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…
+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.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!