Brief notes on recent books I've read.
Harley and Me, former LA Times book critic Bernadette Murphy's memoir about becoming a motorcyclist, is a story of midlife transformation. Laden with neuroscience research and self-exploration, Murphy, mother of three on the brink of divorce, muses about identity and what it means, as she nears 50 and her father comes to the end of his life, to embrace living. With candid, straight-forward prose that chronicles her spiritual and sexual awakening from the seat of her Harley, this is a book of, ultimately, celebration and inspiration. It comes out in paperback this month, but the hardcover is already out.
I can't close this section without telling you about Dani Shapiro's wonderful new memoir, Hourglass, a delicate, probing inquiry into time, memory, and marriage. I do so love her work.
Notes from No Man's Land, by Eula Biss, and Blindness, by José Saramago (translated by Giovanni Pontiero): Both brilliant, both harrowing, I've been toggling between the two for the past week. If we read, at least in part, to better understand ourselves and human nature, the Biss, a collection of essays primarily concerned with America's relationship with race (Graywolf Press, 2009), and the Saramago, a novel about an almost-Ebola-like epidemic of blindness (Harcourt Brace, 1998), both seek to illuminate dark corners of the human psyche. Biss's opening essay is disquieting in its link between the invention of the telephone and the rise of lynching; Saramago's novel is chilling in its parable-examination of fear and society. But Andrew Miller's New York Times review of Blindness could be applied to both books: "There is no cynicism and there are no conclusions, just a clear-eyed and compassionate acknowledgment of things as they are, a quality that can only honestly be termed wisdom. We should be grateful when it is handed to us in such generous measures."
Lately I've been reading the magnificent H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. The NY Times writes, "In her breathtaking new book, “H Is for Hawk,” winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Costa Book Award, Helen Macdonald renders an indelible impression of a raptor’s fierce essence — and her own — with words that mimic feathers, so impossibly pretty we don’t notice their astonishing engineering." And here is what my friend, author Barbara Morrison, says: "She lays bare her emotional journey in language that is achingly precise with moments of grace that left me breathless. In a rare consensus, my book club all thought it a remarkable, if harrowing, story."
If you haven't already, do read some Abigail Thomas. Her latest is What Comes Next and How to Like It, which is impossible to really sum up, but you will love it. It's about love, her children, drinking, her best friend, mortality, time.... Oh, how you will love it. You'll love Safekeeping too. So will all the people on your gift list. Just sayin...