What are you reading these days? I just started reading The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir, the newest book by Vivian Gornick, a memoirist I love who wrote one of my favorite books, Approaching Eye Level. She also wrote the acclaimed Fierce Attachments, her most popular work to date. All of her books center around the basic themes of battling loneliness, finding meaning in one’s life, and a desire for independence as well as connecting deeply with others. I particularly like the book description for “Approaching Eye Level” and think it might speak to many of you: Gornick “explores the fear of loneliness and the search for self-knowledge. Many of us, especially women, find ourselves struggling with both the desire for independence and meaningful work and the need for connections with others. In Approaching Eye Level, Gornick addresses this painful, central issue in our lives, showing us how we can come to know ourselves only by participating in the world.”
I first read Gornick in a coffee shop in downtown Springfield, Missouri, back in the late 90s right after I graduated from college. I was under-employed, with lots of time on my hands and not much money, and this coffee shop with its $2 bottomless cups of coffee, stuffed bookshelves, and comfy lounge chairs, was the perfect spot to spend an entire afternoon. It was there I read Gornick’s Approaching Eye Level, and a bunch of books by the women beat writers (the counterparts to the much more famous male beats like Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, and LeRoi Jones), among them: Joyce Johnson’s Minor Characters, How I Became Hettie Jones, and Diane Di Prima’s Memoir of a Beatnik.
Of course, feminism, and a woman’s role in society (and relationships and family), were constant themes throughout these narratives, with New York City and the Bohemian culture the backdrop for the search for identity in a time that didn’t really value a woman’s voice. I didn’t know when I first read these books that I’d ever live in New York City — and of course, the New York I live in now is much different than the one written about in most of these aforementioned books. In these memoirs, the city seemed at once romantic and thrilling and filthy and scary.
In The Odd Woman and the City, NYC once again takes center stage as Gornick walks its streets, usually with her longtime friend, Leonard, “whose friendship has ‘shed more light on the mysterious nature of ordinary human relations than has any other intimacy’ she has known.” They walk and walk, and, as they do, Gornick continues to engage “with grocers, derelicts, and doormen; people on the bus, cross-dressers on the corner, and acquaintances by the handful,” making sense of the world around her and her place in it, all while meditating on the evolution of a long-term friendship and the making of a modern feminist. I’m enjoying it so far. What are you reading and what do you recommend?
Kate June 4, 2015, 12:12 pm
This! Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. Loving it.
Ika June 4, 2015, 12:14 pm
I’m reading Kinsey and Me. I love love love Sue Grafton, I have read A through V several times each, and just finished W is for Wasted the other day.
I definitely prefer the novels to the short stories in Kinsey and Me, but they’re still good.
jlyfsh June 4, 2015, 12:16 pm
I still need to read the last few! I need to go to the library one day, there just isn’t ever enough time to read all the books!
Ika June 4, 2015, 12:24 pm
Hurry! X is coming out soon 🙂
jlyfsh June 4, 2015, 12:18 pm
I just finished The Nightengale and my book club decided to read the Girl on the Train next. I still haven’t bought it, but I have like 2 weeks to read it so I’m more than fine. I just have to make time. I also tend to read a lot of the free kindle books Amazon offers. I just can’t help but download and at least try them out.
RedRoverRedRover June 4, 2015, 12:25 pm
My mom gave me a bunch of books from my grandparent’s basement, which were hers when she was a girl in the 50s/early 60s, and which I used to read when I went to visit my grandparents every summer. I just finished one. It was called “The Mystery at Deer Hill”, it was published in 1960, and my mom paid 15c for it. It’s basically a teen novel, very cheesy, but I liked it! 🙂 Teens were so different back then. And reading the ones I read 20 years ago is awesome. Not much help to anyone else out there looking for recommendations, but at least *I’m* having fun. 🙂
booknerd June 4, 2015, 1:01 pm
I’m reading The Haunting of Hill House. It’s my first Shirley Jackson. I just finished The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, and it was amazing. I haven’t enjoyed a book so much since….I don’t even know. Maybe since Donna Tartt. And before that I read Eleanor and Park, which was an easy read, and really good in a teenaged love sort of way.
mylaray June 4, 2015, 1:11 pm
I started reading the memoir, A Cup of Water Under My Bed, which I saw being recommended somewhere online, maybe here.
kmentothat June 4, 2015, 1:38 pm
I just bought and read The Martian by Andy Weir in a 30 hour timespan (which included sleep and overtime for work). It was so good I could not put it down and my bf was laughing at me for attempting to go to sleep last night and then throwing the covers off to run into the living room to finish it.
It’s about a man who is accidentally stranded on Mars with limited resources and no way to communicate with Earth or his crew. It’s very science heavy but in an approachable way and sort of a modern day Robinson Crusoe. It’s written primarily in a diary format and the main character is as funny and he is resourceful. Even if you aren’t a sci-fi person (and it is not an aliens or magic sort of thing, it’s really a survivor tale) it’s an awesome and thoroughly engaging read.
RedRoverRedRover June 4, 2015, 2:08 pm
I haven’t read that, but I just wanted to pipe in and say that for anyone who hasn’t read Robinson Crusoe, it’s a fantastic read. And you can download it for free!
And thinking of Robinson Crusoe also calls to mind The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. It’s the first english-language detective story! Also an excellent, excellent read. One of the characters loves Robinson Crusoe which is what made me think of it. And it’s free to download too!
Kate June 4, 2015, 2:56 pm
Well jeez, if you liked that you’d love Seveneves!
kmentothat June 4, 2015, 3:10 pm
Immediately adding that to my to-buy list. Thanks!!
honeybeenicki June 4, 2015, 2:05 pm
Jeez, I feel like I should be reading something more…. substantial. Right now I’m reading Echoes of Dollanganger by (not) V.C. Andrews. Its a followup series to the Flowers in the Attic series. V.C. Andrews passed away almost 30 years ago, but her family keeps putting out books. They used to be unfinished manuscripts or based on notes that she had done, but I think now they’re just ghostwriting them from scratch.
Ange June 4, 2015, 7:11 pm
I went through a heavy VC Andrews phase when I was still only in primary school. SO INCESTY. I always found that constant theme in her books weird.
Sandy June 4, 2015, 2:13 pm
After struggling to get into many different new books I am rereading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix but the UK edition this time (in ebook format so I don’t have to carry around an 800+ page book).
ktfran June 4, 2015, 2:15 pm
I’m reading “Yes, And,” which was written by two Second City execs. It’s basically about applying improv skills to your business and personal life. I’m enjoying it so far.
I need a good beach read for my trip next week though. I’m considering Luckiest Girl Alive.
kmentothat June 4, 2015, 3:12 pm
Thumbs up for this! My training at Second City definitely changed the way I live and socially function in the world, both in my personal and work life.
snoopy128 June 4, 2015, 4:20 pm
I read Luckiest Girl Alive….I followed LSP from start to finish and love Jessica Knoll’s writing. I think I had really high expectations of Luckiest Girl Alive, so it sort of fell flat for me. It was good, but not great. A nice beach read though.
Kate June 5, 2015, 6:02 am
Haha @ktfran, “Yes, and” reminds me of the time this team leader at my company decided to bring in an improv team for the afternoon during one of our off-sites. We had to do all these improv team building exercises, one of which was called “yes, and” where we had to keep building on what the other person was saying. I get it, and there were some learnings there, but I almost died it was so far out of my comfort zone!
ktfran June 5, 2015, 10:30 am
kmen – I couldn’t remember if you did Second City or IO. Nice!
Good to know, Snoopy. Thanks!
Kate – that would be completely out of my comfort zone too! I’m hoping I’ll absorb some of the book is saying and be able to apply it.
Anonymous June 5, 2015, 10:45 am
I mean, being able to think on your feet and not choke up is an incredibly valuable skill set to have!
Lianne June 4, 2015, 2:38 pm
I am reading Me Before You, which I like so far. Before this I read What the Dead Know, which I really liked and flew through (probably due to the 6 hour flight I was on).
AND I have added all of the books from the book recommendation thread to my Amazon wish list. I will add more based on this column, too. I love reading!!
ktfran June 4, 2015, 2:43 pm
Oh, Me Before You is on my amazon wish list. Let us know what you think!
muchachaenlaventana June 4, 2015, 3:45 pm
I liked Me Before You! I read it right before it exploded-kind of sappy at points but definitely a beautiful book. I really loved one of her other books to, which was The Girl You Left Behind- I actually listened to it and it was one of the best audio books I have ever listened to!
Lianne June 8, 2015, 9:51 am
I LOVED it. So well done. I actually didn’t find it too sappy – I thought she struck the right balance. It also hit close to home for me – not sure if you all remember, but my cousin suffered a spinal cord injury last summer and is now a quadriplegic. His story is much different than Will’s, but it really provided a lens into what his life must be like day-to-day. I highly recommend it. P.S. I totally read Will’s voice as Hugh Grant. I think it’s because he always called Lou by her last name, Clark, which Hugh Grant did in Bridget Jones’ Diary – ha!
Sunshine Brite June 4, 2015, 2:43 pm
I’m reading nothing right now but I have a Phillipa Gregory book checked out and my husband just bought the Game of Thrones books. Any of you get into a no reading rut before? What worked for you to get out of it?
kmentothat June 4, 2015, 3:16 pm
Going to an actual independent bookstore and talking to people who worked there and getting good recommendations! There’s something about being with ACTUAL books, and reading handwritten little reader recs from people at the store that really shakes things up for me. And aimlessly browsing till I find something that works for my mood.
And being willing to read several books at a time so I can put one down when my brain just can’t with it anymore (I’m looking at you Oryx and Crake, and Wizard and Glass). Technically I am reading 3 -4 books at any one time but I don’t pressure myself to get through one if I really hate it.
kali June 5, 2015, 3:21 pm
OMG! Oryx and Crake is one of my all-time favs.
RedRoverRedRover June 4, 2015, 3:21 pm
For me it’s rereading a book that I already know I like. And if I’m not reading because I feel too tired, I read an “easy” one like the A Series of Unfortunate Events series or one of Neil Gaiman’s kid/light books or something.
Jennylou June 4, 2015, 3:34 pm
If I’m stuck in a rut, it helps me to look at something I like on Amazon or Goodreads, and then look at the recommendations page. Or I just run down to Goodwill and browse through their shelves to see if anything looks interesting. I’ve found some good new stuff there, and classics I’ve always meant to read. 🙂
muchachaenlaventana June 4, 2015, 3:45 pm
Omg I am so deep in to a no reading rut right now. Sometimes I just have to read crap (smut) or something I love like Harry Potter to get myself out of it. I am still in one pretty big though. Usually it happens after I binge read a few really intense books.
Anonymous June 4, 2015, 5:32 pm
A goodreads account! You tell the app what you’ve read, and it gives suggestions for similar books.
Lyra June 4, 2015, 6:05 pm
Definitely know the feeling! I’m getting out of a reading rut right now and it feels great. Basically, I just put down the phone/laptop and forced myself to read instead. It’s easy to get lost on Pinterest and end up wasting 2-3 hours and then BAM the evening is gone. I like to re-read books I’ve already read and loved to get out of a rut, but also sometimes just consciously choosing to pick up the book instead of the laptop has worked wonders for me!
mylaray June 4, 2015, 6:15 pm
Sometimes going to a different area helps me get out of a reading rut. I love reading in parks and coffee shops (and turning my phone off always helps me).
Sandy June 5, 2015, 7:45 am
Rereading a favourite book (which is what I’m doing now with Harry Potter) or if it’s a new book it’s a new book in a favourite series.
ktfran June 5, 2015, 10:33 am
I’m so happy to learn that I’m not the only one who will reread a book!!!!
RedRoverRedRover June 6, 2015, 11:11 am
I have books that I’ve read literally a dozen times. Maybe more. If I enjoy the writing and the story, I’ll reread it over and over. Same goes for movies I like. I’ve seen some movies easily over 100 times. Might be a side-effect of growing up broke though, when you amused yourself with what was available, and couldn’t just spend money on something new whenever you wanted. All my siblings are re-watchers and re-readers too.
Jennylou June 4, 2015, 3:27 pm
I just finished “Marie-Therese: The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter.” It was excellent! I read “The Lost King of France: How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette” a few years ago – also excellent – and I’ve been wondering about his sister’s fate ever since. I knew she survived, but only knew the bare bones of the rest of her story – married, no kids, lived into her 70s. The book was tragically sad, of course, but really fascinating!
Ange June 4, 2015, 7:16 pm
Oooh they sound good, I love historical non-fiction.
Moneypenny June 4, 2015, 3:43 pm
I am reading the James Bond books by Ian Fleming.
I found 7 of the 12 novels in a shop in Ashland, OR when I was visiting some friends in April. They’re all original hardcovers published as part of a collection. They’re not first editions- those are $$$. I wish I could link a photo to the covers, they’re very simple but very 50’s/60’s!
I’m currently reading “Goldfinger.” I’ve read “Casino Royale”, “Moonraker,” and “From Russia with Love.” I still have “Thunderball” “You Only Live Twice,” and “The Man with the Golden Gun.” In the meantime I can hunt for the missing ones to complete my collection! They’re very entertaining, and very dated. Definitely not as crazy as the movies, but have lots of cool cold war spy stuff going on.
snoopy128 June 4, 2015, 4:24 pm
Currently reading The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King. He offers a less often heard perspective on North American-Indigenous relations. I’m not loving the amount of history he goes through but I see how it’s all relevant. It’s been challenging the way I think of certain things.
However, for more Indigenous literature I”m loving Joseph Boyden- the Orenda was my favourite, but the 3 Day Road is also good. Both are historically set and fairly accurate and do a good job of portraying the complex relationships occurring during the the period.
Lyra June 4, 2015, 6:12 pm
I read “Heaven is for Real” this week and it was very thought provoking. Those who are spiritual/religious would probably enjoy it. It’s a true story about a boy who gets really sick on a family vacation and ends up going into surgery, during which he experiences heaven. It’s told from the dad’s perspective — the dad is a pastor and he talks about the details that his son recalled over the course of about a year. For example, he met a girl who claimed to be his sister when he was in heaven — and the mom had had an abortion years before. Stuff like that. I found it to be a really intriguing book!
kmentothat June 5, 2015, 10:21 am
Did you read about how the boy later recanted and said he made it all up?
jlyfsh June 5, 2015, 10:28 am
I believe those are actually two separate books. Doesn’t mean the Heaven for Real kid didn’t make it up, but he hasn’t recanted….
kmentothat June 6, 2015, 8:33 am
Ooops, my mistake. Sorry, my atheist is showing…
RedRoverRedRover June 6, 2015, 11:09 am
Wait, that book is non-fiction? When I read Lyra’s description I assumed it was fiction. Anyway, he could easily have not made it up, and really seen those visions while he’s under for surgery. It’s not proof that heaven actually exists. If that makes you feel any better kmentothat. 🙂
pebblesntrix June 9, 2015, 3:46 pm
I’m planning to start Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s really critically acclaimed and seems to offer a fresh treatment of identity and race in America. The Amazon summary says: “Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.”
I’d love to read it with some folks if anyone is interested. We could get another book club thing going. Let me know.