Beth Reynolds has been a bookseller for 20-plus years, 15 of them at the Norwich Bookstore. She spends her weekdays in the children's section of the Norwich Public Library, but on Saturdays you can find her here, helping a child find the perfect birthday present or recommending books to adults looking to get lost in a good read.
Has the back-to-school bug bit you too? I fall hard this time of year, wishing for new pencils, journals and a chance to cram some learning into my brain. This book delivers. If you wrote down all the authors who are cited, you would have the beginning of a fabulous syllabus. Alison is extremely knowledgeable and her tone conversational- this is just how you’d hoped college would be. You may want to grab a package of post-it flags because each section contains a hidden gem you’ll want to refer back to. Let’s thank indie presses for putting out books that make word nerds like me deliriously happy.
Reading a book that you were hesitant to pick up, and finding that it speaks to you in ways unimaginable is the greatest gift. Opening yourself to unchartered possibility, and empathy happens easier when you are immersed in the pages. Origin stories fascinate me and Wall gives us the backstory of these couples and they way they intertwine and break apart. It felt to me like Anne Tyler meets Aja Gabel, but to reduce it down to comparisons strips away the magic of her prose. My copy is underlined and dog-earred and that always speaks more loudly to me than words of praise.
McQuade’s connected stories, centering around the lives of girls who once attended boarding school together, kept me intrigued and curious. As each story started, I made a game of guessing which girl was the focus and who the narrator might be. We see them as women, girls, teens, elderly, mothers, daughters, friends, lovers, and wives. The incident with their teacher is a point of connection and here are the spokes spinning out from the hub. Nothing in nature is permanent, neither are books. These images are ethereal, try and wrap your arms around them and they billow like smoke. The glimpses are haunting and gauzy, and some are based in myths and fairytales. In these pages you will stumble across crows, trees, taxidermy, secrets, lies, and the freedom of summer. Reading one is like letting the peach juice run down your chin.
If I could only choose one type of book to read forever, it might be the quiet kind where seemingly nothing happens. And yet it is in the small, ordinary details where everything happens, for life is a series of moments strung together. To see Ella caring for Jill, or her relationship with Brynn is to get a glimpse into the daily struggles of a caregiver. Or it might be simply a look at what it means to be a human being interacting with others; one who loves thrift store finds, flowers on her table and a cup of tea in the afternoon. I adored this slim gem of a book and the characters are still with me. I wish Ella and I could meet, I think we’d have so much to talk about.
I wasn’t expecting to fall so solidly in love with this book that Julia Phillips created. It takes place on a cold peninsula, in a harsh, brutal landscape that doesn’t permit easy exit. What I enjoyed most was the aerial view, that through her stories we get to see a subject from every angle imaginable. Each narrator tells us something more and we learn from little bits and pieces, characters, description, imagery, motivation and action. The whole book is like a top that’s spinning, very slowly at first. The faster it goes, all we can see are the bright colors shining forth. In the end we come back around to the beginning, as if it was always meant to be just this way. In the midst of this hot summer, immerse yourself in this sharp, raw debut.
Summer reads, they whisk us off to places we only dream of. Gilbert takes us back to the ‘40s and shows us New York City through the eyes of nineteen year old Vivian. Here we are immersed in the world of theater, a vibrant place that allows Vivian to create a family. She learns that deep bonds can be formed by showing up for each other time and again. In this way we form a life worth living, even if it wasn’t the life you were expecting. As she often does, Gilbert gives us several points to ponder as we finish the story and go on our way back out into the world. Deftly researched and written in a distinct, engaging voice, reading it will take you out of your life for awhile and deposit you back home slightly changed.
Arnett’s sentences are like a knife cutting us open from stem to stern, then putting us back together again but different than the reader who first opened the book. Why read something about a family’s dealing with suicide and abandonment? So that we see that there is hope in trying to make our own way through trauma. Jessa is smart, sharp and in danger of isolating herself from the world. She wields the knife but also creates the beauty from her own two hands. She lost two of the people she loved most in the world-- her father and her brother’s wife- and she’s unsure how to move forward. She would hate me saying that this is a Journey of Discovery, but we love her all the more for her disdain and the irascible heart that beats in her chest.
‘That’s what writing is, after all the nonsense, getting down so low the world offers a new merciful angle, a larger version made of smaller things...’ Ocean is a poet/novelist playing with words and language in a way that opens your mind to the possibility of more beauty, more pain and a larger world than the narrow path we are traveling. Both the arresting title and the stunning cover drew me in instantly. What I discovered in these pages left a mark on me. These deep connections with family, friends, neighbors and lovers aid in turning your newly observant eye to the relationships around you that go unnoticed or are taken for granted. When examined closely they offer up the infinitesimal beauty of a drop of water studied under a microscope.
There are people who pick up dog books because of that magnetic attraction, and then there are those who shy away from books that might cause them to cry. I wish I could resist the pull of the animal book, it might save me some heartache. Often times the kids books featuring animals have the right tone, but are a quick read; the books for adults are either clunky or saccharine, neither of which is appealing. But The Wonder of Lost Causes gets it just right. The characters are well-drawn: Jasper’s struggle with CF feels authentic, his mom’s struggles with single parenting are pushing her to the breaking point. This isn’t a “dog arrives and saves everyone” book, rather it’s part road trip, part mystery with some magical realism at the edges, written by someone with animal experience. It was exactly what I’d hoped for, a well-written story about someone who needs to have an animal in their life. If this doesn’t convince you to read it, perhaps the picture on the cover will.
The literary trend is to focus stories around divorce, affairs or other trauma that splinters a family, but Lombardo gives us an aging couple still in love after all these years who find importance in commitment and family. It’s the almost overlooked events that speak volumes here. The extraordinary, ordinary moments of a life fully lived. Throughout this debut there were tiny moments that just stopped me in my tracks, that made me realize that these characters were fully formed with hopes and longings. When was the last time you read about a couple considered to be too in love? This was what I’ve been longing for as a reader. Honest sisterly interactions. Grandfathers who want to save precious items like sheets and trees. Teens who act like unexpected superheroes to little kids. Love and kindness is the cornerstone of this family’s struggle. Nothing I say will ever do it justice, you need to read it for yourself to declare it the best book of the year. It’s worthy of that title for so many reasons. Lombardo joins my list of favorite family writers: Shipstead, Sittenfeld, Straub, Sullivan and Ng
I loved Rowley's first book, Lily and the Octopus, with an intense passion, so I was skeptical of feeling as connected to his second book. But I opened it and started reading and laughing along with his character. A few chapters in and I was beyond smitten. His take on the publishing industry is full of these little nods to the reader that invite us along for a front row seat to the authorly escapades. James's search for his ending drives us to the inevitable end of Rowley's novel and we are left happier for having the adventure, but still sad that it's over. Maybe you could use a little more Jackie in your life too? This book is the read you didn't know you needed. Centering around a mother/son relationship and perfect for Mother’s Day.
Filled with my favorite sort of writing: those pieces that you read over coffee or your morning commute that you dogear so that you can photocopy it later and hang it on the fridge or bulletin board. It yellows with age, but still has the power to remind you of the time you felt a deep connection. The best part, all those great pieces are here in one collection. You can give the book to your friends and save yourself from all that silly photocopying and printing. I bet they’ll hug you and then read aloud the lines that resonated most.
I had forgotten how to laugh. Opening this book and starting to read, I couldn’t help myself. It just came bubbling up. What a wonderful thing it is to hold in your hands something that has the power to make one erupt with hoots and howls. Helen Ellis is a treasure and a gift from the gods, she says it like it is in Southern Lady speak and we love her all the more for the joy she has given us.
This book is unlike any other I have ever discovered. Take a moment and read the Table of Contents-- pure poetry. Then turn it over and read the back cover. If, like me, you find yourself entranced, falling under the spell of Maria’s words, then you need to read these essays, slowly savoring the experience. For those of us who subscribe to her email newsletter, Brain Pickings, this culmination of her work is a joy to behold. For those of you who are new to her work, this may have you scurrying back to read every last archive. The way these lives she illuminates intersect, the love that people have for each other, this is what is giving me hope and encouragement these days. I feel like this writing has seeped into my DNA and made some everlasting changes in the way I see the world.
‘It was a square meal and a good night’s sleep and a long blood spattered howl at the moon rolled into one.’ This line stayed with me, for the power it has to convey a deep and fully encompassing experience. Such is the mastery of Helen Oyeyemi’s writing. This is my fourth book and each one has blown my mind, but each in a different way. I thought I knew what this latest novel was about and then I got further and further in and discovered that the forest of words I entered was vast and deep, and thrilling in ways I didn’t expect. The path through the layers of story contains twists and turns that deposit you blinking back in the real world at the end. But like a fun house ride that spits you out into the bright sunlight, you want to instantly run back to the entrance just for the sheer thrill of it. Utterly delectable and delicious.
Grief hits us all in a variety of ways and dealing with the pain is unique to each individual. It should come as no surprise that my way through the devastation is to read. Smyth’s debut illuminates the parallels between losing her father and reading her beloved Woolf. For her, reading is an act of response, writing as an act of mercy and clarity. There is much to parse through here as she tries to reach back into the past to make sense of her father’s untimely death. In the vein of H is for Hawk, we see how an absence becomes a presence and how our lives can still be guided by it. Reading her words allows us to empathize, sympathize and take notes for the journey ahead.
I love books that make you feel deeply, that offer you a chance to empathize and connect with a character. But even more so the books that knock me flat are the ones that throw me a curve ball; I didn’t see coming. Despite it’s trim size, there is so much to admire here. Spare and simple, but overflowing with creativity and deep emotion, it left me with these visuals that will still pop into my head from time to time. By the last scene, I knew that Nunez had left her writerly mark on me again. Apollo joins the ranks of dogs (Old Dan, Little Ann, Beautiful Joe and Winn Dixie) who have taken up permanent residence with me.
I was surprised to see that an author I admire (her Still Writing is a permanent bedside fixture) had written a non-fiction book that was straight out of the fiction she had been creating all these years. As I was reading, I kept thinking how lucky she was that she could turn to her words for help. The very act of writing allowed her to make sense of something that could have been devastating. She did what she’s always advised us to do—she wrote her way out. This slim work touches on many universal themes: The meaning of family, both biological and chosen. What we are given by our parents and what we honor enough to pass along to our children. The examination of the loss of identity and the questioning of self. Heartbreaking and utterly hopeful, this book help me revisit all that I hold dear.
I must confess, I have fallen a little bit in love with you. Let me count the ways: All those beautiful book covers featured on your pages so lovingly rendered. The portraits of special bookshops, the quizzes, the writing rooms. So much interesting information, each page a joyful, delightful surprise. I promise never to get tired of you or let your pages get dusty. Think of the countless hour we'll spend together, if only you'll be mine.
In the tradition of The Iron Giant and The Wild Robot comes Paragon, a robot built by scientists who comes to gain the trust and love of a boy. Auden Dare can't see colors and believing his uncle has found a cure, he sets out to discover the truth. With mysterious clues, secret codes, a lovely friendship with Vivi and a focus on the dire consequences of environmental issues, this is a perfect book. It left me unexpectedly in tears and would be a fabulous read aloud.
My favorite trend this year? Heavy topics told in such a way that they become bearable, as opposed to heavy tomes I wouldn't have the physical or emotional strength to pick up. Novey’s second novel joins my favorite slim works such as Exit West, We the Animals, Speak No Evil and Zinzi Clemmon’s book, What We Lose. Interspersed with plays, bookseller reports and told from multiple points of view, the formatting gives an air of playfulness while the narcissism and evil runs like a river underneath it all. Reading this enforced for me the call to action and the reasons to not stay silent.
Chung’s incredibly honest and eloquent search for identity captivated me. As an Asian girl in a white family, her need to belong was a powerful desire. Her parents, wanting her to be happy, shut the door to any inquiry. As she got older she sought clues of her past, ferreted out from boxes hidden away in closets and yellowed envelopes tucked in drawers. Still, the black hole her of not-knowing threatened to swallow her up. Chung’s journey to find her heritage brings to light our misguided tendencies to sweep everything under the rug. This is the book we need to start more conversations about race, family, adoptions and the way to move incrementally forward. This is your next book club pick.
I love projects that strip us down to our very essence: one word, one image, and in this case, one thing we cherish above all others. Each pairing here is inspiring, each essay simple and thought-provoking, bringing to light our shared humanity. For the most part these are everyday items that might be tossed aside or skipped over, but because of their history they have become imbued with a patina of meaning. It takes courage to pick just one thing to represent your life, what do you think you might choose? Put this beauty in a place where you can reach for it often, it deserves to be savored and reread many times.
I’ve stumbled on several quotes recently that juxtapose light and dark, their relationship to each other as a way of making sense of the darkness in the world around us. For me inspiration always comes from books, they are what I turn to in times of need; this one provided the lifeboat I’ve been searching for. These authors, (sidenote read more of their books), create another list of the books that inspired them. Maybe if you’re feeling stuck or depressed something here will be an antidote. Reading the Lev Grossman piece, I remembered how much I loved the Narnia books and are eager to revisit them. Each of the writers reveals a bit about their process, shedding light on the how-to of it all. Perfect for readers, writers or your favorite writer/reader person. If the broken places let the light in, I hope you find that it’s just enough to read by.
The book just feels nice in your hand and when I picked it up I was reminded of how much I like to sit with a story. Initially I was intrigued because some authors were familiar and others were new to me. Alexander Chee, Jason Reynolds, Brandon Taylor, Yiyun Li, all writers I greatly admire, and here they all are in one fabulous collection. My best advice: once you are done allow the characters to linger in your life for a bit. Too often we overlook the possibility of a short story; the breadth and depth that is covered, underestimating the far-reaching abilities of a complete world created in the span of a few pages. The best ones have the power to change us, even imperceptibly, but forever.
I often associate Brian Lies with his bat stories, which are fun, but I picked this up because I can’t pass up a fox story. This book broke my humpty-dumpty heart when I wasn’t expecting it, but then it knitted it back together again. I have found that the best stories often come at you sideways, and this one deals with grief in such a universal way that most everyone who reads it will be changed by the last page turn. Beautiful illustrations and an engaging story, proving once again, that picturebooks really are for everybody. Maybe you know someone who needs a little help over their own rough patch...
In the tradition of The Mothers, Exit West, Speak No Evil and What We Lose, Kwon’s novel packs dazzling prose and centers around a heavy topic, yet all marvelously contained in a small amount of pages. The Incendiaries asks essential life questions: What happens if you put all your faith into something and then discover that the bottom falls out from under you leaving you no solid base? What do you replace it with, do you rebuild or start over? In her debut, Kwon gives us three different points of view, twentysomethings who hold onto each other so they don’t hit rock bottom. In an interview I read, one of several insightful pieces, she talked about writing on the syllable level. This granular, elemental level speaks to me, the atoms from which all creations come. I would read anything that flows from her pen.
Beth's Tips for Summer Reading~
1. Pick up High Season and turn to page 76.
2. Start reading at the bottom, "Summer is my favorite season..."
3 Imagine yourself continuing in the sunshine, with a cool drink close at hand.
4 Buy book and read it while you ignore the rest of the world.
5 Finish by having your breath taken away by the last line.
6 Come in and tell us some of your favorite lines.
We love talking books with you, and *bonus* we can recommend another so you can start the whole process all over again. Summer should be about losing yourself in a book. This is a great place to start.
I've paged through dozens of books on handlettering (You may have noticed that they are in abundance, lettering is having a moment.) What sets this one apart is Nicole. She has you start out simply by making patterns and then guides you along to writing on different materials. She encourages you to keep that first sheet so you can eventually see how far you've come. I love the projects and found the photos to be clear and helpful. Most of all, Nicole's enthusiasm is infectious. Bring in your projects and we can compare notes. Don't forget to grab some pens while you're here, that's part of the fun!
In 1985 Chicago Yale Tishman is struggling in his life, personally and professionally. In 2015 Fiona, sister to his friend Nico, has made her way to Paris to find her estranged daughter. The connections between these two span the decades, their hopes and desires form a lens through which we see their lives in the past and present. Reading the last few chapters became a singular moment. I fell into a puddle on the floor as the wave of everything that has been lost washed over me. Makkai has done it again, giving us a glimpse into the world she has masterfully created in order to make some sense of our own.
Some books/ just come to you/ when you need them most. The lines of verse/ break you wide open /and seep into your bloodstream. Then the conflict occurs: clutch it to your chest/ or share it with the world? This is for the writers/ and readers/ poets/ and dreamers. And for every girl/ needing to be seen. Words are power.
Nat is searching for something.To know more about her mom, to have a friend, to find a place where she belongs instead of always moving around with her father the celebrity. The title seduced me , but it was the friendship that kept me reading. Nat is doing her best to try and figure out how to navigate in a world that’s constantly changing. Her relationship with Harry, and her phone calls to a woman she’s never met become her touchstone. There were some sweet surprises and of course, the possibility of whales. That alone is reason enough to pick up this book.
Wolitzer’s latest novel explores the lives of women in different generations. The way we forge ahead and the way certain interactions or trauma can put us on another path. The way we break apart and come back together. The way our lives weave in and out of each other’s. What we as women take from the previous generation and what we teach the next. Greer and Zee and Cory and Faith. You see their genesis, which is not something we are always aware of in our own lives, but to examine it in a story is a beautiful thing. We see the effects of ambition, desire or how a tragedy can shape the person you become. The Female Persuasion is multi-layered, rich and complex, yet as simple as hearing your friend tell you the story of her life over coffee.
It’s been too long since I picked up a book and just fell in love with the characters. You know that feeling, the one where the book seems to vibrate or maybe sparkle a little. The kind of book that makes you smile and ignore the rest of your life. From the very beginning, you fall under Sunny’s spell. She’s an albino girl who is now back in Nigeria after spending most of her life in the States. She’s as confused as we are about this mysterious place called Leopard Knocks and all the juju that’s happening there. Is it possible that she and her three friends can defeat the evil that’s arrived? Dubbed as “the Nigerian Harry Potter”, that enormous praise makes one stand up and take notice. But it’s the way the events are steeped in heritage and ancestry that makes Okorafor’s book resonate as a timeless classic. That and the bird that will fly you to the tree- house and the wasp that builds small structures. Reading this helped fill the Black Panther sized hole in my heart. Ages 12 and up
Reading these email exchanges between a brother and a sister is addictive. You think you can stop, but then you decide to read just one more. So much of what I’ve been reading lately has been about race and resistance. And while I’ve learned so much from these incredible authors, sometimes a funny book can provide a much-needed break from reality. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with this writer and his sister, the photographer. Their distinctive voices are witty and sharp; stumbling onto this book was a delightful surprise.
Honest and enlightening, Jerkin’s debut essay collection is just what I wanted it to be-- short bits that allow me to sit with a topic for awhile before plunging straight back in for more. There are surprising points of connection, but more importantly I’ve learned about black culture and her experience with men, hair products, and the Black Lives Matter movement. It takes courage to write about one’s life at such a young age. The shortest passages “How to Be Docile” and “How to Survive” pack a gut punch. They may be small, but they are fierce. That last line is everything. It gives me the inspiration to keep writing, keep pushing, keep reaching. The best essays teach and inspire in equal measure, Jerkins is one to watch.
There is something so freeing about opening up a book and realizing that you could start anywhere, no need to be limited by the typically demanding page one; instead each category offers a new place to begin. Zadie’s astounding talent is apparent in ways big and small, the breath and depth of her topics is far reaching. I was delighted to find that two of my favorite essays “Joy” and “Find your Beach” have been included here. I’ve just recently discovered her commentary on the movie “Get Out” and her piece on Key and Peele, both tilted the axis of my world a little. I will always, always love Zadie’s introduction to "Through the Looking Glass" (illustrated by Mervyn Peake), but now I have several more essays to return too when I am overtaken by the need to reread something that speaks to me.
I keep thinking about this sharp incisive book by Zumas. At first it was a bit frenetic, each chapter is told from a different point. They are short and concise, which had the advantage of keeping the storyline moving. But when you start to sink in, to harness that energy, you notice that it’s a puzzle to figure out the relationships between the cast of characters. There’s Ro and her students, with her desire for a child and the way she brings to life the subject of her biography. Susan who doesn’t know if she wants to leave her marriage, but who everyone thinks should be happy with the life she has created. Mattie, the teenager who has a relationship to both women, but can’t turn to them in her time of need. And lastly, the Mender, a woman who sees the world differently and who has ties to all of the characters. Zumas set her tale in a future world, that now seems utterly devastating and timely. Read this book and be part of the larger conversation, for it will still be sounding in your head after you manage to finally put it down.
Machado’s collection is explosive, jagged, and delightfully unexpected. She makes me want to be a better writer, maybe toss up all the words and see how they land. The ideas presented here are reconstructed in surprising combinations that shift the paradigm of writer and then of reader. I was thoroughly engaged and quietly astonished at her mastery, wit and love of folklore and fairytales. This National Book Award finalist is familiar and revelatory all at the same time--it deserves a spot on your bedside reading table.
To briefly describe this novel, one could say it is a portrait of a writer as a mother. The story begins before she is married, insisting she doesn't want children. We trace her trajectory from wife to mother back to writer. Wolas sprinkles snippets of Joan's stories throughout. I would get lost in one, and when I came back up for air, it was only then that I would grasp the true level of the author's mastery. This is clearly my hands down favorite novel of the year, which takes on art, betrayal, self discovery, travel and the sacred art of writing. For anyone who believes in the power of words and the lure of a story well told.
This is the sequel that you didn’t know you absolutely needed. Ada has had surgery to fix her clubfoot, and while there is freedom to be found in her new life, there is also the loss and heartbreak of war. I loved spending more time with these characters and seeing their day to day interactions, with honest, raw emotions. Together they face adversity, prejudice and learn how to live with each other as a family. Ada’s secret ride is a thrilling moment that had me cheering out loud. I swear I could feel the wind rushing by my own face.