“I don’t know how to live the life I want and still be a good daughter.”
Books have always been an important part of my life. When I have questions that I can’t answer, I turn to books. When I feel like the world is spinning out of control, I turn to books. Books are my constant companions and a source of both comfort and wisdom. I have always been able to pick up a book and see myself reflected in the characters. I took that privilege for granted.
"Don't just disappear on us."
I was born in the mid-1970s, in the shadow of the Vietnam War. I was too young to have any first-hand memories of the war, but not too young to eavesdrop on hushed conversations. I quickly learned the Vietnam War was a topic that was not suitable for young ears. That, of course, made it irresistible.
“In America today, having documents is not enough. Look at how many people with papers are struggling. Look at how even some Americans are suffering. They were born in this country.”
Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel, Behold the Dreamers, sifts through all we have swept under the rug of the American dream. A New York Times bestseller and winner of multiple awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Blue Metropolis Words to Change Award, the novel explores themes of race, class, power and privilege from the perspectives of two very different families.
“At some point with family history one has to stop moving backward, researching and reminiscing, and let time go on its forward roll again."
When my paternal grandmother passed away in 2004, many of my family’s records, old photographs and letters were passed along to me. I’ve always been interested in history and genealogy, and so I became the family archivist. If you are fascinated by the stories you uncover as you delve into your family history, you will enjoy Escape Home: Rebuilding a Life After the Anschluss.
I grew up on my mother's family farm in Guilford, Connecticut. I have fond memories of rushing to the breakfast table to pour the cream off the top of the milk and into my cheerios. Most of what we ate came from what we grew or raised or what we bought from the neighboring dairy farm. We typically sold the best cuts of meat, so our freezer was full of tongue, liver, horse meat and other bits-and-pieces that you'd probably rather not think about. My father's family was from Brooklyn, and my great-uncle served in the OSS with Julia Child. My grandmother loved foods with butter, sherry and spices she brought home from her travels. Is it any wonder food made such an impression on me?
“She was twelve and a half in actual years, which is eighty-seven in dog years .”
Reading Steven Rowley’s debut novel, Lily and the Octopus, was an emotional experience. I started out a skeptic, then fell in love with the story of Lily, a twelve-year-old dachshund, and her neurotic and endearing human, Ted, before rolling my eyes and, finally, dissolving into tears and forcing my cat to endure an extra long snuggle.
“It was only then, raising my water glass in his name, that I knew what it meant to miss someone who was so many miles and hours away, just as he had missed his wife and daughters for so many months.”
Published in 1999, Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of nine short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. Winner of both the PEN/Hemingway Award and the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, I picked up a copy several years ago. It promptly took up residence on the pile of books by my bed and stayed there. Had friends not recommended it as part of my endeavor to read and write a review of thirty books in 2018, it would probably still be on the pile of good intentions.
“[A]s adults, we have come to see that her autobiographical novels were not only fictionalized but brilliantly edited, in a profound act of American myth-making and self-transformation.”
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder is the fascinating and sometimes frustrating biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder and, in almost equal measure, her daughter, Rose Lane Wilder. Written by Caroline Fraser, editor of the Library of America edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, it is meticulously researched.
“There are certain words that draw back, that refuse to be uttered, because they are too laden with significance for our word-weary ears.”
Every once in a while, you read a book that stirs your imagination long after you read the last line. Skylight by José Saramago, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, is one of those books. The story is not complicated; in fact, the plot is rather weak. It is, instead, a series of intricate character studies. The nuanced portrayals of ordinary people engaged in mundane tasks—such as darning socks or sewing buttonholes into a shirt—is breathtaking.
“She reads books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.”
The books we hold dear shape and define us. They provide us with different perspectives and put events in our lives into a larger context. Some books are like acquaintances, and the moments we share add an almost imperceptible layer to who we are. Other books are dear friends we visit time and time again. These books shape us in a deeper and more sustained way. Still other books are great social engineers, introducing us to people whose response to the book was similar to or vastly different from our own.