Every day, often multiple times, I wander out to the curb to peer into my Little Free Library (LFL). Since we installed it in January, I’ve closely monitored contents and fed when necessary. The premise is simple: take a book, leave a book.
Now, sometimes, there’s more taking than leaving. I’ve learned patience, to let empty shelves sit a little bit. Invariably, a whole slew of interesting books magically appear. Just last Saturday, the hubby and I wandered off to breakfast; when we left, the cupboard was bare. Two hours later, poof, new books to share had miraculously populated my LFL.
Curating what comes in and out is fun. In my office is a basket stocked with books to pass on. Some have been purchased specifically for my LFL (with my last armful, the nice clerk at Goodwill asked if I was a bookseller) and others have been left. Between the randomly donated and my selections, I like to stage shelves and shuffle books in and out.
Naturally, anything I haven’t already read makes a pit stop on my nightstand. Several of these latest reads came from–and ended up in–my LFL.
Books 11–20 in 2019
No. 11: One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway–and Its Aftermath by Anne Seierstad
One of Us is a detailed portrait of “that man,” the far-right extremist who murdered so many Norwegians in 2011, and recounting of those killings in Oslo and at the Utoya Island youth camp. The similarities between this and the recent racist rampage in Christchurch are horrifying. In fact, the New Zealand mosque gunman claimed the Norwegian political terrorist was his inspiration.
Chilling, educational, and well written, Seierstad’s book provides an incredibly detailed account of the murderer’s background and motivations (you’ll learn more about Norwegian politics than you’d ever imagined you’d need). And Seierstad deftly draws the various students who spent their last moments, terrified and often heroic, on that island. At times, I found myself shaking and overcome with emotion.
I hope we can learn how to prevent monstrous acts like this by studying their perpetrators. And that’s perhaps the best reason to read this impressive book.
No. 12: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
I picked up at The Orchardist at Goodwill, drawn by its pretty cover, sturdy paper, and good condition. The novel’s premise looked interesting, too.
Talmadge, a quiet, shy, unmarried man who owns an orchard in the Pacific Northwest, discovers two street-wise sisters are hiding on his land. One of the young teens is pregnant. Over the course of time, Talmadge, Jane, and Della come to trust and care for one another.
Coplin lovingly describes the land and people, just how intertwined the two are, and what it means to be “family.” Set in the early 20th century, there are horses and cattle drives, unrequited (and requited) love, and a sprawling revenge story. It was quickly snapped up once it hit my LFL . . . and I might need to go get myself a copy.
No. 13: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Have you seen the HBO series, “Big Little Lies”? It’s a fun binge for a lazy weekend; the first season is made up of seven one-hour (give or take) episodes. Despite being the only person in the world who’s not a Nicole Kidman fan, I eagerly devoured the frothy and mysterious show. So when I found the paperback at Goodwill (yes, another LFL book), I had to read it.
Big Little Lies is a perfect beach book. Snappy dialogue, interesting characters (most of whom have some delicious secret), and a death–or is it a murder?–keep you turning pages. Bonus: The book closely follows Season 1 of the TV series, and Season 2 premiers on June 9. So get reading!
No. 14: How to Be Alone: If You Want To, And Even If You Don’t by Lane Moore
One of my only disappointments at this year’s SXSW conference (besides humongous lines) was showing up, How to Be Alone clutched in my sweaty little hand, to discover author Lane Moore’s session had been cancelled.
Reading is both a lonely and peopled act (well, peopled in the sense that those books come alive in my head). I shared the early morning hours with Moore’s personal essays, a collection about growing up, overcoming obstacles, and finding ways to belong in the world. She made me feel simultaneously lonely and loved. And so, like a hug from a stranger, I released it into the wild via my LFL—this book should be passed along to whomever needs it next.
No. 15A: The Midnight Assassin: The Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer by Skip Hollandsworth
There’s a lot of true crime in this book list. I confess: I enjoy the genre. The story of the Midnight Assassin (also known as the Servant Girl Annihilator) was familiar; I’d read other books on the crimes, but author Skip Hollandsworth was speaking at Austin Public Library. How could I miss this?
Hollandsworth has written many well-known pieces for Texas Monthly (“Midnight in the Garden of East Texas” is the basis for Richard Linklater’s 2011 movie, “Bernie”). He just recently made an appearance in Dallas on the live show of the hit podcast “My Favorite Murder” to talk about his books.
Midnight Assassin is fast paced and easy to read (One of Us is much heavier in terms of tone, detail, and sheer content–560 versus 308 pages). And, for Austinites, it’s an especially interesting look at our city’s past. And some think this killer may have crossed the pond to become (you guessed it) Jack the Ripper.
No. 15B: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
Yes, I read this again (here’s my first review of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark; oh, and here’s the second). Why? Because I saw Patton Oswalt, McNamara’s widow (is that how you refer to the former husband of a woman who’s died?). I’ve read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark three times and I own two copies; the hardback is highlighted, Post-It noted, and dogeared to death, while my new paperback copy’s clean but for Oswalt’s signature on the afterward.
Sigh. After hearing him speak, I want to be Oswalt’s friend so we can sit in the yard and drink while shooting the shit about movies, TV, the creative process, and serial killers. And laugh. A lot.
And don’t you know when that murdering rapist asshole goes on trial, I’ll read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark again.
No. 16: Soul’s Festival (Collected Poems 1980–1997) by Anne Lee Tzu Pheng
In March, my husband was at work in Singapore and I was exploring the city. I wanted a quiet place to get some work done, so I decided to stop by Singapore’s National Library. Inside was a beautiful display of noted Singaporean authors (librarians are so good at that), with a special call out about award-winning poet Anne Lee Tzu Pheng.
The poems in this collection are simple. Pheng’s subjects area nature, everyday people, and the small but beautiful aspects of life in the city/state. That afternoon, I sat and read Soul’s Festival from cover to cover for an amazing introduction to Singapore’s heart.
No. 17: Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich’s work is no stranger. I’ve read two of her award-winning novels–The Round House (National Book Award, 2012) and The Plague of Doves (nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction)–so I was happy to return to this outstanding author with my new book club.
Love Medicine creates opportunities for interesting discussion. Her first novel (written in 1984 and inspired by several short stories), different chapters focus on different characters, many of whom are Native Americans. Each has his or her own compelling story, which may be intertwined with another’s. Though Love Medicine is a stand-alone book, many of these people appear in later works; it’s as though Erdrich took the ones she enjoyed and gave them more life.
The only negative is I often wanted more of their stories than I got.
No. 18: The Incomplete Book of Running by Peter Sagal
Peter Sagal’s book was a gift; my running brother- and sister-in-law had read it and enjoyed it, and now I’ve loaned it to a friend who really enjoys Sagal’s NPR show, Wait Wait. . . Don’t Tell Me!
I wanted to love The Incomplete Book of Running. Some aspects were awesome (that whole “running for life” mentality–preach!). The postscript was the absolute best part of the book.
However, it’s a bad sign when you start keeping a list of all the names just to see when the author finally gets around to any women (FYI: page 69, Sandy Stier and Kris Perry). Well, Sagal does give a shout-out to Miley Cyrus on page 41 but that’s only because he’s objectifying her naked appearance on a wrecking ball. DeeDee and Dutchie, Sagal’s dogs, get more name recognition than any woman in the book–be she runner, friend, or family.
But Sagal does love to run, I’ll give him that.
No. 19: The Spider and The Fly: A Writer, a Murderer, and a Story of Obsession by Claudia Rowe
This was the April APL True Crime Book Club selection. Man, was it creepy. I would’ve loved to discuss The Spider and the Fly with the group but I honestly forgot about the meeting (oops!).
Rowe mixes memoir, true crime, and investigative journalism to read like a novel. Except this is her story of befriending serial killer Kendall Francois, who was serving time for murdering eight women and hiding their bodies in the house he shared with his mother, father, sister, and brother.
The book is an exploration of Rowe’s sick, obsessive fascination with a monster and how research into Francois’ psyche takes over her life. Yes, The Spider and The Fly is compelling but make sure you have someone to talk with afterward.
No. 20: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Outsiders showed up in my LFL and, since I’d last hung out with Johnny, Sodapop, Darry, Two-Bit, Cherry, and the gang decades ago, I read it again before letting it go out into the neighborhood.
First published in 1967, The Outsiders became one of my seventh-grade self’s favorite books (ahem, it was 10 years old then). Yeah, I was in love with Ponyboy–who wasn’t? This time around, however, grown-up Leah was much more interested in bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold Dallas.
Though the language is dated (and that Gone With the Wind fascination so, uh, racist), the essential story of social schisms still rings true. That’s why The Outsiders remains a young adult lit classic 50+ years later.
Stay gold, Ponyboy.