Great Books I’ve Started

…and haven’t finished. I’ll come back for them! In the meantime, may they each find a new reader with more free time and mental real estate.

Lauren Marks — “A Stitch of Time: The Year a Brain Injury Changed My Language and Life

Why I checked it out: When I picked up Lauren Marks’ book, I had John Hendrickson’s “Life on Delay: Making Peace with a Stutter” in mind, in search of another heartrending memoir aboutA Stitch of Time by Lauren Marks book cover living with some communication or speech disorder.

Marks offers a different kind of story. While Hendrickson grows up with his stutter, Marks’ aphasia strikes down in her 27th year after an aneurysm ruptures in her brain. The sudden onset of this language disorder is devastating — Marks finds herself unable to read, or to express herself on even a basic level.

What stuck: Marks describes a profound serenity that blooms within her in the aftermath of the aneurysm. Without a functional language center to articulate and store her anxieties, hopes, fears and insecurities, her internal monologue is replaced by something she calls “the Quiet.”

Recommended for: Anyone with a special interest in language, and/or language disorders. Anyone interested in chronic health conditions, the mysteries of the brain, and the unending process of recovery.


Amy Key — “Arrangements in Blue: Notes on Living and Loving Alone

Arrangements in Blue by Amy Key book coverWhy I checked it out: Ever since reading Maggie Nelson’s “Bluets,” I’ve been interested in what people have to say about blue. I was enchanted by the very premise of Amy Key’s book — a memoir told through the lens of Joni Mitchell’s “Bluealbum; specifically, a memoir about living a life full of love and empty of romance.

What stuck: I remember a lovely section about furnishing and decorating her first apartment (collecting blue things, draping fabrics, nesting — as a minimalist myself, it was a gentle reminder to look for things I love and put them in places where I can see them). And somewhere in an entirely different chapter was a Yoko Ono quote: “Each time we don’t say what we wanna say, we’re dying.”

Recommended for: Anyone in a complicated relationship with solitude, and/or with the color blue. Anyone with a love for detail. Anyone interested in decentering romantic love in their view of life.


John Williams — “Stoner

Why I checked it out:  Stone by John Williams book coverAn extremely bookish person recommended “Stoner to me. It is the story of William Stoner, who we meet as a new student at… you’ll never guess… Mizzou! I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of this novel, evidently highly regarded in literature, that takes place right here in Columbia.

What stuck: This quote: “Sometimes, immersed in his books, there would come to him the awareness of all that he did not know, of all that he had not read; and the serenity for which he labored was shattered as he realized the little time he had in life to read so much, to learn what he had to know.”

Recommended for: Anyone who sometimes prefers writing to speaking. Anyone who reads for language as much as they do for plot. And anyone who has ever called Mizzou’s campus home.


Jo Ann Beard — “Festival Days

Festival Days by Jo Ann Beard book coverWhy I checked it out: Jo Ann Beard’s first essay collection, “The Boys of My Youth,” took my breath away. Her writing is graceful, never overdone, and packs a punch.

What stuck: One of the first essays, “Werner,” follows a cater waiter through a series of split-second decisions he must make when he wakes up to a fire growing in his apartment building. There was a cat involved. This story was almost unbearable to read, but it was too beautiful not too.

Recommended for: Anyone seeking poignant storytelling about life’s ordinary moments. Anyone grappling with loss.


Elizabeth Strout — “Olive Kitteridge

Why I checked it out: A friend described “Olive Kitteridge to me as one of her favorite books, and Olive as one of the most memorable characters she’s ever read. I cracked the book open out of curiosity and ended up halfway in, so I figured it was time to take it home. I also hear there’s an excellent TV adaptation?  Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout book cover

What stuck: The story about the pianist, I could read over and over again. In a broader sense, I was just moved by how the characters care for one another. Sometimes that care is misconstrued, or rejected; imagined, or withheld. Sometimes, it is simply given and received, and Olive is the biggest giver of them all.

Recommended for: Empathetic readers. Anyone who enjoys intricate character studies and interweaving tales. Anyone with a thing for quiet coastal towns.


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