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These are a few of my favorite books

The last time I wrote a piece for THE BEE about some of my favorite books, I was completely surprised by a small, odd group of people who told me how much they enjoyed it.

So, it’s back! I’ve included some relatively new titles, as well as a few oldies that you may have missed when they were first published, and a couple of these have been part of the Pageturners book discussion group at the Sellwood-Moreland Library. So, if you see anything you like, you might want to join the book group, which meets on the third Tuesday of every month, 6:30-7:30 pm.

“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt. Remember when you were attending that small, private, liberal arts college in Vermont – and got so caught up under the sway of your favorite creepy professor that you and your little elite group of super smart, self-righteous, amoral companions murdered someone? No? Oops. That was some other group. It was the group in this wonderfully odd, yet compelling, psychological thriller of a “my college years” story that is fascinating to follow. It’s a car crash waiting to happen, and boy is it a fiery crash. The tension builds and builds and you won’t be disappointed.

“The Crying Tree” by Nassem Rakha. After recently re-reading “To Kill a Mockingbird”, I couldn’t imagine reading anything that would move me and inspire me so deeply again. Then I read the first page of “The Crying Tree” and knew I was in the grip of an extraordinarily gifted writer. The author herself describes her book as “dark”, so be prepared for a serious trip to the bottom of your soul. This is a novel, based on the author’s real-life experiences as a journalist – interviewing and getting to know people imprisoned for murder, victim’s families, as well as prison officials. It’s a story involving an act of murder, terrible secrets, a family trying to remain a family, and – most of all – it’s a story of forgiveness. This is a book to read with friends and family. You will definitely feel the need to talk to other people about what’s going on in this book while you are reading it!

“The Paris Wife” by Paula McLean. If you love the stories of Paris in the 1920’s, and want to get an idea of what it was like being the young first wife of Ernest Hemingway, this bonbon is for you. It’s a novelized version of Hadley Hemingway’s life with her soon-to-be-famous husband. The first wife struggles through cold, ugly, cramped Parisian apartments and a threadbare wardrobe. However, there are trips to sunny Spain for the bullfights, and stays with rich friends in the south of France. There’s also brutal ambition, self-doubt, and betrayal. Throw in Gertrude Stein and the F. Scott Fitzgeralds, and it’s the perfect book to take you away from the day-to-day of living on the Willamette, to the Seine.

“Crescent” by Diana Abu-Jaber. Written by a very talented local author, who teaches at Portland State University, “Crescent” is an absolute delight of a story about an Arab-American woman who, at the age of (gasp) thirty-nine, has never been married. Her family doesn’t think she is trying hard enough to get herself a husband, and so although Sirine (our smart and talented heroine) is happy pursuing her passion for cooking at a local Lebanese restaurant, she feels a bit harassed. Enter a professor of Arabic literature, the handsome Hanif – and you think everyone’s prayers have been answered. However, if that really were the case, there would be no great story.

“The Buddha in the Attic” by Julie Otsuka. The author of “When the Emperor Was Divine” offers another look at the harsh lives of Japanese immigrants, told in the form of a novel. This time, voiced by a chorus of women, we hear how they travelled by boat to America as “picture brides”, marrying men who were not only total strangers, but nothing like the pictures they held in their hopeful hands. We hear about these husbands (some good, some horrible); the hard work of picking fruit or scrubbing floors (or worse); trying to master a new language and culture; childbirth; and raising children who will reject the “old” culture and traditions, as well as all that was lost with the start of World War II. One reviewer described the writing as “language that has the force and the mad fury of poetry”.

“The Wild Awake” by Paulann Petersen. Speaking of “the force and the mad fury of poetry”, Oregon Poet Laureate and Sellwood resident Paulann Petersen is the author of this and many more books (please see the library’s catalog!) of wonderful poetry. The subtitle of this book is “A Reading from the Erotic Compass of the World”, and the poetry is deliciously sensuous. My current favorite of this particular collection is “Promise”. I invite you to take a bite out of this tantalizing offering of poetry, and let me know what you think.

I should add that Paulann will be presenting a poetry workshop at the Sellwood-Moreland Branch Library on Sunday, October 7th. Although the registration is already full, all of her books are available at the Multnomah County Library.