The Library Book – Susan Orlean

The Library Book - Susan OrleanMs. Orlean, a staff writer for The New Yorker, has written some great fiction (The Orchid Thief). This is a non-fiction book about the Los Angeles Pubic library, written by someone who loves libraries. A particular focus is a devastating fire in the Central Library location in 1986 that destroyed and damaged a large number of books. But the book follows a non-linear path covering the library origins in 1872 to the post-fire restoration and recovery to an intelligent and passionate description of the modern role for libraries in a world that demands access to information and knowledge. The vivid descriptions of the idiosyncrasies of many Head Librarians are delightful, with all the gender politics over the ages. Here is a quote from Althea Warren, the Head Librarian in 1935: “librarians should read as a drunkard drinks or as a bird sings or a dog responds to an invitation to go walking, not from conscience or training but because they’d rather read than do anything else in the world” (page 198). Highly recommended for all enthusiastic readers!

Feel free – Zadie Smith

Feel free - Zadie SmithMs. Smith writes superb novels (most recently, Swing Time) but this book is a collection of essays, reviews of books and music, and other writings. She writes with a refreshingly candid and breezy style about art, music, books and social justice issues. She is self-deprecating, describing her and her friends: “we stood around pointlessly, like the Luddite fiscally ignorant liberals we are, complaining about the inevitable”. There are enchanting digressions in the essays like a description of an epiphany regarding Joni Mitchell music while in Tintern Abbey which eventually segues into a discussion of Kierkegaard! Given the diversity of topics, some essays inevitably are less engaging but collectively this is a must-read book for ZS fans.

I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You – David Chariandy

I've Been Meaning To Tell You - David ChariandyA short essay on race relations, presented as an intimate letter to Chariandy’s 13-year old daughter. Chariandy’s family is mixed race; an especially poignant chapter entitled The Incident describes when his young son is confronted with the n-word on a school playground. This is very fine intelligent, thoughtful and introspective writing about a topic that remains critically important.

Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist - Roxanne GayThis is a challenging set of essays published in 2014. Gay displays righteous anger toward issues like rape culture and sexual violence. Her writing is always provocative but also self-deprecating. Above all it is her honesty that is compelling. Comments on Sweet Valley High, The Hunger Games and her obsession with Law & Order (SVU) are delightful. She is very aware that her life (and opinions) is messy, full of contradictions and biases. It will be interesting to read follow-up essays in this era of #MeToo. Gay is an American cultural treasure.

My Life With Bob – Pamela Paul.

My Life With Bob - Pamela PaulSometimes a book can provide a perfect reading experience, usually due to both content and timing, and this book is a wonderful example such a sublime event. Ms. Paul is Editor of the New York Times Book Review. This fantastic book is an autobiographical recounting of her love of reading. The “Bob” in the title is an acronym for “Book of Books”, a journal that lists every book (title and author) the she has read since 1988. A wonderful aspect of this book are the references to her philosophy of reading, and her motivations for choosing to read particular books at specific periods in her life: childhood, young adult, while travelling in France and SE Asia, and finally re-reading books to her children. This is just an exceptional book about the joy of reading.

Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

Burial Rites - Hannah KentA young Australian woman was on a Rotary Exchange to Iceland, where she discovered a story of Agnes who was beheaded in 1828 for alleged murders. This was the last execution in Iceland. The story is all context, life in Iceland in the early 19th century and the place of an independent woman, with issues of poverty and religion. HK was a participant in a Vancouver Word Fest session on archival research about 2 1/2 years ago that I attended. She talked about the issue of cultural appropriation, for example. This is an excellent debut novel, and my enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that I read this book in Iceland!

The Road To Little Dribbling – Bill Bryson

The Road To Little Dribbling - Bill BrysonThis is a sequel of sorts to Bryson’s brilliant book about Great Britain, Notes From A Small Island. Twenty years after Notes was published, Bryson again travels over much of England and Wales to the northern tip of Scotland, often walking. His observations range from self-deprecating comedy to insightful and informative commentary. Bryson loves the sublime countryside so even his complaining is good-natured. This is a charming book.