■ Rick Kogan’s interview with Michael Lenehan ran while that same daughter and I were working on one project or another early in our winter break. “He always says, ‘This is one of the best books I ever read!’ or ‘You’re truly one of the great writers!’ and I get duped every time,” I remarked. “What are you doing?” she asked me later. “Ordering that book about the American Players Theatre that Rick Kogan recommended,” I replied, and she chuckled. As it turns out, though, it is pretty good.
■ The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism is my “reading in the theater before the show begins” book, so it has been set aside several times. A fascinating look at our culture’s obsession with narcissism, it included a reference to Anders Breivik that reminded me that One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway (Åsne Seierstad; 2015) is in my collection. (One of Us was one of the best books I read last year — and I don’t say that about every book I read, Mr. Kogan. Heh, heh, heh.) We have two more plays before our winter break concludes, so I suspect I will soon add Selfishness to my list of books read.
■ In the comments to this post, I asked Margaret if I should add a book she mentioned to my TBR pile. While awaiting her reply, I grabbed it and read the first three chapters. Imagine my relief when I saw her verdict: “A Man Called Ove seems to be wildly popular but I didn’t really like it. A cranky, aggressively rude man is loved by generous, warm-hearted women — why?” I knew everyone and her mother and uncle had read Ove, which is part of the reason I had resisted it, but then it came up as a possible book club selection. Thank you, Margaret, for validating my “Blergh.”
Characters need not be likeable, by the way. (Hello, Olive Kittredge.) But their movement through the world should reveal essential truths about what it means to be human. That is what the best fiction does — it tells us what is true.
■ I finished I Will Always Write Back in two sittings. It’s a simple (and utterly predictable), feel-good story framed by the correspondence between a privileged teenager and her pen pal from Zimbabwe. I’m surprised it’s not a movie.
■ After a few fits and starts, I returned to Hillbilly Elegy, which I first mentioned here. The following quote made me pull Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Matthew Desmond; 2015) from my shelves and add it to one of my TBR piles:
Federal housing policy has actively encouraged homeownership, from Jimmy Carter’s Community Reinvestment Act to George W. Bush’s ownership society. But in the Middletowns of the world, homeownership comes at a steep social cost: As jobs disappear in a given area, declining home values trap people in certain neighborhoods. Even if you’d like to move, you can’t, because the bottom has fallen out of the market — you now owe more than any buyer is willing to pay. The costs of moving are so high that people stay put. Of course, the people trapped are usually those with the least money; those who can afford to leave do so.
■ All right, so The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah; 2015) was on and off my wishlist a number of times over the last year. Then it was on a table at the bookstore we visited before going to the theater last Thursday. I had recently vowed that I would make at least three in-store purchases each quarter… well, that’s how it ended up nearly getting left beneath my seat at the PrivateBank Theater and then being safely tucked into one of my TBR stacks.
■ In the background of the image above, you can make out my music stand. In the end, two things keep me from reading more: (1) talking or texting with my daughters and (2) practicing my music. And I do both. A. Lot. Learning a new instrument in your fifties is HARD but gratifying. Oh, sure, I experience days with terrible tone or counting woes or just a case of “Blergh” about a piece I don’t like. Mostly, though, the pursuit interests me; more often than I expected, it even delights me.