Book Club

On My Reading Radar.

By: Jen Shoop

I just finished listening to Katie Couric’s excellent memoir, Going There, last week, and enjoyed it thoroughly. She is a great companion. An excellent storyteller, she really does “go there” — lots of juicy insider talk — and I appreciated her humility in admitting some of her missteps and miscalculations, as well as her candor in sharing multiple different, often conflicting facets of complex social and relationship-related issues she faced throughout her life (including her relationship with Matt Lauer). It is something like 15 hours long, which daunted me at first, but I quickly fell into a rhythm and then found myself missing her newsy voice once I’d finished. One element of her narrative that really jumped out at me (texts being mirrors and all): her seeming dissatisfaction and struggle even when she was at the very apex of the apex of not just her career but of the history of news media. She anchored the nightly news! She led a very successful morning news show! She hosted 60 Minutes! And she did as a woman in a male-dominated field, to boot! And yet each of these accomplishments represented a fraught time for her. This was a wake-up call for me, on so many levels. First: you simply never know what someone is going through. Even people with seemingly flawless careers and the happiest of marriages might be privately suffering from any number of issues. Second: when times are good, I am determined to recognize the good. This line of thinking in part undergirded my essay last week on embracing the small benedictions of an Easter Sunday spent with family in good health and good spirits. I am not saying Katie does not do this — just that observing her struggle even when certain elements of her career were, from the outsider’s vantage, going swimmingly, made me want to lean into and appreciate when times are good.

I will say I was somewhat flustered by the extent to which Matt Lauer’s story consumes the final section of her book. It is disgusting. No criticism of her inclusion of the matter, but I sort of resented on her behalf the fact that, because of his misdemeanors, she had to cede a good portion of her book to the situation. Yuck!

Still, would strongly recommend.

What else? I finished and applauded Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic (reactions on this book here) and really enjoyed Katherine Faulkner’s thriller, Greenwich Park. It boasts an unexpected twist or two I did not see coming at the end. I still think Ruth Ware is “best of” in this category, but Faulkner’s was an easy read I wanted to pick up before bed at night. Recommend as a good travel/beach book, or something to read when you need a mental vacation.

I am currently making my way through Danielle Friedman’s Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World. It is a bit over-long and over-dense for my interest in the subject, but I will say I find fascinating the way so many elements of fitness culture serve, paradoxically, as tools of both repression and liberation for women. It is complex! Friedman does a good job navigating the nuances and inspiring situated thinking on the matter. I will then read Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads (book club pick): “the story of a Midwestern family at a pivotal moment of moral crisis,” and then will select from one of the following books on my radar for spring 2022…

+THRILLER: The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley. “A new locked room mystery, set in a Paris apartment building in which every resident has something to hide.”

+FEEL-GOOD CHICK LIT: One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle, which seems to be taking over the Internet. “A powerful novel about the transformational love between mothers and daughters set on the breathtaking Amalfi Coast.”

+QUICK-PACED NOVEL SET IN THE 60S: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. Alisha Ramos shared this pick in her Girls Night In Club newsletter, writing: “I added it to cart after seeing so many people whose reading habits I admire buzz about it on social. Set in the 1960s, it’s about a chemistry teacher who becomes the unlikely star of a beloved cooking show.”

+CELEBRITY MEMOIR: Taste by Stanley Tucci. Going to listen to this one on audiobook. I enjoyed his show about eating his way through Italy and did not know until a Goop interview between Tucci and Paltrow that he was recovering from an intense throat cancer while filming it, and could barely eat anything at the time! I felt so-so about Tucci in general on the show. He seemed so arrogant at times. And yet, there was an appeal. I love his voice, too — looking forward to him keeping me company on my walks with Tilly.

+MULTI-GENERATIONAL FAMILY DRAMA: Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson, set to be made into a Hulu TV series. “In present-day California, Eleanor Bennett’s death leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history, and a voice recording. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder. The heartbreaking tale Eleanor unfolds, the secrets she still holds back, and the mystery of a long-lost child challenge everything the siblings thought they knew about their lineage and themselves. Can Byron and Benny reclaim their once-close relationship, piece together Eleanor’s true history, and fulfill her final request to “share the black cake when the time is right”? Will their mother’s revelations bring them back together or leave them feeling more lost than ever?”

+EPIC ABOUT A PASSION-FILLED LIFE: Violeta by Isabel Allende. “This sweeping novel from the author of A Long Petal of the Sea tells the epic story of Violeta Del Valle, a woman whose life spans one hundred years and bears witness to the greatest upheavals of the twentieth century.”

+FOOD MEMOIR: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. No one writes food like Ruth. I enjoy her voice so much.

+ESSAYS: These Precious Days by Ann Patchett. You know I am a Patchett fangirl. I finally downloaded this set of personal essays and can’t wait to dig in. I find her to be one of our generation’s most compelling voices. No one writes character like Ann Patchett.

What else? I know many of you are reading The Orphan Collector, but my mom read it with heaving sighs and tears and so I just don’t know I’m up for it. (“From the internationally bestselling author of What She Left Behind comes a gripping and powerful tale of upheaval—a heartbreaking saga of resilience and hope perfect for fans of Beatriz Williams and Kristin Hannah—set in Philadelphia during the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak—the deadly pandemic that went on to infect one-third of the world’s population…”). Maybe the pandemic is a bit too close to home?

What else are we reading?


+There are many ways to read.

+A different way to read the Iliad.

+Some of my favorite audiobooks — P.S., I have have the same conversation with a few family members/friends recently: how did I get into the habit of listening to audiobooks? I think it’s all about finding good “hooks” in your day where listening to an audiobook just becomes part of your daily practice. For me, those times are a) on the way back from school drop-off, b) while walking Tilly, c) while getting ready in the morning, and d) while showering.

+On the maps we create and over-write as we live longer and longer in the same places.

Shopping Break.

+These inexpensive miracle rescue masks are so helpful for dried, overworked hair.

+Two fabulous dresses around $100: this green floral and this pink floral.

+I have finally decided to give Grande Lash a try. I’ve never tried any of these lash enhancers before, but when I saw Grace in Charleston, and saw how long her lashes are IRL (and she swears by Grande Lash), I just had to give it a whirl. Will report back once thoroughly tested. This is thrilling because you know how much I love my lashes, and love any and all products in the mascara/lash category.

+My Charleston wardrobe details here.

+You all are loving this inexpensive green woven bag! $35 and so chic. Would wear without the strap as an oversized clutch. Imagine with this breezy maxi.

+On the subject of bags: this rainbow straw style is like a hit of endorphins. How can you not smile?! More punchy bags for spring/summer here, all under $175 and most under $100.

+ICYMI: three add-to-cart items at Target right now: this white blouse, this throw-and-go a-line dress, and these eyelet trim tees for girls ($8 and we own them in multiples).

+The best concealer, on sale for 15% off. Not a huge price break but I buy this at full price all the time (I actually don’t think I’ve ever purchased on sale) and worth every penny.

+This personal alarm is clever. I would 100% have bought this for running through CP if I’d known about it at the time. I generally felt safe running there but every so often, I’d get a weird feeling and turn around and run back the other way.

+Great fitness gear for spring/summer.

+Agua Bendita does it again. WOW.

+OMG, Vibi Venezia x Emilia Wickstead. You KNOW how much I love my VVs. I have three pairs already! And Emilia Wickstead is my favorite designer. I just cannot decide which pair to get!!!

+I might need to buy this candle based on nostalgia alone.

+Speaking of NYC, some of my essentials for Manhattan living.

+Fun statement earrings.

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21 thoughts on “On My Reading Radar.

  1. Fun picks! Greenwich Park and Black Cake are especially piquing my interest.

    I’m currently reading Véronique Hyland’s Dress Code, which is a fun but smart look at fashion, trends, and personal style. I am really enjoying it so far! Two other books I read recently that blew me away: Torrey Peters’ Detransition, Baby and Edith Eva Eger’s The Choice. The former is such a smart and interesting and entertaining take on the lives of trans women, and the latter is the incredibly moving story of a Holocaust survivor’s personal journey towards healing trauma. It’s full of amazing lessons!

    Next up for me (potentially) is Emma Straub’s This Time Tomorrow (seems like a fun summer read) and the new novels from Sloane Crosley (out in early June) and Elif Batuman (out this week!)


    1. Gosh – thank you so much, Lindsey! Glad to have you here! Couldn’t have a better referrer, too. Grace is lovely!


  2. One Italian Summer is next on my list too!

    Thanks for the Ruth Reichl rec — I thoroughly enjoyed “Save Me The Plums”. Hard to resist a food memoir in general, and especially one by her!

    Also next on my list is Katharine McGee’s next installment in her American Royals series (which I believe can be pre-ordered). I don’t know why, but I was so drawn into that universe!

  3. Just finished :
    Karolina’s Twins by Ronald Nelson – 5 stars
    Take My Hand by Ellen Perkins-Valdez – 5+ stars MUST listen as audio book!
    The Judge’s List by John Grisham – finally back to his earliest writing form and very good. I had stopped reading Tristan but many of my friends recommended this book so I tried it and liked it.

  4. In a similar vein of lashes, I started using Revitalash brow conditioner on the recommendation of my aesthetician. I’m so pleased with the results. It has been a miracle product for me. Thought I’d mention for any magpies needing help with sparse brows.

  5. I second the rec for Great Circle- it was very long but I devoured every single page. I’m now re-reading David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten, as he is my favorite author and all his works interconnect. So I like to revisit them all periodically and typically end up noticing a new little Easter egg every time I do.

  6. I just finished The Paris Apartment during a weekend away – excellent quick escape! And snagged Greenwich Park from the library yesterday – I like interspersing these quicker reads in between denser novels (just wrapped Great Circle and could not recommend it more – it toggles between two storylines: an early 20th century female pilot & her family life + a current day troubled starlet playing her in a film). It’s long, but incredibly well researched and a story that has lingered with me for weeks now. Can’t remember if that was a rec here or on another blog (maybe The Stripe?)…

    Black Cake is on my hold list @ the library too (God, I love living across from a library).

    I’ve queued up Tucci’s memoir on audiobook next (I rarely do the audiobook route, but like it for memoirs!) and may need to add the Katie Couric one now too…

    Oh – also, Danielle Friedman was interviewed on several podcasts recently – could be a good way to hear more about her process/the topic without the dense literature! I enjoyed her on Diet Starts Tomorrow & Forever35.

    1. Yay – looks like we have some parallel reading ahead! Looking forward to comparing notes!


  7. I cannot resist commenting on reading-related posts! That was a good reminder to read more Ruth Reichl. Also, I love the idea of reading for a mental vacation – if I’m honest, I think that’s at least 90% of all my reading!

    I’m currently about halfway through East of Eden which I hate to say has been a bit of a slog (see above re: mental vacation, ha. This is not it!) I’ve been pairing it with something a little more fast-paced so I don’t completely lose momentum! I don’t dislike it, and I occasionally marvel at Steinbeck’s turn of phrase, but I think I need more action in my plots. I recently abandoned two audiobooks, one because I couldn’t finish it before hoopla returned it (Our woman in Moscow…plan to finish but it’s not really grabbing me, not sure I care enough about what happens!) and another because too many bad things kept happening (The Christie Affair…I really wanted to find out what happened but could not read about one more tragedy involving pregnant women, children, or dogs). Just started This Tender Land on audio, maybe I’ll have more luck with this. Also just started Death Comes to Pemberly on paper. In the thriller category, I recently finished Unmissing and The Book of Cold Cases, both of which I’d recommend although neither knocked my socks off 🙂 Can’t wait to hear what you think of One Italian Summer. Happy reading, everyone!

    1. Thanks for reporting in on all of this. It is hard for me to abandon a book, too, but I totally support your decisions! Life is TOO SHORT to read something that isn’t filling your cup, or at least challenging you in a way that is helpful.

      Will share back thoughts!!


    2. We read East of Eden in my book club recently – it was a rare occurrence where I chose to consume via audiobook, but I think it made all the difference, for such a long, slower story. I hadn’t read Steinbeck since high school, but it was such a treat to absorb his style in a new way (though over many, MANY hours, phew that’s a long one). Good luck powering through!

    3. I hadn’t thought of trying it on audio! I’m only reading it bc a friend gave me a copy for my birthday 🙂 But if I get really stuck, I’ll keep this in mind. Thanks!

  8. I just finished the Paris Apartment for this months book club book. The Paris Apartment was good couldn’t put it down a quick read with lots of twists and turns, you think you know who did it then a surprise ending.

    Now I’m on to News of the World

    1. Hi Courtney! Thanks for sharing these! I will definitely have to read Paris Apartment – have heard that name come up a few times!


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