Reading Red


The Snail is seeing red today in honor of National Wear Red Day and the American Heart Association. Women all over the country are wearing red on this special Friday as part of the fight against heart disease, which claims more women’s lives than anything else. So let’s sport some red, too, if not in our wardrobe then in our reading choices. Above is a stack of some powerful female-authored red selections from my library. But the bookstores have plenty of new red titles gracing their shelves. Here are a few new releases with a whole lot of heart between their crimson covers.


13579626Rooms, by Lauren Oliver
According to the blurb: The New York Times bestselling author of Before I Fall and the Deliriumtrilogy makes her brilliant adult debut with this mesmerizing story in the tradition of The Lovely Bones, Her Fearful Symmetry, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane—a tale of family, ghosts, secrets, and mystery, in which the lives of the living and the dead intersect in shocking, surprising, and moving ways.”




How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You,  by The Oatmeal
According to the blurb: If your cat is kneading you, that’s not a sign of affection. Your cat is actually checking your internal organs for weakness. If your cat brings you a dead animal, this isn’t a gift. It’s a warning. How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You is an offering of cat comics, facts, and instructional guides from the creative wonderland at The”







A Map of Betrayal, by Ha Jin
According to the blurb: “A riveting tale of espionage and conflicted loyalties that spans half a century in the entwined histories of two countries—China and the United States—and two families. When Lilian Shang, born and raised in America, discovers her father’s diary after the death of her parents, she is shocked by the secrets it contains. She knew that her father, Gary, convicted decades ago of being a mole in the CIA, was the most important Chinese spy ever caught. But his diary, an astonishing chronicle of his journey as a Communist intelligence agent, reveals the pain and longing that his double life entailed—and point to a hidden second family that he’d left behind in China.”


Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull
According to the blurb:18077903 “For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, and WALL-E, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable.”






The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert
According to the blurb: “New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.”



Day 21

25 Days Read 21

Today I’m turning the tables. Please share YOUR choice for best book of the year or a recent favorite. Post your choice in the comments below—and if you have a moment, say why you consider it a “great read.” I’m looking forward to hearing from YOU today.

Come back this week for The Snail’s final picks!

Day 19

25 Days Read 19

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

If I told you that Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir written in poetry, would that make you feel uneasy? If I said that it’s the story of a black girl growing up in the era of Civil Rights, would you feel that you’ve read it before? If I mentioned that it falls within the Young Adult category, would that turn off those of you who prefer mature reads?

Whatever your assumptions about this book, put them aside. This is far and away one of the best books of 2014, a fact that has been proclaimed by everyone from the National Book Award judges to the bloggers at Book Riot. With Brown Girl Dreaming, you’re in for an entirely new reading experience. And I promise it’s one you—along with the young people in your life—will enjoy and appreciate.

Within the first page or two, you’ll forget you’re reading verse. As you take in Woodson’s childhood, her close-knit relationship with her grandparents, her difficult move from South Carolina to New York, her first-hand experiences with the Civil Rights movement, her development as a writer, and her search for herself, you’ll lose yourself in the elegant, easygoing lines. Her writing is utterly smooth and accessible and yet artfully loaded with meaning and style:

New York, my mother says.
Soon, I’ll find us a place there. Come back
and bring you all home.

. . .

And I imagine her standing
in the middle of a road, her arms out
fingers pointing North and South.

I want to ask: Will there always be a road?
Will there always be a bus?
Will we always have to choose
between home

and home?

Her renderings of racial prejudice are especially powerful:

In downtown Greenville,
they painted over the WHITE ONLY signs,
except on the bathroom doors,
they didn’t use a lot of paint
so you can still see the words, right there
like a ghost standing in front
still keeping you out.

Though she’s confronting serious issues and exploring profound ideas, Woodson manages to speak in a voice that plausibly belongs to a young girl. It’s an amazing accomplishment, and it’s what gives Brown Girl Dreaming its broad appeal. This is a book I want my 13-year-old son to read and maybe my 10-year-old daughter. If we can read it in tandem, it will be an ideal conversation starter about history, race, self-discovery, writing, and literature.

If you’re open to the idea, this gorgeous book begs to be read aloud. Not only will Brown Girl Dreaming make you view poetry in a whole new light; it might just make you love it.

Day 16

25 Days Read 16

Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? A Memoir by Roz Chast

The time is never right for this particular conversation. “Dad, could you pass the sweet potatoes? . . . Oh, and, by the way, do you and Mom have an end-of-life plan?” Like the rest of us, author Roz Chast never discussed death with her parents either. She and her parents had perfected the practice of avoidance, which just made the inevitable more difficult.

IMG_2787In Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant, longtime New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast chronicles the last years of her parents’ lives in the way only she can: sharp, funny, poignant cartoons that tell a true story of love, loss, and reality. She lays bare all the eccentricities of her own background, including her Jewish heritage, her Russian immigrant grandparents, and her strained relationship with her mother. It’s part personal memoir, part tribute to her parents, and part wake-up call for the rest of us. Even if your family hasn’t had to confront these end-of-life decisions yet, you’ll recognize yourself and your loved ones in these pages.

Each step of her journey—from moving her parents to assisted living to cleaning out their apartment to literally watching them die—is fraught with pain, anxiety, guilt, and pretty much every other emotion on the spectrum. IMG_2789She takes a hard look at the mounting expenses of end-of-life care, and she admits to not knowing exactly what to hope for when it comes to her mother’s and father’s final days. She draws plainly her parents’ faults and weaknesses, as well as her own, but she ultimately honors their strengths as well. The situations are often ugly and tense, but the love that binds the three of them is real.

This wholly original book has won the Kirkus Prize for nonfiction, been nominated for the National Book Award, and made it on the New York Times best-seller list. IMG_2790And I completely understand why. I zoomed through it in one sitting, because I couldn’t put it down. As I made my way through, I laughed out loud, cried to myself, and shared the funniest parts with my husband.  I’m not sure it will teach you how to have this conversation, but it will teach you why you should.

Day 11

25 Days Read 11

The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown

So many friends have told me to read this best-seller that I’ve lost count. The numerous fans who have recommended it to me are readers with widely varied tastes in books, because this is one of those titles that appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. For that reason, I expect it will be filling lots of folks’ stockings come Christmas.

If you’ve heard this book called the next Unbroken (the novel-turned-movie sensation by Laura Hillenbrand), that’s because it’s another well-written account of the triumph of the human spirit—not to mention the human physique—over adversity and evil. While Unbroken focuses on the heroism of one man, Louis Zamperini (who also happens to have an Olympic background), Boys in the Boat emphasizes the element of teamwork. The sport of rowing is, above all, a group endeavor. And, in this book, the boat takes on mythic proportions, as Brown explains in his introduction: “I realized that ‘the boat’ was something more than the shell or its crew. . . . [I]t encompassed but transcended both—it was something mysterious and almost beyond definition. It was a shared experience—a singular thing that had unfolded in a golden sliver of time long gone, when nine good-hearted young men strove together, pulled together as one, gave everything they had for one another, bound together forever by pride and respect and love.”

The unlikely crew from the University of Washington wasn’t expected to best their American East Coast rivals that season, much less stand up to the rowing teams from Germany and Britain. At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, with Hitler looking on, the group of nine astounded both Americans and the world when they won gold by the narrowest of margins.

I wouldn’t typically endorse a promotional book trailer, but the trailer for Boys in the Boat contains some fascinating historical photos and video footage. Check it out, and then buy this book for someone on your holiday gift list.