Reads in a favorite place

We all have a favorite place to read. Mine is Pythonga, where there’s quiet and comfy chairs and few obligations. 

Here’s what I read last trip. 

Other Men’s Daughters, by Richard Stern

I’ve never read such a sympathetic story of a failed marriage. It broke my heart. 

This book is set in the 1960’s, in Cambridge. Our brainy narrator, Dr. Merriwether, describes “…the foam of the street…the kids, the young, girls, boys, the hippies, freaks, heads, the beauties and transfigured uglies from all over the world in every state of dress and undress…what is this terrific need to look special? Is it so hard to be anyone now? Why so much noise?” 

Yes, it is a summer like no other, and while Dr. Merriwether’s wife and children are away in Maine, he and a student fall in love. His marriage is already in shambles; his wife’s grievances are understandable. It’s the children he can’t give up— they’re all so well drawn that I didn’t want to give them up. These are smart, funny people caught in a sad situation.


The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver 

How did I miss this one? Published in 1988, this is a saga about colonialism told by the wife of a Christian missionary and their four daughters. I came to it because it was chosen by the Columbia University book club, which I recently joined. What a choice!

It’s 1959. Preacher Nathan Price uproots his family from Georgia for the Belgian Congo. They bring with them cake mixes and pinking shears, things useless in the bush. The mother and girls (one is mute and crippled) learn to survive; the father is interested only in spreading salvation. They live in peril, but it’s not until one of the girls dies that mother and daughters flee.

The story could have ended there for me, but there’s decades more and much to learn about the history of the Congo, the hardship of war, the science behind the crippled daughter’s full recovery. It’s important to note that women tell this story.


Fleishman is in Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner 

This is a laugh out loud read about excess in and around Manhattan. There we find Toby Fleishman, a newly separated doctor who has jumped back into sex: his phone is aglow. It’s a lot of smutty fun until his ex, a talent agent, drops out of sight after leaving their two children at his place. Where did she go?

Toby adores his little ones, and has always been the parent who shows up for school events, etc. Still, it’s summer, the kids are at loose ends, and they’re upset: where’s mom?

This tale is narrated by a female friend of Toby’s, who used to write for men’s magazines before chucking it all to raise her kids in New Jersey. It’s a clever device, because she can take us places other than Toby’s bitter mind. 

Toby’s dark world view can be funny but wears thin and his ex’s “woes of the working women” complaint is tired. Otherwise, this book kept me entertained.


Who Thought This Was a Good Idea, by Alyssa Mastromonaco

Okay, I didn’t read this in my favorite place. I read it while I was having minor surgery for skin cancer. That said, it kept me engaged over two stressful days. Thank you, Alyssa.

Here’s her charming story: an internship with Bernie Sanders leads to work for John Kerry — there’s soul sucking jobs in between — which leads to a job with Barack Obama, when he was a senator. From there she works on his campaign — the title of the book comes from an event she insisted he go to, when it was sleeting — and on to the White House. The pace is relentless and her stomach is in knots for a decade. She meets the Pope, the Queen of England, travels the world.

This is a coming of age story within an historic presidency. She has a bumpy but eventually happy ever after, which felt right after flying so high. Hers is a clear, distinctive voice; writers of memoirs should take a look. 

Also in the blog

My artist-writer-foodie niece Lucy is back living in Chicago (hooray!) and understandably made it to one of the first of the year open-air days at Green City Market in Lincoln Park. It opens this year May 2. Her sole complaint: where to eat afterwards. There’s crepes, smoothies and other fare at the market. She wanted


When a best friend heads to Italy for a month to research a travel guide the only logical thing to do is follow her. Not for the whole time, of course, but for a few choice days, along with a friend she enjoys, too. http://romewithkids.com/ That’s how I found myself, quiet happily, in Rome earlier


It’s so satisfying to be in the hands of a seasoned storyteller. In a row, I read three newly published novels written by authors who have been winning prizes and selling boatloads of books for decades. What sets their work apart? The art of storytelling: what to show, what to hold back. Dialogue, description, pace.


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