February 2023 Book Marks
Valentine’s Day makes February the month of love. And what could be more of a guaranteed love relationship than that between a reader and a good book? Below you’ll find a new crop of valentines to cuddle up with, on a couch, by a fire, under the covers or in an airplane. Wherever you go, books make a great companion because they can’t talk back!
We Should Not be Friends by Will Schwalbe
The author of one of my favorite books, “The End of Your Life Book Club,” is back with a deeply personal book. It follows the arc of his unlikely friendship with “Maxey,” the jockish and outgoing friend he meets at Yale, whom he views as the polar opposite of his more quiet and literary self. Will makes all kinds of assumptions when he meets Maxey during a campus club recruitment. On the surface, they couldn’t be more different. Will is an openly gay young man who will soon run headlong into the terror of the AIDs epidemic. After graduation, Maxey chooses to go into the military and then creates a second chapter opening a children’s school in the Caribbean. Each man is so much more than the other had expected. Their shared fraternal love, borne out of the desire to be curious about one another, is a testament to the power of friendship and a reminder of the goodness that can result when we risk exposing our true selves.
My What If Year by Alisha Fernandez Miranda
Take a high-powered Latina CEO and mother of twins who is about to turn 40 and add that nagging thought we have all had at some point, “What else is out there for me?” So begins the author’s one year quest to explore some of the dream careers she didn’t pursue, the road not travelled. Under the guise of an internship adventure, Alisha explores Broadway ( her passion), the London art scene, the fitness world, the hospitality industry in Scotland and more. The doing and experiencing have a profound effect on what she chose going forward and the journey itself is delightful to read. It prompts all of us to think about what we want to do with the time we have left and what kind of legacy do we want to leave on the world and for those that come after us. Fun fact here, for those of you who have followed Zibby Owens (zibbybooks.com) and her championship of all things books, this is her very first imprint. Congrats Zibby!
Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein
Near the end of the American occupation and British colonialism in the 1940’s, Trinidad is an island defined by class, family and religion. The Changoor Farm, where Dalton and Marlee live in luxury, sits high on a hill, overlooking ramshackle tin buildings where entire families live in one room. Their lives are destined for backbreaking work and sweat in a social structure designed to keep them impoverished. When Dalton disappears, farmhand Hans is intrigued with the idea of earning more money as a watchman at the farm. As the mystery of the missing man becomes clearer, the community will be changed forever in shocking ways. Rooted in Trinidad’s oral storytelling tradition and grounded in generational violence and lingering resentments, this haunting tale explores the longings, destinies and sacrifices that ripple out like ghosts in the Caribbean.
In the Distance by Hernan Diaz
I loved the book “Trust” so much that poking in the Concord Bookshop in Massachusetts, I was delighted to discover this 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist from the same author. Two brothers escape their destitute life in Sweden and land in San Francisco. But when Hakan is abruptly separated from his older brother in their quest to get to New York, he begins a journey on foot to head east, travelling in the opposite direction of the emigrants and wagon trains pushing west. The journey winds through the desert, where he meets a sex-crazed madame, thieves, a naturalist, swindlers, warring Indians and religious fanatics. The result, as Hakan or “Hawk” is known, is that he becomes a legend, a man of mythic proportions, due to his giant size and his ability to survive in totally inhospitable conditions. It’s impossible to accurately describe this detailed and yet engrossing story of one man coming of age in the American wilderness, largely misunderstood and alienated from humanity, alive only because of his perseverance.
I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
No question this title is a show-stopper. And as someone who lost their mother less than a month ago, it felt a little wrong to read this one, but it’s been on the best-seller list for a while now. It’s both heartbreaking and funny, a testament to the power of love hard-wired into parent and child. Jennette McCurdy was a child star on iCarly, whose mother’s single focus was that her only daughter be a star. Her first acting audition was age six, and while she had absolutely no interest, she was eager to please her overbearing mother, who had survived a bout of cancer. As the memoir unfolds, we watch poor Jennette get slowly sucked into a life with a beauty pageant-style mom. It’s clear from the get-go that her mother is living completely through her. There is so much wrong here, but this is all Jenette knows, from being weighed five times daily to home makeovers and being “showered” by her mother (sometimes with her brother) until age 16. And then of course, the wheels come off the bus as she inevitably rebels. Written with dark humor and unflinching truth, this is actually a serious chronicle of eating disorders, addiction and the lack of a role model when it comes to choosing partners and finding love. They payoff is how the author takes control of her own life, despite an overbearing mother who dies of cancer, which creates an extra layer of guilt and confusion. In the end, this is a story of rebellion and resilience, and the unflinching bonds between parent and child, no matter how crazy it all gets.
A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
I don’t do it often, but every now and then it’s amazing to re-read a good book. This was the 1991 Pulitzer Prize winner and I recall being drawn in by the story, an update of Shakespeare’s King Lear set on an Iowa farm with three sisters and a domineering, larger than life father. When he decides to turn the farm over to the girls, the careful construction of their lives, built around avoidance and denial, begins to crack and then break. Smiley’s deft writing and surprising twists are what makes this book so masterful. If you missed this one the first time around, this tour de force is an unflinching look at the bonds and transgressions that can reside in a family.
*These are books I genuinely love and am thrilled to recommend to my friends. These are Bookshop.org affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I get a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. Alternately, if you prefer to rent books at your local library or buy from your local bookstore, I very much support that!