Books I’ve Been Reading – November 2017

Reading is my great love, matched only by sharing these books, whether it’s by passing them on to others or telling friends about the stories I’ve read. I’m curious about so much in life and reading both satisfies and fuels this curiosity.

Perhaps that’s why my taste is so eclectic – it’s a response to the messiness of life. I pivot equally to fiction and non-fiction in both wanting to answer the ‘why’s and ‘how’s as much as wanting to be entranced by a story well told. I’m drawn to the feeling of being carried away and I also love standing on the shoulders of giants, figuratively speaking, and appreciating new perspectives on the world. And of course being up close and personal with others whose view is from the ground or from the margins.

Books I Read In November

In Jodhpur, India, I walk into a tiny and mighty bookstore, and one of the staff ask me what I’m looking for. “Writing to better understand dimensions of inequality in India.” “What writers or books do you like?” he asks.

“Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, everything Arundhati Roy has written, Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Glass Palace’, Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies.”

“Okay, here’s some ideas…” Which is how I came to read the following books:

Untouchable: The author, Mulk Raj Anand wrote this slim book in 1935 however it’s as relevant today as it was then. Over the course of one day, the book follows Bakha, an Untouchable in India’s caste system, who is a latrine cleaner and street sweeper. We are privy to the humiliations he suffers at the hands of higher castes and the way the class system defines him totally and denies him any other existence. Bakha’s fierce desire to become part of a larger world and his smoldering, seething anger as injustice upon injustice is thrust on him makes him unforgettable in his realness, and utterly devastating as a portrait of an India whose class system remains as cruel, inhumane and entrenched as apartheid. Anand brings fire, vitality and the power of witness to this book – which reminds us why he is one of India’s most important writers this century.

Everyone Likes A Good Drought: Stories from India’s Poorest Districts by Palagummi Sainath
Sainath is a journalist whose focus is the rural poor, and this collection is perhaps the most admired collection of reportage published in India in the last two decades. He is meticulous in his reportage on people on the margins written between May 1993 and June 1995. He is also a storyteller, and the way the book is constructed makes it easy to dip into both the stories and the analysis in easy to read bites. Sainath is scathing in his analysis of the impact of the withdrawal of agricultural subsidies and ill-conceived budget cuts in rural areas. His adroitness with language makes this book a dream read – and an important one since the crisis in rural India has continued to grow since this book was written, forcing millions of farmers to abandon their plots and seek employment in cities. Meanwhile, most journalists in the country focus mainly on city problems and the elite, ignoring the lives of the rural poor and the potential for a different world.

I also picked up:
Jhumpa Lahiri’s, The Clothing of Books: ‘If the process of writing is a dream, the book cover represents the awakening,’ is the magnetic quote on the back of the book, making it an irresistible purchase. This 80-page memoir spans Lahiri’s reflections on how a book cover impacts the potential reader and how the book cover reflects on the author; “The right cover is like a beautiful coat, elegant and warm, wrapping my words as they travel the world, on their way to keep their appointment with my readers.” Lahiri reflects on how book covers are an integral aspect of the book and they become a statement about the author even though many authors have little say in the cover chosen. She shares that even if she does not like the publisher’s choice “the covers become a part of me.”

Indira Gandhi and Nature by Jairam Ramesh – I must admit I was drawn to this book by a combination of compelling cover and title. Then there’s the subject herself. The book is really well written and it’s one to curl up with for Thanksgiving as it traverses Indira Gandhi’s life in a wholly original and satisfying way. As the author writes, ‘The environmentalist in her has never got the acknowledgement it warrants from her biographers… A cohesive ecological narrative extending right through her life based on written records has been missing.’ The result is poetic and political and important. We learn of Indira Gandhi being singularly responsible for the tiger conservation program, ensuring the protection of vast tracts of environmentally sensitive areas and pushing through Wildlife (Protection) Act, Forest Conservation Act, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. It makes me think she would have a very different response to the current air pollution issues in India if she were Prime Minister today.

Beyond India…I dipped into:
Adam Curle: Radical Peacemaker by Tom Woodhouse and John Paul Lederach: Adam Curle was a Quaker and peacemaker whom I was fortunate enough to meet him before he died – I climbed up to his apartment where he was caring for his wife who was very sick and he was generous with his time and patient with my questions. Here, two intellectual giants in the field of peacemaking have collected Curle’s powerful and astute writings for this book. Curle’s work was informed by his ideas on resolution, mediation and conflict transformation, all of which are illustrated by real-life situations Curle dealt with, and his approach to inner peace as much as the peace with justice he sought and practised in the world.

What I found in a Thousand Towns by Dar Williams. The subtitle is A Traveling Musician’s Guide to Rebuilding America’s Communities One Coffee Shop, Dog Run, and Open-Mike Night at a Time. This is such a great book – you may feel like I did – variously wishing I’d written this book and that I could go hang out with Dar Williams while she makes great music and interviews people with such sensitivity and insight. She has a bit of that Studs Terkel magic in the way she interacts with people and in her clarity about what contributes to and constitutes urban renewal.

Williams brings to this book both a curiosity and clarity about what it takes to sustain community. This is a book fused with joy and hope. In short, it’s a keeper.

The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen (re-read): coming home from India, I craved cooking fresh vegetables and dishes for myself so brought out this trusty favorite companion volume to the Moosewood Cookbook, and timeless in its some 200 recipes. Katzen’s is a truly wonderful approach to food, nutrition and happiness.

Jane

Books I’ve Been Reading – October 2017

Reading is my great love, matched only by sharing these books, whether it’s by passing them on to others or telling friends about the stories I’ve read. I’m curious about so much in life and reading both satisfies and fuels this curiosity.

Perhaps that’s why my taste is so eclectic – it’s a response to the messiness of life. I pivot equally to fiction and non-fiction in both wanting to answer the ‘why’s and ‘how’s as much as wanting to be entranced by a story well told. I’m drawn to the feeling of being carried away and I also love standing on the shoulders of giants, figuratively speaking, and appreciating new perspectives on the world. And of course being up close and personal with others whose view is from the ground or from the margins.

Books I Read In October

Here are some highlights …

No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America by Ron Powers: This book takes its title, and its cue, from the casual comment made by a Governor’s staffer that captures the reality of people, politicians, policy makers seeing people with mental illness as those to be contained, pitied and treated with suspicion rather than helped.

This book is also intensely personal as Powers, a Pulitzer Prize winning author based in Vermont, details the journey his sons go through with both suffering from schizophrenia, one committing suicide and the other trying and surviving, and how Powers and his wife, Honoree, deal with what happens.

I almost didn’t check out this book from my local library because I thought it would be too depressing. I’m glad I did, both for what I learnt and because, thanks to Power’s fierce and fearless writing, I came away feeling hopeful and determined about what we can do rather than feeling helpless in the face of what we’re dealing with here and elsewhere.  

The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection by Michael Harris

I was drawn to this book as one that suggested respite from a culture where everyone seems to have their heads down, checking their phones, rather than eyes up to experience now life in the now.  The promise of the book, written by journalist, Michael Harris, was his poetic take on what future generations won’t miss – the loss of lack and of quietude and day dream time due to the demands of constant connection.

Harris shares his own experience of being digitally connected and then unplugged however he’s continually pulled back to how others are experiencing technological change and in exploring other people’s experiments with technology.

I guess I was hoping more from what someone deliberately switching off from the ubiquitous social media and internet presence might discover however the book is less a meditation and celebration of slow self than it is a wrestle with these different ways of being.

La La La by author, Kate DiCamillo, and illustrator, Jaime Kim

This almost wordless book has striking illustrations of a girl singing ” La La La,” in various natural scenes involving trees, leaves, sun and moon. The girl always gets sad though because she receives no song in response to her singing and so she finally wakes up to the moon singing La La La back to her, and later, and finally, the sun.

The author said she wrote it due to the intense loneliness she felt as a child until her sister was born, and in celebration of the connection she now has with her sister. I’m not sure how young children will respond to this book – I think the message of hope may resonate with those who are going through a difficult time and in some ways, it seems more a book for young adults or adults than for children.

 

Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep by Eleanor Farjeon

My Mum used to give me Celtic fairy tales to read when I was young and this book has that same magical quality.  

Elsie’s life is filled with fairies and other children and Elsie’s talent at skipping rope results in a marathon effort to save a village from a greedy landowner who agrees to what he thinks is an easy win for his plans to build a factory on a hilltop where fairies and children jump rope.

Elsie’s skill, determination and love of life makes for a wise and affirming book for all little people – and big people too.

Gwen Harwood – Poems

Gwen Harwood (1920-1995) is one of my favorite Australian poets and this is one of her best collections, together with her Poems Volume 2.  Here’s an excerpt:

Could one seize and move
the stubborn words to yield and sing,
then one would write as one makes love
and poems and revelations spring
like children from the mind’s desire,
original as light and fire.

Devotions by Mary Oliver

For any lover of Mary Oliver’s poetry this book is a treat as it contains some of her best work from the last fifty years. Oliver has chosen and curated these pieces and they follow her journey from the age of 28 to her most recent work in her collection, Felicity, published in 2015.

Within these pages there’s so much of Oliver’s acute observation of the natural world and insight to the human condition. Having it close and dipping into it is like an everyday act of meditation and prayer.

Salvation Creek by Susan Duncan – re-read

I’m surprised this book was never made a movie -or if it was, I must have missed it. I even treat this book like a favorite movie – returning to re-read it when I feel the need, or when I feel homesick for Australia.

At 44, Susan Duncan was living the dream. She was an editor of two top-selling women’s magazines, had a happy marriage, enjoyed a jet setting lifestyle covering stories across the globe. And then her husband and brother die within three days of each other. Duncan keeps going until she can’t and then she’s diagnosed with breast cancer.  

While this storyline might sound like a descent to depression it’s far from the truth. Duncan is a gifted storyteller and she’s also very funny, aside from being very honest. The journey she goes on is rich and uplifting and the place she finds in herself — and physically in a natural idyll — is deeply affirming.

 

Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World by Billy Bragg

Having just seen Billy Bragg perform (check out his website and see if you can find a performance that isn’t sold out near you – his performance is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant) I wanted to read this book. While I’ve just begun reading, it has already won me for the style of writing as much as the substance.

The book tells the story of the rock and roll movement in 50s and 60s England. It was called “skiffle” as a parallel movement to that in the US.  Bragg documents the rise of the skiffle movement from when young Brits developed a guitar-led rebellion against the jazz movement of the day and of skiffle being the precursor to so much of the great British music which followed.

It’s an easy read and so typical of how Bragg interacts with his audience on stage. Bragg is a natural storyteller and as Bragg said up on stage, the pleasure is in the telling as much as the story.

The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit

I read this book in one sitting and I’d stand and hand it to every person in the street, if I could. It’s that good. Solnit says in her introduction to the book that a revitalized feminist movement is changing our understanding of consent, power, rights, gender, voice and representation. In this book, Solnit dives deep into what this means and what’s at stake and how we need to respond.

It’s a natural follow on from her last book, Men Explain Things and in this writing Solnit calls on men to challenge silence and end violence and join with women and those of all gender identities in transforming gender norms and behavior that perpetuates violence and silence.

What’s powerful about Solnit’s writing is that she really takes us there – her humor is powerful and her hammer of fury is a call to arms, which is really what this book is.

Jane

Books I’ve Been Reading – September 2017

Reading is my great love, matched only by sharing these books, whether it’s by passing them on to others or telling friends about the stories I’ve read. I’m curious about so much in life and reading both satisfies and fuels this curiosity.

Perhaps that’s why my taste is so eclectic – it’s a response to the messiness of life. I pivot equally to fiction and non-fiction in both wanting to answer the ‘why’s and ‘how’s as much as wanting to be entranced by a story well told. I’m drawn to the feeling of being carried away and I also love standing on the shoulders of giants, figuratively speaking, and appreciating new perspectives on the world. And of course being up close and personal with others whose view is from the ground or from the margins.

Books I Read In September

Here are the highlights …

Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook by Alice Waters is her memoir and a great book for anyone interested in the intersection of counterculture, California, politics, food, France, film and family. Waters packs a lot into this book however it doesn’t feel heavy rather it zips along at a snappy pace with snippets of recipes and food facts interspersed throughout.

Living in California made this an extra special read for me however it’s an entrancing read for anyone interested in Alice Waters life journey and her opening her restaurant, Chez Panisse in 1971, when she was 27. It’s also a story of activism – food activism and an active and questing spirit learning when to be bold and when to bend.

Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years by David Litt – I read this on a 5-hour plane journey – started it when we took off and put it down just as we were landing – and then left it on my seat with a note for another passenger that it was a great read and to please take it! I was only into the first few pages when I began to laugh out loud, attracting a few sideways glances from other passengers – Litt can be very funny when he chooses. In other places, the stories he shared were poignant.

David Litt was the youngest ever White House speechwriters in history and his light touch in this book speaks to his control of language, timbre and tone and his ability to tell the story of his own political coming of age, as much as the Obama years. The subtitle, we learn, comes from Sarah Palin’s taunt – and it keeps coming back to me long after I finished this book. How’s that hopey changey world turning out for ya? For me, I’m happy to have joined the indivisible movement sweeping across the US that’s keeping that dream alive, in tandem with other social movements responding to the changed political landscape.

Ghost of the Innocent Man by Benjamin Rachlin – I tweeted that this book was hands down the best book I’d read this year. It’s hard to overstate the importance of its subject matter and that it’s brilliantly written. The book deserves to be a film and I hope someone has optioned the screen rights. It reminds me of the Shawshank Redemption however in this case there’s also those in the justice system who are seeking justice as much as those wrongly accused who serve life sentences in jail.

Essentially the book tells a dual narrative – of the more than two thousand American citizens that have been wrongfully convicted and who are given voice by the personal story of Willie Grimes and of the vision of a group of dedicated lawyers who created North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission. In many ways, the book captures the dual narrative of America’s history – devastating injustice and individuals banding together to challenge and fight this injustice. Rachlin is a gifted and compelling storyteller and his meticulous research shines a light on a too often forgotten issue in the US – and on Grimes, his dignity, fierce persistence and quest for justice. It’s profound, profound, profound – a deep resonant call for reform.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell – my friend Thatch introduced me to the mini-series, The Durrells, and I’m totally in love with the series, the characters and with Corfu. It’s been years since I went to Corfu – I was there in my 20s where I hired a scooter and spent days roaming the island – and now I’m thinking of being back there next year and reliving the dream.

The book tells the story of the Durrells decamping from a gray English climate to the sunny call of Corfu and of the many eccentric characters who populate the island, and the Durrell family’s life during their years on Corfu. While Gerald is best known as a naturalist, and for the zoo he created, this book is really about his family and the humans in his life as much as the more than human world he was drawn to on the island and beyond.

Prospero’s Cell A guide to the landscape and manners of the island of Corfu by Lawrence Durrell – Gerald Durrell’s brother, Lawrence, was the writer in the family and his own account of time spent in the Ionian island of Corfu before the second world war is poetic and eloquent. In fact, the travel writer, Freya Stark, pronounced it ‘among the best books ever written.’

Lawrence Durrell is masterful in his use of language and in his observation of both humans and landscape. It’s a slim volume and worth savoring. A keeper.

And here is a plug for two magazines I subscribe to:

Resurgence – a bi-monthly UK magazine created by former Jain monk, Satish Kumar who walked the world for peace and co-created the EF Schumacher College (Small is Beautiful) where they have such inspiring studies and short courses. The magazine is a positive expression and invocation of what we’re working for – a world that is equitable, sustainable and just, informed by an aesthetic of beauty in form, content and image.

 

Orion is also a bi-monthly magazine focused on nature, culture and place, with a commitment to addressing environmental and societal issues and stories and it’s published in the US. The magazine is studded with stories and articles written by luminaries such as Wendell Berry, Terri Tempest Williams, Barry Lopez, Rebecca Solnit, Michael Pollan, Sandra Steingraber, Bill McKibben, Gretel Ehrlich, James Howard Kunstler, Barbara Kingsolver, Gary Snyder, and E.O. Wilson.

Jane

 

 

Books I’ve Been Reading – August 2017

Reading is my great love, matched only by sharing these books, whether it’s by passing them on to others or telling friends about the stories I’ve read. I’m curious about so much in life and reading both satisfies and fuels this curiosity.Sausalito Lbrary

In sharing this list of books I’ve been reading, and re-reading, a deep bow to my local library (#lovemylibrary). Sausalito Library is one of my favorite places. Aside from being a reading sanctuary, there’s also regular community evenings with local filmmakers, artists and activists.

This includes the screening of film classics such as ‘The Houseboat Wars’ and ‘The Last Free Ride’ (billed as a ‘hip pirate movie’) and ‘Sausalito After the Bridge’ where hundreds of locals turn up for the evening.

In the corridor next to the library hangs an artists’ history of Sausalito, complete with descriptors of the artists themselves and their own relationship with Sausalito. Complimenting this are the art exhibitions in the library, including art from the ‘anchor outs’ those on boats who live in the middle of the bay and row in each day to use the amenities and collect supplies. Within the library there’s big comfy chairs for the locals who wander in, plenty of spaces to plug in and the most brilliant collection of books and audio this gal could imagine. Upstairs there’s a Friends of Sausalito Library second hand book store,

The creativity of the offerings reminds me of the ‘Living Books’ that my local library from Australia (Stirling Library, Adelaide Hills) introduced where you could ‘borrow’ a person for an hour or more to learn more about their craft, talent, experience to inform your own research and curiosity.

Most of all for me, to be in a space free of cell phones and where there’s reverence for reading is pure joy.

Books I’ve Been Reading In August

No Apparent Distress: A Doctor’s Coming of Age in the First Lines of American medicine by Rachel Pearson, MD – I read about this book in the Sunday New York Times and then found it on the library shelf. The title is drawn from a phrase used to describe patients who appear stable. Medical students learn on the bodies of those who are poor―and those who are poor suffer from their medical mistakes. Pearson describes what happens when profit motives trump care and happen at the expense of those who can least afford or merit it. It’s an accessible read however the stories are devastating.

We of the Never Never by Mrs Aeneas Gunn was written by Jeannie Gunn however she published the book using her husband’s first and last name. This book is an account of the author’s experiences in 1902 at Elsey Station near Mataranka, Northern Territory, Australia. Gunn was the first white woman to settle in the Mataranka area. She was discouraged by officials from accompanying her husband to the station on the basis that as a woman she would be “out of place” on a station such as the Elsey. However, Gunn travelled south and her book describes the journey, settling in and contending with the local conditions and Indigenous and non-Indigenous bush folk. Gunn’s writing, and the book itself, is a revelation.

A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh – This is an exquisite and wise book on love, growing older, creative life, solitude, relationships and care of the soul which Lindbergh expresses through finding shells and other beached life on the seashore. Like Rilke, Lindbergh advocates time for solitude: “I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.’

Jonathon Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach – I first read book this in my teens and was entranced its transcendence – the messages of being true to yourself, flying your own path and living a life of love, respect, forgiveness, compassion and generosity.  I found this edition in the Friends of Sausalito Library shop. It was inside a silvery case and I couldn’t resist – especially with seagulls flying all round my boat in such a non-conforming community. I’m sure there’s a flock of Jonathan’s flying above Sausalito – wings beating to their own drum.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan – I’ve always wanted to surf and one day I’ll go and enroll in that surfing and goddess retreat in Bali that has been tempting me. However, until then, reading surfing memoirs is the next best thing and Finnigan’s wild spirit is given full expression in this elegantly written, view from the ground, coming of age book.

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke – it’s astonishing that I haven’t read this book until now. I read it in one sitting – perched on my boat deck early evening after a very hot day with picnic food, a bottle of ginger beer and the poetry of boats and paddle boarders gliding before me.

There is so much wisdom in this book that it’s worth keeping close. One quote of many that I’ve dog-eared in the book:

‘…it is always my wish that you might find enough patience within yourself to endure, and enough innocence to have faith. It is my wish that you might gain more and more trust in whatever is difficult for you, in your aloneness among other things. Allow life to happen to you. Believe me, life is right in all cases.’

Poems by George Seferis – I thought I might find a poem sent to me once by someone I loved however it wasn’t in this volume. While this book has some good poems with lines such as ‘sleep wrapped you round, like a tree with green leaves’, it’s this fragment from a work in Seferis’s Collected Poems, 1924-1955 that I love best:

the angels are white flaming white and the eye that would
confront them shrivels
and there’s no other way you’ve got to become like stone if
you want their company
and when you look for the miracle you’ve got to scatter
your blood to the eight points of the wind
because the miracle is nowhere but circulates in the veins of
man’
Hydra, Athens, 1939

The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono No Komachi and Izumu Shikibu – both Komachi and Izumu lived in the one Golden Age in which women writers and poets were the (recognized) predominant geniuses. This occurred at the turn of the last millennium when the emperors of Japan held court in the city of Kyoto and Komachi and Shikibu were two of the women poets in this court.

These women were two of the most revered poets of their time. Here’s a taste:

Komachi

A diver does not abandon
a seaweed-filled bay…
will you then turn away
from this floating, sea-foam body
that waits for your gathering hands?

Shikibu

I cannot say
which is which:
the glowing
plum blossom is
the spring night moon

and Shikibu’s last poem before she died

The way I must enter
leads through darkness to darkness
O moon above the mountain rim
please shine a little further
on my path

Julia Cameron: The Artist’s Way I wanted a re-reminder from the author about the benefits of writing Morning Pages (15 minutes of free form writing), taking oneself on weekly artist dates (to open the mind and self), and 2-3 short walks each week and one long one to build creative strength. This book is a classic and her subsequent books reinforce the central tenet of this book: make time for your creative self.

 

 

Jane
(Sausalito Library)

Books I’ve Been Reading – July 2017

Reading is my great love, matched only by sharing these books, whether it’s by passing them on to others or telling friends about the stories I’ve read. I’m curious about so much in life and reading both satisfies and fuels this curiosity.

Perhaps that’s why my taste is so eclectic – it’s a response to the messiness of life. I pivot equally to fiction and non-fiction in both wanting to answer the ‘why’s and ‘how’s as much as wanting to be entranced by a story well told. I’m drawn to the feeling of being carried away and I also love standing on the shoulders of giants, figuratively speaking, and appreciating new perspectives on the world. And of course being up close and personal with others whose view is from the ground or from the margins.

Books I’ve Been Reading In July

Here are this month’s highlights …

No is Not Enough by Naomi Klein – Naomi Klein illustrates her analysis of the power and politics of shock with many potent examples of how the shock of natural disasters and humanitarian crises have been exploited for political gain. Her analysis and optimism in the potential of social movements and proposed course of action reminds me of Rebecca Solnit’s writing and especially Solnit’s brilliant book, A Paradise Made in Hell. It would be great to have both these writers on stage together for an in-depth dialogue as they are two of the great intellects and advocates of our time. Until then we have their books.

Cloth Lullaby – The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky I was curious to learn more about Louise Burgeois, having been introduced to her work at the Tate Modern in London recently. This is poetic and evocative book weaves a visual and verbal narrative of Bourgeois’ art. From textile creations and water color illustrations to large scale sculptures and bold installations this book is a journey and a dreaming song.

Re-reading True North by Jill Ker Conway I first read The Rood from Coorain, Jill Ker Conway’s magical book that describes her journey from her life outback Australia to Harvard University in support of her desire for intellectual adventure and stimulation. True North is the description of her time at Harvard, earning a Ph.D. in history, her ‘true north’ in marriage and intellectual fulfilment, time at the University of Toronto finishing with the beginning of her new journey as President of Smith College. Ker Conway is a gifted storyteller as much as a leader and historian and I’m inspired by her continuing story, the choices she’s made and the grace and generosity of her sharing.

Wait Till You See Me Dance – Stories by Deb Olin Unferth Short stories are great to read on summer days and beaches and I was drawn to this collection by its name. The collection captures the messiness of life and the way her characters’ muddle through and make decisions feels real. Unferth’s style is spare and tender and she provokes thinking about the choices we make and what makes us feel fulfilled with this range of stories and situations. More a book for a long plane flight than a beach read though!

I wanted to read Somebody with a Little Hammer: Essays by Mary Gaitskill because her writing is so good and this is her first book of nonfiction. It’s a terrific collection that takes its title from a sentence in Anton Chekhov’s short story “Gooseberries.” “At the door of every contented, happy man,” Chekhov wrote, “somebody should stand with a little hammer, constantly tapping, to remind him that unhappy people exist, that however happy he may be, sooner or later life will show him its claws, some calamity will befall him — illness, poverty, loss — and nobody will hear or see, just as he doesn’t hear or see others now.” These essays span music, writers, travel, politics, sex and gender and Gaitskill taps at the issues at the heart of work by artists including Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, Talking Heads, Björk and Celine Dion.

Daring to Drive by Manal al-Sharif. The author made headlines in 2011 when she drove a car in Saudi Arabia in defiance of local regulations and was jailed for the crime of “driving while female.” This book is her memoir that charts the journey to this point, and then what happened afterwards. al-Sharif takes us into the world of Saudi Arabia oppresses women through rules such as male guardianship, refusal to allow women to drive, and restricting women’s freedom of movement and explains how this plays out practically as well as how a strict interpretation of Islam affects legal institutions including transportation, education, employment, and much more.

al-Sharif details her own experiences from childhood to adulthood and documents the impact such laws have on many who are marginalized in Saudi Arabia. She also shares personal stories such as the woman whose father dies at home because she couldn’t drive him to the hospital. When al-Sharif’s researches the law she discovers there’s no actual law against women driving her activism she determines to drive a car outside the compound and other women join her and create a movement they call Women2Drive, accompanied by a savvy social media campaign. When al-Sharif becomes a social media sensation, the reaction of the government is to jail her. Daring to Drive documents the immense challenges women face in Saudi Arabia today and the rising momentum for change. It was hard to read this book and I turned the last page just as my plane was landing and passed on my copy to the woman sitting next to me, keeping the story alive.

Jane