What We’re Reading Open Thread

Unknown After reading and loving The Distance Between Us last month, I was eager for another, similar story for my next read. I’m partial to memoirs, and, in addition to The Distance Between Us, I also adored The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, which I read years ago on my honeymoon. Both memoirs are stories of turbulent childhoods in which the authors face enormous adversity and eventually rise above it. In my hunt for another memoir like these two, I found North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both. I read it last week and it did not disappoint. From the Amazon description:

Sex, drugs, and . . . bug stew? In the vein of The Glass Castle and Wild, Cea Sunrise Person’s compelling memoir of a childhood spent with her dysfunctional counter-culture family in the Canadian wilderness—a searing story of physical, emotional, and psychological survival.

In the late 1960s, riding the crest of the counterculture movement, Cea’s family left a comfortable existence in California to live off the land in the Canadian wilderness. But unlike most commune dwellers of the time, the Persons weren’t trying to build a new society—they wanted to escape civilization altogether. Led by Cea’s grandfather Dick, they lived a pot-smoking, free-loving, clothing-optional life under a canvas tipi without running water, electricity, or heat for the bitter winters.

Living out her grandparents’ dream with her teenage mother Michelle, young Cea knew little of the world beyond her forest. She spent her summers playing nude in the meadow and her winters snowshoeing behind the grandfather she idolized. Despite fierce storms, food shortages, and the occasional drug-and-sex-infused party for visitors, it seemed to be a mostly happy existence. For Michelle, however, now long separated from Cea’s father, there was one crucial element missing: a man. When Cea was five, Michelle took her on the road with a new boyfriend. As the trio set upon a series of ill-fated adventures, Cea began to question both her highly unusual world and the hedonistic woman at the centre of it—questions that eventually evolved into an all-consuming search for a more normal life. Finally, in her early teens, Cea realized she would have to make a choice as drastic as the one her grandparents once had in order to save herself.

Have you read it? What did you think? I loved it. And now I’m looking for something new to read. I was thinking about this one. (I guess I’m on a memoir kick at the moment). What are you reading? Any recommendations?


  1. One of my favorite movies of all times “The diving bell and the butterfly” is actually based on Jean-Dominique Baby, who after suffered from the locked-in syndrome, he dictates this whole book by blinking each letter. If the old “the book is better than the movie” is true, then it must be a must-read. I haven’t read it yet but I have recommended the movie to everyone so this is in my amazon wishlist;

    1. can’t edit!!!
      “based on Jean-Dominique Baby’s memoir, who after having to live with the “locked-in” syndrome, he dictated this whole book by dictating each letter.

  2. I haven’t read North of Normal, but want to! I also read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for a class a few years ago. It was really great.
    I recently downloaded The Traitor’s Wife, which is historical fiction and is about the influence Benedict Arnold’s wife had in his treason. I love historical fiction and this got great reviews. However, I haven’t started it yet, because after we got our kitty, Atticus, I had to read To Kill a Mockingbird again! I will finish that today and then start The Traitor’s Wife…then North of Normal 🙂

  3. Avatar photo Stonegypsy says:

    Yesterday I read Clockwork Orange. I saw the movie years ago and absolutely hated it (There should be a giant trigger warning on the cover of both), even if Malcolm Macdowell is incredible in it. I don’t know why I thought I would like the book more. I basically had to learn a new language so I could read about a narcissistic sociopath doing horrible things and not learning or growing at all.
    It did have kind of a lyrical quality once I got used to the language, and… I don’t know. I have really mixed feelings about it.

    1. I couldn’t finish the movie, so it never crossed my mind to try and read it.

      1. Avatar photo Stonegypsy says:

        I started sobbing during the movie, twice, but my boyfriend at the time insisted we finish it. On the other hand, it was almost an interactive experience, because I felt like I was being tortured just like the main character!

      2. My guy friend had wanted to watch it so we started and I just had to stop. So we put in the other movie he had rented– It really says something when Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the less horrifying choice.

      3. Avatar photo Stonegypsy says:

        Yeah… we had to pause the movie after *both* rape scenes in the beginning of the movie so that I could curl up in a ball and sob. And my boyfriend was dead set on finishing.
        Which, in retrospect, should have been a clear “This dude is an asshole” sign. Hindsight’s 20/20

      4. Sunshine Brite says:

        Damn that’s cold.

        We watched it senior year of high school after reading the book… hindsight that probably wasn’t super appropriate.

    2. I love the book and movie. It’s definitely dark and not suitable for everyone. However, I really enjoyed the argument around morality and free will. Also, the ending from the book is different than the movie. The author wrote the story after his wife was attacked and miscarried. The main character is 15 because that’s how old his son would have been at the time the book was written. The author also based a character on himself. The back story makes a difference to me.

      1. Avatar photo Stonegypsy says:

        I don’t remember the ending from the movie very well. Even though at the end of the book there’s some small appearance of character growth, he still doesn’t regret hurting people, he’s not any less selfish or narcissistic than he ever was.
        I did think the morality/free will argument was interesting. But it was hard because I felt (unlike the prison chaplain) that actually maybe it’s better to take away the choice than to allow someone to continue being a monster and continue hurting other people.
        As tough a read as I found it, I still couldn’t put it down. Very mixed feelings.

      2. I definitely agree about it sometimes being better to take away the choice, but to me that doesn’t make the person “good” or “cured”. It was just an interesting concept to see from someone who was affected by a brutal crime. I’m really shocked the book is taught in high school though.

      3. Avatar photo Stonegypsy says:

        Oh yeah, absolutely. He still *wants* to hurt people, it’s just that if he thinks about it he gets sick.
        Until they cure him and give him a job and let him back into the world to continue being a monster.

        And yeah, it seems like a bizarre thing to put on a curriculum.

  4. I, too, love memoirs! Thanks for suggesting those. I’m currently reading and enjoying “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, which is a post-apocalyptic novel.

    1. Station Eleven is on my list to read!

      1. I loved station eleven! Sooooo good!

    2. Just read the synopsis for Station Eleven and this sounds right up my alley! Putting it in my library ebook queue right now…

    3. I loved Station Eleven so much, beautiful writing!

      1. Yes, some of the passages are just so beautifully written.

      1. Whoa!

    1. I loved this sequel to The Shining. I liked where it took us.

    2. I agree! Really loved Dr. Sleep 🙂

  5. I read it after you mentioned it last week. I stayed up so late to finish it cause I couldn’t put it down!

    1. Oh, and I think the Glass Castle is one of my favorite books. I’ve read it a bunch of times. North of Normal was a great antidote to Wild, which I enjoyed, but found Cheryl Strayed to be a relatively unsympathetic narrator.

  6. For those of you who travels: I realized the only times I can buy books is in airport book stores (like Hudson, or whatever the company is named). There are some interesting books in there… mixed with tons of garbage about “how to change your life one vegetable at a time”. So it’s not obvious what to buy.

    Any airport book store suggestions for me ?

    1. Hudson News! Haha they are everywhere. The last time I was in an airport book store a couple of months ago, I bought Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl) and liked it more than Gone Girl.

      1. I love her other books.

      2. snoopy128 says:

        I third Gillian Flynn books! And I also thought Sharp Objects was better than Gone Girl.

  7. I really want to read North of Normal. Memories about dysfunction are one of my favorites (ha).
    Right now I’m reading Leaving Berlin, a novel by Joseph Kanon, about East Berlin in 1949. I’m really enjoying that so far, it’s quite thrilling.
    I also just started Dead Wake by Erik Larson about the Lusitania ship that was struck by a German torpedo. I love his other books so I’m hoping this is just as good.

    1. Oh I loved Devil in the White City! I had to look him up because I remembered his name but not what I’d read of his. In the vein of books like that, I read Conquering Gotham a few years ago and really liked that – it’s about Penn Station in NYC and building all the tunnels into the city. It had a lot to do with Philly and that was one of my first years there (the Pennsylvania Railroad company played a huge role), but there was just a lot of interconnecting threads I had no idea about.

      1. Oh, Conquering Gotham sounds great. I’m from NYC, so I’ll have to read that too.

      2. One book about NYC that takes a different look at the city’s development over the years is called The Big Oyster. All about the impacts of the oyster industry on NYC and how it changed over time. I really loved it!

      3. Oh, I have read that too. It’s a fascinating book! And I love oysters. I read one of his other books first called Cod, which is also an in depth look into how the codfish influenced so much.

      4. Yes! Loved that one too 🙂

      5. Avatar photo Pamplemousse Rose says:

        I read a similar cultural history book called The History of the World in Six Glasses. If I remember, the beverages it talks about are coffee, tea, beer, wine, spirits and Coca Cola. I used to own a copy but it was in a box of books that went missing on a cross-country move 🙁

      6. Avatar photo Pamplemousse Rose says:

        Devil in the White City is one of my favourite books! I recommend it to pretty much everyone. My husband also read Larsen’s In the Garden of Beasts (about the American Ambassador to Germany, either leading up to WWII or during, I’m not sure) and said it was really good too. I’ll have to check out Conquering Gotham.

  8. Oh good, because I’ve been reading through All the Light We Cannot See and I’m just not getting into it the way I’d want to. I’ve had this happen with a bunch of books recently, including 1q84 (and that is one massive book).

    1. I liked All The Light We Cannot See well enough, but it was too long and way too precious.

      1. Good, it’s not just me. It was on so many lists this year, but I don’t find myself wanting to pick it up.

    2. snoopy128 says:

      I’d say give IQ84 a rest until you have time for a slow moving book.
      IQ84 is one of my favourite books, but I find it’s easier if you :
      a) read some other Haruki Murakami first
      b) have time to read it and expect it to move at a slow (but very methodical pace). Each little detail ties together, so it’s best to read it when you can do it without much interruption. It’s not a book that lends itself to putting it down and picking it up weeks later.

      1. I could tell 1q84 was a good book, well-written, interesting story, all that. But in the end, it wasn’t my style (and I wanted it to be, I got through 80% of it after restarting). It’s like historical fiction, even the best ones can’t interest me.

  9. I also really liked The Distance Between Us. On my trip I’m reading The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty by Amanda Filippachi (sp?). It’s totally nuts and I like it but it only has 3.5 stars on Amazon so it probably has a disappointing ending. It’s a novel, not a memoir.

    1. Yup, finished it and it was disappointing. It’s really out there, like a fairy tale / allegory but in NYC today… And it had a very interesting premise but I thought lacked depth and didn’t deliver in the end.

  10. Avatar photo mrmidtwenties says:

    I am currently reading sales reports, they’re kind of like a book, but numbers, and really really boring.

    1. I spent most of the day reading government reports. Fewer numbers, but I feel your pain.

  11. Wendy, thank you for recommending “The Distance Between Us” last month. I just finished it this weekend and LOVED it. It was a really vivid account of striving for the American Dream and the struggles of living through poverty and a dysfunctional/abusive family. The efforts of crossing the borders legally (or illegally in this case) is something we forget about once we are generations removed from the struggle of coming to this country.

    I am now reading “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins.

  12. Avatar photo veritek33 says:

    I’m reading the Astronauts Wives Club right now. It’s about the wives of the mercury 7 and new 9 during the NASA space race years and all the crazy things that were expected of them by NASA and their contracts with Life magazine. Like zero privacy from the press and having to be model housewives – when one of the wives was actually a very accomplished pilot herself. It’s been a good read so far and I’m about halfway through.

    1. I’m going to have add that to my list!

  13. I don’t know if this is f’d up, but every other book I read is a holocaust memoir. Seems like due to a combination of Kindle publishing e-books and some of these people coming to the end of their lives, there are new ones all the time. They’re fascinating.

    1. I’ve loved Holocaust stories since I was about 8, so you’re not alone. They’re fascinating. I was able to visit Auschwitz in 2010 and it was so eye-opening. It’s interesting to read them now with that lens, having seen where a lot of this took place. It definitely wasn’t a tourist trap or anything…it was definitely treated as hallowed ground, which was good to see. Eerily quiet, even with a bunch of people walking through.

  14. Sunshine Brite says:

    Gah, I need to go to the library and read something. I’m blocks from a library and I haven’t read anything since January. I used to devour books per week. I saw Erik Larson had a new book out last time I went shopping, I should try and get my hands on that. I’ve loved pretty much all those books – historical nonfiction written more like a fiction.

    1. Blocks from a library… I think I know where you live now.

      1. I didn’t mean that to come out so creepy and stalker-ish.

      2. Sunshine Brite says:

        Bahahaha, stalk away, when I get unpacked I’ll have people over!

  15. stickelet says:

    Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan. She essentially starts going crazy and doesn’t know why. No one can figure out what’s wrong with her and the book has almost a desperate feel to it, as if they are about to give up. Great read, and a quick one too. I recommended it to my sister and she read it in two days. http://www.susannahcahalan.com/

  16. For some reason I keep reading things involving people losing their teeth. I read Bernice by Edgar Allan Poe, then Sharp Objects, and the Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I didn’t realize it was such a common literary theme.
    Now I’m supposed to read some Hemingway because I promised my FWB I would. He also told me when we were out last week that a lot of people are easy to read, kind of like a cheap paperback novel, but I’m like Tolstoy. Probably one of the more interesting compliments I’ve received…

  17. I’m listening to a book called Spillover about viruses right now. It’s very interesting if you’re in to that kind of thing!

  18. I am a longtime “lurker” but I have to jump in because I love books and getting and giving recommendations so that I pick up things I wouldn’t have otherwise. I recently read, “The Language of Flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and it is one of my all time favorite books. Seriously, I ignored my children, husband, job and everything else to finish it.

  19. Just picked up two novels from the library that (I think) you’d classify as magical realism. The Weight of Blood by Laura McHughs and The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. I put them on hold so long ago that I forget what they’re about. Right now I’m emailing agents trying to find representation for my own book, and these two titles were mentioned an awful lot as books agents loved and/or were mad they didn’t rep.

  20. I just finished “North of Normal” and I loved it. I cried at the end.

  21. Avatar photo Stonegypsy says:

    It’s like 80 degrees in Denver today, and I have the evening to myself, which means it’s going to be the perfect kind of day to chill outside and read until it’s too dark. I’m thinking of starting The Golden Compass, because I have had it for years and have been meaning to read it, but just haven’t gotten around to it.
    Or maybe I’ll finally get around to starting A Dance With Dragons.

  22. snoopy128 says:

    For all you runners out there- What I talk about when I talk about running by Haruki Murakami

    He basically just talks about his love for running and how it has evolved, but in his very introspective and analytic style. I found myself identifying with many of the things he said.
    It’s less American-style “rah, rah, I love running, everybody should do it” and more of a personal reflection on why *he* runs and how it has impacted him.

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