Long-time readers might remember that I posted a summary of books read each month from 2017 to sometime this spring. Then I just…stopped. Partly it’s because I wasn’t reading as much. Babies are hard. I have data to back this up (in the I Know How She Does It time diary study I found that women with children under age 2 had fewer hours for leisure than women with older children — with pretty high statistical significance). But I was reading some. So here are a few titles I enjoyed from late spring into summer and fall.
Rules for Visiting, by Jessica Frances Kane
May, a 40-year-old groundskeeper at a university, scores a month-long sabbatical. She uses it to go visit her friends from childhood, in an attempt to see if these friendships can be re-established. This quiet novel was soothing — and taught me about several species of trees — and proved good for my non-novel-reading mood. The only downside was a small love plot stuck on ridiculously; I blame the publishing industry for not allowing a 40-year-old heroine to be happily single.
Jazz, by Toni Morrison
This was a re-read, but a good one. It’s an unorthodox novel, set in the Harlem Renaissance. Morrison gives you the plot on page one: an older man has an affair with a young girl. When she decides it’s over, he tracks her down at a party and kills her. At the funeral, his wife scandalously attacks the corpse. Then Morrison proceeds to tell the back story of all the characters, darting from the deep south in the first years after slavery, through scenes of the Great Migration north, and into bustling Harlem. The text itself is a jazz piece — variations on a theme, different instruments showing what they can do. It’s a great book to start exploring Morrison’s work.
Dad is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan
I had checked out Food: A Love Story from the library, and thought it was…ok…but I enjoyed Gaffigan’s discussions of his large family. So then I realized he’d written another humor book that was all about raising five kids in New York City. Parts of Dad is Fat are laugh aloud funny for those of us who have ever had to move children around to different beds at various stages of the nightly bedtime routine.
The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, by Dan Egan
The Great Lakes were ecologically distinct from the rest of the world for ages, closed off by Niagara Falls and other such barriers. Then canals opened them up, as did the movement of recreational boats, and for the past 100 years, the lakes have gone through a series of total ecosystem changes — spikes and collapses of different species in turn. I found this book fascinating just to think about how the different pieces all interact, and the different roles people see for the lakes (aquaculture? recreational fishing? commercial fishing? boating? transportation?)
Junkyard Planet, and Secondhand, by Adam Minter
We’ve been cleaning out our closets (hasn’t everyone?) and donating what we can, which raises an interesting question: what happens to those cast-offs? In these two books, Minter explores how things get diverted from landfills, either in the secondhand market or the recycling market. His general take is two-part: the recycling business is far from clean (especially for electronics and metals), but it’s better than using new materials and sending stuff to landfills. And re-using things is generally better than recycling, because it involves far less energy and waste. This thinking has inspired me to try to find specific homes for some of my things first (through Buy Nothing groups) before donating to thrift store charity-funding operations (which are great, but far less exact — if things can’t be quickly sold, they are often then sold as bulk material). Minter comes from a scrapyard-owning family, and has always seen recycling junk as an opportunity, which made this all feel more insightful than someone writing it from more of a pure environmental perspective.
One Billion Americans, by Matthew Yglesias
I always have a soft spot for wonky books, particularly those that make you say “I hadn’t thought of it that way before.” Yglesias argues that the only way for America to stay dominant in the next century is to get bigger, which he argues should happen through increased immigration of skilled young people, and through making it easier for people to have bigger families if they so desire. He spends much of the book arguing that the US has plenty of space for more people with policies that would allow for denser development where demand exists, and for repopulating declining cities through targeted measures. I didn’t agree with everything, but I appreciated that many of these ideas weren’t specifically left or right — not everything needs to be.
Everything Beautiful in Its Time, by Jenna Bush Hager
Hager, co-host of the Today Show’s fourth hour, lost three of her grandparents in the course of a year. This would just be a sad family story, except for who these grandparents were. In this memoir, she recounts memories of the various members of the Bush family, sharing letters and her thoughts on how she’s raising her own three children based on what she saw of their lives. This was a swift read, and at times very funny, and also very sad.
There were also some more forgettable books but…there we go. As always, I welcome recommendations for my next read!
Photo: Favorite reading spot. This is from last October, but we’re getting there.