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Stuff I’ve Been Reading and (Mostly) Love

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

As long-time readers know by now, I’m a book lover. But I have a confession: sometime late last year, I went through the longest (by far) dry spell of reading in my life.

I was reading, sure, but I wasn’t reading books — I’d been doing a lot of online reading instead. Looking back, I can see that the problem came when 1) I was turned off from books by a few hard-to-read non-fiction books that bored me to tears and 2) I was on a tear with my online reading, obsessed with a couple of topics at the time.

Today I’m happy to say I’ve been reading more than ever in the last month and a half. My cure: I started with fun-to-read, easy fiction that drew me in and wouldn’t let me go. I continued that for a few books and then slowly transitioned into (slightly) meatier stuff. What follows are some of the better (as opposed to the trashier) books I’ve read, and can recommend with pleasure. I hope you’ll enjoy some of them!

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I don’t know why I never read this before — maybe it sounded too depressing or something, but boy was I wrong! This was an amazing memoir, and usually I don’t like memoirs at all. Such great stories, and overall it’s a moving and superbly written book. You won’t believe this woman’s childhood — at the same time unbelievable, sad, funny, inspiring, unconventional, brave. If you haven’t read this book yet, please please do!

London Is the Best City in America by Laura Dave. A first-time novel, but it’s so smartly written that you wouldn’t believe this was a first effort. There are so many stories about separations and marriage and relationships out there, you wouldn’t think anyone could tell another stories in a way that was compelling and different, and yet Laura Dave was able to do that. The title is confusing until almost the end, but it does tie in with the theme. The book, btw, has nothing to do with London … but it does teach you about the origins of the terms “honeymoon” and “wedding toast” which is a nice compensation. Loved this book and I recommend it. Dave has a second book out that’s on my to-read list.

The Pleasure of My Company: A Novella by Steve Martin. I don’t think of Steve Martin as a writer — actor, comedian, sure, but not writer. But if you think about it, he’s written screenplays and lots of comedy routines, so he must know how to write. Well, it’s a bit unfair that someone so talented on the screen can be so talented as a writer — I can’t act or make people laugh (much) and I have perhaps half his writing ability. The Pleasure of My Company is a tiny little book, but what a wonderful, wonderful read. I’d read Steve Martin’s Shopgirl and enjoyed both the book and the movie, but The Pleasure of My Company is even better. I can’t believe I hadn’t read this or even heard of it until recently.

How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper. You might not think a book about a man who lost the love of his life in a plane crash, and then spends a year wallowing in grief and self-pity, would be fun to read, let alone hilarious. You’d be sadly mistaken. I was, but the first pages of the book proved me wrong and I laughed and loved this book from beginning to end. Some great characters in here, besides an overabundance of wit.

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby. This book also proved me wrong, once again. I didn’t think it would be interesting to read about someone else talking about what he’s been reading, but I read the book anyway because I just adore Nick Hornby. Btw, Nick, if you happen to read this blog, email or twitter me because I have a man-crush on you, or at least on your words and wit and written personality. I would love to get a beer sometime. Anyway, I’ve ordered half a dozen books just reading Hornby’s descriptions of some of the books he read and loved. The book is a reprint of a bunch of his columns for a UK magazine, where he talks about what he’s been reading for the last month. Basically what this post is (and he was the inspiration for this post), but with wit.

I Love Everybody (and Other Atrocious Lies) by Laura Notaro. I didn’t love this book. It’s a series of non-fiction humorous stories from Notaro’s life, and they are funny … but she tries too hard to be funny (as opposed to Hornby, who has a more understated humor) and in overreaching the humor often falls short. Still a decent read, but not my favorite on this list.

Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee. I don’t know how to describe my relationship with Coetzee’s writing. He’s brilliant. His books are incredibly well-written and interesting and thought-provoking and different. But he just doesn’t entertain me, engage me, on the same level that Hornby (for example) does. This book was awesome though, if slightly frustrating to read. It has a unique structure: the top of every page is a series of essays by a (fictional) author, the middle of each page is a narrative by that author, and the bottom of the page is a narrative by a young woman who he has a crush on, and who changes his life. The essays by themselves are well done — the first few are as close to my political philosophy as I’ve seen in fiction. But the story that unfold below the essays is what draws you in. The (slight) frustration comes because we have to simultaneously read three things at once, which is unique but difficult because you have to keep switching between diferent voices and stories and ideas. Overall, an excellent book, though.

Watermelon by Marian Keyes. Not the most literary of books on this list, it’s still a good story of a woman going through a divorce and finding refuge with her family in Ireland. I liked it, and will probably read others by Keyes soon.

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, as I’d previously read a couple by Fielding that were at once funny but kind of annoying because of their diary format. This story wasn’t in diary format, and I think Fielding is much better this way. It was a fun story of a woman who isn’t sure if she’s unfairly judging a man because he seems Arabic, or if she’s imagining things (she has, as the title says, an overactive imagination), or if she’s really in the center of an international terrorist plot. I ended up liking Olivia and would love to read more of her. A good read.

What good books have you read lately? Share in the comments!

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