October-November 2022 Book Marks
November is the month we honor those who have served our country. America is stronger and better because of the young men and women who volunteer to enter the military and deploy when their nation asks. Our active duty service members and veterans have allowed the rest of us to make that choice.
Each November, the Bob Woodruff Foundation holds “Stand Up for Heroes,” a night of music and comedy, as part of the New York Comedy Festival. The goal is to raise money for our injured service members and their families. This has been our own family’s commitment for the past 16 years, after my husband, Bob, was gravely injured by a roadside bomb in 2006 while covering the war as a journalist.
The continued legacy of our military families will be determined by how well we treat those who need assistance during that transition to the home front. America must always be there.
Military children are the hidden heroes in every family. With multiple deployments, frequent moves, supporting and often caregiving an ill or injured parent in both obvious and quiet ways, far too much is put on their shoulders at a young age. Anxiety and stress have only increased, especially in the wake of the pandemic. Our military children need our help now.
This year, our focus at the foundation will be on the mental health and wellness of our military kids. In this crazy and polarized world, helping those who serve us is one of the few topics that isn’t political, one of the few things we can all agree on as a country.
No donation to this cause is too small. You can show your support for our military children, especially as we enter the holiday season. Learn more about the mission of the Bob Woodruff Foundation (HERE).
And now to get a jump on your holiday reading…. Here’s a combination of October and November reads!
Flight by Lynn Steger Strong
Narrated through the shifting voices and perspectives of a family gathering for Christmas in the wake of their mother’s death, this is a book about family entanglement and the ways we behave and interact with siblings, their spouses and their children. As each of the three couples comes together in upstate New York, they are prepared to deal with the fate of their mother’s house. But the real story is the mosaic that makes up the families we are born into, and the complicated tangle of inheritance, art, loss, ambition and secrets. It’s a simple story with intricate dialogue that coalesces into a truly enjoyable read.
Now is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson
As a huge fan of “Nothing to See Here” and “The Family Fang” (little known fact, some of the movie scenes with Nicole Kidman were filmed in my house) I eagerly awaited this witty and imaginative author’s next book. Based on parts of Wilson’s own life, 16-year old Frankie braces to make it through another sad summer in Coalfield, Tennessee, when she meets Zeke. Together they hatch a plot to create a poster, with a mysterious saying, which they plaster everywhere around town. Panic ensues. Twenty years later, a mysterious call threatens to topple their secret and expose what they did. The book is an exploration of young love, art, secrets and the release that truth-telling can ultimately bring.
The Beckoning World by Douglas Bauer
This is a beautiful, slow cooker of a novel that begins with the hardscrabble life of Earl Dunham, born into a life of coal mining with an abusive father and a distant mother in the early part of the 20th century. He escapes from home and makes a new life, joining a Sunday baseball team, where he is noticed by a scout as a talented pitcher. When he meets Emily, the daughter of a hard-working farmer, he falls hard and they marry, with one condition. Emily’s father demands that he reject the itinerant life of a professional ball player. Where the story could turn sepia-toned, it takes a wonderful twist, as Earl and his son Henry get to ride-along on a barnstorming tour with Lou Gerhrig and Babe Ruth. This is a beautiful story that examines what it means to love, to follow your dreams and to bend your aspirations for the people you love.
Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro
One night will change the trajectory of three teenagers’ lives on Division Street when they get in a car after drinking. Dr. Wilf, who gets to the scene of the fatal accident first and finds his two children, will create the deepest secret a family can keep. Years later, time has moved on and only a giant oak tree marks the site of the tragedy. But the secret becomes a kind of poison that slowly leaches into the lives of all who protect it. When a young expectant couple moves onto Division Street, Dr. Wilf is present when the child is born and his life becomes inextricably twined with the boy, Waldo, who is brilliant but lonely and isolated from friends. This is a beautifully woven story about secrets and family, about loss and the ties that bind. Shapiro brings her full-throated writing and storytelling skills to this story.
Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
It’s 1957 in a dull London suburb. A news story has just appeared about the scientific discovery of parthenogenesis (asexual reproduction without fertilization) in certain species, which leads to speculating that humans might be capable of a virgin birth. A few days later, feature editor Jean Swinney opens a letter from Gretchen Tillbury, claiming that her daughter is the product of an immaculate conception. Jean is almost 40, and her dreary life is spent gardening and caring for her aging mother. She sets out to investigate the story and befriends Gretchen, her husband Howard and daughter Margaret. In the course of interviewing them, a darker truth begins to emerge, which wraps around Jean in a way that will have unimaginable consequences for everyone involved.
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
America of the future is in a broken state, run by people and governed by laws designed to preserve “American culture” after years of economic turmoil and violence. At 12 years old, Bird Gardner is living with his father and he’s learned not to ask too many questions or stand out as an Asian American child. Bird’s mother Margaret is a Chinese American poet who left the family three years ago when her work was deemed unpatriotic. Bird grew up disavowing his mother, but when a mysterious letter arrives, he begins a quest to find her and understand what happened to their family. This is an old-new story, set in dystopic times. But at its heart, it’s about a mother’s love, the power of art to create change and how even in a broken world, our hearts can work their healing magic.
Brave Hearted – The Women of the American West by Katie Hickman
Fans of the series Yellowstone and its prequel 1883, will enjoy diving into this engrossing and well-researched piece of non-fiction. History is written by the victors, but these are the actual women whose diary entries and letters survive to tell the real tale of life on the frontier in all its brutality and minimalism. Hickman’s incredible storytelling illuminates the inspirational, heart-wrenching and little-known stories of the diverse group of women who headed west in search of a better life, accompanying their husband and children or, in the case of slaves, looking for freedom. The book is filled with saints and sinners, from the Mormon wagon trains to the hard-drinking and living poker players and prostitutes connected to gold rush boom towns. There are laundresses and slaves, Native American women displaced and dishonored, Chinese sex workers sold on the docks in San Francisco. Underneath every story we hear the slow drum beat of the devastation of the wild lands, the decimation of buffalo herds and the extinction of Native Americans, far better stewards of the land, yet brutally mis-represented in white literature. It’s a hard story to read at times, but a nation that achieved greatness on the backs of others needs to be able to face the true telling of its history. This is a book I wish I’d read in high school history.
Relative Distance by David Pruitt
Three boys are born to a blue collar, God-fearing family in North Carolina with few resources and a detached, mentally ill mother. Their violent and abusive father regularly beats them for simple infarctions, such as dropping a glass and family life descends rapidly. This unflinching memoir about surviving a tumultuous existence examines the lives of two of the brothers, as well as the role of society, the legacy of family and genetics. Each brother takes a dramatically different path. David Pruitt overcomes his destiny and gets into college, ultimately rising to become a CEO of the largest specialty bike retailer in America. His brother Danny, ends up homeless, kicked out of the house and preferring am itinerant and sometimes violent life on the streets to living at home. It’s an incredible human and sympathetic look at homelessness as seen through a brother’s eyes, and a brilliant look at how determination, faith and gumption can overcome fear and the limitations of the world we are born into.
*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!