One of my favorite summer reads was Wild, by Cheryl Strayed which I got from my neighbor, Sally, a dedicated backpacker who knows the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m no endurance hiker but I do share Sally’s tastes in books and was fascinated by Wild’s fearless trekker.
After that I read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. It was our book group’s choice for this month. I have some questions about the story, like maybe it was a bit too structured, but I can’t wait to sit under my friend’s redwood trees and sip wine and talk about horticulture and homelessness.
Book club choices, the staff suggestions at independent book stores and friends’ recommendations are the main ways I build my pile of must-reads. One of my favorite things to do with friends I haven’t seen in a while is to catch up by wandering the aisles of a book store and chatting about we’ve been reading.
Newspaper book sections used to be a reliable way to read about new authors and titles. Not so much anymore. You can find best seller lists in newspapers but thoughtful reviews written in pull-out sections you keep on the kitchen table for a week are pretty rare. The only remaining metros with special review sections are the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times.
Online, you can find all kinds of people talking about their favorite books, like my friend Trish Collins’ blog, Hey Lady! Watcha Readin’? at heylady.net.
But now we have to worry about authors faking their own book reviews on the internet, according to a Chicago researcher who found that some even big-time authors have been writing their own glowing raves, using a pseudonym. Not only did they gush over their own books, they slammed their competitors.
I asked around to see where some heavy readers find their next books. Joan, an author who confessed her tastes usually run to the “arcane, obscure and off-puttingly lofty,” is reading What There Is To Say We Have Said, the letters between William Maxwell and Eudora Welty. She read about it in a literary magazine. But an equally enjoyable find was Richard Russo’s “Bridge of Sighs” which she picked up in her gym’s locker room.
I spotted a woman at a house party who was deep into Joanne Harris’ The Girl with No Shadow. Same characters as Chocolat, she said, which made me look at it longingly. She gave it to me the next morning at breakfast. I gobbled it up and passed it on to a Francophile friend.
Of course recycling books doesn’t do much for an author’s royalties but it does build the fan base.
Alison, a professor and librarian, discovered The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes when she saw it plastered across a window at the Harvard Coop. Gayanne can be seduced by what’s on a book cover which is how she discovered Nothing Daunted, The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden, taken in by the photo of “two women on horseback in Abercrombie & Fitch tweed riding suits.”
Urban farmer Diane counts on NPR’s Fresh Air reviewer Maureen Corrigan. Toni, a poet and financial consultant, had to read the highly-touted novel The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides “just to see what the fuss was about” after reading a Times review.
And then there’s the joy of getting hooked on an author even before you read her words. Sue Miller and Diane Johnson talked about writing one year at the Sonoma County Book Festival. I became a groupie that day and have read everything they wrote before and since.
That stuff doesn’t happen on a Kindle.
(Speaking of meeting authors, for those who live in the Bay Area there’s a great opportunity to have a new book adventure at the Sonoma County Book Festival happening this Saturday, Sept. 22 at Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa. Go to socobookfest.org for the schedule. And, see you there!)