I love to read. As a child, I was the quiet kid with her head down in a book at the dinner table and I'm secretly hoping my son will end up that way too. I try to read every night before bed, lately it's been averaging a book a week. Hand me a glass of wine and something to read and I'm a happy girl! It also happens to be National Book Lover's Day. What better time is there to share some of my recent highlights from my reading list? Enjoy!
I first came across Woman No 17 as a recommendation both by a friend and as the famous LA book store Book Soup - pick of the month. I'm a sucker for anything set in my hometown in LA. I get a kick out of recognizing landmarks, neighborhoods, and that certain type of LA person that I've encountered at least once in my days spent here.
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki is the tale of Lady, a recently separated Hollywood Hills mother searching for a live in nanny for her toddler while she is writing her memoir. Esther or S, a recent art school grad and Berkeley transplant, answers the ad and moves immediately in becoming fast friends with Lady. Unbeknownst to Lady, S is secretly living out the ultimate Cindy Shermanesque performance piece, that of adopting the persona of her own alcoholic mother in her twenties. I found this book to be an interesting dissection of the subjective nature of art and how we value it. How art can lead to a deeper understanding of the self, yet also provide an escape or avoidance from the self depending on what we are looking for. All the female relationships are intensely complicated and emotionally frayed which the reader can relate to at least one of the bonds be it girlfriend, employer, sister-in-law, mentor, or mother. A more thought provoking version of a beach read.
I have been known to enjoy a good spy thriller and Red Sparrow did not disappoint. I also enjoyed the movie which surprised me because I usually hate movies that are adapted from books if I've read the book first. Red Sparrow is the story of Dominika, an injured former ballerina forced to become a sparrow, an uber attractive female spy trained to employ her feminine wiles against her targets. My favorite attribute of Dominika's is her synesthesia which helps her to accurately judge peoples moral character based on her intuition and the colorful auras they emit. It's a physical manifestation of her intuition and helps her navigate whom she can trust. Set in modern day Soviet Union, it feels very prescient with the amount that Russia is in the news these days for interfering with our government and election tampering. The author, Jason Matthews is a retired officer of the CIA’s Operations Directorate. Over a thirty-three-year career he served in multiple overseas locations and engaged in clandestine collection of national security intelligence, specializing in denied-area operations. It's the first in a trilogy so I'm looking forward to picking up the next two installments. If you're a fan of House of Cards and The Night Manager, then you'll enjoy this!
Celine is a story that centers around an older affluent woman, who also happens to be a private eye specializing in tracking down missing family members. Her latest case takes Celine from Brooklyn to Yellowstone Park in search of a missing former National Geographic photographer who disappeared ten years after his wife drowned in a freak accident in Big Sur. Along the way, Celine reflects on her own abridged relationship with her father and the child she gave up many years before. Celine is a quirky eccentric character and I enjoyed getting to know her. It's not often you find a protaganist who is a 68 year old gun toting badass polyglot. It was a refreshing character choice and even more surprising to me that it was written by a man. A lot of her personal questions are left unanswered at the end, leading me to believe there will be a sequel.
Love and Ruin is the sequel to The Paris Wife which follows the relationship of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife and their life in Paris during the twenties. I enjoy historical fiction and this did not disappoint. Author Paula McLain is clearly taken with the subject of Ernest and his wives, and after reading both I can definitely see why. Love and Ruin is the story of Martha Gellhorn and her relationship with Hemingway, eventually becoming his third wife. Gellhorn was a novelist turned war correspondent and the book follows her and Hemingway from Spain during the Civil War to their longtime home in Cuba to London, Paris and Sun Valley, Idaho. Hemingway was at the height of his fame and success during their marriage, but their seemingly glamorous jet set life was punctuated by drinking, fighting, jealousy and competition. I enjoyed the behind the scenes into world war two Europe and was amazed to learn that Martha Gellhorn, whom I was previously unaware of, was the only female to make it to the beaches of Normandy for D-day. Hers is a story long over due and shows the pitfalls of being a career minded woman and the toll it can take on a marriage. This was one of those books that you don't want to end.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is the multi generational story of Koreans living in Japan during from early twentieth century through the nineties. It is a heartbreaking, tragic story of the sacrifice that is so much part of the typical immigrant experience. I had initially learned about the Japanese mistreatment of the Koreans as a college history major focusing on East Asian studies. Japan invaded Korea in 1910, forcing them to speak Japanese and adopt Japanese names and for many Koreans to move to Japan to live in ghettos and take menial jobs living as second class citizens. It's a brutal story but an important one, especially in our modern political climate full of fear of immigrants and rampant xenophobia. As older generations die off, its important that we learn the horrible mistakes of the past so as to never let them happen again. Telling these stories is one way to ensure that.
After you finish Pachinko, you might be in search of lighter fare. David Sedaris is my version of a literary palette cleanser. I've read all of his books, and also seen him talk in person. When I need a good chuckle or a pick me up, he always delivers. His keen observations of the absurd and his deadpan delivery can be hilarious and occasionally cruel yet at the same time strikingly poignant. His books are like a the start of a Seinfeld episode, not about anything in particular just musings of his life but then they diverge to a more thoughtful place when discussing his mother's alcholism, his aging father and his sister Tiffany's suicide. Admittedly sounds dark but Sedaris deftly uses his humor to navigate these relationships. Reading David Sedaris before bedtime annoys my husband as I often wake him with my laughter while he's trying to sleep. I was in a waiting room the other day laughing so loudly while reading Calypso that I drew quite a few stares from the other patients. Yes, I am that person. And you will be too when you read one of his books.
Do you have any summer reading recommendations? I'm always looking for a good book. Tell me in the comments below!