January 2022 Book Marks
Hands down, January is my least favorite month. As we prepare for a storm to sweep up the east coast, I’m hunkered under a blanket. The TV weather person (whose surname “Breezy” has to be either fake or so authentic that it determined her career) is showcasing temperatures that will dip well below zero. Friends from Florida faux-complain on Instagram about the “chill” of 70 degree weather and while I’ve got a date with a swim lane at the YMCA today, I cannot imagine walking out my door, let alone being wet.
As a child born and bred in upstate New York, I only knew the change of seasons. And that change fixed us in time, provided a sense of place and delivered its own slow-mo beauty with each seasonal morph. Winter is a calendar hog in this part of the world; far too long and frequently gray. And yet the coming of a storm was (and still is) exciting. School might get cancelled, schedules upended, radios were tuned for the next morning’s closures. There was hot chocolate for the reward of shoveling and the pleasure of a day outside making snow igloos or sledding. And in the way in which joy runs deeper on the heels of sorrow, spring would eventually appear at winter’s edge to lift our spirits.
As I sit today, hibernating and moving slow, I’m trying to appreciate the “cycles” in the cycle of life. Woolgathering, my grandmother would call this burrowing, contemplative time. It’s a period in the year to be more thoughtful, to give in to my desire to create something, anything. I’ve been stirred to write a bit, to buy a canvas at Michaels and paint. And I’m called to read. Heck, I’m always called to read. Because when the snow drifts cover the driveway and the temperatures plummet, how else can you escape to engrossing worlds without getting out of your pajamas? And no, I’m not talking about the metaverse.
Here’s a selection of good reads to help you slip the surly bonds of January!
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
It’s the early 1970’s post-hippie Vietnam era and the Hildebrandt family is breaking apart in their own quiet ways, looking for exits that are complicated by their very relationships to one another. Russ is an associate pastor in a church outside of Chicago and he is losing the Youth Group popularity battle to the younger, cooler pastor. Russ’s unhappy wife Marion has secrets of her own, but it’s their children, Clem, who wants to enlist in the war, Becky, the popular girl turning counterculture Christian and Perry, local drug dealer to the 7th graders, who will bring about the greater family reckoning. Franzen amazes me with his ability to take a family, a period in time, mix in a cluster of other characters and develop an engrossing, interior story about people colliding with one another in everyday situations.
The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier
Part novel, thriller, sci-fi story and existential tale, it’s hard to categorize this international best-seller. Toggling between numerous characters and their back stories, the book finally begins to come together when you realize that each person was been on the same flight from Paris to New York. Or was it just one? Something is very strange about that flight and the people who all made the journey. And the truth will involve international cover-ups, science, physicists and more and will leave giant questions about the future of man. Beyond that, I’ll start to give away the plot if I say anymore.
How High We Go In the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu
Its 2030 and an archaeologist is travelling to the Arctic Circle and the scene of his daughter’s tragic death at the dig underway there. Global warming is melting the permafrost and an ancient mummified girl has been unearthed at the site, undergoing a series of tests. Unbeknownst to the scientists, she carries the seeds of a long-ago virus that will ignite and burn through the world, forcing humanity into a macabre existence where children are terminally affected. While the story is dark, there are whimsical moments of brilliance, a pig who begins to speak (and whose organs may be able to save humanity) and love found between characters who find one another in the sorrowful maze of great loss. This very original and compassionate novel is, at its heart, a story about the resilience hard-wired into humanity.
Greenwich Park by Katherine Faulkner
Helen has it all, she’s a grown-up Bridget Jones with a handsome architect husband, a sumptuous Victorian home on the park in Greenwich, England, and her first baby on the way. All of that changes when she meets single, pregnant Rachel, a captivating woman with a tinge of danger, who shows little interest in being a mother. When her erratic behavior becomes obvious to Helen and her friends, a thread unravels that may connect them all to an event in their past. Told from many points of view, the book keeps dropping crumbs until the final end. This is the debut novel from an award-winning Sunday Times journalist.
This Will Be Funny Later – A Memoir by Jenny Pentland
Imagine if your entire family’s life was captured in a smash hit sitcom watched by millions of Americans. That’s the story of the author’s teen life during the smash hit “Roseanne,” a show about a working class family starring her own mother, Roseanne Barr. Behind the scenes, the entire family struggled as they adjusted to rocketing fame, moving from thrift store clothing to celebrity culture. Even before her mother’s stardom, Pentland shuffled between a series of schools, juvenile wilderness programs, and drug rehab programs from 13-18, receiving a series of diagnoses and treatments around body image, weight and anxiety. After Roseanne divorces the author’s postal worker father and moves the kids to Hollywood from Denver, they begin to spiral. Written with humor, wit and insight, the book is a tale of survival, with a happy ending.
The Intangible by C.J. Washington
Two lives of two couples are entwined by different challenges around loss. Amanda Jackson is excited to be a mother until a miscarriage changes her outlook. Although her doctor confirms she has lost the baby, Amanda feels otherwise, as her body continues to demonstrate all the symptoms, including a distended belly. This “false pregnancy” is a rare, but real, condition that’s straining her marriage. Searching for answers, she meets Patrick, a neuroscientist who understands the strange twists and intricacies of the human mind. But as he begins to befriend Amanda, his own marriage is crumbling. His wife, Marissa, is a mathematician obsessed with speaking to the dead. This first novel plumbs the corners of hearts and minds and navigates not just the world of loss, but the convergence of science, death and human emotions. It’s also a poignant look at the ways in which we humans can save one another.
*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!