When I retired in July of 2021, I made a commitment to read a lot. I also made a commitment that I could buy books (rather than borrowing, and I would far rather read hard copy that on line), but I had to read every one to the finish, despite how little I was enjoying that book.
Since The Bookshelf post on December 8th, here is my last half dozen. Some are amazing - others, not so much this time around. But that is the luck of the draw!
If you only have a few hours to read this year, I highly recommend this little book. I loved it so much, I went through it a second time and took some scrawling notes about all the themes and foreshadowing and lessons. It is written in a letter form from a 9 year old to her absent father. It is about families and mental health and resilience and aging and children who have to grow up too fast and about that one certain person who cares and supports and can change the direction of your life. Most of all, it is about the fight for life and what it really means to fight, even in the darkest moments, to find joy. The grandma is the rockstar of this book. I laughed out loud at the irreverence and got emotional at the tenderness. The characters are zany. The writing is amazing. This should be mandatory reading in high school English classes (but it probably contains too many swears and graphic words!)
Beautiful World Where Are You is about four main characters, two couples, in Ireland. The main theme is basically about millennials finding hope and a ‘beautiful world’ amidst all that is going on in society - politics, poor economy, under-employment, COVID. It is also about maneuvering friendships, romance, and mental health. The young author has written two prior novels, also with millennial characters. The chapters rotate between emails between two friends and straight story-telling and also rotate between simplistic language and the well thought out, smart, insightful writing of the email chapters. The book started a little slow but it began to grow on me. It provided old-me with insight into what the millennial generation might be thinking and experiencing. For the very same reason, millennials might enjoy it! (It is interesting to think how each generation handles the stress of their time - different stresses/different responses.) I really hope that this book is not a reflection of ALL millennials, though, because there is a lot of angst in it. This book is getting some rave reviews and is a best seller. Alert - some of the ‘relationship’ scenes are very graphic and steamy.
This is a fast, good little mystery about a husband who disappears and the wife who has to protect his daughter, told from the perspective of the wife. It won’t change your life, other than to have you asking how far would you go for love and are the ones you love really who they say they are? (But after being together for 40 years or so, I am pretty sure I and my husband know what we are getting!) After you have read some ‘heavier’ books, it’s a good respite with a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, especially if the temperature is frigid. Pure escapism. As a friend said, it kept her brain occupied but did not require her to think.
I really liked most aspects of this book. It holds you fast, and you want to sit and read. I really liked how the author presented the issues of racism, sexism, and class in story form. It gives some insight into growing up, black and female, in the deep South in a small town that dashed any dreams you might have, becoming educated, and trying to adapt to life in a big city law firm. It’s all about secrets, how we keep secrets, and how far we would go, and about those systems that perpetuate our dysfunction. The book is a little too much ‘thriller’ for me, though. In my opinion, some of the 'thriller' parts could have been altered to make it more realistic, and this would have been a great novel.
If you are looking for a fast-paced page turner, this book is probably not for you. But if you like long, well-written coming-of-age novels, get this book. The Tender Bar is a memoir about the author finding mentors in the characters in the local bar. His goal is to learn how to be a ‘good man’ when he is devoid of a father or father-figures. It is about growing up, coming to grips with your past, and acquiring more accurate and healthy interpretations of your upbringing. This book feels like a classic that will stand the test of time. It is easy to read and endearing. Originally printed in 2005, it was reprinted with “A New Afterword” in 2021. Named Best Book of the Year and Bestseller by several magazines. Friends say the movie version is great. Recommend.
And finally . . . The Midnight Library is about a young lady who attempts suicide and then gets the chance to live in all the lives or decisions she regrets not taking, resulting in her acquiring some fundamental realities about living a life. The book is way too much into parallel universes or multiverses for pragmatic, cut and dried me. I would much rather have an endearing novel about a person who attempts suicide and then, in her healing process, simply thinks and writes about all the positives and negatives of the decisions she did not make and, in that way, arrive at all the life lessons. Or maybe she could have read actual books that resonate with her life and give her meanings. There are many good life lessons in this book but almost to the point of platitudes. The main ones are that we all have regrets, our decisions have consequences, we all have potential, and every life has negatives. Life is what we choose to make it. Although this book gets some rave reviews, it is not for me (but when I retired, I promised myself that I had to finish each book to the end!)
So, the clear winner is Fight Night, without a doubt! My next choice would be The Tender Bar. Third place goes to Beautiful World, Where Are You, followed by All Her Little Secrets, then The Last Thing He Told Me and, finally, the Midnight Library.
Now, off to the next half dozen! And some final words of wisdom: