I cleared my desk for a project that was supposed to start on January 4 ... and it's still not here yet. I have very little other work going on, so I've been taking advantage of this lull to have the whole family get sick catch up on my reading. I recently plowed through a huge backlog of New Yorkers and New York Times Sunday Magazines, and I read three books.
1. Our book group met last night to discuss Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. We all loved it. It takes place in Manhattan in 1938 and tells the story of Katey Kontent (her name was the only thing I didn't like about the book!), a young woman from a very ordinary background who finds herself hobnobbing with a group of very wealthy and connected socialites. The writing was terrific—from a debut novelist, no less!—with many beautiful descriptions and spot-on observations throughout. And the dialogue was just as snappy as you'd want for that era—think of all those noir movies where everyone's always drinking martinis and engaging in clever banter. We found that there wasn't a huge amount to discuss, since it's mostly a plot- and character-driven book, with no great overarching themes, but we would all recommend it enthusiastically. You won't want to put this one down.
2. Last summer, Steph's high school's pick for the "One School/One Book" reading assignment was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. She love-love-loved it (and her friend claims to have read it 26 times already), so I figured I'd better get on the bandwagon. Wow. I don't normally read YA novels, but I am so glad I read this one. By some miracle of great writing, Green gives us a novel about teenagers with cancer that somehow manages to be neither sappy nor manipulative. Yes, it's sad, but not all the way through, and it's not the kind of sad where you're pissed off to have been made so sad. It's also really, really funny. I mean it. Green nails the voice of Hazel, our 17-year-old narrator, and all of the dialogue—whether with other teens or with her parents—is realistic. It's really quite a feat. Steph has since gone and read all of Green's other books, and if the giggling from her room is any indication, she is a regular viewer of the hilarious and engaging videos he creates with his brother Hank, known as the Vlog Brothers. Big thumbs up on this one.
3. Then I read Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch, a brief memoir subtitled Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter. This one was a dud. Damrosch writes about being a "captain" at Per Se, Thomas Keller's way-fancy New York restaurant. I was interested enough in learning about the goings-on of a high-end restaurant to keep reading, but all in all I found the story boring and the writing lackluster—and in need of a good editor! I liked the descriptions of the food and the precise instructions the waitstaff had for serving it and for behaving around customers, but I couldn't have cared less about her love affair with the sommelier or her anecdotes about various famous customers (none named except for restaurant reviewers Frank Bruni, William Grimes, etc.). Give this one a pass.
Next up for book group is The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafó. Anyone out there read it yet?