Read Any Good Books Lately?

Do you have a suggestion for a book to read before Labor Day?

Looking for my next read

I’ve only read seven books since the beginning of the pandemic lockdown. Eight, if you count watching the movie version of “The Great Gatsby,” a book I usually re-read every Memorial Day weekend.

In the age of COVID-19, reading seems to take extra concentration; meanwhile, my mind frets and wanders.

Watching 1974’s version of “The Great Gatsby” rekindled the memory of driving my daughter to college in DC. We were listening to the book together, but the Turnpike traffic was so light that our version of the story ended with the scene at The Plaza, when Gatsby might have ended up with Daisy.

My daughter’s reaction? “As far as I’m concerned, Gatsby never went for a swim before they closed up his pool.”

So in our version of the Great American Novel, we still live in a land where happily ever after is possible.

A dear friend in Minnesota once rapturously describing movie-going as the shared experience of strangers in a darkened room staring at a screen filled with infinite possibilities of light and sound.

In the age of COVID-19, watching a movie alone in my living room on Memorial Day, I realized that this magic now eludes us.

An excellent alternative to reading, I’ve found, is listening to books. Audible is a great service (and a company proudly based in New Jersey). An email this morning reminds me I’ve now been a subscriber for nearly 20 years. How is that even possible?

No matter. But I am curious about what you think.

Have you read any good books lately?

Here are the three I’ve most recently read or listened to…

Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy by Margaret Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading this was poignant in the recent days following Pete Hamill’s death and the shuttering of the Daily News’ New York City newsroom. A long intro lays out an ambitious premise for what is ultimately a short book. Perhaps there’s simply not that much more to say.

I admire Margaret Sullivan very much, and there’s good reason to give this read 5 stars — and, yet, for all the fawning admiration of the talent of trained journalists and the god-like qualities ascribed to Washington Post editor Marty Baron, there’s still a germ of a doubt in my mind about how we got to this place and how we can recover.

For one thing, I believe smart people will adapt to the changes caused by technology that led to many self-inflicted problems in the business of journalism.

For another thing, a recent story in the Post (precipitated by an email to Ms. Sullivan, or so I have read) devoted a good deal of the paper’s resources to investigating a DC-area Halloween party several years ago where a private citizen wore an ill-considered costume (for which she expressed regret) and was shamed and fired from her job because of the Post’s coverage.

If what remains of hallowed journalism is so precious, it should not have been squandered like that… by people who should have known better.

Blood: A Memoir by Allison Moorer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an outstanding book by a talented writer.

Even better: Listen to the version of this book narrated by the author.

“Blood” is a memoir centered on the murder/suicide of the author’s parents outside her bedroom window when she was just 14 years old.

In less-capable and thoughtful hands, such a shocking story might be impossible to tell.

Instead, I found listening to Moorer’s plaintive voice both touching and intimate. It inspired me.

On one level, it’s inspiring to experience the act of being told a story. It harkens back to Homer and Shakespeare, to the days my parents read stories to me, and to memories of reading stories to my daughters.

On another level, I was inspired by the book’s theme of acceptance, forgiveness and love.

This book is stunning: haunting and lyrical.

Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m so angry at this novel. It reminds me how my senses have become so numb lately. Blame the pandemic.

I started and stopped, started and stopped reading this book so many times over the past two months. I even read many thoughtful reviews, which encouraged me to read on, because Ron Hansen’s work is so highly regarded.

Rightfully so, I imagine. The writing here is impressive. But all the pretty words and imagery, the author’s impressionistic style and slow pacing, all the petty characters (save Mariette)… ultimately left me flat and cold and, much worse, uninterested. Was it the storytelling? Or me?

I’ve read or seen reviews that this book’s ambiguous ending is very profound and holds many secrets.

This is a reflection of me today: I am not able to discern a single one.

Originally published at — where you can read other reviews.

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