Tuesday, June 20, 2006

BOOKS: Wanted - One Good Book without an Emotionally Crippling Plot

Wh-wh-wh-what happened? Is today Tuesday? I think I blacked out, dude. I blame the aliens. Or possibly, the aliens in conjunction with the saucer people and the reverse vampires. I'd check for signs of probing, but I'm afraid to look.

Okay, what actually happened (because I'm sensing you don't believe my blackout story) was that Tara, AKA The Artist Formerly Known as Wing Chun, and her lovely assistant Glark were in town, and between our whirlwind tour of eastside massage parlours and the crippling bout of flatulence induced by the delicious (if I say so myself) black-bean-and-quinoa burgers I whipped up for us using a recipe from this fabulous cookbook, blogging fell off my list of things to do. But not only am I back, I'm back with a 50 Books first: a reader's request for book recommendations!

Jennifer is the mom of a two-year-old AND a three-year-old (she doesn't recommend this to just everyone) and she's finally at a point where she has time to read again. She's looking for "something really good and possibly funny and/or trashy to read this summer."

The last book Jennifer really enjoyed was by
Jeffrey Steingarten (I haven't heard of him myself, so I'm a bit stumped here), and she's been reading a lot of Nora Roberts (also drawing a blank, I'm embarrassed to admit) because her mom has copies everywhere. Her favourite book in college was Possession, and her favourite in high school was The Scarlet Letter.

One last note from Jenn: "I got a recommendation for
The Secret Lives of Bees but I really can't take emotionally crippling plots. If it's just a good book without the super-crying factor, let me know."

I've been giving Jenn's request some thought for a couple of days. Because I haven't read any of Steingarten's or Roberts's books, I can't work from that. I have read
Possession, which I liked, so from there I might suggest some of Byatt's other books. I've always liked her short stories, so perhaps Sugar and Other Stories or The Matisse Stories.

And for fun summer reads... well, you may recall how much I've been enjoying
Alexander McCall Smith's novels lately. And for a funny read, I also really liked Winner of the National Book Award.

So there are my 1.5 cents. Any other suggestions for Jennifer? Fire away.

43 comments:

Andrea said...

What about Maeve Binchy? Her books are light and very readable, and they suck you in without being emotionally overwhelming. I'd recommend Tara Road to start with, followed by Scarlet Feather. (these are two of her newer ones).

Jenn said...

From one Jenn with small kids (mine are 4 - well, almost 5 - and 6) to another:

Since you enjoyed Jeffery Steingarten's writing, I'm guessing you like food (or reading about food), so I'd recommend "Julie and Julia" by Julie Powell. If you like spooky-yet-romantic mysteries, give Barbara Michaels a spin. For a slightly trashy chick-lit guilty pleasure (complete with vampires and Manolos), MaryJanice Davidson's Undead and Unwed is great fun, as are the sequels to it.

Ooh, it's fun to do reader's advisory again!

lizb said...

If she likes Nora Roberts, she'll probably like Julie Garland (both are in the 'romance novel' with variations like romantic thriller or historical romance).

I would definitely recommend Jennifer Weiner and Jennifer Cruise as well. All of these are light reads that are fantastic beach books!

Alice said...

I loves me some Nora Roberts. But I don't like to tell too many people, as they will judge me.

For that kind of light-hearted fast read, I'd suggest Jennifer Crusie (vaguely mystery-ish) or Jennifer Weiner(more chick-litty). They're light and fun and funny and romance-y.

Oh, and I'd agree with Maeve Binchy. She's a good read.

Alice said...

Ha! lizb, you and I are clearly on a wavelength here!

Anonymous said...

Although it's a different genre - how about something from the comedy essay section? The one that is now uncertain whether to classify it fiction or non-fiction? You can usually read a chapter and then walk away for a little while, which seems right for taking care of 2 little ones. I'm a huge fan of David Sedaris and Augsten Burroughs. AEM

Jennifer said...

If she likes Jeffery Steingarten,, I'd suggest "Garlic and Sapphires : The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise " by Ruth Reichl. It's writing about food, but it's well done. I've heard that other books by this author are even better, but this book is the only one that I've read by her.

Doppelsis said...

If humour is what you're after then I highly recommend Bill Richardson's, Bachelor Brother's Bed & Breakfast. What's also great is that Richardson has written three books about these two dudes and their shenanigans. They are easy to pick up and put down when the monsters shake you out of your happy place. Enjoy!

As for Nora Roberts, just can't get into that kind of stuff.

Anonymous said...

I'm also a fan of books without "emotionally cripping plots." Lucky for us the romance genre's huge! A couple of my favorites are Rachel Gibson (similar to Jennifer Crusie--light and fun), Christina Skye (if you like the undercover Navy SEAL falling in love with the smart, sexy woman type of book). Julie Garwood and Catherine Anderson are similar to Nora Robert's style.

Courtney said...

I second the recommendations for Maeve Binchy (I really liked Evening Class)and Jennifer Weiner (just finished Little Earthquakes.) I'll also toss out Helen Fielding's lesser known novel "Cause Celeb" which I thought was fantastic and anything by Philippa Gregory. I loves me the historical fiction.

Anonymous said...

Give Julie Kenner a try - I devoured "The Givenchy Code" in under a day,and "Carpe Demon : Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom" was a fun, fast paced, semi-mystery, action packed, and yet comedic, thrill ride. She also has a line of romance novels, if that's of interest.

Angie said...

I can't say enough wonderful things about Christopher Moore, who is so funny I can't stand it. I also think everyone should read "Good Omens". For what it's worth.

Tamara said...

I just finished "Big Love" and thought it a fun summer chick-litty book. I'd recommend it.

sara said...

i like jeffrey steingarten too, and loved julie and julia. julia child's memoir about france is pretty great.

i'm reading "i am charlotte simmons" and really enjoying it. jennifer weiner is a lot of fun and a pretty good writer. ann patchett is a great writer (but for non-emotionally crippling, i suggest patron saint of liars, NOT bel canto, the magician's assistant, or the one about lucy grealy).

A. Estella Sassypants said...

I would suggest Jennifer Crusie for some fun summer reading. A little romancey, a little mystery. Also Jennifer Weiner, but she's already been suggested.

Rebecca said...

Trashy - Susan Elizabeth Phillips. She's a really good writer, and I love almost everything she's written. And I'd forgotten about Julie Kenner - another good one.

Christopher Moore (of course!) and Carl Hiaasen.

And if she likes Steingarten, maybe she wants to try something by Anthony Bourdain, who's written fiction and non-fiction (and has a new book out, which I'm on the library's reserve list for).

roughmagic said...

I'll second the recs for Ruth Reichl, Maeve Binchy (Scarlet Feather was fun), and especially Phillipa Gregory (my favorite historical novelist of the moment). I also enjoyed Tracy Chevalier's "The Lady and the Unicorn" -- a rare historical novel that's more about art than angst -- and Michael Frayn's "Headlong," both of which are in paperback.

bookgrrl said...

Perhaps "The Secret History of the Pink Carnation" by Lauren Willig. It has some similarities to Possession, but The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is less intense has more of a chick-lit feel.

jen said...

for more fun writing about food -- Laurie Colwin's "home cooking" and "more home cooking." her novels are also excellent and pretty light. Richard Russo's "Straight Man" is hilarious (maybe more so if you've spent any time in academia). And his best friend's memoir about transgender and transsexual identity is also surprisingly funny and not emotionally crippling (Jennifer Finney Boylan, "She's Not There").

--Deb said...

Anything by Laurie Colwin. "Happy All the Time" is my favorite, along with, of course, her fabulous food essays.

Martin Davies' "The Conjurer's Bird" is excellent--and remarkably similar to Possession, without all the poetry.

"Inamorata" by Joseph Gangemi was really quite good.

And, I really loved Nicole Krauss' "The History of Love."

Kate said...

For light reading in the summer, I find myself going back to Myla Goldberg's "Bee Season", Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley" (Charley is a poodle, btw), Margaret Atwoods "The Blind Assassin"... or the old standby, Harry Potter. :)

trish said...

I see there have been lots of great lighter reads posted already, so along the lines of Possession I'd suggest The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz-Zafon, The Ghost Writer by John Harwood or March by Geraldine Brooks. Brooks' Year of Wonders is quite good as well.

Doppelganger said...

Wow. I think Jennifer's new problem is going to be finding time to read all these books. Nice work!

Gretchen just emailed me some additional suggestions, since Blogger wouldn't let her post, for some reason:

"I echo the recommendations for Jennifer Weiner -- all of her books are good (except for Goodnight Nobody). I also recommend Something Borrowed, by Emily Giffin, for chick lit. The Harry Potter books are wonderful for summer reading. If you want something fast and breezy, then Meg Cabot's books are funny and fast reads -- especially her Princess Diary books. Intuition, by Allegra Goodman, is not chick-lit -- you'd find it in the fiction-literature genre, I guess -- but it's both wonderful and not at all emotionally crippling. I loved The Undomestic Goddess, by Sophie Kinsella, even though I didn't like her Shopaholic books. The Jane Austen Book Club is a great book, by Karen Fowler. If you liked Possession, you might also like The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova, or Eco's The Name of the Rose."

Anonymous said...

I second "Straight Man" by Richard Russo and also recommend John Dufresne's books for whacky small Southern towns with a little magic realism thrown in. "Louisiana Power and Light" is one example, and "Love Warps the Mind a Little" is another.

I also love Terry Pratchett more than should be legal, and have been reading Christopher Moore, who writes in the same sort of light, funny, fantasy genre. Tom Perotta has some great novels, I particularly like "The Wishbones".

elizabell said...

I second (third?) Terry Pratchett. I think I own all of them. Frackin hilarious, but they also make you feel smart. I hate questioning other's suggestions, but I did find "Bee Season" a little emotionally difficult. Maybe just my issue, I don't know. My current fave is Keith Harfur's "Plainsong". Not so much with the funny, but it'll make you feel all warm and fuzzy without being sticky. The second one is equally good, but brings the sad a bit.

Lazy cow said...

Laurie Colwin, Neil Gaiman (Stardust is his lightest read and just gorgeous, don't read American Gods - too dark for a summer read), Zoe Heller's Notes from a scandal is deliciously witty, and The Pursuit of Love and Love in a cold climate by Nancy Mitford are very funny. Or how about Nancy's friend Evelyn Waugh? Or any of the Jeeves books by PG Wodehouse. I loved Richard Russo's Straight Man too. Or any of Fannie Flagg's books. I could go on...

Lazy cow said...

I forgot my all time favourite: Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman. I'll go now.

Meepers said...

Well, at the risk of sounding chicklit-heavy... she's a mom, so why not Allison Pearsons' "I Don't Know How She Does it?" love it or hate it, I'm not sure - but I read it and was definitely amused.

I also just got the Complete Dorothy Parker at the library, and found myself reading bits out loud to my husband from Vogue, circa 1940. Verrry interesting - it was back when Vogue was more like The New Yorker and less like... how did I put it the other day? a verbal BJ to famous people. You know, back in the day. Not heartbreaking at all.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen anyone mention it, so I just thought I'd suggest a the Stephanie Plum series, by Janet Evanovitch. The first one is called One for the Money, and it's series of 10, so it will keep you occupied for a bit! It's about a Jersey girl who has to become a bounty hunter to pay the bills...it's hilarious, with a bit of mystery, romance. A nice, light (but still good) read.

mamasugarbear said...

Good reading anytime...

Step- Ball- Change by Jeanne Ray.

Sweetie Darling said...

Completely understand the "not emotionally crippling plot" thing. For several years, I refused to see any movie where a person died; I had to be aware of every plot twist before even stepping foot in the theater. Needless to say, I didn't get out much.

On the book front, I've found Marian Keyes's books to be light without leaving me feeling like I've wasted my time.

Bill Bryson's travel essays make me giggle uncontrollably (esp. The Lost Continent and A Walk in the Woods).

Someone mentioned Sedaris, but I find I prefer the audiobooks (that voice just makes everything even funnier).

I just bought March by Geraldine Brooks. It's a companion to Little Women, which I'm going to read again before I start March.

mamasugarbear said...

I forgot to add that Jeanne Ray wrote her first novel at the age of 60 and is the mother of Ann Patchett.

Doppelganger said...

A couple more people are having word verification problems with Blogger, but they emailed me with more suggestions for Jennifer. (Jenn, can you feel the love?)

Sheila wrote:

Anyone who enjoys Steingarten (as I do) should read Calvin Trillin, if
Jennifer hasn't already. Any of his books about eating should appeal. In
fact, any of his books about anything else would do well too.


And Katie wrote:

Blogger won't let me post, either, but I really wanted to recommend Calvin Trillin's Tummy Trilogy for really funny essays about food and travel. But mostly food. And Bill Bryson. I loves me some Bill Bryson.

Thanks, Sheila and Katie! And man, after reading all these recommendations, I'm starting to think that I need to pick up some Steingarten.

kate said...

Another author that hasn't been mentioned is Elizabeth Berg. Sort of mushy stuff, but a quick, light read that doesn't feel like you're reading complete crap. Of the other authors mentioned, I would say the closet to Berg is Maeve Binchy.

jam said...

I always recommend Bill Bryson, and I'd like to second the other other Jenn's recommendation of Barbara Michaels (and the books written under her other pseudonym, Elizabeth Peters). If she likes romance novels, she should check out www.likesbooks.com. It's a romance novel review website that really gives you a good idea of whether to bother with a book or not. I like to take a few romance novels to the beach and there are (contrary to popular belief) some really well-written ones out there. Oh, and I just finished The Polysyllabic Spree and loved it.

rocketgirl said...

I second the Jane Austen Book Club recommendation and am also tossing out The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank. YMMV on that one, possibly, but I enjoyed it. The first book in Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic series was a lot of fun as well (the other two were overkill).

The food related recommendations remdinded me of Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence. Again, YMMV since I've never read Steingarten or Nora Roberts, but I thought it was a light and amusing read.

Anonymous said...

Thirding, fourthing? the Ruth Reichl recommendations, though my fav. is not "Garlic and Sapphires" but "Tender at the Bone".

For fascinating food-history, Laura Shapiro's "Perfection Salad" is worth a look.

In the fiction department, I've recently been avoiding emotionally crippling by reading a bunch of YA novels: "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase" (Joan Aiken), "The Little White Horse" (Elizabeth Goudge), the Damar series ("The Hero and the Crown", "The Blue Sword" - Robin McKinley), and "Howl's Moving Castle" (Diana Wynne Jones) all come to mind.

--laura

LizG said...

I think it's been mentioned by at least one other person - "I Don't Know How She Does It" by Allison Pearson. It is an amusing read, and a lot of it hit home for me (being a working mother).

Whatever you read, enjoy the luxury of it.

Sweetie Darling said...

Circling back around say I love this thread and the comments, and to second the idea of reading young adult fiction. I enjoy some of my 12 y.o. daughter's books more than she does.

Laura, above, mentioned Joan Aiken and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase; my favorite in the trilogy is Nightbirds on Nantucket. I loved Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett and will read the new one, The Wright 3, as soon as my Girl is finished. Holes, by Louis Sachar. Because of Winn-Dixie. Everything on a Waffle. These are sometimes touching and poignant, but shouldn't send you into days of despair.

Doppelganger said...

Lisa just emailed me some more suggestions:

I recommend Kiss & Tango: Looking for Love in Buenos Aires, by Marina Palmer. The bonus is that it's written in diary entries, so you can read one or two, then go change diapers and get juice and play find-the-remote-I-hope-you-didn't-swallow; or, you can wait until they're in bed and read whole sections. It's pretty sexy, although sometimes she's a little fluffy for my taste.

Thanks, Lisa!

Doppelganger said...

I just got this email from Jennifer, who's also having a problem with Blogger's word verification (damn you, Blogger!):

I'm going to have to print this list out and head to the used book store. And it's funny that someone recommended Eco's The Name of the Rose - one of my favorite books (and movie guilty pleasure as I was in my Christian Slater phase when it came out.)

Thank you so much!


Feel free to keep the suggestions coming, folks!

Elizabeth K. Burton said...

24/7 by Susan DiPlacido
Harvey & Eck by Erin O'Brien

Lulu said...

I second the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. It is fairly light read but makes you laugh out loud (Do not read on public transport...I found that out the hard way!!! You just laugh to much and everyone stares at you!)

I like fern michaels for light weight romantic mysteries...good thing is that they are usually really cheap too! I also love Olivia Goldsmith, Jennifer Weiner, Marian Keyes, Emily Giffin and Joy Fielding for fairly light weight stuff that you can start and come back to as many times as you want. Most are romantic fiction of romantic suspence/mystery genre!

I haven`t read it yet but diary of a mad bride by Laura Wolf is also set in a sort of diary format which as somebody suggested would make it easier for her to start and come back too!