January Book Marks
Indie Bookstore of the Month – Word After Words Books in Truckee, California. wordafterwordbooks.com/
Whenever we visit Bob’s brother Jimmy and the rest of the Truckee Woodruffs, this bookstore is one of my first stops in the picturesque Western downtown, complete with gunslinger wooden sidewalks. It’s the best place to browse what’s new and check out the coveted employees picks.
While not a new release, this debut novel has stayed with me since I first read it. Set in 1959, with its Jackie O style suits and Jell-O molds, the book is based on the true story of the only fatal nuclear accident to happen in America. In the last days of the Quiet Generation, that slice of time before counter culture and the Vietnam War profoundly disrupted society, army specialist Paul Collier moves his wife and daughters to a remote Idaho town. His assignment seems full of opportunity, to help oversee one of the nation’s first nuclear reactors. His young wife struggles to find friendship among the pecking order of mostly older military wives and becomes friendly with a rancher in town, which sets tongues wagging. When Paul discovers a cover-up at the reactor, he is forced to make a difficult decision. The resulting emergency upends relationships and has fatal consequences. This beautifully written book is about trust, secrets, rumors, marriage and how we often hurt those we love when we try to protect them.
True confession, I wasn’t a huge fan of “A Visit from the Good Squad.” Hey, we can’t all love a Pulitzer Prize winner every time. But Eagan’s most recent novel (out in 2017) demonstrates without a doubt just what a gifted writer and sophisticated storyteller she is. The lives of an Irish family in Brooklyn change course with the Depression and during the run up to WW2; a young woman becomes a diver as part of the war effort. An ex-stock broker must now work for subsistence wages, a father disappears, a mobster fights his own battles, a sister needs a new wheelchair, and each person must come to terms with their own version of loss. Eagan’s fleshed out characters and balanced dialogue allow the reader to make observations about the cultural limitations and social constrictions surrounding the coming of age in the mid- 20th century. Her enviable use of language both reveals her characters’ inner workings and transports you to a different time.
Lights, camera, action! Before the ink on the first draft could dry, this baby was sold in 4,975 countries, headed for the silver screen and has already climbed to the top of the book list. So, if you’re ready to be totally engrossed in a good thriller, this is your next read. Think of a combo of “Girl on the Train” (totally unreliable, chardonnay-sipping narrator) and the psycho-bending, neck snapping nature of “Gone Girl” and then throw in some of Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.” The protagonist is an agoraphobic nosy parker, who sees a little too much from her perch at the window. Or does she? For Hitchcock fans, the double bonus is multiple old movie references and I practically hear the violin screech of the “Psycho” strains as I read. The characters pop off the page and like any tight suspense book, there are some well executed revelations and a nice twisty ending that I didn’t see coming. This book puts the “thrill” in thriller.
What’s in the water in the town of Norwich, Vermont? Anyone looking to raise a well-adjusted Olympic athlete might want to make a pilgrimage and bottle some up. Helicopter, eagle and snowplow parents don’t belong in this small Vermont town that has proudly, and inadvertently, turned out more Olympians than any other. Crouse turns her journalistic lens on this community of farmers and Dartmouth educators to investigate the reason one town has produced generations of kids with a healthy competitive “fire in the belly,” resilience, and (most importantly) the tools for long-term happiness, years after the Olympic spotlight fades. Some of the ingredients for success are obvious; a community that supports sports for all and values it without the pushing and pressure. There are no sideline screamers in Norwich, no parents waiting in the bushes to kneecap their kid’s opponents. Instead, what this book uncovers, as Crouse details each athlete by chapter, is a broad acceptance of the free-range method of child-rearing laying out broad moral and ethical boundaries and setting expectations without dictating a billion little rules. (Remember that feeling that the worst thing your parents could say was not that they were mad but that they were “disappointed?”)
But what’s more interesting are the subtle ways in which the whole community has played its role. In the famous case of snowboarder Kevin Pearce, we get an inside look at how he had the tools to pivot and find new purpose after his career-ending brain injury right before the Olympic trials. It’s a short book and the tale moves quickly. And it’s exactly the antidote we need a world that often feels far too scheduled.
Non Fiction-Gee-Whiz Science:
For fans who love Mary Roach’s books on weird science like corpses, the digestive system and other in depth looks at how things work, this is your book. Known to let off a few colorful phrases myself (usually out of earshot of my children) I was fascinated why it feels so good to swear like a sailor. No surprise, the truth is that pain isn’t a purely biological phenomenon; it’s just as much psychological. In tests where male volunteers were asked to rate how painful a stimulus is, most of them will say it hurts less if the person collecting the data is a woman. Go figure! And for two test groups with their hands immersed in ice water, the group who was allowed to swear unabashedly was able to endure the pain almost half the time again. Heart rates went up and pain went down. So if that’s not an excuse for salty language, I don’t know what is.
It’s interesting to me that studying swearing or even recording instances of it was so taboo for so long that many of the phrases or even much of the details surrounding medical or emotional observations have been lost to history. I enjoyed the author’s easy breezy writing style, cool, gee whiz neurological information, and anecdotes that will make you feel better about all of the times you inadvertently, or purposely, let the F bomb fly!
When I got the galley for Kelly Corrigan’s new book I felt like a girl opening a Three Musketeers bar in my room without sharing with my sisters. Kelly’s memoirs make you feel like you just went to confession, took a long bath and had a girl’s weekend all at once. So how did this latest book come about? Kelly and her family sat around the table one night discussing life’s hardest phrases, “I Don’t Know, “I Love You,” or “I Was Wrong” (the most difficult in my marriage). This conversation led to a book that is really a meditation on life, based on 12 sentences or phrases that connect us to that journey. But don’t worry that it veers into the crystal and incense territory, in typical Kelly fashion she has plenty of self-effacing anecdotal humor as she recounts the loss of her dear friend (have tissues), the end of her fertility, her dog’s habit of eating poop out of the toilet ( when the seat is left open!) and how she pitched her husbands old frat T-shirts while he was out of the house. Kelly’s wry humor, candor and spot-on prose make us all feel better about our own perfectly imperfect lives.
If you’re one of those people who cannot imagine that you would ever be able to sit and just…. clear your mind, you need to read this book. Dan Harris, ABC News reporter and friend (confession, my husband and I set him up with his wife) has written his second book about his quest for calm in an anxious world. If you didn’t read “10% Happier” you need to, because Dan’s self-deprecating honest and often hilarious tale about how his quest to quell his anxiety after an on-air melt down became a best-seller for a reason. And it sets the stage for this next book, which is filled with practical instructions, information about his 10%Happier app (to help keep on daily track) some scientific evidence and tales from his cross-country bus road trip where he set up a booth and spoke with scores of everyday pedestrians, military cadets, police officers, basically anyone who would let him approach. In a world that, on a good day, seems to have an itchy trigger finger, maybe a five-minute mind adjustment is something we could all use? What do you have to lose?