My reading problem (plus, a couple of reviews)

One of the best things about being a writer is that you end up meeting lots of other writers. And since writers are often quite likable, that’s cool. One of the things no one warns you about is that knowing lots of writers means you’re always feeling guilty about not reading a friend’s book. It’s not like other jobs. When I was a lawyer, I never had to keep up on my lawyer friends’ work product.

This explains why I’ve given up all hope of keeping up with the fiction selections of my book club. They haven’t yet warmed to the idea of just reading books written by writers I know.

My end-of-year project was reading three books by friends that had been sitting on my bedside table for months. I finished one right before my little jaunt to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The other two kept me company on the beach, while the beau was napping. They were all so good that I ended up feeling even more guilty for taking so long to pull them off my to-read pile.

Now, for some quickie reviews. Since I know how important Amazon reviews are for writers, my priority is to review books I like on Amazon before getting to them here. But as a form of discipline — and to share the review with more people, I’m going to make a point of trying to do both. If you happen to notice any of my reviews on Amazon, don’t be shocked if I’ve written the same thing here and there. Sometimes, I’ll add some background or context here. One other policy: I won’t review books I’m not recommending, either here or on Amazon. Writers’ lives have enough disappointment.

Power, Money, Fame, Sex, by Gretchen Rubin.
I was going to start by saying that I don’t usually pick up books like this. But then again, I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a book like this, because Rubin seems to have created her very own genre here. It’s at once an “insider’s guide” (a la “The Preppy Handbook”) and a sharp witted parody of such guides. The fun of reading it is that it is loaded with well-researched factoids and quirks about famous and powerful types throughout history. Even if you believe you have no aspirations to the four qualities in the title, Rubin convincingly argues that you “need this book” to be aware of the techniques others will be using against you in their quest for the fabulous four. I met Rubin recently, and her current work, The Happiness Project, (of which I’m an admiring reader), gave me no indication that she had this much snark in her.

The Joy of Funerals, by Alix Strauss.
This is one of those books where the less said the better, because there is some mystery to preserve. I read the collection twice. First, I thought it was a smart and engaging collection of stories, with fully drawn characters and beautiful sentences. The second time around, all the pieces came together and I realized the meanings behind all that I had so lightheartedly enjoyed first time around. I envy those who haven’t yet read this book.

Strauss and I teach together at the JCC of Manhattan (through the New York Writers Workshop) and she is working on more fiction these days. Meantime, I’m thinking of taking her fiction writing class.

The Student Body, by Michael Melcher. Here’s what I said on Amazon.com: Devoured this smarty-pants bodice ripper on my recent trip to Mexico. Racy, torrid shenanigans among the highbrow, multi-culti, elite. A rare and winning combination! {Actually, the book is written by Jane Harvard, which is a pseudonym for Melcher and his three co-authors — all Harvard classmates — who wrote this book collaboratively.}

I met Melcher a few years ago when I interviewed him for a story on lawyers who make career changes. As a JD/MBA who now works as a career coach (in addition to his writing/public speaking), I went back and did a series of interviews of him for my book. He’s so damn smart about careers that my editor told me I had to cut some of those “Melcher” passages. Get to know him, if you’ve got a few hours you don’t mind losing track of, at his blog.

Other recent books I’m highly recommending by authors I’ve met and admire:

I Do But I Don’t, by Kamy Wikoff.
Wikoff’s book – equal parts memoir and social commentary — is a fascinating look at why the way we marry matters, and how even as women have come so far, we seem to fall into some arcane patterns around wedding time.

Anonymous Lawyer, Jeremy Blachman.
Blachman’s book just might be the first novel that began it’s life as a blog. The blog was a little “slash” project he started while a law student at Harvard. “Anonymous Lawyer,” as it was (and is still) called, was written in the voice of a jaded senior partner at an unnamed law firm. The fiction is so compelling and the voice so real, that Blachman has managed to keep up the blog even after he was unmasked in a New York Times article, and even after the book was published. (Blachman, who doesn’t seem to know from blogger’s block, also blogs in his own voice, that blog is another one of those Internet black holes, so be forewarned if you head over there and have some place you have to be any time soon.) I met Blachman a couple of months ago when I moderated a panel on lawyer/writers, organized by Law: The Afterlife.

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Filed under Books, HeyMarci Blog, reading, The Heymarci Blog, Writing

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