Listed below are 10 book titles I’ve read during the past month (completed on dates mentioned). An eclectic mix of children’s literature and grown-up selections. Some of these choices were inspired by reviews and I guess I should someday learn not to give in to the lure of glowing criticisms. Then again, what some love, others don’t. And as my Aunt Esther always said, “That’s why God made chocolate and vanilla!”

June 1st: BEARTOWN by Frederik Backman (novel)

Since reading (and loving) A MAN CALLED OVE, I’ve been drawn to read all the titles by this Swedish author. None has compared to the enjoyment of OVE. Beartown is the most recent publication and this book is about hockey, hockey, hockey. Why would I read a book about hockey when I don’t even watch the game on TV? But of course the story is not ‘just’ about hockey. It’s about living in small towns, it’s about the politics of living in a small town, it’s about teenage rivalry, teenage power, teenage trauma. The book is about classism, racism, sexism. It’s about community. It’s about heroes. It’s about a junior ice hockey team determined to win the national finals.

June 3: REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham (graphic autobiography)

Oh, the trials and tribulations of girl friendships. Oh the mean girl syndrome. This graphic autobiography is the author’s personal recount of belonging to a group, not belonging to a group, wanting to belong to a group, being loyal to our friends, being true to oneself. A great addition to stories about bullying.

June 6: THE RULES DO NOT APPLY by Ariel Levy (memoir)

One of Ariel Levy’s claim to fame is the National Magazine Award for Essays in Criticism in 2014 for her piece “Thanksgiving in Monglolia”. Having read the story online, I didn’t really need to read this memoir about the author’s unconventional experiences as a writer, as a wife, as a woman. I think women contemplating independence, faithfulness, adventure will get more out of this book than I did. For me, the essay, which frames this autobiography, tells me enough about Levy’s story about being married, being pregnant and being financially secure and her experience of loss for each of those life events.

June 8: SWEAT by Lynn Nottage (script)

When I saw this play in New York, it punched me in the gut because it seemed to jump off the page of today’s news and politics and also because of the despair that filters through the lives of the characters who find solace and rage when they come together  in the local bar.  Research for the play took Nottage to Reading, Pennsylvania where she playwright investigated the lives of down-and out factory workers struggling to keep their lives, their families and their friendships in balance. The script digs into issues of class and race, despair and hope. Sweat is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 2017.

June 10: OSLO by J.T. Rogers (script)

OSLO is the Tony Award winning the play about the back-channel talks in 1993 in Oslo Norway between the Israelis and Palestinians. I was lucky to see the live production of this play at Lincoln Centre.  It’s a complex, dense (fictional) account of the real historical meetings that provides a gripping account of diplomacy and politics. Reading the play helped me to re-examine (and understand just a little bit better) the issues of a divided nations coming together and the struggle of working towards peaceful negotiations that still today remain a dream. I look forward to seeing this play again sometime… and re-reading the script.

June 12: THE GOAT by Anne Fleming (children’s novel)

Didn’t love this one because I kept thinking whether young readers would like this on enjoy itand I’m not sure they would. I picked up a copy after learning that this book is set in New York (ILNY) and brings together a number of characters who live in the same apartment complex.  There were several holes in the story for me. Once you learned about one character and began to care for his/her story, we are quickly taken to another situation that seemed to digress. An adventure with the goat character who lives on the roof of the apartment building concludes the book.  I felt that this book could have been improved with formatting (more chapters with chapter titles) and a bit more vivid  description of characters/ of events. I guess the goat served as a metaphor for being an outcast (?). Great cover.

June 17: THEFT BY FINDING: Diaries 1977-2002 (Diary)

I think David Sedaris writing is hysterically funny and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Even if you might not laugh at the same things as he does (or I do) you can’t deny that Sedaris is a guru of  recording and reflecting on day to day observations, foibles, quirks and truths.  This volume is drawn from the author’s diaries from 1977-2002.  I can’t wait for the next volume. Though the book should inspire us to take pen to paper when struck by overheard conversations, quirky behaviours and remarkable relationships, we might not tend to do so, certainly not with the panache and insight of this author.  These diary entries at least ignites us to pay attention to day to day observations, foibles, quirks and truths. Yer funny, Mr. S.

A taste: February 8, 1996, New York

“In the paper there’s a story about a fifty-five-year old cancer patient who paid her twenty-year      old neighbor to kill her. The kid went with strangulation, but she revived and then tracked him down, claiming that because she was still alive, he had to give her money back. They argued, and he beat her to death with a power drill.”

June 20: SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS by Jack Cheng (children’s novel)

Reading reviews online (and on the back cover of the book) lured me into picking up a copy of this first novel by author Jack Cheng. The author has indeed captured a strong voice for his central character and the story events are believable/unbelievable enough for the stuff of a good novel. See You In The Cosmos was hit and miss for me. The beginning and ending chapters of the book worked better than the middle. Hard time believing that an 11 year old would leave his mother behind on her own, travel to the desert and then to Las Vegas and then to LA and be quickly taken care of by strangers and ‘family’ characters. Maybe if Alex was older. Maybe if everything that happened to Alex didn’t happen so fast. Maybe if I believed that the rocket adventures were more probable for this character, I might have enjoyed the book a bit more and come to think that this book is the ‘best book I’ve read in a long, long time’ (Holly Goldberg Sloan). But Alex’s daring adventures and space dreams and stories of missing and suffering family members are indeed the stuff of fiction and I give Mr. Cheng credit for his novel way of telling the story (taped messages on an iPod that will be launched into space. Probably this one will be on top ten lists at year’s end.

BTW: After reading the novel, I was struck by the coincidental feature article in New York Times Magazine (July 2, 2017): “An ambitious new initiative to beam messages into space may be our best shot yet of learning whether we’re alone in the universe. There’s just one problem: What if we’re not?”

June 22: THE WORLD’S WORST CHILDREN: 2 by David Walliams (short stories)

This is a sequel to Walliams’s first short story collection of ‘worst children’.  Funny author. Rude author. Walliams writes so far out of the box, that there was probably never a box that could contain this wild and crazy guy. Again, the presentation and formatting of the text is brilliant. And  the author’s genius is once again matched (surpassed?) by Tony Ross’s brilliant brilliant comic illustrations that fill the pages. Which story will you read first (‘HUMBERT the Hungry Baby’; ‘Gruesome GRISELDA’, ‘HARRY Who never, Ever Did His Homework’. Can’t get a nine, ten or eleven year old boy (or girl) to enjoy reading – Mr. Walliams has come to the rescue. BTW: A third volume of worst children is forthcoming. Can Walliams children get any worse?

June 24 THE SOPRANOS by Alan Warner

Wanted to read this one because I plan on seeing the musical version of the play (Our Ladies of Perpetual Succor) which is playing in London after successful runs at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival and The National Theatre. The front cover praise tells us that this book is fantastically original. Indeed it is… BUT… I really struggled with the lingo and dialect (“the Seconds joined the Sopranos in a two-parter, cuddled in the neath, the Thirds waited and bassed the thing…”and decided I wasn’t going to persevere. I may give it another go. But will wait for the musical.


The author’s claim to fame was the Booker Prize novel The God of Small Things written 20 years ago or so. This new one – receiving – critical acclaim is rather dense. We often read to take us to faraway places but a glossary is needed (for me) for much of the vocabulary as well as a Cast of Characters list to keep track of relationships.  I gave it 60 pages and set this aside. Not sure I will return to this one. Author Daniel Pennac tells us that one of the readers bill of rights is ‘not to finish a book.’ Not that I needed permission. Sample: “She visited the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and spoke to one of the less mercenary Khadims whom she know well about Zainab’s illness and asked him how she could neutralize Seeda’s siflie jaadu.” (page 46)

June 30 THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame

I read this classic piece of British literature many years ago and picked it up for a re-read since I am planning to see a musical version of the story in London this summer.  No wonder this one is a classic, probably best as a read aloud. Mole, Rat, Badger and Toad are appealing anthropomorphic souls and Graham’s descriptions of the friends adventures and countryside setting is indeed ‘classic’.