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9 Books off My List – Some Quick Reads and Some Challenges

By Ann Boland March 28, 2024 Hobbies

What a variety of books occupied me this winter in Chicago. Fortunately, I found lots of fun, quick reads. They make the darker, deeper stories possible to complete. In early March, I visited the Tucson Festival of Books. It’s informative to hear the popular authors talk about the art of writing and their new works. I’ve a long list of books to order from the library, so brace yourselves for lots of work published in 2023.

Whalefall, about which I write below, is published by MTV Entertainment Books. They are new to me, so I had to find out more about this publishing house. They have two objectives: to publish books that extend the message of their on-screen content, and to publish books that can easily move to screen. Whalefall seemed written for the screen, but not for the squeamish. Here’s an interesting article about them.

Finlay Donovan Is Killing It, a Mystery by Elle Cosimano (Minotaur Books, 2021)

An easy and fun read. Great for a weekend, or a day in bed with the flu. It’s about a blocked mystery writer who turns her real-life escapades into the plot for her book.

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett (Harper, 2023)

Ann Patchett heroine, middle-aged Lara, tells a slow and enchanting story to her three adult daughters – about her life at their age. They are confined to the family cherry farm in northern Michigan by the Covid lockdown. Seasonal workers are not available to pick, so the family spend their days among the branches fillings “lags” of sweet cherries. They talk from tree to tree. Lara takes this time to tell her daughters the story of her time as an actress and her love affair with a future Oscar winner over whom the daughters swoon.

If your family is like mine, stories about the past take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, they never fill a book. Thank goodness Lara is expansive. She recounts her time at Tom Lake, a Michigan summer theater, and her time as an actress with deliberateness and a sense of fun. I found this a good read, almost cushiony as the story unfolded.

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday (Harper & Row, 1968)

This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969. It’s about a Native American man coming home to the Jamez, New Mexico pueblo after WWII. Momaday is Native American. To critics, this book signifies the beginning of the Native American Renaissance in writing.

Abel, the protagonist, is torn between the world of the pueblo and the Anglo world in which he must function to succeed. He fails. Full disclosure: it’s a difficult read – paragraphs that go on for a page or more, switches from third person to first person, jumps in time, lack of dramatic arc. As a reader, I felt uninformed. But the descriptions are wonderful, the kind you go back to and read again just to assure it is as good as you thought when you first read it.

It’s a short book – 200 pages. I steeled myself to sit down and read it through. I could not pick it up and put it down without feeling lost. Momaday educates the reader to the difference between the “word” for a Native America and the “word” for an Anglo. Most Native American words are the oral traditions and stories passed through generations. Their languages were not written. Anglo words surround us with a surfeit of books, newspapers, letters.

When I reflect on House Made of Dawn as a series of stories told by various narrators, it is more understandable than thinking of it as a plot driven novel. I feel enriched by this book, and it will undoubtedly influence future reading.

Whalefall by Daniel Kraus (MTV Entertainment Books, 2023)

Hang on to your hats! This is a thriller about a young man who lives in the shadow of his deceased father, a renowned deep-sea diver. To prove his own worth, the young man tries to recreate his father’s fatal dive. I enjoyed the quick read. Please let the science included in because it worked for me.

My Heart Attack Saved My Life, But for What? By Susan Smith (HeartSmart Press, 2023)

This short book by a Type A woman recounts through stories her denial of illness almost to the point of death. For Susan, the work, the family, the friends, the organizations she serves are more important than her pain. Surgeries and rehab bring her back, but not to the vitality of her former life. Now she is frail, but as determined as before to live her life for others – and now for herself.

Each chapter is followed by an exercise for the reader to examine her life and the risks she faces dealing with, or ignoring, the lessons life is teaching us.

Recommended for women conditioned to ignoring themselves in sacrifice to others.

Everywhere an Oink Oink: An Embittered, Dyspeptic, and Accurate Report of Forty Years in Hollywood by David Mamet (Simon & Schuster, 2023)

David and I go back to his beginnings in store-front theater in Chicago in the late 60s. His name crops up when brutalist dialogue is used in theater script. Nothing subtle, just rat-tat-tat repartee. Takes getting used to it. Mamet created some of my favorite plays – Glengary Glen Ross being at the top – the play and the movie.

Mamet’s the first to say that he sold out for Hollywood money, and he loves to bite the hand that feeds him. There’s lots of fun gossip (truth, actually) in this book, and his name drops constantly. But these are the circles in which he moves. The thing to keep in mind is that as script after commissioned script is rejected, Mamet still gets paid. His nemesis are producers, the money people, who want artistic input, ruining most productions.

I particularly enjoy Mamet’s homage to movie crews and how they cohere for the entire shoot and postproduction to act as one being. No prima donnas, just get the job done well and on budget.

Everywhere an Oink Oink is a series of essays, so don’t expect cohesion. And there is repetition. But I enjoyed this book and learned from it. Mamet’s illustrations are great fun as well.

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival, and Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott (Random House 2021)

Don’t begin this book unless you have a strong stomach for sadness. This is a true story about victims of poverty in the U.S. – New York in this instance.

We follow a family of eight, six children and two adults; how they became a family, why they grew in numbers, how they could never get ahead, and how they fell apart. The central characters are Dasani and her mother, Chanel. Swirling around the periphery are the various government departments that manage the allotment of housing, funds, food, and assistance such as detoxification, psychological counseling, and health care. Personnel come and go, but the family unit remains, until it does not.

I could not put this book down. Andres Elliott, who did a six-part special series in the New York Times on this family went on to write the book with a skilled eye into the impoverished world. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2021.

Basket of Deplorables: Almost True Stories by Tom Rachman (Riverrun, 2017)

This appears to be Rachman’s unknown book. The Chicago Public Library did not own a copy and purchased one when I requested it. It was not officially published in the U.S. except in audio form.

It’s a short book, made longer with wide leading between the lines – five short stories intertwined with characters and situations post the Trump election. I enjoyed the quick read. If you are a Rachman fan, so will you. Perhaps try the audio where each story features a different reader.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (Doubleday, 2022)

A fun, quick read. Highly predictable, fey, but the characters are fun, the situations funny, and the dog is wonderful!

Looking for more book reviews? Find them here.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you prefer quick, fun reads, or more serious topics? What type of book do you never go for? How often do you sit down to read just to finish a book? Which titles did you finish in March?

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Karen Payton

Loved Lessons in Chemistry, Whalefall and Tom Lake (which I just finished.) I’m a voracious reader and on average, I read 65 books/year. I’m sure that number will increase when I’m retired!

Claudia Kindall

Good Morning, I am a fun read kind of gal. I love a good love story, I love a good drama and if you’re book makes me laugh. Yes, that’s my kind of book. Have a wonderful day sending a little warmth your way from Texas Claudia.


The Author

Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater, opera, and arts. Involved as a theatre-goer since the early 80s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of Chicago's theater scene, its exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation. To support her good and bad habits, Ann handles public relations for authors and the arts.

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