Almost All the Books I Read in 2016

Here is a list of almost all the books I read (and finished) in 2016, in approximate order


Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep,” one of many books my brother recommended.
Raymond Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye,” because his dialog absolutely crackles with energy, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Ron Chernow’s ponderous and highly illuminating “Alexander Hamilton”
Raymond Chandler’s “The Lady in the Lake”
James Salter’s exciting novel about fighter pilots, “The Hunters,” also recommended by my brother.
Raymond Chandler’s “Farewell My Lovely”
Matthew Thomas’s extraordinarily sad, “We Are Not Ourselves”
Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” because I was about to see the play

Robert Stone’s terrific Vietnam-era novel, “Dog Soldiers,” also suggested to me by my brother.
Patricia Highsmith’s “Ripley Underground,” because I had read “The Talented Mr. Ripley” in 2015 and it had blown my mind.
J. G. Farrell’s “The Siege of Krishnapur”
Sally Denton’s damning portrait of Bechtel’s evil empire, “The Profiteers”
Patricia Highsmith’s “Ripley’s Game”
C. J. Chivers’s stunning portrait of the AK-47, “The Gun,” a book I highly recommend.
Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”
Andrew Cockburn’s “Kill Chain”
Marlon James’s “A Brief History of Seven Killings”
Andrew Solomon’s revealing, honest, and oddly undressing “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression”
E.L. Doctorow’s “Homer & Langley”
Mary Norris’s lovely memoir, “Between You & Me,” a gift from The Graduate.
Patricia Highsmith’s “The Boy Who Followed Ripley”
Andrew Solomon’s illuminating collection of essays, “Far and Away: Reporting from the Brink of Change”
Alan Bradley’s “A Red Herring Without Mustard,” third of the series of entertaining Flavia de Luce mystery novels
Edwidge Danticat’s “Brother, I’m Dying”
Julia Alvarez’s “In the Time of the Butterflies”
Maggie Nelson’s “The Argonauts”
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s “The Sympathizer: A Novel”
Gloria Emerson’s “Winners and Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses, and Ruins From the Vietnam War,” from my brother’s Vietnam War reading list.
Patricia Highsmith’s “Ripley Under Water,” the last of the Ripley-ad
Maud Casey’s “The Man Who Walked Away,” because my brother asked me to.
Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” a re-read.
Hanya Yanagihara’s hard to read but ultimately redeeming, “A Little Life: A Novel”
Alan Bradley’s, “I Am Half-Sick of Shadows,” another Flavia de Luce novel.
Nell Irvin Painter’s “The History of White People,” which I highly recommend.

Alan Bradley’s 5th Flavia de Luce novel, “Speaking from Among the Bones” 
Elizabeth Kolbert’s disturbing “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History”
Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad,” less because Oprah said to and more because I read his weird book about schools of elevator maintenance, “The Intuitionist”
Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi classic, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” also known as “Blade Runner”
Rebecca Solnit’s “Men Explain Things to Me”
Tim O’Brien’s “If I Die in a Combat Zone,” part of my brother’s Vietnam War reading list. 

Another of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels, “The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches”
Tracy Kidder’s “The Soul of a New Machine,” which made me nostalgic for the days when my husband was designing and building new computer devices.
Anita Brookner’s gently crafted and absolutely amazing, “Fraud”
Jeffrey Toobin’s readable but ungenerous portrait, “American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst”
Jeremy P. Bushnell’s hipster adventure, “The Insides”
Maxine Hong Kingston’s admirable “The Woman Warrior,” again on the recommendation of my brother.
Sandra Cisneros’s warm “The House on Mango Street”
Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking, but single-minded and dated “The Feminine Mystique”
Ottessa Moshfegh’s “Eileen”
Laura Olin’s “Form Letters”
Yet another of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce books, “As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust”
Erik Larson’s “Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania”
D.G. Compton’s “The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe”
George Plimpton’s “Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback,” which I wish I had read after “Out of my League,” below, and not before.
John le Carré’s “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,” probably at my brother’s suggestion

Robert A. Caro’s 1100+ page non-fiction epic, “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,” which I enjoyed every bit of, and came away finally understanding most (if not all) of the things I hate about New York. Highly recommended.

John le Carré’s “Call for the Dead”
Sady Doyle’s funny modern feminist look at women in pop culture, “Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear, and Why”
John le Carré’s “A Murder of Quality”
Small-town journalist Tom Ryan’s book about hiking with his dog, called, “Following Atticus,” which I was asked to read by my sister in law. Dog books always have sad parts, and funny parts, and this provides the expected. I strongly object to his style of dog-rearing, though, and would like to go on the record as saying that carrying your puppy around all the time for the first month is a certain way to raise a very spoiled dog.  

John le Carré’s “The Looking Glass War”
George Plimpton’s very funny baseball book, “Out of My League” 
Tommy Wieringa’s chilly novel, “These Are the Names”
Paul Beatty’s tart racial satire, “The Sellout: A Novel”
Graeme Macrae Burnet’s grisly and excellent, “His Bloody Project”
Hope Jahren’s intimate and generous, “Lab Girl,” which I’d suggest you read this year.
And, lastly, John le Carré’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” another George Smiley novel, and probably my favorite of them.  

Total Number of books, 67. 
Total number of authors, 53.
20 of the authors are women, and I think 9 are non-white.

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40 are fiction. 27 are non-fiction.

I saw "The Body of an American"

What I saw: “The Body of an American,” at the newly remodeled Cherry Lane Theater, 38 Commerce Street, in the West Village, NYC

What I wore: favorite black Fluevog Guides, fishnet socks, Hudson jeans that are too long that now have a ripped button on one of the back pockets because I did that the last time I wore them which was when I saw “Prodigal Son,” black t with white polka dots, black open-knit sweater, burn-out velvet scarf that was the gift of a friend in Seattle in the late 90s. 

Mine is the tan car,
stuck behind four yellow cabs,
next to the white bus

What I did beforehand: got stuck in mid-town gridlock and stepped on my prescription sunglasses, the ones I got for Italy

Who went with me: The Bacon Provider, freshly returned from a week of working on the other coast

How I got tickets: Oh, Reader…you knew it would happen. I bought tickets to two shows on the same night this month.  Maybe if I had real-life friends here, I’d have asked around and given them away. But I know like five or eight people in NYC outside of my family. Anyway, I bought more tickets and donated back the originals on the grounds that a small theater like this might put the proceeds to good use. Oh, and if you’d like to tell me how to make friends in Bedhead Hills or NYC when I’m 52 and bitter and currently like really into Schopenhauer, you can comment about that below.

Why I saw this show: I think I got a promotional email suggesting it (and here I am, the one who gets all fucking salty about spam).


Where I sat: last row, in front of the light and sound board, in the brand new, comfortable seats. The guy manning the tech showed up and let out two great, theatrical yawns. I wondered what would happen if I monkeyed with his cables. I’m glad I didn’t; this show has exquisite lighting and visual effects. Normally, I cringe at the recent trend of projecting slides on the backdrop of a play, but in this case the set was designed to look as good without the projections, and the images enhanced rather than distracted. 


Things that were sad: It’s all been about drugs lately, movies, books, plays. 

Things that were funny: I just finished reading Robert Stone’s “Dog Soldiers,” a 70s novel about a journalist in Vietnam who’s pretty lost in his own life and a drug deal gone sideways. My brother recommended it, and I liked the book quite a bit, though when I watched the movie version, “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” I was disgusted by its neutering of the three main characters. Read the book; skip the movie. Anyway, “The Body of an American” is about a journalist who goes to the more recent war-torn corners of the world and is also pretty lost in his own life, and a playwright who wants to write about him because he is also pretty lost in his own life. I completely relate to the theme of a writer lost in his own life: I really do.
There are a few ways to define “funny.”

Things that were not funny: The lighting guy behind me had a tummy ache.

What it is: a play about writers, ghosts, and how life can be scary or seemingly pointless, acted with genuine (and appropriate) restraint by two actors named Michael.

Who should see it: husbands who don’t like the feel-bad family-dysfunction dramas, writers, anyone who just ate dinner at one of the many fine restaurants in the West Village, photojournalists, lovers and haters of snow and/or sand.

What I saw on the way home: I expected to see a certain amount of bad driving on the dark and narrow Saw Mill Parkway late on a Friday night, but I got stuck behind a driver whose foot seemed to have slipped off the gas.  I steered around the unexpectedly slowing car, but when it happened a second time to another driver it seemed like a contagious disease had overtaken drivers all over Westchester. Keep going, people. You can’t stop driving until you arrive someplace.

More Packing

Packing has been slow going. When I was younger I could stay up late doing repetitive tasks like packing but now I haven’t the enthusiasm for it. I kept waiting for it to happen, that burst of get-it-done energy, but it never came. I planned for mornings when I could sleep in an hour or two, but no, it’s been the same slow pace all along: a few boxes a day, for weeks.

There was an almost-running–out-of-tape emergency, but I handled it with the plodding efficiency of the middle-aged, taking the opportunity to count how many more boxes I’d need, and taking the opportunity to get more packing paper.  I returned, repacked a few boxes in the basement, and got showered with mouse droppings when I pulled down the topmost box from a tall stack, but the reward was an old dish-pack full of paper. We won’t be running out of paper.
Over the summer and early fall, the dog Cherry has gotten old. It used to be that she’d stay close and always come when called, and then there were a few days where she seemed not to hear me unless I was pretty loud and making eye contact, but now she’s not hearing anything said by anyone. You can walk into a room where she is napping and offer dinner or treats or a walk and she doesn’t even wake up. You can open the door of her kennel and she may not come out. You can call her name from fifteen feet away, or five feet away and she doesn’t turn to you. She no longer seems to hear anything at all.


It must be strangely isolating to wake up in a silent world, and she seems hungrier and more shivery and worried than before, but also, she putters on our walks and is kind of disobedient. She eats weird stuff (I think it’s all poo of one kind and another) and takes her time about catching up with Captain and me, and takes shortcuts back to the house to sit and wait for us, rather than go the long way around.
It’s sad, because she now seems old and dried up and suddenly thin, and at 13 she is almost as old as any Vizsla we’ve had. She now barks more often with her gruffest, angriest loud bark, the one she used to save for very important things like strange kids playing in our front yard or an especially impudent squirrel.
Moving may be hard on her, and it will certainly be tough on the cat; he will have to be confined to a small bathroom while the movers are here loading. I have put yellow sticky notes on the empty cabinets (so I stop checking inside) and anything that belongs to the landlord.


I’ve had to go through the house and mark everything that belongs to the landlord with a pale yellow sticky notes that say “STAY” or “STAYS” depending on the grammar of my imagination as I scribble it. Sticky notes do not want to stick to dusty basement boxes. I will have to supervise the movers down there.
I got three estimates from local movers, the first and last came out similar in price and logistical considerations; both felt it needs to be a two-day affair. One offered one truck over two days, making two trips. The other suggested two trucks, loaded the first day and delivered the second.
The mover with the most expensive estimate showed up late and had more trouble rebooting his tablet (all three had Windows tablet problems of various kinds). He didn’t seem to count the boxes as carefully as the first or last one did, and he told me, “I’m not trying to sell you anything!” when he tried to sell me an insurance policy. He also commented on how many books we have; sure, we have a lot of books. I also have a lot of boots, but women are supposed to have a lot of boots, so he didn’t comment about the boots.


So I’m trying to figure out how to pack a musical saw and a fragile model of a human skull fashioned from flexible wire and the residents of TheFaraway Planet and about 40 bottles of cleaning liquids that the car nuts want to keep while the movers all insisted, “We don’t take liquids.”

We are all mostly water, movers. We are all mostly water.

Too Many Words About Annual Giving

I do believe in supporting educational institutions, both public and private, and I have a record of doing so. I attended six colleges and universities in getting my degrees, and have contributed to all but one. My children’s schools have always been well supported by us, also.
The house I grew up in
In the summer of 2004, perhaps a month and a half after my mother died, my mobile phone rang while I was driving west on 520. I answered, about halfway across the bridge, using the speaker phone. There was rowdy cheering in the background, and a voice identified the caller as someone I went to high school with. His message was simple: he was calling on behalf of our high school. It was their annual fundraising call-a-thon. He rattled off the names of some other classmates I could hear carousing in the background. “You guys have money,” he said. “You should donate.” This was followed with a roar of laughter in the background.
I do not remember saying much in reply. I may have even hung up on him. I would prefer to think that I used the catch-all I like to use in such occasions: “I am not in a position to help you right now.”
My mother’s death was widely publicized in the local papers, as she was a high ranking administrator at a prestigious university there. My high school published their condolences in the quarterly newsletter, just as they had for my father a few years before. I can certainly imagine that for the purposes of fundraising, using classmates to make the calls is a good way to get participation; it’s someone you know, if not an actual friend. The problem with this system is that if you invite a group of obnoxious drunken bullies (who were obnoxious drunken bullies in high school and seemingly never stopped being obnoxious drunken bullies since) to make the calls, they will behave in the obnoxious, bullying, drunken ways that they have always behaved. The call was an error whether or not I had just lost a parent.
I was not in the worst possible state of mind for such a call. I was still very hardened to bad news. My mother was never old, not even a little old. She was only 20 when she had my older brother and 22 when she had me. She battled brain cancer her last year and a half, so she was sick, but she was never old. My dad had died after a year and a half of bad news about his cancer, and then my mother had died after a year and a half of bad news about her cancer. I had arrived at the point where both my parents were gone, cut down in their prime, and I was still barely feeling like a real adult myself. I had arrived at the point where the unthinkable had happened, where I was among the oldest trees in my woods: my brothers and me. A phone call from obnoxious, bullying drunken idiots from my (seemingly) distant past was like squirrels playing chase up and down my trunk, for I was the unimaginably old elm. What are squirrels to a 300 year old tree?
Back when this elm was a sapling, she went to an exclusive, private non-religious, college-prep high school in suburban St. Louis.  I received what I considered a quality education; I sailed through my freshman year at an elite college with mostly As and a few Bs, feeling completely prepared for rigorous writing assignments. 
The high school partying scene was alcohol-fueled, though kids from the classes above mine were still smoking pot and a few of my peers regularly dropped acid. It was not a come-to-school-shitfaced thing, more of a get-plastered-on-the-weekend thing. Bad choices were made on a frequent basis. If my children partied today like we did in high school, I would be very, very alarmed and would probably not let them out of my sight.
In St. Louis in the late 1970s, our parents played tennis and golf, rooted for the Cardinals, went to church on Sunday (but were disdainful of actually religious people), and went to parties and had parties where they got drunk. My parents were different, in the end, because they liked to go camping, my mother was a fine artist, and my father ran marathons; we did not belong to a country club like my classmates’ families did. We were different, but we were also the same.
About a year after my mother died, in the summer of 2005, I went back to St. Louis to go through her things. This was a painful process, and I made a few mistakes which leave me with some regrets. It was a thing done as quickly as my brothers and step-father and I could manage, and it was a big task. I have not been back since.
I almost went back this past August. The previous August, I saw pictures on Facebook of a gathering of my girlfriends one weekend. Their kids were all there, and so were many of my old friends (and none of the obnoxious drunken bullies). I had just moved to New York, and pretty lonely, and St. Louis is an easy flight from here. I was sorry to have missed it. I promised to go the next year. When this August rolled around, I was invited, but I was in the midst of the move from North Dreadful to New York City, and really could not manage it.
I went to our tenth high school reunion and our twentieth, but I do not think I will go again. I did enjoy seeing some of my old friends, but there were just enough obnoxious conversations, just enough bullying questions that I did not feel like answering, and just enough drunken gossiping for me to say, “No, thanks.”
Lately, I have had to make many (if not almost all) of the folks I went to high school with invisible to me on Facebook. One of my classmates likes to post videos of business leaders who sell cheap goods (mostly made in China) in their big-box retail stores, but claim that we need the presidential candidate they endorse to create good jobs for college graduates. Another accused me of being “brainwashed.”  
Missouri is the home of some famous obnoxious, bullying public figures, including Phyllis Schlafly (who certainly deserves her very own blog post at a later date) and Todd Akin. Akin is one of the many members of the GOP who have used the extra attention of this election season to share with the world their interesting and unusual but appallingly unscientific and degrading thoughts about acts of violence towards women and human reproduction. I was wondering what kind of terrible high school was responsible for Akin’s obviously poor science education. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he went to my elite, college-prep high school.
I try to be a person who is hard to embarrass, but Todd Akin makes me embarrassed to be from the state of Missouri.  When someone who publicly and willfully flouts facts to serve what he claims to be his religious calling turns out to be an alum of the school I have been more or less proud to say I graduated from, I am chagrined. My first thought was one of, “Well, now I can continue not to contribute to annual giving.”
After some more reflection, though, it has become obvious to me that a donation is in order. If we allow the manipulative idiots and the drunken, obnoxious bullies to completely control the conversation, everyone loses.  I am thinking about contacting the school library, to ensure that they have the books I have found particularly influential to my current mindset. I am compiling a list, but, for now, two such titles that come to mind are Alice Sebold’s rape memoir, “Lucky,” and Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” I plan to buy the school copies of any books they do not have.
I believe in education: that when we expose good ideas to people, the world becomes a better place.
Readers, I strongly encourage you to add your suggested books in the comments, below.


Barcelona #3: Dinner

Some days require an adjustment of expectations. Today I woke at 10 am, which sounds more decadent than it was (I couldn’t sleep until 2 am).  My Traveling Companion was hard to wake. I tried three or four times and gave up. I pretty much headed out of the hotel (having been quite frightened away from the trays of food set up for late breakfast in the bar) and just wandered down the street to get a café con leche. On my return, I still could not wake the Traveling Companion, so I settled in for a quiet day of Twitter.  Finally, he woke, and we walked La Rambla to Old Town and back. Afterward, I negotiated some front desk help with a dinner reservation by giggling and pointing.
Dinner is served from 8:30 pm onward. Many places serve food until 2 am. Lunch is 1 pm to 4 pm or something. Breakfast is a mystery.
The Barcelona I have seen has none of the hysteria I found so common to Italy. Cars obey traffic lights. Pedestrians quietly glare at a taxi or truck that disobeys the signals. Crosswalks have lights which people mostly follow. There are bike lanes that are used by bikes and scooters and lots of parking in the middle of the street.  The scooters park on the sidewalks, in great silent congregations; this is easy to understand since they are naturally herd animals of the plains.
I see a lot of working people during the day, in suits, though mostly men. No drama in their discourse
, just talking. Yesterday at lunch there was a group of three businessmen quietly working on a triangular-management-nonsense chart while they ate. They ordered dessert, too. One got a piece of fruit (was it apple? pear?) and it was served rolling around loose on a plate with a sharp knife and a fork. The manproceeded to eat it as if carving a tiny goose.
I am frequently spoken to in Spanish or Catalan or French. They have a query that runs through the languages. I often reply with a “hi!” and we proceed in a version of English.
Dinner has been under 50 euros
the first two nights, despite ordering quite a lot of food. They charge your credit card for the amount on the ticket, and if something has occurred inspiring you to make a tip, you do it in cash.  Wait staff leave you alone for long periods unless you attempt to engage them a lot, and sometimes will ignore us so ferociously we start to wonder about it.
Last night we found a crêperie on the way to trying to find another restaurant. It was so small and inviting we stopped and went in. We had a cheese and meat plate and then galettes, which are traditional buckwheat crepes. The whole meal was pretty much fantastic. I had two glasses of cold French cider brut which was served to me in a tea cup. More delicious than anything I have had in a long time. They played French indie pop and rock on the stereo and had an amateurish mural of a dragon and an apple tree on the wall. I loved it.
Tonight’s dinner was at an establishment recommended by a Fodor’s guide. I tend to be a minimalist as far as travel books go, preferring the firm opinions of one book over a stack of conflicting ideas. Nevertheless, a friend went to Spain last summer and put a pile of books in the mail to me, and I have been the better for it.  First, I found a hotel which is both strange and pleasant and perfectly located yet near nothing and yet still near enough. Second, I can throw one of the glossy colorful books at my Traveling Companion and he can pretend to learn something just like I do.  Anyway, I needed the help of the front desk to even make the reservation (Tonight? Tomorrow? I don’t care! What time? As early as possible. Ok, yes 8:30 pm.). It was close by, which was fine. It was well-lit, which was awkward. We were the second table to be seated (also awkward). Our menu was in English. The specials were in Catalan and Spanish. The food was local specialties, prepared with superlative skill. The wait for the check at the end of the meal will be even more memorable than the meal. Tomorrow, we’re thinking Japanese. 

What I am reading now #1

How do we see, in a jumbled scene of thousands of books stretching from one edge to the other of our peripheral vision, the name of a college professor on the binding? Do we store a cache of known names in our minds, just in case we might see them again? Are we each a bit like Sherlock Holmes, in our ability to grab tiny clues? Why, then, do we lose our keys when we put them on the kitchen table? How come I can’t find the new jar of mustard in the fridge? Was I actually looking for this professor’s name because I am always looking for his name on the bindings of books?
The human mind is better at searching for things that it recognizes than software is. I was prowling around the Strand Bookstore the other day, and a book was there in front of me on a shelf and the author was one of my college professors.  I have run into his books in bookstores before, and I do not kid you to say it has been the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble on two occasions, and I always sneer at them.  My specific memories of him were of drinking tea at his house because he had invited a famous (and terrifying) author to come talk to us lowly undergrads and of getting a B+ on every paper I ever wrote in his classes.  I guess I could tell you about his head and his hair and his nose and his glasses (oblong; thick, brown tonsure; prominent; round tortoiseshell), and I can hear his quiet tenor voice intoning about Yeats in a way that made me never want to hear about Yeats again.  I stopped working and started playing in his classes, taking scary risks on papers (writing an essay at my typewriter in the hour or so before it was due). I never “got” him, if you know what I mean by that. I don’t think he “got” me, either.
Turning around I was facing a table of influential non-fiction books and found a stack of paperback copies of Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It was colorful and inexpensive, and I picked it up and turned it over. I only buy a fraction of the books I pick up in bookstores; I couldn’t say what fraction. What needs to be on the back to get me to take it home? In this case, a Picador edition, rave reviews from Studs Terkel and the New York Times were enough. There’s a day-glo school bus on the cover, with “Further” as its destination.
I was a little kid in the 1960s, and my only memory of the world outside of my little life before about 1976 is of my brother recording with his cassette tape recorder President Nixon resigning on TV. I do remember some of the big 6th grade kids being very scary when I was in kindergarten, but I was afraid of everything then.  The hippies had long, long hair and crazy, crazy clothes and they were almost as menacing as crows or old people.  I love addressing things that scared me as a child.
I have plowed through reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test like I’ve got a quiz on it tomorrow. I have re-read passages, read passages aloud, sought people out to share it with.  Tom Wolfe tried to capture not just the people and the actions, but the sound of it, the rap of it, and the aesthetic (if you could call it that) of the Merry Pranksters. I think Wolfe delivered more than a sketch, but the full experience of what it was to be “on the bus.”
And you must know, dear Reader, that the bus was called “Furthur.” Beyond societal norms, beyond good spelling, beyond normal perception, that’s where they were going. The cover illustration is wrong. The spelling was corrected by an artist or editor who didn’t get it.