Books: Reading bestsellers

Walking the dog the other night I ran into a neighbor who shares my taste in books: we both like big long deep smart reads. She mentioned that she was hanging on every word in Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken audio version, had I read it and if I hadn’t she had the hard cover to lend. I grabbed it, started the next day, and didn’t stop reading until I reached its wholly satisfying ending. I even read the author’s notes.

shoppingWhen I mentioned my admiration for Unbroken, more than one friend said, “That’s not your kind of read.”


Well, okay, the last best seller I loved was Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds, which was published when I was a teenager. And I may be the only reader on earth who had to take a shower after reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Blek! I threw Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County across the room (Jane Smiley’s 1,000 Acres, too) and have been known to hurriedly drive lent books back to their owners, or to the library, or to the used-book drop off. They’re so not for me I have to be rid of them.

My book throwing tantrums — so satisfying — have been copied by certain teens frustrated by school-assigned reads.

Back to Unbroken: A World War 11 Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, which is an astonishing read, published in 2010. We are expertly pulled into the life of Louis Zamperini, who is a troublemaker, Olympic runner, beloved son and brother, Army flier. He survives a plane crash and weeks adrift on a raft in the Pacific, only to end up in a series of (beyond brutal) Japanese Prisoner of War camps. Survival, indeed. I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to experience his rage and redemption back home, in L.A., in the 1950s. What a life.

Bravo, Laura Hillenband. A masterpiece. Angelina Jolie directs the film, opening this Christmas. I look forward to it.

imagesAnother big long read I liked a lot is Matthew Thomas’s We are Not Ourselves, newly published, an epic of every day life. That sounds like an oxymoron, but that’s what this book is: the life of Eileen Leary, from childhood to late adulthood in New York City’s boroughs and suburbs, from 1941 to 2011.

Life happens: a mother’s alcoholism, a husband’s early Alzheimer’s, a son’s misadventures away from all that. I wondered why I kept reading: it was all so ordinary. Eileen is a striver. She wants more for her family, and gets it: a house in Bronxville, a boy at the prestigious Regis High School. The love for her failing husband, I suppose, is what endeared her to me.

This is a vast but quiet read, an American life laid bare. It’s not antic like a Jonathan Franzen novel, or achingly lyrical like Chad Harbaugh’s The Art of Fielding. It’s its own thing, finely wrought.

Also in the blog

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