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On the Coffee Table: “Beloved,” “Blue Nights,” “A Paradise Built in Hell” and “How to Be an American Housewife”

November 1st, 2011

“Beloved” (Toni Morrison) — I have tried, and failed, to read “Beloved” at least a half dozen times since it was released in 1987. “Song of Solomon” had a profound influence on my life when I read it for the first time, at age 18. “The Bluest Eye” is astounding, as well. But “Beloved” is the one that made everyone sit up and take notice of Morrison. All I could think was, About time. This time I won’t let it elude me.

“A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster” (Rebecca Solnit) — I think I picked up this copy at church one Sunday. (We have a great bookstore — it’s one of the many reasons I feel at home at my church.) I’m reading it slowly; it’s tough going. But Solnit is a gifted reporter, and has a good ear for dialogue. I also appreciate the way she presents/interprets her stats/facts and weaves in history.

“Blue Nights” (Joan Didion) — Just finished this one. So painful to read, but I loved “The Year of Magical Thinking.” Loved this one, too. It’s written like a love poem to her late daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne Michael. I have always been devoted to Didion, but after these two books, she has my fierce and appreciative loyalty like never before. I hope she can find peace. She deserves that.

“How to Be an American Housewife” (Margaret Dilloway) — Wow. Great read. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. I kind of love it when that happens, don’t you? It’s the story of the struggles and challenges facing a Japanese woman who marries an American following World War II. It’s well-written, and the heroine grabs you by the collar and keeps you next to her, right from the first page. Highly recommended.

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