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.

This month I’ve been reading more than usual. I believe it’s due to a new habit: I don’t typically read first-thing, but recently, on cooler mornings (which means anything less than 75 these days) I’ve been reading on the front porch—and in these morning sessions, I’ve been opting for nonfiction. Those small sessions add up. 

I suspect that accounts for my Quick Lit assortment today: while usually this list is novel-heavy, today I have three memoirs, all unusual in their own way, a short story collection, and one novel. I hope you enjoy the change of pace. 

I’ve also been reading a ton on audio lately, thanks to running and weeding, and have indicated which titles were great in that format below. 

This is only a small smattering 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. (That’s especially true for yesterday’s episode with the Goodreads crew.)  

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

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

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A true (as told to me) story

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A true (as told to me) story

In this unusual memoir, "matrilinear love story," Bess Kalb tells the story of her grandmother Bobby Bell's life, and their special relationship, in her deceased grandmother's voice. (On the second page of the book Bobby, speaking from her own funeral, is telling the readers, "It's a terrible thing to be dead.") I enjoyed this story so much: Bobby is spry and spunky, fiercely opinionated, a force of nature—and firmly invested in (or committed to meddling in, depending on how Bess is feeling at the moment) her granddaughter's life. Bobby's fierce and sometimes persnickety devotion to Bess shines on every page, from Bess's birth to Bobby's dying days at age 90. For most of Bess's life, the two spoke on the phone every day, and my favorite parts of the book were these phone conversations. More info →
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The Toni Morrison Book Club

The Toni Morrison Book Club

This group memoir has four authors, all English professors and colleagues who came together to read the works of Toni Morrison. The memoir focuses on four of her books: Beloved, The Bluest Eye, A Mercy, and Song of Solomon. Each writer contributes two deeply personal essays about how their life intersects with Morrison's work (or, as they say, how Morrison serves as a catalyst), which means that the reader gets multiple perspectives on each novel. I read this and the new Zora Neale Hurston collection nearly back-to-back and found this to be a serendipitous pairing; these two books, while written nearly 100 years apart, had a lot to say to each other. Moving, heartfelt, and intimate—as well as excellent on audio. More info →
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Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance

Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance

This is an incredible, improbable book: though Hurston died in 1960, this short fiction collection includes pieces contemporary readers have never seen before, because they were published in periodicals and journals that have long been forgotten. There are 21 pieces in all, presented in chronological order, written between 1921 and 1937. (Their Eyes Were Watching God was published in 1937.) I listened to the audiobook version, which I highly recommend. Don't miss the excellent foreword by Tayari Jones and introduction by editor Genevieve West. More info →
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Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom

Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom

I had the pleasure of participating in this year's virtual Jane Austen Festival, and read this book that has been languishing on my TBR for too long in order to prepare for my sessions. I found this deep dive into Janeite subculture to be insightful, entertaining, and surprisingly humorous. Yaffe's sense of humor shines when she discusses Jane Austen's Poisonous Bitches (two words: Lucy Steele), the history and intricacies of Austen fanfiction, and Darcy in the lake. Part journalism, part memoir, and recommended reading for Austen lovers everywhere. More info →
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Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic

I've been hearing great things about this book though the "Gothic horror" label made me a little afraid to dive in, as I stay away from the scary stuff. But I needn't have feared: this new novel is deliciously creepy, but not frightening. Moreno-Garcia situates her novel firmly in the tradition of Gothic country house classics like Wuthering Heights and Rebecca, and even references some of these titles in her novel. When Noemí's father appoints her to see to some business on his behalf, the beautiful, intelligent young socialite agrees to do her duty for the family. Her recently married cousin Catalina has sent an odd, urgent letter to the family, pleading for someone to save her—but from what? When Noemí visits her new marital home High Place, a remote and lavish estate built by ill-treated mine workers, she discovers her cousin's predicament is worse than she feared: her husband is a brute, her father-in-law a terror, the staff deeply hostile, and even the house itself seems set against her—and worse, determined to entrap her. No spoilers here, but if you like the sound of a deeply strange and spine-tingling read about a smart heroine who saves herself, this is the book for you. Excellent on audio. 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. 

P.S. Since we’re on the audiobook theme today, try these 10 audiobooks so good you’ll want to fold another load of laundry, finish washing the dishes, or just sit in the driveway for 5 more minutes, and these 10 audiobooks to listen to while you clean, purge, and tidy.


Leave A Comment
    • Rachel says:

      I just finished Mexican Gothic as well and almost passed it over because of the horror genre. It’s definitely creepy, but really good.

  1. Beth Gross says:

    I loved Peace Like a River so much that Leif Enger shot to the top of my list of favorite authors. So I just finished the next novel he wrote, So Brave, Young and Handsome. I didn’t like that one nearly as much. I started his next one, Virgil Wander, and it looks like Peace Like a River is just in a class by itself, at least for me.

    On my blog, I made a list of books that are similar to James Clear’s Atomic Habits. https://purplecrayonyourworld.com/books-like-atomic-habits/

    • Ruth O says:

      Peace Like a River is one of my all-time favorites! And it’s the best one he wrote, in my mind…I agree it’s in a class by itself.

    • I loved your list so much! I’ve read several of the books you listed. I have Atomic Habits on my shelf and going to start that when we get back from a quick vacation. I shared your list because I thought it was a such a great capture of all the best ones on the topic of productivity, work, and doing better. Thanks for sharing!

    • Linda Pappas says:

      I read Virgil Wander first, and loved it. Then read Peace Like A River, and yes,it was wonderful. I’ve recommended it to friends as a great read.

    • Rose says:

      I loved both Peace Like a River and Virgil Wander. I keep thinking I need to reread So Brave, Young, and Handsome because maybe it’s better than I remember it? I met Enger at 2019 Tucson Festival of Books. He indicated a sequel to Virgil Wander. I’m looking forward to it.

    • Hi Beth, I am not seeing a comment section with your post, so I wanted to leave it here. I LOVED Atomic Habits and The Power of Habit! I felt like Atomic Habits picked up where The Power of Habit left off, in terms of practical application and resources. I also enjoyed Deep Work, but even more (because I constantly use my phone), Cal’s follow-up book, Digital Minimalism. Great post with lots of wonderful and useful books!!

      And I LOVED Peace Like A River, so I am hesitant to read his other books because I have a feeling they won’t be as good.

    • Suzy says:

      For everybody who loved Peace Like a River, and/or was disappointed in Leif Enger’s others, please try Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger if you haven’t already—-you will like it!!! Worthy pairing! Another story told from the point of view of a young boy, and it’s just GOOD.

  2. Adrienne says:

    Ooooh Mexican Gothic sounds fantastic!
    My recently reads are:
    * The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri (three stars)- This is a tough read and the story just has a slow pace. The story is told by the husband, Nuri, but I think his wife, Afra, is such an interesting character and sadly we don’t really get to know her thoughts and feelings directly.
    * Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal (four stars) – Oh my! This is such a off beat story…. And just a tad racier than I was expecting.
    * Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb (five stars) – I listened to this on audio, and loved the insights into the process of therapy. I learned so much about myself through the stories of her therapy patients and her own therapy sessions. Highly recommend!
    * Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand (five stars) – This is probably my favorite Elin Hilderbrand book, and I’ve read many of them. Usually I find the dialogue in her books to be simplistic and choppy, but I didn’t notice that in this book. I loved how she wove so many of the major historical events of 1969 into this story. So well done!

    I’ve just picked up The Antidote to Everything by Kimmery Martin, and Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Giles from the library, so those will be my next reads. Happy Reading!

  3. I am interested in Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, I love a good grandparent story.

    I’ve been doing a lot of lighter summer reading but some historical and non-fiction as well. Even two books Anne mentioned as recent favorites on the podcast this week; I read them back to back last weekend!

    My July Quick Lit

  4. Rachelz says:

    Mexican Gothic is high on my TBR, though the new Elly Griffiths just came out, so I’ll be diving into that as soon as I finish Rodham.

  5. My quick lit update is heavy on Jane Austen inspired books, so I think Among the Janeites is definitely getting added to my TBRS (To Be Read SOON) list! I also am *almost* convinced to try Mexican Gothic, since I do love Rebecca and Wuthering Heights, but get easily spooked by most “gothic” tales. Right now I am loving This Tender Land, and the rest of my recent reads are here! http://miathereader.com/july-2020-summer-reading-so-far-new-releases-a-classic-picture-books-and-read-alouds/

  6. Jennifer Postma says:

    Best Kalb’s memoir stayed with me after I read it. My (Bachelor-watchi ng/Facebook participant) grandma and I had a similar relationship and we were so close until she passed in 2015 at 97 years old! I weeped while reading, but it was cleansing. I could hear my grandma saying, “It’s okay, Jenny, I will see you again.” This one is a keeper on my shelf!

  7. Leanne says:

    I’m still working my way through Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld which I’m really enjoying. Summer has finally arrived here so reading time has been limited. One of my favorite stay-at-home reads was The Heirloom Garden by Viola Shipman. For me, it was the right book at the right time.

  8. T Estrada says:

    I’ve just started reading A House in the Mountains : The Women Who Liberated Italy From Fascism by Caroline Moorehead and I’m listening to Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries on audio. A balance of serious and silly.

    • Shannan says:

      I loved Time’s Convert. Probably more than the other two by Harkness. I haven’t read the third. I need to do, though. Thanks for reminding me of these.

  9. Vanessa Patz says:

    I just wrapped up “The last train to Key West”, which you recently recommended. Lovely read. It was perfect for summer and something a bit lighter, which I needed. I will definitely look into “Among the Janeites” for my mother, along with some of your cooking memoirs/ travel reads. Thank you!

    • Kylee says:

      Absolutely agree about Greenwood! I read it early this summer and still think about it daily. I’m so sad that more people haven’t heard of this book!

  10. Amapola says:

    I finished “Don’t Overthink It” in audio and I found it very helpful. My best read of the summer so far has been “Deacon King Kong” by James McBride. I found it moving, funny and a great read. I also read “Bluebird, Bluebird” by Attica Locke and “The Night Watchman” by Louise Erdrich, which was another great story. Unfinished, “The Hunting Party” by Lucy Foley (hated all the characters) and “The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin in audiobook format, because I’m waiting for the hardcover from the library.
    Currently reading, “The Bookish Life of Nina Hill” and “The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race” by William James Jennings.

  11. Sophia says:

    Early morning front porch reading is the best! I’m currently on my 2nd Ivan Doig novel this summer, “The Last Bus to Wisdom”. Enjoying it so far!

    • adrienne says:

      I love Ivan Doig’s Montana trilogy! The first in the chronological series is ‘Dancing at the Rascal Fair.’ Highly recommend that if you haven’t read it yet.

  12. Nichole says:

    Have you ever waited so long for a library hold to come in that you felt obligated to eventually enjoy it more than you actually were? That’s how I felt about ‘Fleishman is In Trouble’, which I finished just this morning. Onward!

  13. Cyndi Moskal says:

    I’m currently reading I’ll Be Your Blue Sky and loving it. I also just finished the third book in the Truly Devious serious, The Hand on the Wall (it was the best yet!) and To Night Owl from Dogfish which was such an endearing YA story of friendship and the family we choose. And I also loved Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

  14. Five of the seven novels I read recently–some to my 6-year-old, some to myself–related in some way to the issues of the present, even though none of them is particularly new and the three children’s books were ones I’d read many times.

    Nobody Will Tell You This But Me sounds like fun! I think of my grandma often and wonder what our relationship would have been like if she’d lived into my adult life; she died just after I turned 15.

  15. Peggy says:

    I’m reading Crossing to Safety, a book you recommended a while back. I chose it for our book club. Do far, 75pages in, I am blown away by the beautiful writing style of Wallace Stegner.

  16. Heather Bucurel says:

    Mexican Gothic is SO good! I was fortunate to jump on the digital copy when it first came available at my local library; now there’s a 6-month waiting list for it. As an English major and English teacher, I enjoy how Mexican Gothic has taken the typical archetypes of Gothic literature and set its story in a whole new landscape – Mexico! For my older students, this would be a good way to introduce them to the genre in a more culturally-accessible way (considering most Gothic lit is by white authors who were dead ages ago and thus boring to teenagers). This was a recent read; currently reading This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger and Locking Up Our Own by James Forman, Jr. Thanks for the recommendations; love the podcast!

  17. Picked up a stack of library holds the other day, including MEXICAN GOTHIC – looking forward to it! – and my current read, OUTSIDER by Linda Castillo. I am a huge fan of Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series. 🙂

  18. Michelle Wilson says:

    Nobody Will Tell You This But Me was just excellent on audio. I often listen to audio while I am getting dressed in the morning. Well one morning, as I was trying to put on mascara, the book snuck up on me and I started to sob…in the best way. It made me remember conversations with my mom. It was great…except for the mascara mess!

  19. Robin says:

    I tore through Mexican Gothic! First, I LOVE Gothic novels both those that veer toward horror (as this one does) and those are in the haunted house field (could be considered horror as well I suppose). Mexican Gothic was so atmospheric & wonderfully creepy, plus a main character I could cheer for. So smart, savvy, strategic, and fun. I would love a friend like Noemi. I also enjoyed the setting of 1950s Mexico — not place/time that gets a lot attention in books. This was definitely a standout of my summer reading.

  20. Sara Tajeldin says:

    July has been a busy month for reading. First I finished Eric Larsens book The Splendid and the Vile. What a wonderful mixture of history and personal diaries about Churchill’s and World War 2. On to Cara Blacks Three Hours in Paris. So good about a woman sniper
    I read James Baldwin in college and wanted to revisit his works I picked up Eddie Glaube’s Begin Again,very appropriate for today’s political climate.
    This last week I read The News of the World which I found fascinating about early Texas history. It tells the story of a young white girl captured by Kiowa Indians being returned to her relatives.
    One more, I read Honolulu by Adam Brinnet about a Korea who becomes a picture bride and immigrates to Hawaii in the early 1900’s.
    Today I’m off to Barcelona and Carlos Zafon’s third book The Prisoner of Heaven. Do you see a pattern here? And the month is only half over.

  21. I am currently listening to When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton, so Mexican Gothic sounds a bit similar with the beautiful socialite heroine theme.
    My favorite book in June was Lovely War! I found the greek god’s narration incredibly creative and fitting for the plot!

    Here are my June reads:

    And here are my June Kid Lit reads (that I read to my 10 month old):

  22. Lori A. Samilson says:

    My favorites for this month were Rodham (mentioned on yesterday’s episode of WSIRN and American Dirt. Another great find for me was the Lunar Chronicles. I listened to Cinder some time in April and I’ve work my way through the rest of the series (via audio). I just started Winter yesterday and I’m hooked already.

  23. Tienne says:

    Finally having embraced audio books, I’ve read Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and also Marjan Kamali’s Together Tea in that format (I found both through WSIRN, though the latter was because of Kamali’s other noon you recommended in audio). I’m also reading Paul Theroux’s Last Train to Zona Verde and just got The Mothers by Brit Bennett – excited to start that!

    • Nicola Jesse says:

      Try Paul Theroux-On The Plain of Snakes. He is always good to read for honest
      travel log- I got to know Mexico with this one.

  24. Fonda says:

    I am glad to read your thoughts on Mexican Gothic. I passed on this one because I don’t read horror…but I love good suspense.

    I just finished two YA titles, Lucky Caller and Tweet Cute. Great family vacation reads because they were so easy to dip in and out of yet still engaging.

    Currently reading The School of Essential Ingredients and listening to The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires (borderline on my horror limitations, for sure!)

  25. Susannah says:

    Just started listening to American Dirt—and it starts right out with a bloodbath!—and am reading the 20th No 1 Ladies Detective Agency novel in bed at night–so that I can sleep. During the day, at home, whenever I get a chance, I am working thru The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware. I’m finding it a little amateurish, which surprised me. I just got notification that Eight Perfect Murders is available from Cloud Library, and I’m MOST eagerly awaiting This Tender Land, because his Ordinary Grace is just about my favorite book this year!!

  26. Melissa Anthony says:

    Mixed bag for me this month. Finishing A Street Cat Named Bob by Bowen about an addict that turns his life around for a street cat, Nine Perfect Strangers by Moriarty, started slow but has a strong finish, The Blood of the Lamb by DeViers. Hard, hard life. Big Little Lies by Moriarty. Enjoyed more than Perfect Strangers. 84 Charing Cross. Had seen the movie and wanted to read the book.
    Two that I loved: This Won’t End Well by Pager
    My Not So Perfect Life by Kinsella

  27. Nicola Jesse says:

    Listen to an old book I have always wanted to read and I was Pleased.
    Lady Audeley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon published in 1862.
    It was great on Audible as the older text can get rather too much
    in written form. Charles Dickens are wonderful stories but rather
    hard to read in our century of fast paced fiction! Good Story, Good Who Done It?
    I disagree with one comment: Not as good as Wilkie Collins- The Woman in
    White! Oh but it is as good!

  28. Jean Riggs says:

    My favorite for this month is hands down The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. This a quiet novel that even in the face of grief and disappointment, the tone stays the same. If you need a break from much of the current fiction, such as when you know how the book is going to end around page 10, try this book. It was brilliant.

  29. Brenda says:

    Thanks for the great reviews! I added a couple to my TBR list & put several on order for our public library.

    I’m in the midst of two very different books, and I am loving both of them! I’m nearing the end of Elin Hilderbrand’s 28 SUMMERS, which is a great love story about a couple that spends only one weekend together each year. At the same time, I am reading Lawrence Wright’s THE END OF OCTOBER, a medical thriller that focuses on a new novel virus that is highly contagious and deadly… sound familiar?!

    • Adrienne says:

      I haven’t read 28 Summers, but it sounds like a similar premise to a movie I saw years ago, ‘Same Time, Next Year’ starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn, I think. I’ll have to check that one out.

  30. I loved Deacon King Kong and am currently reading a book I learned about on the WSIRN episode: 1000 Books to Read Before You Die. It took me two years and two libraries to track it down but it is keeping me going this summer of semi-quarantine. My reading has really slowed down because I am a nurse and my workload and stress has really ramped up but I am being gentle with myself and reading what I love. Always a good plan. Link to blog for post.

  31. Sabiha Chunawala says:

    I highly recommend See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love by Valarie Kaur. The author is a civil rights lawyer and activist who has an interesting, positive, and novel approach to addressing the many divides we have in our society today.

  32. Emma says:

    I’ve read ten books this past month, a comforting blend of children’s and YA, some fiction in translation and non-fiction books. My four-star standouts were:

    *’The Women in Black’ by Madeleine St John, which tells the story of a group of women who work in a Sydney department store in the late 1950s. A very cosy read I think your readers would like, if you can find it in the US.

    *’Fever Dream’ by Samanta Schweblin. Hallucinatory and creepy. I read it in two hours straight!

    *’Warlight’ by Michael Ondaatje, a beautiful evocation of post-WWII London with a doozy of an opening line: “In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals”.

  33. Linda Pappas says:

    I just finished “What Rose Forgot” by Nevada Barr. Could not put it down. I’ve never read her before (she has a series with Anna Pigeon). This is a standalone story of a 68 year old who feels she is being drugged into dementia. I think women of that age, like me, will especially enjoy reading of her exploits.

  34. Karen says:

    Among the Janeites sounds like fun. As usual I’ve been reading mostly non-fiction and have gotten fascinated with the Transcendentalists. I never took an American Lit class in college, which I realize was a great mistake. I’ve read Emerson: The Mind on Fire and Thoreau: A Life of the Mind, both by Robert D. Richardson, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall, and am almost finished with The Lives of Margaret Fuller by John Matteson. I’m liking Matteson’s book better than Marshall’s. I think it follows Fuller’s intellectual life better than Marshall’s does. The two Richardson books were amazing. I’ve now ordered a biography of Emerson’s wife Lidian by their eldest daughter, and biographies of Elizabeth Peabody and George Sand, both of whom were friends of Fuller’s. There need to be more biographies of the wives of the men in the Transcendentalist movement, most of whom were intelligent and educated women, and had to put up with the reality of their husbands’ flights of idealism.

  35. Just posted what I’ve read the first half of 2020. Like the rest of you, I haven’t been to the library in ages and I decided to (mostly) catch up on reading the books I’ve gathered through the years from used bookstores and library sales. The ones that caught my eye because I appreciate the author or the title intrigued me. Whenever I happened to be in the same general location of friends’ homes, I raided their shelves, too. My tag line for these reading updates “From the Book Pile” has never been more literal.

  36. Aimee says:

    Nobody Will Tell You This is one of my few 5 star books of this year. I am SO glad that you had listed it because I requested it from the library and…fell in love. Then called my grandmother.

  37. Barbara Latham says:

    If you’re in the memoir mood, please listen to “Memorial Drive” by Natasha Trethewey. Natasha is a former Poet Laureate of the US. This book is prose that sounds like poetry read by the author in the audio version. It is the compelling story of her Mother’s life.

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