In our monthly book club, we discuss whatever we happen to be reading and ask everyone in the comments to do the same. What Are You Reading This Month?
It seems like every comedian is putting out a book of hilarious essays these days. And while they’re all reasonably good—Amy Poehler’s Yes Please was great, Tina Fey’s Bossypants had its high points, and so on—few really get to the heart of what it means to be fully at the whim of one’s own wild, weird, artistic heart. Dave Hill’s new book, Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, nails that with a vengeance, with the comedian really diving into what it’s like to be a semi-listless adult who didn’t fully move out of his parents’ house until well into his late 20s. Why bother, when electricity and food are covered and you can pay for beer just by telling the occasional joke and tearing through a searing guitar riff? The book, which also deals with the death of Hill’s mother and his struggle to connect with his father, is deeply personal and remarkably touching, with the comedian and Valley Lodge frontman finding immense humor and solace in the little things we all go through but maybe don’t discuss all that much. In short, it’s really great.
Somehow, my book club is my longest adult relationship, as we’ve lasted through breakups, makeups, jobs gained and lost, marriages, kids, etc. My husband calls us a “drinking club with a reading problem,” though we aim for somewhat lofty literary pursuits (typical selections include tomes like Blindness or Gilead). So I was somewhat surprised—in the best way—when one of the guys in our group suggested Judy Blume’s new novel for our next meeting. In The Unlikely Event is Blume’s first novel since 2002’s Double Fudge, and her first adult work since 1998’s Summer Sisters. Although most of her novels, both adult and YA, have had a tight focus on one or two main characters (Superfudge, Deenie, Wifey, Smart Women, etc.), In The Unlikely Event is the sprawling epic Blume may have been sitting on for decades. Fans know that her hometown is Elizabeth, New Jersey, which had the unfortunate coincidence of being the site of three plane crashes in the ’50s, as the town was close to Newark Airport. Blume delves into these occurrences and how they affect a wide swath of characters, from Miri, who will seem familiar to Sally J. Freedman fans, to her mother, Rusty, to her WASP best friend, Natalie, and her family, to Ruby, a Broadway dancer. Yes, all the names constitute a bit of a stumbling block at first, so much so that Blume even includes some family tree diagrams at the beginning of the book. But soon the reader gets caught up in the various mid-century plights of this multitude of Elizabeth residents and how they strive to find the courage to fight for the lives they want, now that they know that the unbelievable is just around the corner. Blume is one of those authors who commands a tremendous amount of goodwill (as most of us considered her books a necessary stopping point on our way to adolescence), so it’s a joy to report that her latest work, at age 77, is one of her absolute best.
Here’s a more under-the-radar novel that my book club enjoyed recently: The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson. Like Blume’s, it’s a multifaceted look at a small town (this time in the Midwest), post-tragedy. Thompson manages to imbue her characters with achingly specific personality details, while the main family members themselves appear to reflect not only each other but also the country they inhabit: America bookended by two wars, Vietnam and Iraq. If Blume’s new work makes you hungry for another epic yet personal family saga, The Year We Left Home would make a fine follow-up.
Gilead is a tome, isn’t it? It’s not a heavy, thick book—it’s the content that weighs it down. After finishing each book in Marilynne Robinson’s loose Gilead trilogy, I’m left thinking that she’s the greatest contemporary American writer I’ve ever read, a belief further solidified after I recently finished Home. This one is told from the point of view of Glory, Reverend Boughton’s daughter, who comes home to Gilead, Iowa, to take care of her ailing father. She also has her own reasons for returning, which are tantalizingly revealed over the course of a quiet summer she spends at her childhood home. Turmoil personal and familial is both exacerbated and comforted with the unexpected arrival of Jack, Glory’s nefarious brother, who hasn’t been seen in some 20 years. Nothing much happens, exactly, which is part of Home’s appeal: Robinson makes an art form out of deep character studies and thoughtful, sometimes wryly humorous examination of family, forgiveness, and salvation. That much of the book focuses on Christianity doesn’t bother me, though I know I’m missing some biblical references and points being made. By book’s end I felt just as chilled and contemplative as I’ve come to expect from Robinson.
Purchasing via Amazon helps support The A.V. Club.