Like most avid readers - and by avid I mean much like oxygen, marshmallows, and hiking, reading is a staple in my life. I know you know all of the metaphors and similes bibliophiles use to express their intense desire and need for reading. We read for pleasure, to escape reality, to learn a new craft, or to experience that far, far away place. And, by looking at the date of this post, you'll know what reality we are escaping, or at least trying to temper. With that in mind, I've selected six books off my bookshelf for you to explore.
As you see in the photo above, these selections cover fiction and non-fiction, current reads and some past treasures. All of these books make an outstanding gift, especially when given with a beautiful bookmark.
Follow me for a quick tour of each title.
You'll notice two books by Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees. I like Kidd's writing because it is beautiful in its simplicity as she tackles complex ideas. The Book of Longings, (Viking Press, 2020) is an intricate exploration of a woman named Ana. At the beginning of the 2020 pandemic, SMK would have been on a book tour, but quickly rebounded with an online book club hosted by independently-owned bookstores. The book club read a section each week, then tuned in to watch a pre-recorded interview with SMK about that section and listen to her respond to questions from readers (find the videos at www.bookoflongings.com/).
Gracious, funny, authentic, and just beautiful, SMK sat in her home (sometimes you could hear the dog bark) and walked us through her research, her writing style, her thoughts, and her philosophy. A reader's dream come true. Readers don't read just for the story. When we find authors we love, we become friends with them. We learn to anticipate their storytelling style, their word choice, their dedication to us as readers. Add an intimate setting with the writer, from the comfort of one's own couch, and paradise has opened its secret gate.
The Book of Longings, a story about a woman named Ana, is not just about a woman, but the wife of Jesus. Yep, that Jesus. And what says happy holidays better than a story about Jesus' wife? I encourage you to find the book club's videos and read/watch along with them. SMK's insights, thoughts, and process will open your mind. I had reservations at first about this book, but coaxed myself to suspend religious judgment and read with an curious heart and mind. I wasn't disappointed and you won't be either.
Under the non-fiction heading, I've selected another SMK title: When the Heart Waits (Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions) (HarperOne, 1990). Notice the publication date - 1990. Read The Book of Longings first (along with the videos) so you can experience SMK's spiritual growth, and inspire your own. She summarizes the theme of this book thusly: "I'm not referring to waiting as we're accustomed to it, but waiting as the passionate and contemplative crucible in which new life and spiritual wholeness can be birthed." She is Christian, so her thought process is heavily influenced by Christian tradition and philosophy. Be prepared to experience God as neither male or female.
The other two non-fiction books on my list are The Making of a Manager ((Portfolio/Penguin, 2019) by Julie Zhuo, a manager at 25 years old of Facebook's design team. She isn't exactly ancient at the time of publication (mid-30's). This book is ideal for those seeking to improve their managerial skill set, or update previously acquired skills. It's a fresh, fast read with powerful takeaway messages like:
"...presenters knew their material forward and back...they experienced what social psychologists call "the curse of knowledge" - the cognitive bias that makes it difficult for them to remember what its' like to be a beginner, seeing content for the first time."
I recommend the second book, Managing Up (How to Move up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss) by Mary Abbajay (Wiley, 2018) to anyone over the age of 16. If you're not familiar with the DiSC Behavioral Assessment (it's not part of this book but you cant take an assessment online for a fee), you can use the book's very brief assessment of your boss, yourself and your determination to work better. The chapters outline different types of bosses and how to best work with them. This is where an understanding of your DiSC behavioral style would be very helpful - the insights from the assessment are very specific to you; the information in Abbajay's book needs to be sifted through to find what works best for you. Nonetheless, understanding how and why to manage up is going to make any one feel more powerful and engaged at work.
My next selection is Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie (Knopf, 2001). First, the cover art is sweet, stark, and slightly melancholy. Two little red leather shoes, straps worn, toes scuffed, sit side by side. Outgrown? Abandoned? Left behind?
The story was translated from French and, not having read the original French, (nor being capable of reading French) I am swept off my feet by a person's ability to capture the poetic purity of another's writing in a different language. Balzac takes place during Mao's Cultural Revolution and follows the lives of two boys living in a mountain village, placed there because of their family's high level of education. They discover friendship, love, and the freedom of living through another's writing.
Amor Towles' "A Gentleman in Moscow" is perfect for your "long winter's nap". Clever, endearing, and charming, it's the Cary Grant of novels. Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol in 1922. The entire novel takes place within the walls of the Metropol, with flashback sequences outside of the Metropol, through post WWII. The world within the Metropol is as exciting, mundane, and intricate as the world without. Don't read this book quickly; bask in its luxuriant pace and let your mind and body relax into the elegant world of aristocracy.
How do people read while on the treadmill?
Riley Sager is the pseudonym of an author from New Jersey. I have recently considered writing under a pseudonym in order to experience the freedom of anonymity, the release of responsibility, and the opportunity to fully explore beliefs that might be offensive to people I know - that is, I'm a good girl and don't want anyone to think otherwise.
This is the first book by Sager that I've read, and I give it a 9 out of 10. There are a few subplots left open, but they are minute and overshadowed by the story as a whole. My husband is excellent at "who dunnit"s and is right nearly all of the time when he guesses - and that's in the first five minutes of any tv show or movie. Me? I like the ride! I like to suspend belief, follow the clues like a bee bouncing from flower to flower - here for a moment, there for a moment, and ultimately let someone else do the work of making the honey.
Sager's novel is written as two stories - one in first person (Maggie) and current time, the other as a novel where in Maggie is the main character of a "true" story. In 2020, when all of the world is tilted off kilter and phrases like "new normal" and "cancel culture" are the foundation of our logic, its not surprising that the paranormal and supernatural have invaded our thoughts, television and reading. What else can explain the strange happenings in our homes, our neighborhoods, and countries?
Home Before Dark gives you space to question your beliefs, decide what's real and what is mislabeled, and ultimately, keep all hands and feet away from the edge of your bed during the night. I revel in the straightforward writing of the unexplained. Sager offers no apologies, no "oh gosh, just a short in the electrical wire" explanations, no "Mr. Green in the library with a rope" summary. Good people might be bad, bad people might be misjudged, and our heroine might be mistaken.
One of the many delights of this book are the metaphors and similes written by the author. Here are two of my favorites:
"A ceiling fan that, when it spun at full speed, sounded like the clicking of teeth." This is on "page 3" of the book. Just that sentence tells you all you need to know about Sager's ability to write a book that creeps into your psyche and makes it self at home.
"The sky has the same purple-black hue as a bruise." (page 57) Pain - deep pain that will take time to heal; the phrase is used to describe the setting as Maggie arrives at the home where she briefly lived as a child, the home that is the focus of this ghost story.
Finally, Sager has a great sense of humor as you'll discover towards the end of the book when the solution seems at hand - except its' not.
Is it worth your time? Absolutely. Try to read it at night before bed for full effect.
Is it worth your money? Yes. Mwahahahahahaha
Get your copy here: