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The Yellow House by Sarah Broom

The photo of Sarah Broom that was in my head as I began her memoir is from the NYT; her look is that of a stylish woman of the 1940s. Maybe you’ve seen this image in their review. So as I began reading this memoir of her family that begins with her grandmother, born in 1916, then reaches back to her largely unknown great-grandmother, I had that picture in mind. Later as I read what she...

This is Happiness by Niall Williams

This is Happiness is a 78-year-old man recounting his memories from the time he lived with his grandparents as an 18-year-old after dropping out of the seminary. His reminiscences describe life in the little village of Faha in County Clare in 1958. He meanders from telling stories to descriptions of the countryside to exploring his own feelings and what he has learned over his lifetime. The...

Caffeine by Michael Pollan

This subtitle, How Caffeine Created the Modern World, lays out an ambitious subject for a 2-hour audiobook, even if it is written by Michael Pollan. I’m not in a position to say that it was a successful thesis, but it was interesting enough that I want to devote a post to it to remember some of the points he made. I am sorry to say that as far as I know, it is only available through Audible...

Why Religion? A Personal Story by Elaine Pagels

I know this scholar from her work Revelations about the last book of the Bible “Revelation,” a fascinating book that translates her scholarly work for the public. Her new book recounts her own dramatic life with references to her work and religious/spiritual practices that helped her survive traumas she experienced. Her best known book is The Gnostic Gospels, written early in her...

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

As he did in his book Seven Types of Ambiguity, the author depends on coincidences for this 617 page book to work. He begins with the story of a sympathetic character, Lamont Williams, who had just been released after six years in jail. Lamont had agreed to give a ride to his old friend and a man he didn’t know who robbed a store, making Lamont an unwitting get-away driver. He had gotten a...

Inland by Téa Obreht

The author’s previous novel, The Tiger’s Wife, was an exhausting view of life in the Balkans, with fairy tales from the Ottoman days and references to the 1990s war in the region to the uneasy postwar years when it was published in 2011. The backdrop for this one is the West; one tale begins in the 1850s, the other in the 1890s and the two collide at the end. The story featuring Nora...

Cod by Mark Kurlansky

The subtitle is A Biography of a Fish that Changed the World, staking out a big claim for a bit of food, but the author makes a good case. By giving them a preservable food source, the cod enabled the Vikings to leave home for distant shores. Its abundance off the Newfoundland and Massachusetts shores was a rich resource that changed behavior. And there are countless other instances of the...

Florida by Lauren Groff

The author’s great strength, evident in both this book and in Fates and Furies, is her brilliant use of descriptive language. In “Ghosts and Empties,” the first story, a woman recounts the walks she takes each night while her husband puts their two boys to bed. She is dismayed to have become “a woman who yells,” and she hopes her walks will counter that. Some of my...

Books to Read

Inland by Téa Obreht. The Street Sweeper by Elliott Perlman. Public Library. The Light & the Mirror by Hilary Mantel comes out March 10. The Imperfect Union by Steve Inskeep. About Fremont. The Bridge of Little Jeremy by Indrajit Garai. Rec by Tony’s Book World. Prairie Fever by Michael Parker. Jeff-Mad new books. Fest. of the book Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman...

Hare’s Fur by Trevor Shearston

A book about a 70-year-old potter in mourning for his wife who encounters three kids living in the wild to avoid being taken in by the child protective bureaucracy, well, that story could have some pitfalls. This one successfully avoids them. The book is set on the outskirts of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. Russell has a few good friends who live nearby, but his life is largely solitary now...

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