I’m on a reading kick. Does that sound ridiculous coming from a voracious reader? The truth is, I don’t always have time, make time, or sometimes I’m only in the mood for a particular kind of book that hasn’t found me yet. Thankfully, that is not the case now.
Sharing good books is not only something I feel compelled to do, it’s something I’ve been doing to make up a fair part of my living for the last 20 years. So in that spirit, here are some must-reads from me to you. They’re not all literary. Some are purely for entertainment value. I’m not going into major detail here, just a taste.
This is Happy, Camilla Gibb – Though I worried the topic would upset me, I knew the writing would get me through. When her partner left her early in her pregnancy, Gibb cobbled together a crew of people who would become confidants, friends and family to her and her newborn. It’s excruciating at times because you don’t often read depictions of raw despair, but is joyful in the end. And the writing is exquisite, as always. You’re right there with her, even when she’s not afraid to show herself at her non-best. The best memoirs don’t white-wash the truth in every single character and situation.
Sixty, Ian Brown – Wit, insight and emotional truth are the three elements present in all Ian Brown’s writing. Here he takes all the cliches about getting old and either debunks them or explains why they’re true. A big revelation is that the brain begins to decline after 28. Brown captures his day-to-day obsession with aging, while pining for his younger self but never takes himself too seriously, except when he knows that a certain truth can be universally applied. The bits of the book that are the most revealing are those that involve his children and his feelings about his father’s life and death.
I’ve previously written about the book for TVO.org and produced a segment with Ian Brown for The Agenda with Steve Paikin: This is what 60 feels like / Ian Brown: Diary of a Sixty-Year-Old
The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer – A boy grows up knowing nothing much about his dad but he becomes fascinated with Dickens, a local bar in his hometown of Manhassat, New York. The story is of his life in and out of the bar, how the fellas there acted as mentors, sounding boards, friends and sometimes, bad influences. Moehringer is a seasoned journalist and writer and it shows – every word is beautifully, skillfully measured for maximum storytelling, entertainment and emotional lurch. This is by far the best book I’ve read in a very long time. ‘Course I do have a soft spot for men in search of fathers.
Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe – Don’t judge. I’ve been fascinated with him since we were in our 20s. Turns out he can write – not ghost written. The big reveal for anyone interested in his work in The West Wing is that he grew up with the Sheens and Martin Sheen was father-like to him. That knowledge gives his scenes with Sheen a richness that makes sense when you re-watch. I’m thinking especially of when President Bartlett tells him one day he could run for office and to not be afraid to do so. As the NYTs review I’ve linked to above says, Lowe must know that his ridiculous good looks and fame mean he couldn’t take the easy way out if he wanted to be taken seriously as a writer and storyteller. And he doesn’t. It’s full of insights, humour and just plain juicy info about Hollywood of the ’80s and ’90s. He’s candid about his missteps, his alcoholism and his issues on The West Wing. His later life continues in Love Life.
Not My Father’s Son, Alan Cumming – See what I mean about fatherless sons? This follows the actor’s journey to have his roots chronicled for the TV show, Who Do You Think You Are — only it’s what’s going on behind the scenes as his brother and he confront his father with questions about why he abused them. A fascinating look at Cumming’s early life and its threads to his work in front of the camera.
This is his episode of WDYTYA.
All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews – One of those books you must read slowly in order to handle the emotion. It’s relentlessly sad, so thankfully Toews is adept at lightening up just when you need it. One sister is dying, the other is falling apart – their connection is unforgettable, especially as they grapple with how and when to die. A timely read as Canada figures out how to legislate assisted death.