February wasn't the most exciting reading month for Amy or Suzanne, but there were a few notable high points.
100 YEARS OF THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES edited by Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor
The annual Best American Short Stories anthology series began publishing in 1915, and to celebrate the 100-year anniversary in 2015, current series editor Heidi Pitlor and guest editor Lorrie Moore chose over 700 pages of great stories to make up this collection. Beginning in 1917 with an Edna Ferber story and continuing until 2014 with Lauren Groff, a broad range of American authors throughout the century is covered. And I found waaaaaay too many people to put on my to-read list.
GET IN TROUBLE: STORIES by Kelly Link
Kelly Link had been on my to-read list for several years, and now that I’ve finally read her work I want to track down all the authors and critics and fellow readers who recommended her and say, “Yes, I know you TOLD me to read her, but why didn’t you MAKE me?” Her weird-fantastical stories hit the sweet spot for me and the story “Secret Identity” (from this collection) is going on the list for my next short story class with tweens and teens.
ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman
For this, the only novel on my best-February-reads list (which reflects the amount of short fiction I’ve been reading lately) I had to wait on the hold list for quite a while, but once I began reading it I realized that it was not what I had expected. The effusive blurbs and reviews had led me to anticipate a sweet, quirky story about a younger (or older) woman who transforms a somewhat lonely life by finding friends (and perhaps romance) and creating an extended if unusual family-of-choice. I LOVE books like that (read Elinor Lipman for some good examples) but a few pages into this one I was thinking that this particular Eleanor had a lot more problems (and was a lot more annoying) than I would have thought. As it turns out, she has a very dark backstory, which is revealed over the course of the book (though never in detail), making her transformation more about survival than superficial change. Once I adjusted my expectations, I raced through to the end of the book, and I will definitely be picking up Honeyman’s next novel.
THE ART OF THE PERSONAL ESSAY: AN ANTHOLOGY FROM THE CLASSICAL ERA TO THE PRESENT edited by Phillip Lopate
I enjoy essay collections and this thick volume (published in 1995) goes all the way back to Seneca, Plutarch, and Montaigne to explore the beginnings of the “personal essay.” I was a little surprised that I actually preferred the older authors to the most of the modern ones (Edward Hoagland, Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, etc) included here and, as usual, I have a whole new stack of names to add to my to-read list (as if it needed to get any longer).
I didn’t get in a lot of fun reading this month, so I only have a few books I can rave about for our February book picks.
THE NAKED OLYMPICS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE ANCIENT GAMES by Tony Perrottet
Obviously this was a theme pick, but it was a surprisingly fun read anyway. It’s a good cross between a scholarly study (Perrottet uses a great mix of primary sources, including a Greek Handbook for a Sports Coach that I now have on my personal TBR list) and an entertaining expose (bacchanal tents and nude workouts!). I picked it up thinking it would be fun to read with the kids, and that did not prove to be the case — it was a little raunchier than I anticipated. But it was a fun read for me, and it has allowed me to make many nerdy comments when the Olympics commenters get annoying, so it’s on the list!
SAFFY’S ANGEL by Hillary McKay
I love books about big, messy families who have tea and make art at the kitchen table, so I was thrilled to discover this book about the Casson family (and even more thrilled that it’s the start of a whole series!). Mom Eve is a working artist who keeps the family functional by taking care of the house (at least in theory), the kids, and the family finances, while perpetually absent artist-artist dad Bill lives the high life in London, popping back just long enough for the family to make a show of waving goodbye to him from all the windows of their rattly old house. There are four children, all named for paint colors: Caddie (Cadmium Gold), the oldest who is not quite ready to launch; Saffy (Saffron); Indigo, the only boy; and baby Rose. In this first book, Saffy discovers that she’s actually Eve’s niece, adopted when Eve’s twin sister died in Italy. This makes her feel both weirdly more connected to and weirdly alienated from her adopted brothers and sisters, so that she ventures down the street to make friends with another girl who feels similarly isolated. Together, Saffy and her new friend Sarah hatch a scheme to get to Italy to visit the town where Saffy lived with her mom. This book is the best kind of comfort food reading for me.
I have not made time yet to watch Amazon’s new Philip K. Dick series, but I couldn’t resist the urge to revisit the short stories that comprise the new series. Most of them I have probably read before — I had a whole obsessive Philip K. Dick period when I discovered Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep — but I didn’t remember them vividly enough to spoil the fun of reading them. I especially appreciated the dark, political overtones of “The Hanging Stranger” and the shifting notion of reality in “Exhibition Piece.” Now I just have to find time to watch the show!