Hello fellow book-loving friends and welcome to a brand new series I’m starting about all the books that live on my bookshelves. Books are a huge part of both my and my husband’s lives and while we try to periodically get rid of books we dislike or know we’ll never read, our collection continues to grow. At last count we own nearly 500 books not counting things like cookbooks or any ebooks we own on our kindles.
My idea is that for each installment I’ll take a picture (like the one above) of a manageable chunk of a bookshelf. I’ll share titles and authors and give a 1 -2 sentence summary. If I’ve read it, I’ll give you a rating based on my enjoyment. The next time I’ll pick up where I left off before. And don’t worry, I’ll leave out any reference books or textbooks that have made their way into our collection.
I’m kicking this off with the tall bookshelf in our living room. This bookshelf is dead ahead when you walk in the front door of our house. Since we knew it would be out and on display we wanted to fill it with some of our favorite books or some of our larger collections of books by the same author. We don’t alphabetize our books or sort by color or size – I suppose we like the cheerful jumble of it all. But we do more or less keep genres together and keep books by the same author beside one another. Most of what’s on this bookshelf could be classified as fiction.
The first two books on this shelf are both by Nicole Krauss. Great House is her more recent novel, and The History of Love was her second. Until very recently Nicole Krauss was married to Jonathan Safran Foer which is why we’ve put their books next to each other on this shelf. I think they have similar styles in the way they often structure their novels as several separate narratives that gradually intertwine.
Great House (4 out of 5 Stars) tells four separate stories with different characters who are linked by their experiences of loss and recovery and by an enormous old desk that travels down through time and history to appear in each of their homes.
The History of Love (5 out of 5 Stars). Leo Gursky is an 80-year old retired locksmith who immigrated to New York after escaping SS officers in his native Poland. Years before he wrote a book called A History of Love about the woman he loved and lost. Alma Singer is a 14-year-old girl who wants to remember her dead father and to help her mother out of a crippling depression. She was named after the main character in book called A History of Love. Her story and Leo’s are destined to intertwine.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (5 out of 5 Stars). This is one of my favorite books and I’ve written about it quite a few times before. This book is (partially) narrated by Oskar Schell, an exceptionally intelligent, eccentric, and precocious nine-year-old who has recently lost in father in the 9/11 attacks on New York City. Oskar finds a key among his father’s possessions and becomes fixated on finding the lock this key fits into. His quest takes him all over New York City and into the lives of hundreds of people also reeling in the aftermath of the attacks.
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (3.5 out of 5 Stars). I read this book second even though it was written first. I didn’t like it nearly as much as I liked the other one, but I think I’m in the minority here. I think it was just a bit too weird for me. Something I like about both Foer and Krauss are their eccentric, quirky characters, but I found some of this book so strange as to be off-putting. It tells the story of an American man who goes to the Ukraine with only an old photograph, looking for the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis 50 years before. What he finds is an inept translator named Alex and an old blind man and his guide dog. The novel is loosely based on his own experiences.
The Keep and A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Egan is a pretty well-known and respected name in the literary community, but I actually haven’t read either of these. I defer to Jonathan who says:
“I picked up The Keep and A Visit from the Goon Squad around the time that Goon Squad first came out in 2011, then read them both within about six months of each other. The Keep was one of Egan’s earlier novels, and tells the story of a man named Danny, largely unsuccessful in life, who travels to Germany to visit his cousin Howard. Somewhat unlike Danny, Howard has grown from a nerdy kid to a handsome, extremely wealthy adult, and when the novel begins he’s in the process of renovating a medieval castle that he recently purchased. The two cousins also share a traumatic history (prank gone wrong), and as the story advances there are some metafictional hijinks that take the book to unexpected places.
A Visit from the Goon Squad is a series of loosely connected short stories, occasionally overlapping in plot, character, or theme – several stories revolve around people in the music business. Overall the book’s greatest strength, aside from its narrative trickery, is its exploration of the passage of time (spoiler alert: the titular goon squad is time). I remember feeling genuinely depressed by parts of it, which is a terrible way to convince someone to read something, sure, but in this case meant as a compliment! I know I’m probably not making either book sound like much fun, but I promise you they are – Egan writes with a lot of creativity, wit, and energy. Goon Squad was a big deal when it came out and won several significant literary awards, but I slightly prefer The Keep. I liked Goon Squad but ultimately thought it didn’t quite amount to the sum of its parts, whereas the strange moves at the end of The Keep added another genuinely compelling level to the story.”
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (3 out of 5 Stars). I read this the summer we got married and every time I see the cover it takes me back to that summer. The book itself was a “meh” book for me. I know it’s supposed to be this great work of literature and there were some interesting magical realism bits, but I wasn’t as wowed by it as I felt like I should be. The book spans 100 years in the life of the Buendia family and recounts the rise and fall of their mythical town, Macondo.
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (5 out of 5 Stars). This is one of both Jonathan’s and my favorite books and I included it in my 10,000 subscriber giveaway. 11-year-old Reuben Land is traveling with his father Jeremiah and his sister Swede through the Dakota Badlands in search of his fugitive brother, Davy, wanted for killing two men who were terrorizing his family. The true hero of this story is the father, Jeremiah,known for a faith so devout he’s been rumored to produce miracles. This is a book about family and faith, about unseen spirituality and maybe even magic that hides itself in ordinary places.
Middlesex by Jefferey Eugenides. I have never read this book. Jonathan has also never read this book. In fact, neither of us have read any of Eugenides’ books. Jonathan did once go to a reading Eugenides gave of his book ,The Marriage Plot, which Jonathan described as “Fine.” Why is this on our First-Thing-You-See-When-You-Walk-In-The-Door Shelf you might ask? Good question. I assume it is because we’re being pretentious and want people to think we read important literary writers like Eugenides. Or possibly we needed just one more literary book to pad out that shelf.
Bridge of Sighs and Empire Falls by Richard Russo. I love Richard Russo. LOVE. He is known for his small town settings and average-Joe characters who resonate with readers so deeply because they remind us that even the simplest and smallest lives are complex and rich with meaning. Bridge of Sighs (5 out of 5 Stars) tells the story of Louis Charles “Lucy” Lynch, a 60 year old man who has lived contentedly in Thomaston, New York his entire life building a successful chain of convenience stores, now writing his memoirs. Lucy, who has barely been outside of his hometown, is preparing to take a trip to Italy to see his childhood best friend, now a renowned painter. The juxtaposition of these two men – the one who never left and the one who couldn’t stay –and the story of their strange, undefinable friendship is mesmerizing.
Empire Falls (5 out of 5 Stars) won the Pulitzer in 2002. It tells the story of diner owner Miles Rowby who must come to terms with what’s really keeping him flipping burgers in this small town – options include his teenage daughter and his soon-to-be ex-wife who has run off with the comically vain owner of the local heath club.
Let me know if you enjoyed this little book chat and if you have any suggestions for better ways to do it or other book-related posts you’d like to read.
A key to my rating system:
5 Stars: I loved this book, I had no problems with it, it’s one of my all-time favorite books and I recommend it.
4 Stars: I really, really liked this book. I had no major problems with it, but I’m not sure it’s one of my all-time favorites.
3 Stars: I enjoyed this book. There were maybe some things I didn’t like, but overall I liked it. OR It was really fun, but not something that stands out or will stick with me. I recommend it, but might have some disclaimers.
2 Stars: I didn’t like it but I feel bad giving it one star so I’m giving it two.
1 Star: I thought it was a terrible, terrible book and I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on it.
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