The CLiF staff is a team of readers and writers dedicated to sharing our passions with children and families. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that when you ask the CLiF team what they’re reading, rarely do you get a short answer. Here are some of the books on our bedside tables.
Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal: Jeanette Winterson’s memoir of being adopted and raised by a very unbalanced couple in Manchester, England in the 1960s. Not typically a topic that would grab me, but while visiting some friends recently I read the book’s first two pages and knew I had to read it. I was not disappointed. She’s an incisive writer who makes you laugh and wince, often in the same paragraph.
Desert Queen: The amazing true story of Gertrude Bell, a well-bred British woman who in the late 1800s broke all conventions by exploring, mapping, and excavating the world of the Arabs. She learned fluent Arabic and thought nothing of heading off on 10-day trips by camel into unmapped areas of desert regions where outsiders were often killed out of hand. In many ways, her story was more impressive than that of her contemporary, Lawrence of Arabia.
The Return of the King: I love Tolkein’s language and his ability to craft entire civilizations — language, art, culture, history, poetry, music, and all — out of his fertile imagination.
Bad Boy: Children’s book author Walter Dean Myers’ memoir of growing up a big, tough kid in Harlem in in the 1940s and 1950s who turned to the streets and books for comfort. This is one of many books I sample from the CLiF collection.
As usual, several of the books I’ve been reading (or can’t wait to read) are by friends and professors of mine. I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness is the new novel by my amazing former professor, Claire Vaye Watkins. I love her work and heard her read one of the chapters at my first graduate school residency back in 2017. Claire helped me find my voice and learn how to craft a story. It’s always fun to see stories develop and transform. I’ve also been enjoying digging into my friend Jess Nelson’s new co-edited craft book and anthology, Advanced Creative Nonfiction. It features work by writers I love, such as Melissa Febos and Major Jackson, as well as unfamiliar but equally exciting writers. I’m looking forward to Beth Gilstrap’s new collection Deadheading and Other Stories. I discovered Gilstrap’s work on Twitter several years ago and loved her collection, I Am Barbarella. I’ve always got to have a short story collection in the mix. And, finally, the book on cheese by the late and great NYC cheesemonger Anne Saxelby, who passed away too young this year. I first met Anne at her tiny cheese counter in Essex Market on the Lower East Side. She was a friend of my aunts’ and they introduced me to her as a fellow cheese lover. I once worked at a gala for the Susan G. Komen Foundation at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center; I was stationed at the cheese table at Anne’s side. She taught me about the nuances of flavors and the backstory of each cheese and how to cut it. We gorged on cheese and laughed a lot. My aunt gave me “Saxelby’s” book as an early Christmas present. I’ll have to read that one with a good block of aged gouda, or perhaps the soft von Trapp Farmstead ‘Mt. Alice’ in my fridge. Like pretty much all cheese and books in my house, The New Rules of Cheese is likely to be consumed quickly.
I am always grateful to my book group for getting me to read books I would not normally choose. They recently selected The President’s Daughter by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, not my usual genre. Listening to it on Audible was like watching a movie – engaging and what production. It inspired me to listen to State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny. Both such an interesting overlap of reality and fiction. I would highly recommend The Book of Form and Emptiness – I think about this book a lot, about the characters, their relationships (a teenage boy with his mom, his identity, and his friends), and the notion that we all write our own book.The photo has some additional recommendations; Fern can’t wait to get started.
My teenager rejoiced in getting back to the school library. Different this year is that recommendations are coming from BookTok (a # on TikTok) and less from the librarian. They enjoyed I Wish You All the Best and Where I End and You Begin We both read The Kingdom of Back – a fantastical retelling of Mozart and his sister’s childhood and love of music.
After a recent Zoom opportunity with the lovely Katherine Paterson (well-known author and CLiF presenter!), I was inspired to explore more of Paterson’s writing. So I’m currently enjoying Jacob Have I Loved, the 1980 young adult coming-of-age novel that follows the sibling rivalry of twin sisters.
Next up will be The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough. As the title suggests, this post-Revolutionary War historical novel is about a band of brave pioneers from New England, who set out for the newly-created Northwest Territory. Consistent book reviews promise courageous adventures full of hardship and hope.
The Flight of the Puffin by Ann Braden: I loved the debut book by this CLiF author! The Benefits of Being an Octopus is one of my favorite middle grade novels in recent years. I was excited to dive into her second book. The story begins by introducing the reader to four kids living their own uniquely challenging lives and you keep waiting to discover how these characters will intersect and impact each other. This book focuses on one small act of kindness and we need more of that energy in our world today.
A Tale Dark & Grimm: I am excited to read this book with my third grader. We tried to read The Land of Stories series and one of us enjoyed it while the other did not. I am hoping this series featuring fairy tale characters will grab his attention! I also love the idea of inspiring a new generation of readers to love classic folk and fairy tales.
Pony by R.J. Palacio: I haven’t jumped into this book yet but I am so intrigued by the description: A 12 year old boy sets out on a dangerous journey to find his father after his mysterious disappearance. He is joined on this journey by two companions: a ghost and a pony. This book sounds very different from her previous children’s book, Wonder. This book is described as having the “poignant depth of War Horse and the singular voice of True Grit.”
I just recently read American Gods by Neil Gaiman – It’s a fantasy novel set in the United States at the turn of the technological tide. Through the eyes of Shadow Moon, recently released convict, we get a glimpse at the higher powers working to wage a war between the old gods and the new. Gods which exist and thrive purely on the belief of mortals. Through his honed-in character drama, extensive world building, and mythical tone of voice, Gaiman weaves a wonderful tale of gods and men, and what constitutes true belief.
I’m currently reading The Great Train Robbery by Michael Chrichton – A novel set in Victorian England based on true events, describing a heist to steal the most money from any train robbery in history. I’ve only just begun it, but it reads like a movie, with a constant, rhythmic pace and bouncing tone that keeps you intrigued at every turn, following the main character Pierce as he assembles his crew for the most daring heist in all of Victorian England.
What have you been reading?