“…head over heels in love with books…”

“For everyone who hasn’t read everything.”

That’s the tagline for Bookmarks Magazine, one of my favorite publications. First published in 2002, this treat for book lovers arrives bimonthly and goes to the top of my pile of magazines for immediate attention. Jon Phillips, the publisher & editor, introduces each issue with devotion to books and reading and a nod to how reading relates to whatever is happening in our world. In the Jan/Feb 2015 issue, he highlights the Ferguson, MO library’s focus on serving the community as a sanctuary amid the violence and chaos.

Bookmarks has regular features: articles about classic and contemporary authors, best-of-genre lists, excerpts and summaries of published reviews of current books, and book club profiles. Each issue includes reader recommendations and a recently added feature is “What are you reading now and why?”

You can find out which new book you want to read, which classic book you need to read or re-visit, what you never knew about certain authors, how other book groups organize and which books they have liked or not liked. A regular feature also highlights the bestsellers (and a few historical, “lit” facts) from a past year. The current issue highlights 1985, when Iacocca: an Autobiography was # 1 on the New York Times bestseller list and Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic was banned at a Wisconsin elementary school.

Here is Kurt Vonnegut’s reaction to his profile in Bookmarks (2003): “the first publication to summarize my career as a writer.” “I am beguiled by your physical beauty,” he continued, “and I am moved by how head-over-heels in love with books you are. And nowhere else have I found such thoughtful and literate reportage on the state of the American soul, as that soul makes itself known in the books we write…”

You can see Bookmarks magazine at the Westport Library, Barnes & Noble or go to www.bookmarksmagazine.com 

 

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THIS. NOW.

“Think about it: a committed Christian and an avowed atheist; a traditional blonde ‘southern belle’ and a tattooed queer. Working together to build a movement. Around religion. It kind of sounds like a punch line, doesn’t it?” -Chris Stedman, in his book FAITHEIST: HOW AN ATHEIST FOUND COMMON GROUND WITH THE RELIGIOUS.

Stedman is young(24) but recounts his journey from childhood, as he struggled with being gay and being Christian, then came out, lost his belief in God, accepted atheism, and finally identified as a Secular Humanist. He is remarkably self-aware and self-deprecating…empathetic and forgiving. After college and seminary, social service jobs in Minnesota (his birthplace) and Chicago, he is currently the Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University.

My favorite quote from the book:
“Directing anger at others can feel good, but I’ve found a hangover follows. On the contrary, I’ve never regretted responding to intolerance with love.”

 

 

UNSPEAKABLE

UNSPEAKABLE AND OTHER SUBJECTS OF DISCUSSION by Meghan Daum is getting a lot of positive attention. I know why. For anyone who likes essays, her’s  are crisp displays of the writer’s personality and beliefs. Daum writes in a strong and consistent voice. The book is a memoir with unflinching looks at Daum’s life.  Don’t expect conventional opinions. When her mother is dying, she reveals the ambivalence that engulfs her. There is more ambivalence when she gets pregnant. She refuses to join the foodie crowd, telling about her lack of interest in cooking and her less than healthy diet. Her dating history, including hanging out in the lesbian scene, is brutally honest. Later, when very sick, (in fact near death,) Daum recreates her worst days from her (patient’s) point of view.

A good read, bracing and affirming, for fans of essays and memoirs. For those not already fans, this may be the place to start.

ENJOY SHORT STORIES?

Favorites from “before the blog.”

STORMY WEATHER & OTHER STORIES by Lisa Alther captures the interconnected lives of people whose experiences in the ’60s & ’70s rippled into their future families…spouse switching, sexual latitude, offspring coming together…Alther captures the changing perspectives of a generation now in their early-elderly stage.

BATTLEBORN by Claire Vaye Watkins takes you to a gritty western place where life is never easy, choices are hard and optimism seems misplaced. Watkins, daughter of Manson’s second -in-command, writes beautifully-each story a concise gem.

BIRDS OF A LESSER PARADISE by Megan Mayhew Bergman…required reading for fans of short stories. Elegant and resonant portraits of the natural world and themes of family connections…the push and pull of the life forces that surround us. Loved it!

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! BRIEF ENCOUNTERS: CONVERSATIONS, MAGIC MOMENTS, AND ASSORTED HIJINKS by Dick Cavett is the print version of Cavett’s postings on the New York Times online Opinion Pages(2010-2012.)  With his rich experience in the celebrity world, Cavett uses his insight, wit, and depth of knowledge to share many intriguing stories. The book is an elegant People Magazine.

True confession here…I am a devotee of People and find it perfect bedtime reading, as well as a way to establish a fleeting familiarity with the current world of entertainment. BRIEF ENCOUNTERS looks back on the people of People and does so with graceful and clever writing. Muhammad Ali, Marlene Dietrich, Stan Laurel, Steve Jobs, Jonathan Winters are just of few subjects. It’s insider info and nostalgia with cultural context. The short columns/chapters slide right in for a quick read…at bedtime, between chapters of other books, or as Mel Brooks suggests, in the bathroom.

I’m sure that being a contemporary of Cavett increased my enjoyment of the people he writes about. I remember his television talk show and the other shows for which he wrote. And I am very happy that these columns exist offline. I still read the New York Times in its original format and would have missed most of these without the book.

EUPHORIA

This is a short, but powerful novel; it packs an emotional wallop that sneaks up on you. EUPHORIA by Lily King unfolds in New Guinea (1930), as three anthropologists study the tribe where they are living. Inspired by the life of Margaret Mead, King gives a detailed picture of the customs and personalities of  the Tam, a tribe whose gender roles are mostly reversed. Tired and depressed from his own studies, an Englishman joins another couple (she is American, he is Australian) who are also worn down by the life they have chosen, while still inspired by their observations. A love triangle simmers, as we learn about the family histories of the three and the culture they are observing, as well as their independent ways of collecting and preserving the information.

King has written a complicated story – vivid and densely interwoven. Movie material, for sure…full of drama, information, emotion, and with clear connections to history, psychology , and sociology. An impressive accomplishment.

LOR

LOR: Letters of Recommendation.

Julie Schumacher has written a clever novel made up entirely of letters of recommendation written by one curmudgeonly English professor.  In DEAR COMMITTEE MEMBERS: A NOVEL, the professor at a struggling mid-west University writes letters of recommendation for his students and  his colleagues. Each letter reveals details of his own hapless career, his memories, and  his personal failures, as well as quirky and somewhat pertinent facts about those he endorses. Some LOFs are slyly negative. Some, more obvious- especially when the professor’s feelings prevail, as in the letter that torpedoes the career change of his colleague and former lover.

Writing to obtain a grant, a graduate job, an entry level position, or an intervention for his students, he reveals the grades he awarded to each  and the assessment he made of their characters. Throughout the novel, many letters promote a particular writer,  but no one seems to share the professor’s enthusiasm for this young man and his partly-written novel. There is an abundance of sarcasm, as when he comments on the renovation of the university building where he and the English Department hunker down, while the important Economics Department is moved to more serene surroundings.

A quick, amusing read that is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever inhabited the world of academia.