November 2019 Book Marks
November is the catwalk to the holiday season. Winter coats come out. Trees lose every leaf and the darned days keep getting shorter. This week I started combing through new recipes for Thanksgiving side dishes, knowing I’ll end up defaulting to the old standbys.
But November is also the month we honor America’s veterans. Collectively we’re reminded what it means to serve, to put yourself in harm’s way when your country asks. It’s also the month the Bob Woodruff Foundation holds its annual “Stand UP for Heroes” event in New York.
On November 4th this year, generous comedians and musicians once again donated their star power and talent to raise more than $5.7 million for veterans. It’s the one night each year I get super glammed up to hit the stage, including glue on butterfly sized lashes.
And this November, thanks to the generosity of “O Magazine” and Gayle King, we brought active duty service members and spouses to “Oprah’s Favorite Things.” Each deserving woman walked away with warm wishes, thanks and bags stuffed with….yup….Oprah’s favorite things.
As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday and I get ready to wear stretch pants, here is wishing all of you a very Happy Turkey Day!
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
As a fan of The Family Fang ( true-fact: a Nicole Kidman-scene in the movie was shot in my house) Kevin Wilson delivers another brilliant, hilarious and quirky novel that illuminates the imperfect underbelly of marriage, friendship, growing up and being an outcast. Boarding school roommates Lillian and Madison form an unlikely friendship that ends when one girl takes the fall for the other. In the intervening years, their lives take dramatically different turns and they have stayed in touch only through letters. All of that changes when Madison asks for help, begging Lillian to come caretake her estranged stepchildren, who spontaneously burst into flames when they become upset. With nothing to lose, she agrees and the ensuing story and surprising bonds she forms with the twins become the heart of the tale. This is a book that will make you laugh, but also force you to examine the ways in which we construct family and protect those we love most.
Disaster’s Children by Emma Sloley
A coming of age novel, set in the not so distant future, a growing group of one-percenters have built a utopic ranch compound out west (complete with helipad) as the planet around them begins to degrade with environmental and humanitarian disasters. Marlo is a young woman, living in this cloistered world but still struggling with missing the life and friends in the outside world now called “The Disaster.” While her friends have not given up on the planet like their parent’s generation, Marlo begins to contemplate leaving the ranch as cracks in the community begin to appear. But a new resident arrives, giving her a good reason to stay. While the author examines many themes that resonate with our lives today, she has managed to construct a dystopian book with a sense of optimism and more than a dash of romance.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Patchett couldn’t write a bad book if she were hand-cuffed and blind-folded and her latest fiction is no exception. A dark fairy tale, complete with brother and sister, clueless Dad and evil step-mother turns around the setting of an old house, which is both the familial home and the site of its undoing.
Fragments of Patchett’s own life and her childhood under a cloud of divorce create the undertones of this story which begins when patriarch Cyril Conroy buys “the Dutch House,” an elegant estate outside Philadelphia.
When their mother takes off and a new stepmother makes the house her own, brother and sister Danny and Maeve find themselves impoverished and virtually cast out, both testing and strengthening the existing bonds between them in ultimate ways.
Patchett’s character development and effortless dialogue immerses me in every scene and I always miss her characters when I close the book for the last time.
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
I’d read a few reviews before I finally picked this book up and then found myself trying to bend time to read it. If you’re a Jonathan Franzen fan, this is the book for you.
Spanning fifty years, this multi-generational tale is set in the suburbs of Chicago with Marilyn and David Sorenson at the heart of the story. Still crazy in love after forty years, the book opens with their four very different adult daughters all in a state of unrest. As the book toggles back and forth in time, we see the Sorensons fall in love in the 70’s young and ignorant of what’s to come and what life will hold. As David prepares for med school, Marilyn drops out of college to marry him and start their family, a move that will form the crux of some of the daughters’ condemnation. The daughters, growing up in the shadow of a “great love,” each feel a measure of insignificance and resentment, certain they will never find a love to equal their parents.
The eldest, Wendy, has been widowed young and is drinking too much. Violet left a law career behind and is harboring a great secret which breaks out part-way through the book, egged on by her older sister. Liza is pregnant by a depressed man she no longer loves and Grace, the baby, has been living a colossal lie.
The book is a brilliant tapestry of all the tumultuous years of adolescence, family dynamics, infidelity, lies, love, the ties that bind in parenthood and sisterhood and the incredible anger, frustration, love and acceptance that we so often inexplicably feel for our families of origin.
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
Prescott’s acclaimed first novel weaves together two distinct story lines during the Cold War in Washington DC and the Soviet Union and moves the characters forward until they collide in a four-car pile up. Irina and Sally are two smart and brave women in the CIA’s typing pool who become Cold War spies. Overshadowed and marginalized by their male bosses, they are pivotal in a key agency operation to win hearts and minds. Back in the USSR, Boris Pasternack’s mistress Olga is sent to the Gulag for refusing to divulge the plot of his novel Dr. Zhivago, despite the fact she is the muse for the character Lara. Full of danger, lies, retribution and a healthy does of 1960’s sexism, the novel is actually based on a true story. Careful research and vivid prose made me feel as if I were in the rooms and wearing the taffeta dresses, wilting in the summer heat of the swampy Capital. Prescott captures an extraordinary time in history and showcases how a book can be used to change hearts and minds.
They Don’t Represent Us–Reclaiming our Democracy by Lawrence Lessig
Just in time for the election season, accomplished author and Harvard Law professor Lessig has written a compelling book that, even for a political rube like me, held my interest. This isn’t about parties or doctrines, it’s a non-partisan call to arms that argues and explains why our government no longer accurately represents who we are as a country and how we function. This “unrepresentativeness” has detached our government from “we the people.” And we the people are increasingly fractured and uniformed. One only has to turn on the TV to witness this. The last part of the book is prescriptive and involves radical revision, but it was the first half that held my interest as it winds through what the founding fathers intended and how we got to where we are as history and events rolled on.