september – december reading

High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips — I actually had little notion of or interest in Mackenzie Phillips, but I love drug addict memoirs, so I picked this up when it rotated through the library. It comes with the special added bonus of being an incest memoir. It may well not be up your alley.

[reread] The Door Into Summer by Robert Heinlein — It’s possible that I reread this book too often. But not probable.

Nobody’s Girl by Antonya Nelson — I ran across this in our collection and picked it up because I used to love a song of the same name sung by Bonnie Raitt. When I read the blurb and discovered this was about a young woman from the Chicago suburbs who decides to move to a small desert town in New Mexico, I figured I’d better read it. It took me a long time to get through it, but it was pretty good, though not really similar to my own experience except in feeling.

Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser — For our Wyoming Humanities Council book discussion series of biographies of American cultural icons. I ended up spending a lot of time talking about the history of the civil rights movement and its various strands and bringing in a whole stack of books, which just goes to show I guess that one’s extracurricular collecting habits do eventually play some role.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen — I love Franzen’s essays most of all, but I liked this quite well — perhaps even better than The Corrections. Despite what you may have read about it plot-summary-wise, it’s really a novel about falling in love and out of love and trying to figure out how to differentiate who you are from who you want to be.

[reread] The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley — When in danger or in doubt, reread.

[reread] The Rooms of Heaven by Mary Allen — Reread shortly after I accepted my new job. The book is about many things, but I reread it primarily because it is set here in my home town of Iowa City, and because it is full of places and people that I knew and wanted to reacquaint myself with.

Perfect Reader by Maggie Pouncey — A charming and hysterically funny (well, hysterically funny if you have any connection to academia) book about a young woman who becomes her father’s literary executor.

Eleanor Roosevelt Volume 1 by Blanche Wiesen Cook — The next entry in our Icons discussion series. Eleanor Roosevelt is one of those people who was, it seemed to me, So Admired by so many people that I figured she must actually be rather dull to read about. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that that was not the case.

Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson — My idea of a psychological thriller is a book just like this one — a book where you suspect and are afraid that frightening things are happening, but you can’t quite figure out what they are, or what they mean, or even whether or not they are totally real. Throw in a (mostly) kid narrator and some mental illness, and I’m hooked.

The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard — I breezed through this women’s fiction page turner (to reduce a book utterly to a genre phrase) in one day on one of the last weekends I was avoiding packing while I was still living in Wyoming. As long-time readers of this blog will know, I am a sucker for novels with family secrets, and this has them in spades.

Jane Fonda’s War by Mary Hershberger — The final book for our Icons discussion. As I mentioned to several people, I think it’s probably good that it was my last discussion in Meeteetse, or I’m not sure anyone would have shown up, due to the intense hatred of Jane Fonda. The most tangible similarity among all the people whose biographies we read is that they all had FBI files; all of them but Eleanor Roosevelt were against the Vietnam War (and one imagines she would have been, too, had she been alive). Muhammad Ali was in far more trouble than Fonda over his opposition to the war at the time, but he is now revered as a hero, and she’s still hated. No one was able to solve this particular mystery at our discussion, but it made good fodder.

[reread] Deerskin by Robin McKinley — Usually when I move to a new place to embark on a new endeavor, I reread The Blue Sword, but as it’s about moving to a desert outpost and I was about to leave my desert outpost, I went with some other McKinley books instead.

Girls to the Front by Sara Marcus — I wasn’t a riot grrrl in any conscious fashion; I didn’t hear the term or most of the music till I got to college. But this book covers exactly the years I was in high school, and its descriptions of what the world was like then were so completely spot on for me. I hated high school, but those years have a particular poignancy nonetheless. The “first” Gulf War is the first war I ever protested. I remember standing outside the Emma Goldman Clinic when Operation Rescue stopped in Iowa City in 1991. And I remember going to so many shows — the Pixies in Davenport, the benefits in the Unitarian Church basement — where the whole front of the room was dominated by the mosh pit. If a riot grrrl band had ever played there, if one of them had said, before the set, that they wanted all the girls to come up to the front — I would have been there. Immediately.

She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel — The she in the title is Kimmel’s mother, who got up off the couch in their rural Indiana home after seeing a television ad wherein Abe Lincoln said she could go back to school. She got a college degree and a masters and became a teacher, and this book is about that, but it’s also, like A Girl Named Zippy, just an excellently (I might even say zingily) written portrait of a place and its people. And it’s funny. And true.

Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House by Meghan Daum — Daum’s memoir-ish book about houses and homes wins the prize for the funniest book I read this year, but it also hits poignantly close to home for me. Like Daum, I have moved a somewhat uncountable number of times (I’ve never lived in a house longer than four years, ever), and I also lust after real estate. Reading this book as I perch in my friends’ house, where I’ll be staying and then housesitting for the next 7 months, made for a particularly rich experience, as the beauty of transience is that you can always imagine that the perfect dwelling really is out there. Daum captures that perfectly.

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