Recent reads: June 2024

Wow, I didn’t realize I hadn’t rounded up books for such a long time, but well, it’s been a bit. We’ve traveled a bit this spring and I don’t read as much when we’re traveling, so I forgot about the round up. That being said, I’ve read some books that are sticking with me and I’m still thinking about, even though I finished them a while ago.

Tom Lake

I saw so many recommendations for this book and finally got my chance to read it after waiting for the hold from the library. It’s a beautiful story which I loved. During lock down in 2020 a mother is telling her daughters a story from her past, it goes back and forth in time. It’s about the story of the mother and her coming of age but also about the family relationships and the pandemic and how everything is affected. I really loved it and don’t want to say much more other than you should read it.

I have told myself for so many years that my career fell apart because I wasn’t any good, but now I’m starting to think it all fell apart because I had ceased to be brave. “If this were a movie, I’d be drowning in regret now. But I’m telling you, Hazel, it doesn’t feel anything like regret. It feels like I just missed getting hit by a train.” (loc 1736)

There is no explaining this simple truth about life: you will forget much of it. The painful things you were certain you’d never be able to let go? Now you’re not entirely sure when they happened, while the thrilling parts, the heart-stopping joys, splintered and scattered and became something else. (loc 2144)

How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto

Originally published in 2007, this book feels like it may have been at the beginning of so much of the things I’ve read about living life and slowing down. Hodgkinson uses the hours of the day to go through different ways in which either we can be idle or we’re pushed to not be idle. Idleness is a way to think and enjoy the current life you’re living and to push back against the productivity culture we live in. One thing that is sitting in the background, but never explicitly mentioned is how being able to do all those things isn’t available to everyone. I didn’t enjoy every chapter, but particularly loved the chapters on tea, holidays, and dreaming.

Coffee is for winners, go-getters, tea-ignorers, lunch-cancellers, early-risers, guilt-ridden strivers, money obsessives and status-driven spiritually empty lunatics. It is an enervating force. We should resist it and embrace tea, the ancient drink of poets, philosophers and meditators. (p 98)

… [D]reams are not about money. They are about you, and they are about quality of life and imagination. Perhaps the reason why we find this difficult to accept is fear—we are afraid of our dreams, and so we deliberately avoid them. (p 270)

A Place On Earth

I thought I’d read most of Wendell Berry’s books about his fictional small town, Port William, but I hadn’t read this one. It’s about a family waiting to hear about their son/husband who is declared MIA in World War II. It’s the usual cast of characters that are in the other books, but it also is the beginning of the story of Hannah Coulter, who’s name is also the title of my favorite book in the series. An enjoyable read as you see how the various people of the town handle the difficulties of war and its impact on their community.

These Precious Days

After reading Tom Lake I wanted more Ann Patchett and turned to this book of essays. I’d read the title essay and one other, but was interested in the others as I love the way Patchett talks about life. I find I have some things in common with her which makes the way she talks about certain aspects of her life even more interesting to me. I really enjoyed A Talk to the Association of Graduate School Deans, Cover Stories, and There Are No Children Here. I especially like the way she talks about her choice to not have children and people’s reaction to it, which I can totally relate to.

The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store

This book is extremely popular but it was when a podcaster talked about it that I decided to put a hold on it at the library. It’s a really interesting book about stories of people who are living on the outside of the mainstream American culture in the early 20th century. The way in which the characters and stories overlapped was really well done and I recommend the book, but it was a slow burn for me, taking me a while to get into it. That being said, the pay off was worth it.

The Vaster Wilds

I’m honestly not sure how to write about this book or exactly how I feel about it. A young girl runs away from her settlement in what is now the US and is trying to live on her own in the wilderness while trying to get as far away from the settlement as possible. It’s her trying to survive, live in harmony with nature and anyone else who may notice she’s around, and find freedom in some capacity. The last two chapters were so good, but I’ll admit it was a bit of a struggle for me to get there.

Mistress of The Ritz

This was a super interesting book to read after watching The New Look on Apple TV+ since the book is centered on the hotel where Coco Chanel lived during World War II. The story centers on the man who manages the hotel and his wife, an American who has a secret from her past. You follow the story back and forth in time from the war era and the history of the couple and how they met and married. But of course the story also centers on the war and how both of the Auzello’s handled the war and tried to find a way through. I enjoyed this, especially when I read in the author’s note that the Auzello’s really did live at and manage The Ritz but very little is known of their time during the war.

The Lost Bookshop

A book that mixed a bit of fantasy in with history, which I didn’t quite expect, but it worked. Martha is fleeing an abusive husband and lands a job as a housekeeper for an older woman in Dublin. Henry is searching for a bookshop that was supposed to be right where the house Martha works in is, but it isn’t there. And we go back in time to learn about Opaline, who is trying to make a life for herself in the 1920s when such things weren’t easy to do as a woman. It took me a bit to get into this one, but how can you not love a book that centers around the love of books and stories.