Tag Archives: David Sedaris

Book round-up: what I’ve been reading lately

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a good ol’ fashioned book round-up on the blog. To be precise: it’s been eight months. Oops. As usual, I’ve read more books in eight months than can fairly be reviewed in one sitting, so I will sort them into my handy categories of Great Reads, Good Reads, Meh Reads, and Bad Reads. The Great Reads, I think, each deserve a word of explanation.

So, here goes.

row of books, free copy space on red background

 

Great Reads

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell: Rowell’s sweet, moving novel about a college freshman (Cath) who loses herself in writing fan-fiction as she struggles with her real-life relationships was un-put-downable. As usual, Rowell continues to produce the only “romance novels” that I can stomach. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books review here.

Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell: A sort of companion novel to Fangirl, Rowell visits the universe that Fangirl‘s Cath was obsessed with — a Potter-esque school for aspiring magicians — and creates a love story between two of the main characters. Confused? This NPR review may help.

Fortune Smiles, by Adam Johnson: This collection of short stories is as beautiful and poignant as any of Johnson’s other work. I continue to marvel at his ability to bring to life such an array of rich, believable worlds (North Korea, post-Katrina New Orleans, Palo Alto) with such nuanced, complicated characters. Adam Johnson is such a treasure. Did I mention Fortune Smiles won the National Book Award?

The Royal We, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan: I never wanted this book, which can fairly be described as the literary equivalent of a rom-com, to end. It follows a pair of Prince William-Kate Middleton analogs (in this case, the fictional Prince Nicholas and his American girlfriend Rebecca Porter) from their meet-cute to their wedding, with lots of juicy drama and intrigue thrown in for good measure. I really felt like I understood the now Duchess Kate’s plight after reading this book. Cocks and Morgan, the geniuses also known as The Fug Girls, make a delightful novel writing team. I recommend The Royal We even to readers, like me, who hate most romance novels and are trepidatious about rom-coms. Read it. Or, just wait for the movie to come out.

Ghettoside, by Jill Leovy: I was turned onto this book by a recommendation from (personal hero) David Sedaris, who encouraged all of his Facebook followers to check it out. Leovy, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, explores the epidemic of violence among African-Americans, the often toxic relationship between law enforcement and poor communities, and the systemic failure of the criminal justice system to prosecute black murders. Fair warning: Ghettoside is not an easy read, but it is fascinating, and gripping, and important. New York Times review here.

The Year of the Runaways, by Sunjeev Sohata: Months after finishing this book, which tells the story of several Indian immigrants struggling to carve out lives in the U.K., and a British-Indian woman whose life intersects with theirs, I cannot stop thinking about it. As soon as this book ended, I experienced that particular kind of mourning one feels when you have to say goodbye to characters you really care about. What makes The Year of the Runaways even more remarkable to me is that it is Sohata’s debut novel and he never read a novel until he was eighteen. What?! Guardian review here.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt: This classic came out in 1994, but I never thought to read it until now. Berendt manages to make a true-crime novel read like fiction — and charming, winsome fiction, at that. Despite the fact that this book is about a murder, it made me want to visit Savannah and stroll through its storied gardens.

Good Reads

Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff

The Turner House, by Angela Flournoy

Troublemaker, by Leah Remini

Challenger Deep, by Neal Shusterman

The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy

Bringing Up Bébé, by Pamela Druckerman

Little Victories, by Jason Gay

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King

The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro

I Didn’t Come Here to Make Friends, by Courtney Robertson

The Expatriates, by Janice Y.K. Lee

The Run of His Life: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, by Jeffrey Toobin

After Birth, by Elisa Albert

The Dark Net, by Jamie Bartlett

Meh Reads

A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler

Loving Day, by Mat Johnson

The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

The Red Parts, by Maggie Nelson

Bad Reads

Black Eyed Susans, by Julia Heaberlin

The Tastemakers, by David Sax

 

 

Edinburgh

We spent this weekend in Edinburgh, one of my favorite places in Scotland, visiting family and attending some shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I hadn’t been to Edinburgh (or the Festival) since 2008, so it was fun to be back in such a beautiful, charming city and to hang out with Al’s family, some of whom I hadn’t met yet.

Edinburgh sunset

Edinburgh sunset

Al and I took the train from London on Thursday evening, got in quite late, and then spent Friday working; playing with Sweeney, the dog owned by our hosts, Steve and Alan; walking around Leith, their neighborhood; and attending a show at the Festival.

 

IMG_3979I managed to snag us two tickets to see David Sedaris speak on Friday evening. Sedaris is one of my favorite authors and I love his speaking voice. I had actually seen him speak years ago in San Francisco, back when I was in college, but it was at a big venue (The Warfield, I think) and I was in the nosebleed seats. This time, the venue was much more intimate and, to my delight, Sedaris did a book signing after and Al and I got to meet him! This was terribly exciting for me. I was a bit nervous when I approached, clutching my new copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day, but Sedaris is utterly charming and immediately put me at ease. We talked about TV and he recommended that I check out two shows (Inside Amy Schumer and Please Like Me). He also expressed his fondness for Tim Gunn, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Tabitha’s Salon Takeover. All the more reason to adore this man. And, of course, he signed my book (and drew a little owl). I was on a high for the rest of the weekend, post-Sedaris encounter. 

Recommendations on TV shows

Recommendations on TV shows

I would like to note that David Sedaris' handwriting looks a LOT like mine. Just saying.

I would like to note that David Sedaris’ handwriting looks a LOT like mine. Just saying.

On Saturday, while Al was working, I went for a run along the Water of Leith. Everything was going great: the sun was shining (through sprinkles of rain), birds were chirping, the world was in harmony — and then I fell. Hard. I fell so hard that I managed to scrape both knees, both hands, and my left thigh. I also seemed to have sprained the little finger on my right hand (did I do a full-body roll? I can’t remember! It’s all a blur). But the worst part, beside the fact that my tumble was witnessed by several kindly (read: pitying) Scottish people, was that I shattered my iPhone screen. Here’s the thing: skin will heal. Bones will knit. But a shattered iPhone screen is forever. The last time I shattered my iPhone screen, four years ago, I was in Boston and took it to the Apple store. They glanced at it and told me that my phone had clearly suffered from “customer abuse” and was therefore not under warranty, and I was forced to pay $180 for a new screen. The outrage! But in the UK, if your iPhone screen breaks, you just bring it to a phone repair store — not an official Apple store — and they’ll fix it for you in an hour, charge you 50 GBP, and be done with it. So I got my screen fixed at a kiosk in the mall, and all is right in the world again. Except for that sprained finger. But whatever.

Edinburgh

After recovering from the excitement of my fall, I headed into town with Al, his cousin Kathryn, and her boyfriend James, to attend our next show at the Festival, The Ginge, The Geordie, and The Geek, a three-man sketch comedy team. I enjoyed it, especially the last sketch, which was a reenactment of the final dance scene from Dirty Dancing featuring a man on a diet and a giant slice of pizza. After that, we met up with Steve and Alan and went to see Tig Notaro, an American comedian who I love. I had never heard or seen her standup before, but I listen to her podcast, Professor Blastoff, and I’ve heard her perform on This American Life, so I was expecting good things, and she did not disappoint. I was laughing my face off — almost crying, I was laughing so hard — so when it was over, I was pretty shocked that Steve and Alan didn’t like it. They thought her style was “awkward.” Um, yeah, I thought. That’s the point. It got me thinking about the differences between American comedy and UK comedy, and the fact that some American comedians play on timing (especially long pauses) to make their jokes funnier. I think awkwardness, done well, can be hilarious — and I wonder if I think that way because I’m American and we’re more used to that style of comedy. Steve and Alan told me that in Britain, comedy is more straightforward and fast-paced, which is fine, I guess, but it surprised me that they didn’t appreciate Tig’s style, which was unscripted and involved a lot of audience interaction and improvisation. Then again, I’m sort of a comedy nerd, so maybe I’m just accustomed to the weirdness. But to be fair, reviewers seemed to love the show, so it’s not just me (see, for example, this review from The Telegraph). In any case, I had a blast and came away from the Festival feeling satisfied with everything I saw (although, to be honest, I could have just gone home after meeting David Sedaris and called it a day).

We spent the rest of our time in Edinburgh visiting with Al’s family, playing with dogs, eating good food, and hanging out. It was a great weekend.

Breakfast at the beach, Portobello

Breakfast at the beach in Portobello with Steve, Alan, and Sweeney

Kathryn, James, and me at the Festival

Kathryn, James, and me at the Festival

IMG_4014

Gratuitous selfie

See you soon, Edinburgh!