, Georgia. The narrator starts out at 13 and graduates from high school in the end. Anyone who can relate to having a crazy family will love this book. If I were still teaching freshman English I’d try to have this put on the summer reading list. The voice so strong, clear, and honest, you’ll feel like fast friends with the narrator, Sarah Claiborne.
A Closet Full of Masks by Susan Snowden: Pressured by locals to continue Sarah’s story, Susan wrote a novella about Sarah’s experiences in college. The true gem of this book though is the short story collection that follows the novella. A long-time teacher of writing, Snowden has the short story form down perfectly. The characters and plot lines will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. A great one to read if you want to know what to do right in your writing.
The Arrangement by Ashley Warlick: This one won’t be out until February– I had the pleasure of reading a version that didn’t even yet have a cover. Lucky there wasn’t a blurb on the back, because I never would have given it a chance– the plot is so far from anything I’d ever read… an author who has an affair on her husband. The story-line of the book drags on in unnecessary circles, but the writing is simply excellent. The subtleties of language kept me going all the way through the weird and unsettling end.
Hemingway in Love: His Own Story by A.E. Hotchner: Another ARC that I read a month before it’s October release day. I finished it in a single night, unable to put it down. It helps that I’ve had a long-running love for Hemingway’s work and that I think there’s a strong possibility that I am Hemingway reincarnated, but even a sometimes-fan can appreciate this collection of conversations between Hemingway and the author. Hotchner promised not to release this part of his collection for 50 years so as not to upset Hemingway’s wife upon death and family. I felt like I was sitting in a bar, sharing a pint with Hemingway throughout the whole book. It was simply fascinating and left me wanting to read more.
Amazing Place: What North Carolina Means to Writers edited by Marianne Gingher: I started reading this early in my bookstore career to become familiar with the place I’d come to call home and its writers. I haven’t made it all the way through yet, but the essays I’ve read have been well worth it.
Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamont: A collection of essays, this was the first ever audio book that I listened through the whole way through (and it made commuting go much faster.) Anne Lamont was recommended to me years ago and, had I read her then I probably would have loved her. Now though I found myself annoyed by her ranting about former President Bush (even though this book was published in 2014!) and the unending sadness as nearly everyone she becomes close to dies tragically of cancer. Yes, she is able to find “moments of grace” in life, but it feels a bit forced, almost too honest, too tragic, and too much a let down. There are some very graceful moments in the writing, but otherwise this collection didn’t suit me.
Red Hot and Holy: A Heretic’s Love Story by Sera Black: Gifted by a friend, I devoured this spiritual memoir in just a few days. I wouldn’t recommend it for most people as they will find her story too weird likely to relate, but the timing for me in my own life couldn’t have been more perfect. It was just the nudge I needed to continue listening to my own heart.
A Poet of the Invisible World by Michael Golding: This heartbreaking, yet comforting novel is reminiscent of the Alchemist or Siddhartha. The story about a child born with two sets of ears, destined for a deeply religious life who discovers his physical anomaly is not all that makes him different from the other dervishes. Your heart will break countless times right up until the final pages of the novel. If you’re expecting some grand epiphany or definite closure, you’ll be disappointed, but for anyone with a deep sense of spiritual understanding the ending will suit you just fine. I don’t know if it will become the classic it’s commanded itself to be, but it’s worth the read.
Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed: When I found out that her new book was just a collection of quotes, I decided I wouldn’t be buying it, yet when I lifted out the only copy that arrived at the bookstore a week in advance of the release date, I couldn’t help but take it home. Though I’ve read almost all of the quotes from reading Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things they were no less powerful the second (or third) time around. It’s a book that I’ll keep nearby and refer to when in need of inspiration.
The War that Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander: I was more than excited to listen to this audio book that I loaned from the library, but was sadly let down by this literary criticism-like tome. I’ve always been drawn to and fascinated by the Iliad and the Odyssey, but I found myself nearly falling asleep at the wheel as the British reader droned on and on about I couldn’t tell you what. I made it through all 99 tracks of the first disc, then decided staying awake while driving would be more important than suffering through the nine other disks. It did inspire me to finally read the Iliad though now that I have more time.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert: When this book first arrived at the bookstore I felt like running out onto the sidewalk and waving it like the old fashioned paperboys announcing breaking news. Truth be told, I’m not sure why I was so excited. I read Eat, Pray, Love by the same author just after my divorce and only enjoyed it because I was committed to enjoying it. I didn’t care much for her style of writing, but I needed an “I’m single and happy” manifesto to cling to like the Alanis Morissette CDs I blared and sang along to at that time. It was one of the few instances where the movie was better than the book. I read Big Magic more out of curiosity than anything. The concept of “big magic” and how it’s presented in the opening chapters was interesting enough, but the remainder of the 2/3rds that I read became too much of the author saying, “Look how successful I am without a degree in writing.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but only somewhat. I imagine many people will be inspired by this book, but I think I’m ready to write one of my own.
City of Secrets by Stewart O’Nan: This one won’t be published until April 26, 2016, but I can’t wait for someone else to read it and talk to me about it. The main character who goes by Brand has escaped a concentration camp during World War II and is seeking refuge in Palestine under an assumed identity. He and other Jewish refugees begin bombing major sites in the city. This was such a difficult novel to read as it raises so many psychological questions. Are these Jewish survivors terrorists? Do they have a right to what they’re doing? Can we sympathize with them? The story was every bit brutal, sad, and compelling.
The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff: Commuting 20 miles each way to work every day has become so much more manageable with audio books. I listened to all 18 hours of Witches while in the car. The writing kept me interested for weeks. Schiff is a compelling and well researched writer. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the Salem Witch trials.
The Moor’s Account Laila Lalami: This was really well done. It’s a fictional account about the sole surviving black slave who came to America in search of gold with the Spanish Conquerors in the late 1400s. Mustafa, the main character, sells himself into slavery to feed his family. Unlike other accounts of this period, Lalami does an excellent job creating truly human characters and showing the good and bad of all sides. This isn’t a blame one side or the other story, but an intense odyssey of survival.
Co-dependence No More by Melodie Beattie: This book literally changed my life, or at least my way of thinking. I had no idea what co-dependence was, well, more accurately, I’ve lived in co-dependence for most of my life and just didn’t know the name for it. So eye-opening.
Lights of Pointe-Noire by Alain Mabanckou and Helen Stevenson: This memoir is a work in translation and to be released for the first time in America in 2016. I thought I’d really enjoy this, but decided to abandon it after about 60 pages. It has a great story line– the narrator goes back to his home in Congo many years after leaving and reflects on his childhood and family relations. I didn’t feel emotionally invested in the story enough to continue reading.
What I’m Reading Now
I have a habit of reading several books concurrently. It might account for why I’m seldom able to keep story lines in my mind long-term– I have to save room for the six or so books I’m reading simultaneously at all times. Eventually I’ll move these to the above list with more detailed descriptions, but for now here they are in no order of importance:
Boundless Love by Miranda Macpherson: I went on retreat with Miranda years ago in California and my experiences with her completely changed my life (for the better). The time seemed right now to read her first book.
Falling into Grace by Adyashanti: A good friend lent me this spiritual work. Like all good spiritual teachers, Adyashant’s style is simple, straightforward, and life-altering.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children By Rick Riggs: My students were reading this when it first came out and told me they didn’t like it. It was lent to me by someone recently and after 100 pages I’m really enjoying it.
Serafina and the Black Cloak by Rick Beatty: I wonder how popular this book is outside of Asheville and Western North Carolina. It’s a teen novel that takes place at Biltmore. I’m about 2/3s of the way through and think it’s a great story line. Published by Disney, it’s destined to become a movie.
A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison: I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to this author Saturday night. He’s truly amazing for his work– a former lawyer who travels the world to research serious social justice issues and weaves them into works of fiction. His most recent book The Tears of Dark Water is about the Somali pirates (he actually spent seven weeks in Somalia researching it, seriously). The one I’m reading is his second (of three published) about the female sex trade in India. The characters here play a close second to the ones in A Poet and second only because it’s a longer book that will take more time to finish.
Bearwallow by Jeremy Jones: Reading and supporting local authors as an indie bookseller is important to me. Jeremy is incredibly humble, soft-spoken, and kind and it comes through in his writing. In this memoir, he leaves his home (locals know Bearwallow Mountain well) for college and teaching ESL in Hondurus until he finds himself returning with his wife to settle again in his mountain homeland. He explores what drew him back to teaching in the same school where he walked the halls years prior (sound familiar anyone?)
Writing Your Life: Putting Your Past on Paper by Lou Willett Stanket and An Old Friend From Far Away by Natalie Goldberg: Both are memoir writing books. I refer to them mainly when I’m in the mood to write and don’t have a particular topic. Goldberg says writing is like working muscles at a gym. The more you do it, the easier it comes. She’s right. With National Novel Writing Month a few weeks away, I plan to take on the challenge of writing 50,000 words throughout the course of November.