March Book Marks
As I write, March is still acting like a lion. There is not one lamb-like quality about the weather right now in the northeast. But I can smell spring. Yes, it’s muddy, earthy and cold, but snowdrops are popping up with their little white blossoms and there’s a certain exuberant bird song…hang in there.
This month I’m featuring Vero Beach Book Center verobeachbookcenter.com as my independent bookstore and here’s why. Number one, I’m channeling the feeling of sand between my toes. And number two, I did a book reading there many years ago and was so impressed by the community support, the breadth of the selections and the discounted books too….
Florida—I feel ya!
Trust in leadership seems to be at an all-time low today, and yet it has never been a more critical quality. The unlikely pairing of these two authors, an esteemed UC Berkeley business professor and vegan with the 41-year career Army officer and former Joint Chief of Staff has resulted in an enjoyable book that challenges all of us to refresh our thinking. Through a series of well-argued case studies and stories, from Burning Man to Afghanistan to the Cold War, the book argues that in today’s era of the “digital echo” it has never been more important for leaders to listen, amplify and include.
Anna Quindlen has long been one of my very favorite writers and I’ve loved her since her “Life in the 30’s” column in the New York Times. It took me few pages to connect the title with a frustrating phrase that any car-owning New Yorker is completely familiar with…”Alternate side of the street parking.” The novel takes us inside a marriage in its empty-nest years as Quindlen turns her storytelling and wise insights on the subject of marital ennui. What keeps people together, what breaks them apart and what happens if it’s something in between? And how do relationships change when one person is no longer relevant at work while their mate is spreading their wings? Sitting on my current perch in mid-life, there were so many relatable nuggets.
I’ll share two of my favorite quotes with you instead (and don’t read anything into my selection!):
“She realized that they all assumed that if their marriages ended, it would be with a big bang, the other woman, the hidden debts… But now she thought that was an aberration. The truth was that some of their marriages were like balloons: a few went suddenly pop, but more often than not the air slowly leaked out until it was a sad, wrinkled little thing with no lift to it anymore.”
“And that was the thing, Nora thought as she lay in bed that night….You had to really, really, really like being with someone. Yet somehow that was a decision they were all expected to make when they were too young to know very much. They were expected to make all the important decisions then: what to do, where to live, who to live with. But anyone could tell you, looking at the set-up dispassionately, that most people would be incapable of making good choices if they had to make that many choices at the same time, at that particular time of their lives.”
Talk about a woman who captures what so many can’t put into words.
This breezy read reminded me of a combo of “Where’d You Go Bernadette” and “Crazy Rich Asians.” It’s the Cinderella story with Prada boots and a ball gown in Silicon Valley. Part memoir mingled with a little fiction, brassy Sophia is a Chinese American graduate who has the moxie and the smarts to jump from her legal position to a firm that is a copy of Pixar, for a boss who happens to resemble Steve Jobs. All kinds of madcap things happen, from looking for Mr. Right, to getting ill (spoiler alert) to the perfect #metoo revenge. Thrown in for comic relief are her over-protective parents and concerned sister. My favorite parts of the book are the running italicized comments interspersed as the things she’d REALLY like to say to some of the characters. There’s an Elon Musk type, who tempts her away with tons of stock options but I won’t tell you what happens there. At the end of the rainbow, Sophia figures it out and finds happiness. This is a fast and feel good read and Yen is an easy, breezy author.
Most of us walk around with our phones in our hands like an appendage. Now imagine a future where machine and mind meld, where we no longer need to talk to one another because of the constant digital “feed” running through our brains that has been hard-wired in utero. The feed provides constant information about everything; news, food, updates on friends, emotions, weather, photographs, a perpetual refresh of anything and everything that you can continually connect to. The protagonist, Tom, is actually not as addicted to The Feed as his wife Kate. But when the world is suddenly plunged into darkness and (gasp) silence…. life flips upside down. Finding food to stay alive becomes everyone’s primary activity and a minor injury can lead to death without antibiotics in this new and frightening world. When the couple’s 6-year old goes missing, the story takes another turn. For readers who loved “Station Eleven” (which I did) this book is written in the same, dystopic vein. I vowed to teach my kids how to read a paper map after this!
I read everything this man writes, (my male equivalent of Anna Q above) and for good reason. He writes the kinds of books that make you stay up late and keep turning pages. His writing is the perfect combination of literary finesse, a great story and characters whom you can touch, smell and feel.
Fight attendant Cassie Bowden drinks too much. And she loves to get a little frisky. Very frisky, in fact. Until one morning she wakes up next to a dead man and cannot remember what happened. Weave in spies and Russian mobs, the CIA, murder for hire, some jet lag, Italy and the middle east, many drinks (that made me want to mix up Negronis and Bellinis) and some more sex and you have quite a tale. As usual, Bohjalian delivers a twister of an ending. What makes this story so delightful is the absolute self-awareness of the protagonist’s internal dialogue and yet she never devolves into pathetic self-loathing. Like so many of today’s unreliable narrators, you find yourself wanting to give her a hug while simultaneously taking the drink out of her hand to shake her. You’ll read this baby in one weekend.
What is it about human nature that draws us to an Icharus story? Yet in America we love to rehabilitate our broken celebs. This exhaustively researched book provides a 360 degree look at the making, breaking and painstaking return of arguably the most famous athlete of our time. We get an intimate look at Tiger’s lonely childhood as a golf prodigy, with two driven parents who raised him to mentally function as a “cold-blooded assassin” on the course, but at what cost? Huge, it turns out. The father/son dynamics, Tiger’s single-minded focus, marriage, infidelity, sex-addiction and then health issues that lead to pain pills, reads like a Shakespearian tragedy. In the end, the man who became such a private enigma had to learn to love and be human. I know nothing about golf, but it was the story in this book that kept me turning pages as if it were a novel. The details and insights are a testament to the authors diligence and a portrait emerges that will captivate anyone, sports fan or not.