Essay Collections and Memoirs
The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs. The Esquire ‘editor at large’ has made of career of writing about his ‘life experiments.’ In this one from 2004, Jacobs commits to reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z. Uproariously funny with the added bonus that you learn lots of random facts, though Jacobs would probably caution you against sharing them with friends.
Bringing Home the Birkin by Michael Tonello. I picked this up (released in 2008) because I didn’t understand how a book about trying to crack Hermes’ code for buying a Birkin could possibly be interesting. Now I know. Though I won’t be trading in my car for a crocodile Birken any time, well, ever, Tonello is a charming writer and fully sucked me into the fascinating sub-culture of Hermes collectors.
But Enough About Me by Jancee Dunn. How does a Jersey girl make herself over from mall crawler to Rolling Stone journalist? Dunn tells the story of her transformation from small town girl to celebrity journalist and includes lots of hilarious stories of celebrities behaving weirdly.
I Was Told They’re be Cake by Sloane Crosley. She released a second essay collection recently, but I enjoyed this one from 2008 even more. Anyone who has been a bridesmaid or had to listen to a bridesmaid complain will laugh out loud at and want to reread ‘You on a Stick.”
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young. The British journalist’s misadventures attempting to make it in New York City kept me laughing right through the ‘Acknowledgments’ on the last page. It’s also quite touching.
Books about books to delight bibliophiles
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch. Lucky Westport, we have our own book expert on site. O Magazine, the notoriously stern Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly all lauded Sankovitch’s memoir of her year of reading. She seamlessly weaves discussion of books, personal stories, and insights about love, loss, and why books will always matter.
Second Reading by Joanathan Yardley. The Pulitzer Prize-winning critic dissects sixty great reads, culled from his Washington Post columns. Book lovers will relate.
Break, Blow, Burn by Camille Paglia. The literary and cultural critic talks about forty-three of her favorite poems. Poetry has never been my favorite literary genre, but Paglia’s discussions finally make poetry accessible. My favorite is her reading of William Carlos Williams’ ‘This is Just to Say.’
The Eyre Affaire by Jasper Fforde. This inventive novel is the first of the Welsh writer’s five mysteries starring literary detective ‘Thursday Next.’ In this first installment, Jane Eyre vanishes from her eponymous novel. It falls on Thursday Next—who New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani called ‘part Bridget Jones, part Nancy Drew, and part Dirty Harry’—to unravel the mystery of her disappearance and set the book right. Literary references abound.
Sixpence House by Paul Collins. This sweet, charming book about Collins’ adventures moving with his wife and baby son from San Francisco to the Welsh town of Hye-on-Wye—home to 1,500 people and 40 bookstores—is a book lover’s delight. Though out of print, it’s available at the library, used on Amazon, and on the Kindle (which would be better after the beach).
I’d been neglecting this genre until Nina Sankovitch reminded me of it at Book Chat, the library's book discussion group that she hosts. She recommends these five mysteries for those who enjoy or want to discover the engrossing genre.
Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon
Dissolution by C. J. Sansom
Awakening by S. J. Bolton
The Anodyne Necklace by Martha Grimes
Death of an Expert Witness by P. D. James
Once you’ve finished reading, why not stop by Book Chat and share your thoughts on our choices? It meets the first Tuesday of every month at 10 a.m. throughout the year. In August, it meets the first and third Tuesday at 10 a.m. and Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Sheffer Reading Room.
Know of a great beach read? I’m always looking for recommendations!