Friday, October 3, 2014

A fall reading list, for multitaskers

I always think of myself as quite a lazy person so it's taken me until recently to notice that in fact, my default mode is 'frantically productive'.  It's sort of like when you write a test and think OH NO, I've failed, and you find out later you got near-perfect marks. (or, horribly, when you think you've done very well and find out later: Not.)  Are you ever surprised by yourself?

Oh yay, another mix of solids and barberpole

The reason I've noticed is because of knitting.  And spinning and weaving and all that other stuff.  Machine sewing is complicated enough to hold my attention, but other yarn and fiber things - I just can't do them on their own.  I am absolutely driven to multitask, even with knitting needles in my hands.

Lately, I've been multitasking with books.  Aren't you lucky?  Because for today's post I've put together a whole long list of the books I enjoyed the most during all the projects I did over the summer, in both audio and print form.  Of course when I say 'print', I mean e-book, because I love how a book lies flat on my knee without the pages blowing over when I read it on my phone.

All links are to Amazon for convenience but please, (please!) do support your local bookstores if you can.  Scroll down for the non audio books, won't you?

Still can't quite believe I can spin my own yarn


The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
This one is so famous - it's about a group of black housekeepers in the south who give interviews to a young white journalist about their jobs - that you didn't need me to give that summary just now.  The voice work is amazing and it is SO worth it to have the audiobook version.

The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green
In my house, the alternative title to this book is: The Cancer Kids.  (what are you listening to now, The Cancer Kids?)  Says it all really, all the pain and heartbreak and hope in one easy phrase.  Again: excellent voice performances, and no paper to weep over and turn to pulp.

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
I got the anniversary edition of this book, which is voiced by a number of different performers, plus of course: Neil Gaiman.  As one says, he could read a cereal box and I would hang on every word, but this story is more complex and engaging than cereal box copy.  I hesitate a bit to include it in today's list as there were some scenes I found disturbing and that have stayed with me a bit unpleasantly (probably in part because I did have the audiobook and it's harder to skip neatly over disturbing bits with those) but use your judgement.

Bloodsucking Fiends, by Christopher Moore
I loved this book.  There is a lot of swearing and some sex and drugs so if that puts you off, be warned, but omigosh, the beauty of a really funny entry in the Vampire Book industry!  Also: the voice work is completely wonderful.  I can't get over what Susan Bennett pulls off for every character. 

You Suck, by Christopher Moore
The sequel to Bloodsucking Fiends.  In this new book, Moore apparently shifted his affections to a character who turned up halfway through the first, which happens to writers and is not something I would complain about except... I really, really loved the 'voice' of the original main character, and although she is present in this book, she is much less so, and her 'voice' changed.  Character-appropriate, but sad.  Still: I also loved the newer character, so Yay!

Bite Me, by Christopher Moore
The last in this Vampire trilogy, narrated by the same reader and equally entertaining.  These three books are my very favourite Christopher Moores, and I liked them much, much more even than the other ones I'd liked, and it may be hard to top them. (in fact it was impossible, when I tried his Shakespeare retellings after Bite Me ended.  I had to give up on those when I still wasn't hooked in after an hour's listening.)

Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott
This is technically a book of writing advice and encouragement, but it is also wonderful, and read so beautifully, and quite funny where it's not just plain moving or relate-able.  I think it's a terrific companionship read for anyone.

About a Boy, by Nick Hornby (sorry the link doesn't work as I press publish, but you can Search it)
This book is, as you will know if you are a movie-goer, about a boy who attaches himself to a confirmed bachelor and more or less turns both their lives in unexpected directions.  The book's ending is a lot less cleanly Hollywood than in the film, in a good way, and I liked all the stuff leading up to it too.  It's very well read and, I thought, just a good story... I was sorry when it ended.

The Girl You Left Behind, by JoJo Moyes
This one is set half in WWI, and half in present day England, and relates to a painting of the main character from the earlier story which comes to be called The Girl You Left Behind.  It's extremely well read and I was completely engaged in the story throughout.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg
You may also have seen the movie version of this book, which is essentially about the residents of a very small whistle-stop town in the South established near a train line and set in the earlier half of the 20th century, as revealed in parts by other characters in the 1980s.  Again: so well read, and so well written.

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman
Okay, this is the first of a series of books that were written from the 1960s onward, about a widowed housewife with grown children who is bored with her life and decides to realize a long-ago dream of offering her services to the FBI as a spy.  It is, obviously, quite funny.  And Mrs. Pollifax is incredibly resourceful.  I don't know why I never came across these books in print form but I am so glad to have found the audio versions because they are, again - so well read.

The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman
The second in the series.  I won't even tell you the plots because they're all the same basic idea, and all interesting.

The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman
The third book.  I am trying hard to pace this series out with other books in between, but they are just so fantastic to spin or weave or tidy up by - completely easy to listen to, no messy emotional surges or bits producing helpless laughter.  Just a good solid story you can enjoy for the duration.

This Time Together, by Carol Burnett
Even if you didn't watch the Carol Burnett Show (and if you didn't, you should check out some of the skits on YouTube) you can enjoy Carol's memoir about her comedy career.  For my part, I found it so, so pleasant to hear this woman, whose show brought my whole family together for a truly enjoyable hour every week, telling me behind-the-scenes stories of that time.  Some of them are really cripplingly funny, just so you're warned.

It would probably disappoint me to take a bite out of this yarn, but it looks so delicious...

Books that may be available in Audiobook form, but which I chose to read by myself

Bellweather Rhapsody, by Kate Racculia
Sort of a murder mystery, but not at all gory or dour, set amongst young music students at a festival in a big old resort hotel with an ominous swimming pool on an upper floor.  (read it, you'll see what I mean.)

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
A tale of WWII, told from the perspective of three different players, one of them rather nasty and single minded but still relate-to-able.  FABulous writing.

A Girl Named Zippy, by Haven Kimmel
A super entertaining, often very funny memoir about a little girl growing up in unusual circumstances, from the mid to late 60s and into the 70s.

She Got Up Off The Couch, by Haven Kimmel
The sequel to A Girl Named Zippy, telling what happened to Zippy's perpetually reading and knitting mother when, at long last... she got up off the couch.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows
A story of how the German occupation during WWII affected the residents of Guernsey, as told through letters to and from a fictional journalist in London.  The characters are very likeable and it's often funny, but doesn't entirely skirt the bad stuff, so you do feel you're getting history as well as companionship. (incidentally, the backstory to this book breaks my heart... like me, Mary Ann had wanted so much, and for much of her life, to publish a novel - but she got sick after this one was accepted, needed help from her niece to complete the edits, and died before it was a huge success.  Can. You. Imagine.)

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty
I suppose one might write this off as Chick Lit or even a Beach Read, but honestly I am in awe of the writing here.  In hindsight, I can tick off every box of the How To Hook A Reader checklist, but in the moment, I couldn't stop turning the pages.   And really, the checklist is so very well concealed in fluid, vibrant writing. Oh, and the plot is interesting: a woman gets amnesia and is very surprised to learn she's no longer expecting one but in fact has three children and is in the process of divorcing the husband she adores.  (if you get a copy, don't start this book at bedtime.  trust me.)

The Husband's Secret, by Liane Moriarty
All the same stuff I said about What Alice Forgot, plus plot: different mothers with children at the same primary school are affected by one husband's secret.  Which is a terrible secret, obviously, but not held off on for so long that you're rolling your eyes waiting for the big reveal.

Call The Midwife, by Jennifer Worth
This is the memoir that led to the TV series, about postwar midwifery in a poor section of London.  It is fantastically well-written, and so eye-opening, and in some parts quite heartbreaking while absolutely hilarious in others.  I am a bit afraid to read the other two follow-ups because they apparently have some very sad bits, but I did love this one so I will probably get the others to fill in between other reads.


Think this is enough for you to get on with and fuel your gift knitting in the next few months?  Hope so!  and don't hesitate to recommend your own favourites in the Comments - I'm always looking for the next good book.  Have a great weekend and I'll see you again on Monday!


Trish said...

I love Mrs. Pollifax (really anything by Dorothy Gilman). Sorry I didn't think to turn you onto her before. Have you tried M C Beaton (Marion Chesney)? She writes both very gentle historical romances (with incredible detail about clothing and behaviour) and detective novels (Agatha Raisin). And I've just recently discovered Susanna Kearsley, who writes very much in the style of Mary Stewart.

Darlene said...

Mary, I can't believe I've read so many of these books and loved all of them. Try Neil Gaimans New book, The Ocean At The End Of The Pond or anything by Nevada Barr. She worked as a park ranger and books are set in national parks. Oh ya, Carl Hiaasen is HYSTERICAL. Happy reading.

Mary Keenan said...

Trish: Susanna Kearsley! Yes, I read her first one when it was first out... I think because she lived locally, before I moved to Toronto, and was in the newspaper? She is fab. I knew about Beaton's mysteries but not the historical ones (or as Dad would say, hysterical)so I will check them out!

Mary Keenan said...

Way ahead of you Darlene, read Ocean at the end of the lane within days of release ;^) Carl H is also so fab. Will check out Nevada Barr - funny we have such similar taste in books!

Kelly Conaway said...

I just finished The Book Thief. Also a WWII type book, but from an interesting perspective. Don't know if it's in Audio form, but the book was spectacular.

Mary Keenan said...

Kelly, there is an audiobook of The Book Thief and the reading is excellent! I listened to that during a long spell of spinning last winter, before I realized I could read an e-book on my knee. If I were getting it now I don't know which version I'd choose, but I can definitely recommend the audiobook if anybody is wondering whether it's listen-to-able :^)

Unknown said...

I, too am a compulsive multitasker. There have been studies that keeping your hands busy helps you learn more at seminars. Unfortunately, it's not widespread knowledge, yet.

I am currently knitting brioche stitch socks from my very first full skein of yarn.

Mary Keenan said...

I would LOVE it if it was widely known that people learn better in seminars if they are doing crafty things at the same time. Bonus knit stitches! I am pretty sure the first big sweater I made was brioche stitch and I just didn't know. Now when I hear the name of it I get hungry ;^)