CHK book club 2014

So last year I threw down the gauntlet and dared myself to find the time, energy, and brain cells to read 50 “serious works of fiction.”

I managed 22.

Around here we call that an epic fail. Apparently I stopped reading in August and never picked up another book. That squishy sound you hear is the sound of my brain rotting.

But I am okay with failure. I am a writer. I fail at shit all the time. But I am nothing if not resilient – so here I stand, dusting myself off, to proclaim a similar challenge for 2014:



See what I did there? I gave myself a little credit for the non-fiction reading I do. For the Malcolm Gladwell and the Janet Reitman and the Bruce Fieler, too, while we’re at it, books I keep at the bedside or read for research or read for this blog.

Sure, they’re not quite as diverting to my mind as a great work of fiction, and they demand a little less from me – all the legwork is done FOR you, in good non-fiction, whereas in fiction the reader’s imagination has to do a bit of the heavy lifting – but it’s not like they’re not equally MIND EXPANDING.

Give a Mom a break, already.

So this year, I’m counting both – fiction and non-fiction, book-length, and generally agreed to be works of either scholarly or artisitic merit. (Meaning: there’s a reason I left Fifty Shades of Grey off my list last year. Yes, of course I read it. Didn’t we all?)



My reads below. Your thoughts / suggestions / aggravations in the comments, please!

1. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon

This is THE definitive scholarly work about clinical depression. It’s a National Book Award winner for good reason: Solomon traces anthropological and historical roots to the causes and perceptions of the disease, in it’s MANY forms, discusses treatments, interviews people who have suffered, and relays his own experiences with struggles with depression, too. An incredibly impressive, dense, invaluable book which I read every 10 years. I picked it up over the New Year to help me with an idea I have for a novel. If you are struggling with depression, or know someone who is, this is THE book you need. (Non-fiction / JANUARY)

2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Can you believe I have made it 38 years – several of them as a mopey, depressed, melodramatic teen – without reading this book? Me neither. Totally engrossing, weirdly charming book about a suicidal depressive. Plus if you pick this up now you never have to admit to never having read it again. (Fiction / JANUARY)

3. The Bell Jar by Susanna Kaysen

Do you detect a theme? I swear this is research – but even so: I LOVED THIS BOOK. This book is structured in such a way, and narrated in such a way, that it’s shape and voice completely mirror it’s content, a memoir about living several years as a teen in a mental institution – the same institution, by the way, that Sylvia Plath inhabited years earlier. Phenomenal read.  True, believable, shocking. And no, I had never read it before NOR seen the movie. Real gaps of my education are coming to light here, I know. (Memoir / JANUARY)

4. Prozac Nation  by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Meh. I just didn’t buy it. And I say this as a person who has been depressed, and grew up around depressives, and continues to live among them. Most people I am friends with are medicated. But I just didn’t EVER feel I believed what I was being told in this book. Not because it wasn’t true – because I didn’t believe Wurtzel was telling the truth. There is a distinction. Reading this was a slog for me. I might not have finished it if I weren’t immersing myself in dep-lit (yes, I just made that up) right now. Oh and: the title takes it’s name from the (tacked on) last chapter about what Prozac has or hasn’t done to our nation as a whole. Which didn’t seem particularly integrated into the book IMHO. I don’t know. Maybe this book was huge because it was THE depression book about ’90s kids, just as GIRL, INTERRUPTED, was about ‘60s kids. All I know is, this book is NOT the book for me. (Memoir / JANUARY)

5. Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

I recently had the great pleasure of attending a lecture on this book, given by Solomon himself. It was thrilling. I say that as an exhausted working parent of 4 who had to drive all the way across town fighting LA traffic to hear a lecture I only really agreed to hear because it came with an invite to a small dinner for the author afterward. I arrive hungry for dinner. I forgot dinner ENTIRELY while Solomon spoke with great passion but also depth and intelligence and sensitivity about the subject of his book, which is how parents navigate the struggle to raise children who happen to be born “far from the tree,” whether that distance be measured by sexuality, gender issues, deafness, dwarfism, physical disabilities, mental disabilities, psychological problems, criminality … he brought me to tears. Dinner was also lovely and he was more so. I was excited to read the book, which is large — as is his NOONDAY DEMON — but I assumed it might be a worthy slog. (I love NOONDAY DEMON but it’s not easy reading by any means). This book, on the other hand, pulled me through page to page — I hauled it all over town and read it whenever I had a spare minute. No other working writer I can think of, writing in the academic mode, can combine reporting, theory, psychology, and a true sense of the author’s emotional OPENNESS, any better than Andrew Solomon. This book made me think a great deal about all the “problems” it discussed, and also my own parenting approach, and my own parenting philosophies. TOTALLY WORTHY PHENOMENAL READING. Go get it! (NONFICTION / February.)

6.  A Stone Boat by Andrew Solomon

Every once in awhile I start reading someone whose work I love so much I decide I have to read EVERYTHING they have ever written. This doesn’t happen often. As an adult, I can only think of two other authors I’ve gone so gaga for (Philip Roth and David Leavitt, since you asked). Well, as you may be able to tell from the earlier reads on this list, Andrew Solomon is my latest author-crush. This is his novel. It’s about a gay pianist in his twenties struggling to come to terms with his romantic life and identity, a task made no easier by the fact that he is incredibly close with his mother, who has never accepted that identity herself, and is now fighting the cancer that will ultimately kill her. It’s an amazing book. I wept my eyes out, and yet it is not remotely emotionally manipulative. It’s just completely honestly true. Can’t recommend it enough. (FICTION / February)

7. The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald

My mother gave me this book a few weeks ago and I read it in a few hours on a plane. It was a charming read — especially if you like stories set in cultures not your own, about people living in cultures not their own. This one is about an Englishman brought up in Russia whose English wife decamps back to England in the early pages, leaving him to care for their 3 children, manage their household staff, and try to run his printing business in the precarious years of student unrest in the early 1900s. The thing that struck me most about this book is that it reads like a basic novel of manners, but it sticks with you because the whole time you are following our hero as he muddles through his days in Mother Russia, you are thinking, oh my god, the more things change the more they DON’T. AT. ALL. This story could be happening again, but scarier, now, as now we all know the stakes of imprisonment, torture, and assassinations that were born of this and continue today. I don’t know that I’m the huge Fitzgerald fan that my mother is — she doesn’t elicit great understanding in me, nor great emotion — but her prose is clean and her characters always ring real, and sympathetic. (FICTION / February)

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One Response to BOOK CLUB 2014

  • Tiff T
    March 5, 2014

    I read half of this and became immensely ashamed of what I called “reading” but is really just a nightly wine-in-hand speed-read of what I actually consider “airplane-novel” murder mysteries. Damn you, SKL. Now I have to read smart again.

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Sarah Kate Levy

Once upon a time I wanted to be a novelist in NY. FOUR KIDS LATER I'm a
screenwriter in LA who blogs about parenting, partnering, and the decline of civilization / my home.

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