Because I’m sure you’re dying to know, these are the books I brought back from California:
I got two of these for Christmas, two of them are dissertation-related, and the other eleven were just for fun. In no particular order (or, better said, ordered by book size because I’m neurotic):
A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows, all by George R.R. Martin. A friend recommended them to me and I ended up buying them all (there’s a fifth one, but it’s not out in paperback yet, I don’t think). They’re pretty typical fantasy books with rich details, but the many characters and intricate plot details are kind of tiring (keeping track of who does what to whom is kind of hard, and especially who is dead or maybe still alive). Yet the end of each book would be gripping enough to get me to pick up the next one, so Martin clearly knows what he’s doing. I plan to start watching the series after I finish this last book.
The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith. I got to know McCall Smith through his Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series (set in Botswana), but this is the first one I’ve read in a while. I loved it. They’re not as ponderous as the Isabel Dalhousie series or the ones he publishes in serial form (Corduroy Mansions, for example, or 44 Scotland Street), but they still give you enough food for thought. Not to mention they’re just really fun. This one deals with Mwa Ramotswe’s beloved white van, the wedding of Mwa Makutsi, and apprentince Charlie who is thought to have really done it, this time.
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. This is a Newberry Honor winner and one I’ve wanted to read for years. I bought it at City Lights in San Francisco and really liked it. Hattie is an orphan who, above everything else, wants a place to belong to. When her uncle dies, he leaves her his homestead claim in Montana, and she goes out there to prove it up. Will she be able to overcome the challenges of homestead life? It’s a good read and deals with a number of issues in a not very heavy handed way. I’d recommend it if you like Young Adult literature.
A Grown-up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson. I have been waiting for this one to come out in paperback for forever. The Goodreads summary: “a powerful saga of three generations of women, plagued by hardships and torn by a devastating secret, yet inextricably joined by the bonds of family. Fifteen-year-old Mosey Slocumb-spirited, sassy, and on the cusp of womanhood-is shaken when a small grave is unearthed in the backyard, and determined to figure out why it’s there. Liza, her stroke-ravaged mother, is haunted by choices she made as a teenager. But it is Jenny, Mosey’s strong and big-hearted grandmother, whose maternal love braids together the strands of the women’s shared past–and who will stop at nothing to defend their future”. Joshilyn Jackson is my hands-down favorite author.
My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates. “So begins the unexpurgated first-person narrative of nineteen-year-old Skyler Rampike, the only surviving child of an “infamous” American family. A decade ago the Rampikes were destroyed by the murder of Skyler’s six-year-old ice-skating champion sister, Bliss, and the media scrutiny that followed. Part investigation into the unsolved murder; part elegy for the lost Bliss and for Skyler’s own lost childhood; and part corrosively funny expose of the pretensions of upper-middle-class American suburbia, this captivating novel explores with unexpected sympathy and subtlety the intimate lives of those who dwell in Tabloid Hell” (Goodreads). Sounds promising (to my ears, at least).
When God Talks Back by T.M. Luhrmann. Luhrmann is an anthropologist writing about the evangelical experience in America. My dad gave me this for Christmas and I was really pleasantly surprised, as it’s a topic I find immeasurably interesting. Bonus: it’s signed by the author. That’s always nice.
Home by Marilynn Robinson. I loved Gilead, and this is a kind of sequel to it, now from Jack Boughton’s perspective. I think I’ll save it for a rainy Saturday afternoon. The Amazon summary: “The Reverend Boughton’s hell-raising son, Jack, has come home after twenty years away. Artful and devious in his youth, now an alcoholic carrying two decades worth of secrets, he is perpetually at odds with his traditionalist father, though he remains his most beloved child. As Jack tries to make peace with his father, he begins to forge an intense bond with his sister Glory, herself returning home with a broken heart and turbulent past”.
Treasure Island!! by Sara Levine. Girl reads Treasure Island (the Robert Louis Stevenson version), wonders why she’s never done anything bold and daring, so she redesigns her life to fit the Treasure Island principles of boldness, resolution, independence, and horn-blowing and embarks on an adventure. I bought it because it’s a really fun premise and I personally enjoy books with a lot of intertexuality.
Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell. I never buy hardbacks, but the hardback in this second-hand bookstore was cheaper than the paperback, so what was I supposed to do? This one deals with the Americanization of Hawaii, something I know nothing about, and I look forward to getting an introduction in Vowell’s voice–a unique blend of serious and snarky.
American Grace by Robert Putnam and David E. Campbell. This is a dissertation book, dealing with the contemporary American religious experience and how that’s changed in (semi)recent years–from polarization between the secular and the religious to a growing interfaith movement.
A Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in 19th Century America by Spencer Fluhman. Fluhman came to the seminar last summer in Utah and I loved that session. This book deals with anti-Mormonism and the authenticity debate in 19th century American religion and promises to be an engaging read.
NW by Zadie Smith. This one was also a Christmas present. It deals with the NW corner of a city: “Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragi-comic new novel follows four Londoners – Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan – as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their London is a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end” (Amazon.com).
So there you have it, my fifteen new books!