Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci. This is Stanley Tucci's life told against the backdrop of food. It brought to mind another truly great food memoir: Life is Meals by James and Kay Salter (it's my favorite book--by my favorite author--to give as a house warming gift or a thank you after someone hosts a particularly spectacular event). Tucci's writing is rife with self-deprecating humor and gossipy details: who knew he and Ryan Reynolds were buddies?! An added bonus for the reader are the numerous family recipes that he shares throughout.
Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman. Today everyone knows the name Patagonia and on a cold winter day you can't go too far without seeing the familiar logo on someone's sweater or jacket. But nearly 50 years ago, the global company was just we'd today call a side hustle--it's founder, Yvon Chouinard, focused on making better rock climbing gear that he started selling to enable his hobby and passion. The memoir cum business blueprint 's prophetic title speaks to Yvon's quest for freedom as he sought (and continues to seek) to marry a love of the outdoor life with a way (i.e., a business) to fund and preserve that same environment.
The House of Sand and Fog. My daughter bought this National Book Award finalist novel for me at a thrift store and it sat next to my bed for several months. When I finally started it, though, I finished it in days. Author Dubus can flat out write--he describes an aging husband's soaring heart as his wife leads him to the bedroom: "my heart was a flat stone moving over water and my breath was held like the boy counting the skips of his good fortune." Author Dubus unwraps a tension-filled narrative that spans the spectrum of the American dream from the hope and promise of a new immigrant family to the crumbling discord of a marriage and family where the slighted children never emerge from the background...until it is too late. It's a heart-breaking read that I'm reticent to recommend unless you are prepared to carry the story's sadness with you in the days after you finish.
An Italian Education. Published a quarter of a century ago, many of Tim Parks’ observations from An Italian Education still ring true in 2022 Italy. Chocked full of short vignettes that capture a Brit’s experience raising his bi-national children (his wife is Italian) in fair Verona, the book manages to walk the fine line of humor and self-deprecation without veering into snarkiness and offense. As someone who has now lived in Italy for a year, I read Parks’ stories with the satisfaction of a clubby insider as I’ve witnessed first hand the over indulgent attitudes of parents with their children (usually only one or at the absolute max two) here and daily meet the gaping incomprehension of our five children! My full review is here.
The Long Way Home: Discovering the Fullness of Life in the Father. Pastor Matt Carter uses the biblical story of the prodigal son to grapple with the idea of faith in a broader church community where youth are struggling with depression in record numbers and leaving the church in droves once they reach adulthood. Carter’s central thesis is that as believers we need to taste Jesus’ love in a personal way within an authentic community. The book concludes by highlighting the supreme comfort in knowing that our God isn’t waiting for us on his throne to come groveling back to him when we fall short, but instead he’s out in the field waiting and looking for us from a long way off. My full review is here.
In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. Father Henri Nouwen taught for 20 years at Harvard, Notre Dame, and Yale but began to feel his own spiritual death developing (what many Christian leaders may identify as burnout). So he prayed a simple–but very brave–prayer: “Lord, show me where you want me to go and I will follow you, but please be clear and unambiguous about it!” And God called him away from a prestigious teaching career to l’Arche Daybreak-–a community in Ontario where people with and without intellectual communities live together in homes and do life together. Henri suddenly found himself in a place where only his “vulnerable self” was valued (not his degrees, books, and accomplishments). Henri derived the book from a series of speeches that he gave on what he saw as the future of Christian leadership. Warning: this is not an easy feel-good devotional style book–it is gut-wrenching in its challenge to Christians. My full review is here.
Transcendent Kingdom (Ghana) In a departure from her grandiose debut novel Homegoing, here the author chooses to focus on the life of one brilliant young scientist and her life as a daughter of Ghanaian immigrants who struggles with her identity as a black woman and as the daughter of a mother struggling with depression and sister of a brother battling addiction. Her identity quest is all filtered through her charismatic religious upbringing–which she left behind following her brother’s tragic overdose. To her credit, Gyasi refrains from both Christian and anti-religious stereotypes and treats both sides with a compassionate eye for detail and nuance. My full review is posted a Beyond Achebe: Reading the Continent here.
The Fortune Men (Somalia). "Somalis have got the right idea, you wrong someone and you’re forced to look over your shoulder for the rest of your life unless you make amends. You deal with each other face to face. Only cowards live by prisons and cold hangings.” My key quotes from the book are here.
The Gendarme. Its protagonist is an Ottoman gendarme who slaughtered Armenian men and women during the 1915 genocide. Along the way, he also falls in love with one of the Armenian deportees–a love that remains unconsummated and seemingly unrequited over the course of more than 70 years. In a surprising feat, the author turns an outright villain into an almost-sympathetic old man by giving him a battlefield head injury during the war which wipes out most of his memories. It’s only in his 90’s as he discovers that he has a brain tumor that his memory starts to return in graphic dream-seizures. He’s spent the last 70 years knowing in his guts that he committed some manner of horrific crimes but unable to recall what he actually did. full review is here.
Supernova Era. While not as polished and developed as his later works, I tore through this quick-paced narrative in a two days. The premise is intriguing--a supernova event (I think that's what it is at least--the technical science in the book was way over this English major's head) occurs that kills off the entire adult population in a matter of months. A cycle of hope, order, chaos, war begins as the children harness technology to govern in ways both frightening and eye-opening.