On Annie's Nightstand: April 2015.
April became one of the busiest months at The Bookshelf – so many events, so little time. I did manage to fit in eight books this month, six fiction (including one boasting over 700 pages!) and two non-fiction. A couple would make great book club picks, some you’ve probably heard about already, and at least one deserves to be picked up today.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Bookseller confession: I never read The Goldfinch. So many customers felt ambivalent about last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner; I decided to forgo it for another book by the same author (The Secret History, which I really enjoyed). The page count of The Goldfinch also made it daunting, which is why my first book selection for this month comes as a surprise, even to me. A Little Life is just over 700 pages long, but it kept coming across my social media wanderings – NPR reviews, blog posts, podcasts, etc. – so I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did. The book covers the friendships of four men, following them from their late college years into their mid-40s. And although the book is a testament to male friendship, it’s also about heartbreak and trauma and tragedy and abuse and neglect. A Little Life is heavy, but important, and if you’ve got the stomach for it, I can’t recommend it enough. Grab me in the store next time you see me, and I’ll tell you if it’s right for you.
Emma by Alexander McCall Smith. I can’t believe I had never heard of The Austen Project, so allow me to enlighten you, as well. The new series of six novels pairs bestselling authors with Jane Austen’s six complete works. Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey were released last year, and now, bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith has thrown his hat into the ring with his modern-day version of Emma. I’m not exactly an Austen purist – I won’t touch anything that combines Austen with zombies, but I have watched (and loved) both The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved – so this rendition didn’t bother me in the least. I found it utterly enjoyable, and I would imagine most of you would, too. Emma has never been my favorite heroine, but Smith handles her with grace and does her justice. Pack it in your beach bag.
Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. Those of you who travel in evangelical circles or stay up-to-date on Christian writers and debates will probably have heard of Rachel Held Evans. I’ve been reading her blog for years, and I think Searching for Sunday is her best book thus far. The book offers a personal look at Evans’ struggles with church and faith, but her stories have universal appeal. (I found much of myself in the pages of Searching for Sunday.) I devoured the book one afternoon on my porch swing; it felt so good to hear someone give voice to my own concerns. The book is smartly divided into chapters based on the sacraments, and my favorite truths were found in the chapter reflecting on baptism.
A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan. This was my advanced reader copy of the month, so you won’t find A Window Opens on our store shelves yet. However, if you’re like me, and keep a list of what to read next, go ahead and write this one down. The book is a debut novel by magazine writer Elizabeth Egan. The book is light in parts, but it's heartfelt and funny, too; rarely have I found a book that makes me laugh, cry, and cringe all within the same few pages. It's Big Little Lies meets Where’d You Go Bernadette, with a little of Dave Eggers' The Circle thrown in the mix. If any or all of those books appealed to you, this one will be worth reading. The book releases in August, and I’ll be recommending fellow readers and book clubs to close out their summers with this one. (I already mailed my copy out to a friend.)
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead. Do you ever discover a book you’ve been meaning to read for ages hiding on your shelf? The hardback of Maggie Shipstead’s Astonish Me has been on my nightstand for months – the book is now out in paperback – and for some reason, I just never could pull the trigger. I’d read Shipstead’s first novel, Seating Arrangements, when it debuted, and I enjoyed it, so there’s no reason I shouldn’t have read Astonish Me by now. I think the book’s subject matter – ballet – deterred me, but what a mistake! Astonish Me is even better than Seating Arrangements, with a clever plot that propels forward at the perfect pace. It received rave reviews when it released last year, and now I know why. This was one of my favorite books of the month.
Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight. A few years ago, I read Kimberly McCreigh’s Reconstructing Amelia in the span of a few hours. I still recommend it to readers looking for a good suspense novel. Her latest doesn’t, in my opinion, pack quite the punch of her first, but I think I may be coming off a Girl on the Train-inspired high. Like Girl on the Train, Where They Found Her is narrated by a variety of different women; the narration just isn’t as effective or as chilling as Girl on the Train, but McCreigh’s novel is still one you’ll want to move through in just a few sittings. Snag a copy at the library, or buy a copy for a suspense-loving friend.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. The cover on this one is fantastic, but Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is even more fascinating once you’ve begun to turn the pages. Ronson – who you’ll recognize from his previous book The Psychopath Test, plus dozens of NPR stories – covers shaming and public humiliation in the modern world; how we’ve moved from stakes and stocks to deriding and punishing people through social media. I recognized many of the subjects and was already familiar with several of their stories: Mike Daisey, Justine Sacco, Jonah Lehrer. These are semi-public figures whose missteps cost them their careers and livelihoods after the public called out their faults on Twitter and Facebook. Ronson brings to light what a strange, technology-driven world we’re living in, and although he isn’t always my favorite narrator, his book is utterly entertaining and interesting. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed would be great for book clubs, and I suspect you’ll start hearing more and more about it after a feature in the New York Times. Well worth a read.
Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe. Man at the Helm was the loveliest book I've read in quite some time. The book is quintessentially British, reminiscent of I Capture the Castle and The Railway Children; cleverly narrated by nine-year-old Lizzie Vogel, it tells the tale of Lizzie and her sister and brother as they cope with their parents' divorce. Left without a "man at the helm," Lizzie and her older sister try to find their mother a suitable replacement. Funny and sweet, Man at the Helm was just the book I needed to end out a stressful month. Highly, highly recommend. (For fans, I think, of The Rosie Project or Mary Poppins.)