What I’ve been reading lately: the new and the notable

What I’ve been reading lately: the new and the notable

Welcome to Quick Lit, where we share short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately on the 15th of the month.

I spent a large chunk of my reading time this month revisiting FIVE books I’ve previously read and loved—as you’ll see below—so I worried I wouldn’t be able to pull together an interesting list of monthly reads. But as you’ll see, my fears were in vain. It was a great, varied, wonderful reading month.

I’m compiling my list of 2021 favorite reads right now, and I’m certain some of these books will appear on it.

Of course, this is just a sampling of the books I’ve read since our last round of Quick Lit. If you’re interested in hearing more about my recent reads, I highly recommend tuning into my podcast What Should I Read Next. In a show about books, I can’t help but discuss my current reading. (I also share what I’m currently reading in our weekly podcast newsletter: if you aren’t already signed up, click here to get on the list.)

I can’t wait to hear about your recent reads in comments. 

Short and sweet reviews of what I’ve been reading lately

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness

What a JOY to re-read this in preparation for our MMD Book Club chat with author Ingrid Fetell Lee tomorrow! In this whimsical and practical book, Lee explores the psychology and science of things that bring us joy—such as light, silliness, and the element of surprise, examining both why they do so and how we can bring more of them into our lives. I so enjoy a read that not only delivers an engaging reading experience, but concretely changes my life. (Don't miss our community manager's post about Joyful and light bulbs if you haven't yet read it!) More info →
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Beginner’s Luck

Beginner’s Luck

Author:
When Thanksgiving rolled around, I found myself in the middle of four heavy books—none of which I felt like reading over the holidays. I decided to re-read this old favorite, and before I knew it, one thing led to another and I devoured Kate Clayborn's entire catalog, once again. (I regret nothing.) This is the first book in the Chance of a Lifetime trilogy, about three friends whose lives are changed after they go in together to buy what turns out to be a winning lottery ticket. This installment centers Kit, a steady scientist who, because of her peripatetic childhood, wants to use her winnings to create a home for herself and develop roots in her community. So when Ben shows up in his role as recruiter her to entice her to leave it all behind and move to Texas ... well, it's a disaster. Until it's not. Heads up for some open door moments. More info →
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Taste: My Life Through Food

Taste: My Life Through Food

Author:
I hadn't intended to read this, and I'm so glad I let myself get talked into it by a trusted friend! This was a delight from start to finish; I was hooked from the three-sentence introduction and its promise of plenty of puns to come. From his stories of growing up in a large Italian-American family in New York, to mixing up the perfect martini on set, to falling in love with his wife over a cheese cart, I just ate this up. (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.) I'm sure this is wonderful in hardcover as well, but Tucci narrates his own audiobook and it is superb—I highly recommend this format. More info →
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The Night Watchman

The Night Watchman

Author:
When we hosted Tayari Jones for our WSIRN 300th episode celebration, she raved about this 2020 Pulitzer winner, saying she wanted to give it a standing ovation. That comment nudged me to pick it up again, on audio this time. (Why have I not been listening to Erdrich narrate her own work all along? She's wonderful in that format.) The story is based on the life of her own grandfather, who worked as a night watchman and who traveled from rural North Dakota to Washington, D.C. to fight against Native dispossession of their tribal lands. The story is beautifully, lovingly drawn: I was rooting so hard for Patrice the whole way through. More info →
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The Memory Police

The Memory Police

Author:
I've been meaning to read this 1994 Japanese novel, as translated by Stephen Snyder, for ages! Our unnamed protagonist is a novelist who lives on an island controlled by the Memory Police, a feared group whose sole purpose is to periodically "disappear" objects and ideas from the town—first small objects like emeralds, ribbons, and candy, but over time, the disappearances grow more profound. Birds vanish, then photographs. But the truth is that not everyone "forgets" what they are supposed to, which puts them in great danger from the Memory Police, whose duty is to make sure the disappeared items are fully eradicated. If any citizens stand in their way, they will be disappeared, as well—which is how our young novelist ends up putting herself in danger. The gentle prose is lovely in its own right, and perfectly suits the story's eerie feel. This novel went places I didn't expect, right up to the stunning conclusion. More info →
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No Cure for Being Human: (And Other Truths I Need to Hear)

No Cure for Being Human: (And Other Truths I Need to Hear)

Author:
I picked this up after attending the Bookmarks NC literary festival in September. I didn't get to see Kate in session but attendees kept raving about her work, so I knew it was time to read for myself. This is in many ways a sad memoir, as in it, she tells the story of being diagnosed with aggressive colon cancer at age 35, but she writes with grace, wisdom, and even humor. I highlighted this to pieces; it's very quotable. ("Time really is a circle; I can see that now. We are trapped between a past we can’t return to and a future that is uncertain. And it takes guts to live here, in the hard space between anticipation and realization. How quickly we believe that nothing can be new again but then, look.") I was surprised at how strongly this book resembled Four Thousand Weeks; if you enjoyed that book I especially recommend picking this one up. More info →
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Small Things Like These

Small Things Like These

Author:
When Andrea of the lovely Browsers Bookshop recommended this new Christmastime novella in her always-welcome newsletter, I couldn't hit "buy" fast enough. In some ways it reminded me of Jeannette Haien's The All of It. It's set in 1985 Ireland (though the details made the story feel older) and is inspired by Ireland's Magdalene laundries, a topic I knew nothing about. Bill Furlong is a hardworking family man who struggles to provide for his large family, something hard enough in this time and place. But then, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, he makes a series of discoveries that threaten to unravel everything he has believed to be true about his life, his faith, and his community. This was a lovely, tender book, and I read it in one sitting. More info →
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What have YOU been reading lately? Tell us about your recent reads—or share the link to a blog or instagram post about them—in comments. 

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61 comments | Comment

61 comments

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  1. Thanks for sharing your reading with us, Anne! I am loving Louise Erdrich right now, too!

    I had a hard time reading this fall, but my reading mojo returned with a vengeance in mid-November. Somehow I managed to read two massive books and a smattering of shorter ones, including Louise Erdrich and Anthony Doerr’s newest novels. It was such a great month for reading for me!

    Please visit my Cozy Burrow to read all about it: https://katiegilley.com/2021/12/06/bookish-highlights-november-2021/

  2. Julie says:

    I have been reading holiday rom coms as that is all my brain can handle. Loved the Christmas Bookshop, the Matzah Ball and now reading Always in December. I am tracking my books with mini reviews on Instagram: @nursebeanreads

  3. Dee says:

    The Night Watchman was my favorite book of this year so I’m glad you read it, Anne! I don’t often re-read, but will likely do so with that book. And I kind of hope Erdrich revisits this community in a future novel.

  4. Jill S Fitzpatrick says:

    Wholeheartedly agree on Taste! And yes, definitely listen to the audiobook for this one. I intended to just listen but ended up buying the hardcover because it has recipes–and you just can’t follow a recipe by listening to it! One of my top reads for 2021!

  5. Tracey says:

    I look forward to checking out Small Things Like These. I’ve never read Kate Clayborn and have enjoyed the two Louise Erdrich novels I’ve read so those will all go on my list too.

    One of my favourites this month (and maybe my favourite 2021 release so far) is The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang. I was deeply moved by this novel, especially by the focus on care-giving. There’s sexy romance here but also so much more! I enjoyed the Kiss Quotient but did not enjoy The Bride Test so probably wouldn’t have picked this up without the recommendation of friends and I’m so glad I did.

    I also love love LOVED the most recent novel in Suanne Laqueur’s Venery series (which are very much fine to read as standalone books and in any order), A Scarcity of Condors. I can’t say enough good things about this author. Her bio describes her writing as “therapy fiction.” This series is mostly about gay and bisexual men and focuses a lot on trauma. This book and the whole series are just SO good! Highly recommended!
    I also really liked The Only Good Indians. It was more sad than scary for me and was also really a novel about trauma, I thought.
    I also liked and gave four stars to Girl, Woman, Other and Crying in H Mart and Satisfaction Guaranteed.
    I just realized how great a streak I’m on! Only four and five star books in the past month! I know that can’t last, which is fine, but it’s been nice!!

  6. Susannah Nix says:

    I did the exact same thing with Kate Clayborn earlier this year after Love at First came out. Her prose is so beautiful it’s like sinking into a soft, warm blanket. I want to crawl inside her stories and never come out again.

  7. Sarah says:

    I have found myself in a reading upswing again (like all things it ebbs and flows). I found a copy of Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams at my parents’ house when I visited. I’ve been meaning to read it for ages, and am so happy with my choice. I also remembered that I own a Kindle, ok I actually picked it up again because it has a copy of the book I picked for family book club, which naturally I am putting off in favor of reading the Murderbot diaries, which I am loving! I finished up a non-fiction last week, so time to pick up one of those, and I’m working through Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator with my kiddo.

    Even though this year has been a lot, and I basically abandoned my reading challenge, I find myself, at the end of the year feeling good about my reading and having read surprisingly much.

  8. Maria Ontiveros says:

    Finished The Other Black Girl (soooo good!) and The Rose Code (pretty good; preferred The Huntress). Decided to abandon Transcendent Kingdom and just started (really enjoying) The Cutting Season.

      • Jessica says:

        Agree! I didn’t LOVE Transcendent Kingdom when I read it (over a year ago), but I thought about it enough to purchase it after finishing my library copy, and I’m hoping to re-read it in 2022. I think it’s one I’ll get more out of each time I revist it.

  9. Melinda A Kohn says:

    It makes my heart so happy to (finally!) find mention of my long-time favorite author, Louise Erdrich. I am nearly a completist of her work, which is tricky because she is prolific! If anyone is interested in reading more Erdrich, may I suggest Love Medicine and The Round House. She has also written a beautiful poetry collection, a series for children, and a memoir.

  10. Betsy says:

    I just finished We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker. Heard snout this from MMD and have had it in my TBR basket for months before picking it up. Rich characters and interesting plot twists that will keep you guessing til the end. The female protagonist will make you laugh and cry.

    Also finished my annual reading of Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris. Hilarious!! I’ve got tickets to see him here in Lexington tomorrow night. Can’t wait!

  11. Sarah Williams says:

    I wouldn’t say these are quick lit. picks for me in terms of speed-just having a hard time getting the energy at the end of day, but I am really enjoying 2 books. A Marvelous Light on audio is a good listen. I love the magic system and the dual protagonists. I am enjoying My Plain Jane on my Kindle. Funny and snappy.
    I put Stanley Tucci’s audiobook on my Libro.fm wishlist for Christmas. I cannot wait to enjoy it in the quiet days after Christmas.

  12. Melissa Grogan says:

    I have the tradition of re-reading my favorite Christmas / Hannukah season books beginning the weekend of Thanksgiving. Since I’m a die hard mystery buff..lots of mysteries on this list
    A Man With A Load of Mischief by Martha Grimes
    Rest Ye Merry by Charlotte Macleod
    A Holiday for Murder by Agatha Christie
    A Body in the Bouillon by Katherine Hall Page
    A Season of Miracles by Marilyn Pappano (a romance but a beautiful story)
    The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers (more New Year’s Eve..)
    How the Finch Stole Christmas, The 12 Jays of Christmas, any of the Christmas mysteries by Donna Andrews. Hilarious and so fun…

    • Pat says:

      Melissa, thanks for your list! I am reading, “A Noel Killing” by ML Longworth now! I loved seeing Anne’s list, too. Y’all have given me great suggestions. Merry Christmas.

  13. Katie L Ferguson says:

    I’m currently reading Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the law by Mary Roach. It’s the first book I’ve read by this author and I really like the combination of learning new things and the author’s sense of humor. One thing I learned was that climate change affects the time frame that bears hibernate.
    I recently read Joyful by Ingrid Fetter Lee and am looking forward to the replay of the author event tomorrow. I also read The Guide by Peter Heller. He is one of my favorite authors and I found this book to be very suspenseful. I loved the nature scenes and that we get the chance to revisit a character from The River.

  14. Lisa Kinnear says:

    Of the books I’ve read this month, The Island of Missing Trees, Bewilderment and The Sentence were the highlights. All of them are so unique and beautifully written. I highly recommend.

  15. Jo says:

    Joyful is my absolute favorite book of 2021! Ingrid Fetell Lee did a phenomenal job narrating. I borrowed the audiobook from the library. I wanted to listen again immediately after I finished it the first time so I bought the kindle version with audio. Because I bookmarked and wanted to look up so many things mentioned in the book, I bought the physical book.

    I recommend the book to everyone. I have gifted it a couple of times. If I could afford it, I’d be handing it out like candy!

  16. Ann says:

    I had Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman checked out from the library when they had a great display for Native American Indian Heritage last month. Sadly, I did not get to it, with too many TBRs. But I intend to read it in the future.

    I also have a copy of her latest The Sentence waiting to be read.

    I am currently happily bogged down (888 pages) with Diana Gabaldon’s Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone. I think it is getting mixed reviews & admittedly it may not be her best, but it feels so comfortable to me. I love the stories intertwined throughout.

    I think we have to give kudos to any author that can write 9 books on the same characters and still engages us.

    Looking forward to a Texas author Caroline Frost who has a debut in February: Shadows of Pecan Hollow. I can’t wait!!

    I am struggling with whether or not to continue my BOTM subscription. I tend to get the bulk of my books/including new releases from my local library.

  17. I purchased 4 copies of the Joyful book for Christmas presents – so, yes, I think it’s a great book.
    Can’t say I agree with you on the Lousie Erfrich Night Watchman – too many undeveloped characters for me. I thought it dragged.

  18. Gayla (Gray) Mazzuca says:

    I have one of your books above on my TBR, Taste: My Life Through Food, and I can’t wait to read it. I’ve heard so many good things about it. I have read No Cure for Being Human and I loved it. I have followed her for a few years now and I also listen to her podcast. I’m a colon cancer survivor so her story is more personal to me because of that.

    My reading this year has been dismal. I’ve been too busy researching and writing since I started my newsletter in June. In Tuesday’s newsletter I wrote about library cards; can a reader have too many, especially if they are library cards are for e-books? You can read about that here:

    https://sonovelicious.substack.com/p/can-a-reader-have-too-many-e-book

    Come check out the archive for other newsletters about the different methods of book journaling, favorite bookish podcasts and bookstagramers, and other bookish goodness here:

    https://sonovelicious.substack.com/archive?utm_source=menu-dropdown

  19. Suzanne Lambremont says:

    My reading in the past 6-8 weeks has diminished. I don’t know if it’s an attention or distraction problem but, since I live in deep southeast Texas, the weather now is all about being outdoors, few chilly days and lots of windy sunshine to bike, dog walk, work getting fall gardens in shape. I’m listening to Richard Powers The Overstory on Scribd thanks to two free months from this blog. My book club read his Bewilderment for November. Two recent reads stand out: West With Giraffs and Simon The Fiddler. Couldn’t put either down even to sleep. I don’t have a TBR list as such, just a few stacks on my reading table and scribbled notes listening to my book friends and WSIRN, both tremendous resources. Merry Christmas all.
    Suzanne

  20. Susan says:

    I just spent the month reading Louise Erdrich’s latest, The Sentence. Wonderfully written. Part ghost story, part love story, partly about the power of words and books, set against the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd. It’s fabulous!

  21. I bought Taste for my husband for Christmas and I’m looking forward to reading it too. Today I bought Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires. But enough about what I’m going to read. I just finished Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. I love her writing but didn’t love Hamnet. I expected to, because it’s O’Farrell and got stellar reviews. I found it a little slow. I also read O’Farrell’s After You’d Gone which I enjoyed a lot more. Also finished in one day Susan May Warren’s Have Yourself a Christiansen Christmas. I love all of Warren’s books and this was a lovely entry to her Christiansen Family/Deep Haven series. Currently reading the finale in her time travel series, Heart of Stone (ebook), A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg (print) and Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty on audio. Oh, and Dreyer’s English, for a craft book (print).

  22. Julie says:

    I adore Kate Bowler. Her book Everything Happens (and other lies I’ve loved) is my go to purchase for friends when they find themselves suddenly facing big challenges.

    Speaking of Stanley Tucci, she interviewed him on her podcast (also called Everything Happens) not too long ago and he was delightful.

  23. Julie Zeller says:

    Graceland, At Last by Margaret Renkl- a fabulous book of essays on the American South and the misperceptions people have about it.
    Zorrie by Laird Hunt- a beautifully written story about a woman making her way during the depression.
    A Place on Earth by Wendell Berry. I read Jayber Crow earlier this year, and now I am obsessed with Port William, Kentucky.
    The Trees by Percival Everett- Wow is all I can say. Unexpected and difficult, this is a disturbing and engaging story of racism in the U.S.
    So many great books this year!!!

  24. Charisa says:

    Okay,I almost never end up adding more than a small percentage of the books in a post to my to be read list, but I just did something I’ve never done before, I just added every single one of these books. 😊
    Thanks Anne, for all you and your team’s work on this blog, it’s the one blog I visit regularly.

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