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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...

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

This remarkable novel on the NYT list of the ten best novels of 2019 is the author’s first. It is set on Kamchatka, a remote peninsula in the east of Russia, much closer to Alaska than to Moscow. It takes place over the course of a year, a chapter for each month. The first chapter describes a terrible event, the kidnapping of two young girls, that was very difficult for me to read. Each...

Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl

I loved listening to the author who, when this was written in 1998, was restaurant critic for the New York Times. Here, she tells how she came to love good food. I had read her laugh-out-loud book Garlic and Sapphires more than 10 years ago, so I was not surprised to find this one, too, has many funny stories. I’ll start with one of the best about her mother, who was a terrible–and...

Favorite Books for 2019

As I have in recent years, I read 50 books this year. Here are my favorites: The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay. This is an impressively told story demonstrating that privilege can give a person the power to harm others while intending to help them. The setting is Bangalore and Kashmir; I came away with the knowledge that understanding what has happened in that region is hard to come by. An American...

Love Unknown: The Life and Works of Elizabeth Bishop by Thomas Travisano

Over the years we have known that our friend Jim’s brother has written books about Elizabeth Bishop; this one is surely his most ambitious. It is an eminently readable telling of her life and for me, an appealing recounting of her poetry. Her father died when she was eight months old and when she was five, her mother had a breakdown and was hospitalized for the rest of her life. Bishop...

Yellow Notebook by Helen Garner

Because I loved her book of essays Everywhere I Look so much, I didn’t hesitate to read this book of Helen Garner’s diaries from 1978 to 1987. Many of the personal stories were pretty mysterious to me; everyone is referred to by a single initial. While she records her emotional reactions the end of her second marriage, F didn’t become much more than an initial to me. M was...

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

I had been hesitant to read a book about a topic I lived with for many years, but two recent recommendations and a book loan later, well, what choice did I have? The great fear is that facts or the tone would be wrong, but that didn’t happen with this book. And I should say that I am only a patron of public libraries as my work experience was with academic libraries. At the outset the...

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Having just recalled the four books by Ann Patchett that I’ve read, I can say this one fits right in. The characters are fantastical but irresistible, the most hateful become toothless, sometimes literally, and the setting is everything. In this one, the book is even named for the setting. The Dutch House was built by the VanHoebeek family; when they died, everything they owned remained in...

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight

This long and thorough biography of the incomparable Frederick Douglass has been my companion for some weeks now. It has been inspirational to hear about his strength in the face of the great turmoil of his life. His story of escaping slavery and becoming an iconic speaker who drew thousands to hear him is endlessly fascinating. Recently I read a review of a different book that brought to mind...

Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo

After Bernardine Evaristo won, well, co-won, the Booker Prize recently for her new book, I found her 2013 book in the library that has been on my TBR list. She is amazing, and I look forward to reading her new one, Girl, Woman, Other. It’s hard to love the character Mr. Loverman, despite his many appealing qualities; Barry is a complex guy. He and all his friends were born in Antigua and...

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