March Book Club: The Address by Fiona Davis.

Y’all, I’m going to cede my goal of reading four or five books a month.  It’s impractical and it leaves me with a strange guilt!  (“Why did I binge watch all of the new season of Queer Eye in three days instead of reading?!?” >> but please do watch that show, it is SO good.  I cried during every single episode.)  I’ll instead share whatever I’ve finished reading at the end of each month or every other month, whether it’s one book or six books, and that will be that.  (Grace, how do you read so much?!?!  I feel so pathetic in comparison!  <<If you’re a speed reader, too, you should follow her reads.  She has great recommendations and tends to read bestsellers before they become bestsellers.)

Below, my thoughts on my most recent reads:

Book Review No. 1: The Address: A Novel by Fiona Davis

Three stars.  I majorly geeked out over this book because it takes place 10 blocks from my apartment, at the storied Dakota building (where John Lennon was shot!), and, like the nerd I am, I insisted that Mr. Magpie and I walk by it and the various other attractions and shops it references over the course of reading it.  (Gray’s Papaya for a hot dog?  Check.  Not as good as a Chicago dog, but I’ll take it.)  It was an easy, smooth read and the plot was more complex than your usual beach read; Davis handled parallel plotlines well, and, while I normally find too much shuttling back and forth between protagonists distracting and tiresome, she pulled it off nicely.  I also think that the twin plot structure was well-conceived when you think about what she was trying to explore here — family, roots, connections, inheritances.  That said, about two thirds of the way through, Davis  started tossing outrageously implausible plot twists into the mix, almost like little storyline grenades.  “OK,” she was saying, “How do we resolve this?  Ah, yes, we’ll make so-and-so a shockingly fantastical liar even though we never gave anyone reason to doubt her before, and — nah, I won’t go back and doctor that section to make it more credible.  And, yes, how about someone’s finger gets chopped off by a missing sword?!  Yes.  Yes.  I don’t care that it’s a bizarre aberration from the otherwise nonviolent plot.  And, oh I know — an insane asylum!”  I dunno — it became outrageously fantastical in a tenuous, suspect kind of way, as if she’d given up on the more tender coaxing of character development she’d been busy with earlier in the book.

At the end of the day, the book is about belonging, inheritance, roots, and it explores connections and disconnections and misconnections from our families, from our homes, from ourselves.  But I’m not sure there’s anything particularly provocative about the way she presents these themes.

Book Review No. 2: Then Again by Diane Keaton

Three stars.  Memoir is my favorite genre, and Diane Keaton’s made me realize what an amorphous category it is.  Some memoirs read like love stories, some like romance novels, some like non-fiction.  This one read like a eulogy, as it was more or less a lengthy tribute to Keaton’s mother.  She spends long portions of the book reading and interpreting the journals and diaries her mother left behind, puzzling over her mother’s life decisions and observations and, I think, learning a lot about herself along the way.

That said, while her deep devotion to her mother is moving enough to bring tears to my eyes, I have to be blunt: Diane Keaton’s life is not particularly interesting, and her perspective isn’t particularly riveting, either.  There were a couple of name drops that caught my attention (she is fabulously frank about the celebrities she mentions; she tells us, for example, that the only thing that Marlon Brando said to her on the set of The Godfather was: “Nice tits” — OMG!), and I was impressed with how honest she seemed to be about her relationship with Woody Allen, with whom she remains unabashedly enamored.  She talks head-on about suffering from bulimia, too — and has a provoking take on it, in that she blames no one but herself for it, whereas many academics point to external influences when they talk about the disproportionately high number of cases of bulimia among wealthy, well-educated young women.  I also felt that the prose sounded like her, at least the “her” that we see in the movies — a bit stammering, genuine, thoughtful, wide-eyed, quick to smile — which impressed me.  (So many celebrity memoirs are wooden and impersonable, as they’re ghost-written!)

But there were many moments where I was, honestly, bored.  She spends a lot of time chronicling the gradual decline in her parents’ health, and — while moving — there was nothing particularly powerful about it.  I found myself asking: “Why am I reading twenty pages about Diane Keaton’s father’s health?”

I also did a review of Lee Radziwill’s coffee table book, but that’s not truly reading material — better for curling up on your couch on a Saturday morning to pore over the beautiful pictures.

Currently Reading: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I’m 60% done with this, and am finding the writing solid and the plot intriguing thus far.  My best friend pointed out that it’s tailor-made for women our age, as all the references to 90s culture make my heart sing and bring me back to my youth!  I’m also dying to know where it’s going…

Next Up

+Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation.  Apparently millions and millions of people wrote to Jackie after JFK was assassinated.  In this volume, Ellen Fitzpatrick has cherry-picked 250.  I’m intrigued by the idea of seeing what her contemporaries thought of her and her husband!

+Nemesis.  Another insider’s look at Jackie O. — this time her relationship with Aristotle Onassis; the podcast makes him out to be super weird.

+On Beauty by Zadie Smith.  Still on my list from last month!

+Coming to My Senses by Alice Waters.  My next memoir pick, on the famous cook Alice Waters!

+The Immortalist by Chloe Benjamin.  “Benjamin tells the story of four teenage siblings who, on a lark, ask a fortuneteller to reveal the dates of their deaths. Whether that fortuneteller is a con artist or is genuinely gifted with second sight doesn’t interest Benjamin so much as how one piece of possibly spurious information conspires with character and circumstance to warp the siblings’ choices as they grow into adulthood.”  An intriguing, devastating premise!

What are you reading???  What’s good, Miley?

P.S.  My last book club.

P.P.S.  Mr. Magpie and I bought this and this for our expansive cookbook collection and are obsessed with both.  More cookbook recs here!

P.P.P.S.  I forgot this in my roundup of my favorite Amazon purchases, but we have — and love — this dog gate.  It’s very sturdy, it looks more elegant than most, and — BEST! — when not in use, it collapses and can be easily stowed in a closet.  Separately, and completely unrelatedly, I am dying to try this hair serum after a reader recommended it, as I find this brand has THE BEST stuff!

14 Comments

  1. 1) I can’t get enough of your blog! I started out as an English major due to my love of literature before selling my soul to the finance world….but I always enjoy hearing what you’re reading ! I just finished An American Marriage, and it was fantastic – highly recommend.
    As for On Beauty, which is on your list – I read it several years back and remember it being dense, but worth it due to Zadie’s incredible writing.

    2) I have a book instagram called @crawfordsbookshelf if you ever want to glance!

    1. Hi! Thanks for stopping by, fellow English major! No shame in “selling your soul,” as you put it — though I’ve found my career enriched by my liberal arts background, I wouldn’t say it’s the most practical pursuit. Thanks for the tip on American Marriage; it’s on my list! xo

  2. Love, love, love this series. Please do not feel badly about posting fewer than four or five books per month! I have found that it’s not realistic for many people (including myself) to read that much. I also, strangely, find that I read more in the warmer months — very odd, no? Either way, I’m always happy to hear about what you’re reading, whether it’s one or five books.

    I, too, am currently reading and enjoying Little Fires Everywhere, though I need to be better about picking it up — sometimes I’ll go days without reading it, even though I really enjoy the story and like it a lot WHILE I’m reading it.

    I also started Fake Plastic Love by Kimberly Tait last week and have been zipping through it while waiting at the doctor’s, etc. — it’s fluffy and not particularly well-written, but kind of interesting…enough to keep me going, at least.

    I’m also still (still) reading Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose. It’s a book of essays and the first one is quite long — almost half the book — and the others are shorter. I enjoy it, but it’s one that I definitely forget to read for weeks on end, hence why I’ve been reading it since like December.

    Glad to hear you are loving Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat — that book has intrigued me since the fall and I want to buy it! I got A New Way to Dinner by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs and have been eager to dive in.

    1. I always told my students that “good readers are slow readers” — meaning that sometimes it takes time to attend to all of the details. But now I tell this to myself just to assuage the guilt HA. I’ll keep posting what I’m reading. I just finished Little Fires last night, and I liked it — although I took issue with a handful of things that I won’t bother you with now since you’re not yet through!

      xx

    2. I am officially intrigued — let’s compare notes when I finish! Will let you know. xx

    3. I finished Little Fires Everywhere this morning! Let us discuss. I liked it a lot — would give it 4.5 stars for its well-drawn characters and intriguing plot that drew me in more & more as the book went on (I started it in late Feb and read the first 1/4 over about a month and then the latter 3/4 over the past few days, ha!). I really liked the overall themes as well. That said, there were certain things that I didn’t like as much, like the somewhat unresolved ending.

      I’m intrigued by the things you take issue with … let me know what they are! (Unless you are covering it in an upcoming book post?) Either way, looking forward to hearing your take on it.

    4. Hi! I’m currently putting together a more complete book review but some initial thoughts: I found the fire analogy cloying and unnecessary. It felt as though she forced it atop the narrative for…what? To “tie things together” that, as you point out, were largely unresolved? I think the book would have been far more powerful, bewildering, layered if she’d let the intertwined plot lines exist without the heavy-handed troping. I also found the ending cringe-worthy. All those art pieces? Ughhh — again, striving to “tie things up” too tightly and it just came off as bizarre and artificial and heavy-handed IMHO. More to come soon but it felt to me like Ng had a LOT going for her with the complexity of her characters, their relationships, and the shifts between timelines, and then she was pushed to make things “hang together” a bit better and the book suffered for it.

      xx

    5. Ah! I love what you point out about the cringeworthy art pieces near the end — YES, I felt the same way about that bit. I love talking about books with you because it often gets me to think more critically about them. I agree with the overall thought that there were efforts undertaken to make things “hang together” better, especially pertaining to the end, and that they did not, in large part, succeed.

      I’ll be excited to read your post about it! Now to decide whether to keep my copy, lend it to someone, or donate it to a Little Free Library (my neighborhood has them all over!)

    6. Same here — I find that I read a lot more thoughtfully and slowly when I know I’ll be engaging with you and the Magpie set on them here. It’s good for me.

      And, you made me miss another element of physical book-owning (I’m now 100% digital, in spite of my preference for physical copies) — I love passing books along! My cousin just came over the other night and left with a stack of them, and I thought — “How sad I won’t be able to do this with so many of my recent reads.” XX

  3. omg don’t feel less than! I read as much as I do because I have no life, haha! You have a baby and a husband, you get a pass 😉 (and you still do read a LOT!)

    1. Thanks for the slack. After publishing this, though, I decided to add “The Selection” to my reading list so I can keep up with your podcast and then promptly talked my bestie into reading it alongside me 🙂 xoxo

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