Happy 75th Birthday!

What do you get for a woman who has everything she wants?

Dear Carol,

I had to deeply consider what I could create as a fete to you in this of all years on a special 75th birthday. Another polo? I think not. More yoga clothes? Ho hum. I decided to pitch a request to my most literary of friends:

Hi literary friends,

My mother-in-law is turning 75 in a couple of weeks. They live in Florida, and I don't anticipate that they will see kids or grandchildren until summer 2021. Sooo... I'm looking to get creative.

Carol loves to read. It is a shared love and something we speak of often. I'm hoping to gather from you a recommendation or...7 (just kidding!) to accompany a Kindle gift card, as she is devoted to her e-reader. She and I swap book titles all the time, and while she is a very open reader, my recommendation of The Murmur of Bees went over really well, while Girl, Woman, Other left her "woke" but perhaps wasn't what she was looking for (I loved G, W, O and I love Carol for going for it). For a sense of genre, some other books I remember her really liking/loving are Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and Writers and Lovers by Lily King.

There is a likelihood that some of your recommendations could overlap with her reading, but if we find a gem out of it, that's great! My ask - Your recommended book title, author and, if you have the time, 2-3 sentences suggesting why it's a great read.

Many, many thanks, and happy reading!! Meighan

So from one reader to another, Happy Birthday! Since my friends got to know a little bit about you in order to make recommendations, I've given you a little information about them as well.


Recommendations from my English teaching partner, Amy (she gets her own section)

A book I recommend to everyone is Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray. Set in Ireland, a teenage boy named Skippy dies in the first few pages, and the rest of the novel is a mish-mash of perspectives from other teens and locals filling in the backstory. Very Irish in its walking the line of tragedy and humor (lots of teenage drug deals/sexual awakening awkwardness that is simultaneously cringey, sweet, and humorous). Not YA, even though my description makes it sound like it is.

If she likes Wallace Stegner but hasn't read Angle of Repose, that's a must in my opinion. A broad frontier novel that's really about what a marriage means and is over time.

If she's down with something a little more experimental but extremely wholesome/big-hearted, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is great. It's presented as a mix of documents (some real, some fabricated), narrators, and other scraps of information that ultimately create the story of Abraham Lincoln's son, William Wallace, who died of typhoid. It's extremely touching and very weird. Don recommended it to me and I loved it.

I also feel like people who like Wallace Stegner like Richard Brautigan and Marilynne Robinson--I really like So the Wind Won't Blow it All Away by Brautigan and Housekeeping and Gilead by Robinson. All three are not exactly novels that feel like they have "endings," so much as the first three on my list, so if you know she likes a good ending they're probably not for her. The Brautigan is a reflection on childhood made by a boy who "grows up" in a single instant not revealed until the end of the novel. Housekeeping is a quiet, lovely novel about two girls who grow up in a very small community with a variety of relatives, and Gilead is a nice thought treatise (very Christian though) in the style of the diary of a small-town preacher.

If she hasn't already read The Secret History by Donna Tartt, it would probably vibe with the "dark academic" thing some of the books she's enjoyed have going on. It's essentially a better-developed Dead Poet's Society that focuses on an insular group of Classics majors at a small college in New England, and the things they can talk one another into because of the strangeness of their group dynamic.

And! Lastly! If she likes big, sweeping stories that cover long periods of time: The Count of Monte Cristo never gets old, and Homegoing by Yaa Gysai might be just woke enough for her taste. Haha.

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Recommendations for you from everyone else

Circe, Madeline Miller

Recommended by my friend Delia, who manages polling for CBS during elections - so she was quite literally too busy for a recommendation but couldn’t pass up responding to the email. Has been on my own “want to read list for a while” and receives 5/5 stars from many friends on goodreads

Circe is “a great re-imagining of the Greek mythological witch - the story, told from her own perspective, gives some great background to other characters and relationships in traditional Greek mythology. However, Miller does an excellent job of empowering women and giving them more dimensions than just the typical mythological role of temptress or monster.” - Joy (Joy and I have taught together for decades - she is an avid reader and gives great recommendations).

The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient because sometimes we need a fast, engaging read that turns out maybe how you imagined... or maybe not! This is not literature but this definitely held my interest. - Katie (You would love Katie. She is a mom of two school aged children. Was in business and has been home since they were born. She reads voraciously.)

Reading now. Quick engaging read. - Holly (You know Holly! She is married to Rob, she's your beautiful, brilliant, amazing daughter-in-law).

The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett

Raises interesting questions about race. - Holly

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See

Historical fiction - takes place in China and California. - Holly

The Girl with the Louding Voice, Abi Daré

This book transported me to a setting I don’t often read about. Good character development, satisfying ending. - Katie

I’m halfway through this and loving it. I’m constantly brought back to the realization that this is written in current time. The juxtaposition of the rich/poor, educated/ignorant as well as socially accepted abuse is nearly unfathomable. I’m really hopeful the main character thrives and defies the odds for her situation. - Dana

Pachinko, Min Jin Lee

I found this a lovely multigenerational story and also very eye opening about the poor treatment of immigrant Koreans by the Japanese during WW2. - Dana (Dana is a great friend and loves to read. She and I went to college together - she is mother to three girls and has been a microbiologist and a chef!)

Together, Dr. Vivek Murthy

Nonfiction book written by former Surgeon General of US- about the epidemic of loneliness in UC (very timely) - Shashi (You know Shashi! She is married to Dipanjan, they have three girls and she teaches law at Berkeley).

Red Notice, Bill Browder

True story of the (American) author's experience investing in Russia soon after the fall of the Soviet Union. Soviet corruption and a murder resulted. Reads like a novel because the tale is so thrilling, but true story. I loved it because I'm really interested in contemporary Russian history and love readable nonfiction. - Lesley (You know her as my best woman and friend!).

Beneath a Scarlet Sky, Mark Sullivan

Based on a true story of a forgotten Italian WWII hero. - Holly

Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue

About immigrants from Cameroon trying to make it in NYC - loved this one but I assume I told Carol about it years ago. -Holly

(Agree, great read!)

Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane

I love goodreads because it tracks books I might otherwise forget that I have read. Loved the characters in this one. - Katie

Atonement, Ian McEwan

Does this even need a review? I think not. - Katie

(Agree! Great read, I'm sure you've read this.)

Daisy Jones & the Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid

Oh Daisy. Compulsively readable in a totally unique format. Transports us to a different era when we can forget about the Corona. - Katie

Burial Rites, Hannah Kent

This was a book I read in Maui back when we could travel (sniff, whine, boo, hoo). Love the setting (Iceland), love the historical interpretation. - Katie

A Place for Us, Fatima Farheen Mirza

Like the alternating parent-child narrative perspective of an Indian Muslim family in the Bay Area. Also a first from Sarah Jessica Parker's new foray into publishing. Author also happens to be a Notre Dame San Jose High School grad (meaning local to us in CA). - Joy

(My mom loved this. I gave it to her last year.)

Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens

Beautifully written, takes place in South, being made into a movie (an Oprah and Reese type of book, but loved it) - Shashi

Takes place in the desolate marshlands of North Carolina as seen through the eyes of an abandoned child. - Cathy

Another great story and beautifully written. - Lesley

The Sun Does Shine, Anthony Ray Hinton

This injustice will absolutely gut you but the compassion and healing is beyond my comprehension. Another book I can clearly remember where I was when I read it because it will stay with me. - Katie

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

Loved this. Similar idea but fictional take on my prior recommendation. - Katie S.

...a young Black man is wrongfully convicted at the beginning of his marriage, how life unfolds for him, his wife during and after his release. - 2019 NAACP Image Award - Liz (my cousin in Los Gatos who hosted brunch after the wedding!)

The Color of Water, James McBride

An incredible tribute written to his mother by her son -- truly a remarkable book on the influence of a MOTHER - Mary Joe (my mom!)

(Agree! Great read)

The Henna Artist, Alka Joshua

...in 1950s Japur, the story of a woman’s journey to fulfillment in a traditional society, rich visuals - Liz C

Story takes place in India. Well written and I found the whole caste system in the story to be interesting. - Cathy (Cathy and I taught barre together, and I taught/coached her daughters at Saint Francis, we run together and she and her husband Jeff are Miles’ godparents)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barberry

This is not a new book (came out in 2008) but it was new to me and blew me away. It's about people with hidden depths all living in a Parisian apartment building. Absolutely beautifully written. - Kate (Kate and I taught English together for years. She's pretty brilliant and reads great books. She is mother of two and now is a university researcher).

The Weight of Heaven, Thrity Umrigar

This is not a new book either (2010) but my mom shared it with me earlier this year. About an upper middle class couple who lose their 8 year old child (terrible) and move to India for the husband's job to start over. The wife thrives and really immerses herself in the culture and the people, the husband stays in the corporate shell - interesting on relationships and cultures. - Kate

You Should Have Known, Jean Hanff Koreli

Psychological thriller that The Undoing, currently on Netflix, is based on. -Holly

Next Year in Havana, Chanel Cleeton

It's a mystery that takes place in War torn Cuba. There is also a love story. -Cathy

The Street, Ann Petry

This was written in the 1940's or 50's but is making the book club rounds now. It is a really, really immersive story (incredibly written, quick read for me) about a young black mother trying to do best by her child and it felt really contemporary in terms of the struggles she is facing. I would say this might be part of a "racial/social justice light" list because it's just a darn good (sad) story. Good to discuss with someone after reading. - Kate

The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai

...chronicles the AIDS epidemic from its outbreak to the present through two parallel stories of a brother and sister - Pulitzer Prize finalist - Liz

Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate

A tale of the Tennessee Children's Home Society. A dark time in our history but compelling read. - Cathy

About the hidden history of a family in the south. Also about orphanages and adoption. -Holly

The Smell of Other People's Houses, Bonnie-Sue Hitcock

Reminds me of The Partially TrueTale of a Part Time Indian in that it is a coming of age tale, but written by a woman and with Alaska as the setting. (If I remember correctly, this is YA.) - Joy

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Kim Michele Richardson

Just a good story. - Lesley

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan

A nice (mostly peaceful) modern adventure through an old mystery. Set in modern-day San Francisco. - John (John is Delia’s husband. He and I also taught English together for years.)

When We Believed In Mermaids, Barbara O'Neal

This is a story of two sisters. One is assumed dead but therein lies the mystery! - Cathy

The Island Of Sea Women, Lisa See

This is a historical novel that takes place on a small island in Korea. Fascinating culture. Great character development. - Cathy

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, Louise Erdrich

I was feeling nearly out of recommendations for you because I've shared most of what I've read with you during the pandemic, but I am totally captured by this story. A 2001 book, the Native American and Catholic connections interest me. The story of Father Damien and Agnes DeWitt is so good, it's best not to spoil it by reading summaries. -Meighan

Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson

I'm pretty sure I've recommended this to you already but don't think you've read it. This is a real eye opening book on the systemic racism in our legal system and is a very compelling story. This was made into a movie...but the book was much better. -Jeff

The Giver of Stars, Jojo Moyes

It is a historical fiction novel about the packhorse librarians. It is a nice book about female empowerment and friendships - Niamh (My former roommate who now lives in Austin. She has three children and was an engineer).