Books I’ve Been Reading – January 2018

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 January

Women and Power:  A Manifesto by Mary Beard This slim book is compelling in its message that it’s power that needs to change and not women.  Beard makes the case that that there has been a long tradition in Western culture of silencing women and keeping them from the centers of power.

The book draws from two lectures that Beard gave in 2014 and 2017, sponsored by the British Museum and the London Review of Books.   Beard’s central premise is that the myth of the weakness of women speaking to power has been perpetuated through generations beginning with Homer’s Odyssey through to the failure of Hillary Clinton to assume the US Presidency.

At the end of her book, Beard says that if she were starting again, “I would find more space to defend women’s right to be wrong.” This raises the question of what politics and power would look like if there was more forgiveness for human fallibility, greater generosity in supporting a diversity of views and voices and zero tolerance for violence against women.  With the rise of the # me too movement and the 2018 mid-term elections in the US which will attract many female candidates for political office, this book is a timely manifesto for those seeking and critiquing power.

Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett Krista Tippett is an award-winning host of the beloved US public radio program On Being.  Her book made me feel like I was absorbing wisdom by osmosis. Tippett’s writing style is like an extension of her radio sessions and the book captures the perspectives of many important thinkers and leaders in theology, science, and the arts including the Dalai Lama, the poet Mary Oliver, the Irish writer and priest,  the late John O’Donohue, and the physicist Brian Greene and how they are navigating issues of spirituality, technology and what it means to be human. It’s an absorbing read and, ultimately, an uplifting one too. The sections are organized around five themes: words, flesh, love, faith, and hope and this works well in guiding the inquiry, reflections and stories in this deeply wonderful book. 

Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner Back in Australia, I needed a Helen Garner fix. She’s one of my favorite authors and I particularly love her short stories and essays. Is it strange to say that Garner’s writing connects me to Australian-ness? It’s the combination of whimsy, fierceness, irony and tenderness that makes Garner’s stories unique. Chapters in this collection spin from dogs, dancers and grandchildren to Jane Austen, prisoners and life after marriage.  Several stories center on attitudes toward women and are spiky in their telling. Then there’s Garner’s love affair with the ukulele, and with Elizabeth Jolley’s and Janet Malcolm’s writing, and her deeply affecting piece on Australian philosopher Raimond Gaita and the film made from his book, Romulus My Father. This collection’s a keeper.

A Life Underwater by Charlie Veron Charlie Veron is renowned globally as a coral reef expert.  His has been a lifelong commitment to coral reef conservation in Australia and across the globe. Along the way, he’s been a researcher, writer, participant in film projects and a lifelong activist. It’s a terrific read –  the kind of book that you begin at the start of the weekend and only get up to do the essentials before returning to the story. Veron has dived many of the world’s coral reefs, has been a leader in organizations including the Australian Institute of Marine Science and has named more coral species than anyone in history.

Veron tells of his growing love of marine life and his journey to becoming a coral specialist and activist for ocean ecology and coral reef protection.  He describes his kamikaze life exploring off the map wild coastal waters and then leading groundbreaking research including on the impact of climate change and reef depletion. What makes this a great read is that it’s a book about science without being a scientific read. Instead, it’s a very personal story of a life fully lived with all its elements of love, loss and personal discovery.   In writer Tim Winton’s words, “Charlie Veron isn’t just a coral scientist, he’s a pathfinder, a scout who’s been sending back dispatches on the future of the planet for decades. If ever there was a moment for Australians to listen up and act on what he’s learnt, it’s now.”

Thea Astley: Inventing Her Own Weather by Karen Lamb The names of Thea Astley’s books have always been a draw for me:   It’s Raining in Mango; Reaching Tin River; Hunting the Wild Pineapple; Girl With A Monkey. And so, curious about the author I was excited to find that there was a biography of Thea Astley and it’s a good one too. Astley was a Catholic girl from Brisbane, and both religion and geography had a magnetic pull on Astley throughout her life. She called Queensland her ‘‘dream country’’, the verdant, emerald green North of the imagination.  And as Karen Lamb depicts in her biography, Astley was resolute in her ambition to be a writer and yet always uncertain of her own worth. This biography provides a fascinating insight to the times, to Astley’s desire both for marriage and independence, to her sustained love of music and her aversion to conformity and how she built her career and reputation as a writer.

As the literary critic, Geordie Williamson wrote, ‘Astley climbs from its pages a flawed human with a gift that has been discounted in recent years. Until the recent republication by UQP of A Descant for Gossips, a few dusty warehoused copies of her wonderful final novel Drylands were all that remained in print. We can only hope that Inventing Her Own Weather will renew our fascination with a writer who was marvellous because she was difficult, groundbreaking because she was conservative, and deserving of celebration because of the author’s own uncertainty regarding her worth.’

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy by Yanis Varoufakis World-famous economist, Yanis Varoufakis, seeks to answer a question from his daughter, Xenia, ‘Why is there so much inequality?’  To answer this question, Varoufakis draws on mythic tales and contemporary culture as well as his own childhood experiences to provide an astute analysis and antidotes.  

This includes references to Faust, Frankenstein, The Matrix and Oedipus to illustrate the drama of economics and power and how it is playing out in our world. It’s a highly personal and accessible book that helps to illustrate how we got into this mess and what’s needed to rebalance the world. In doing so, Varoufakis equips us with new knowledge and vocabulary so that we can reclaim our power rather than deferring to economists. It’s a stunning read and an important one.

“Varoufakis’s brief history of capitalism unspools with characteristic fluency and verve … those seeking to better understand the ‘black magic’ of bankers should look no further.”                                               Financial Times

That’s it for this month

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.


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.




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
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:


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?


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.



(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.