April showers bring May flowers, and this April brings so many good books, I had trouble trying to pick my favorites to review. Two are new works from established authors (one is short stories, one a sequel) and the third is a non-fiction book that has been a long time coming. Enjoy!
Back in 2001 when I had just started working at the Wellesley Booksmith, I was poking around for something good to read and I stumbled upon a new hardcover entitled Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner. I ask you, how can one resist a title like that? Plus, the dust jacket blurb made it sound kind of funny and sarcastic, which I like. In any case, it was a delightful read, and now she is a bestselling author of five books. Her sixth book, Certain Girls, is out this month, and continues the story of Cannie Shapiro, the protagonist of Good in Bed. It is set 13 years later and the chapters are narrated alternately by Cannie and her daughter Joy, who is preparing for her bat mitzvah and starting to yearn for more freedom than her mother allows. Cannie is holding her daughter tighter, trying to keep her the little girl she no longer is. While Cannie and Joy are arguing about everything (bat mitzvah, curfews, clothing), Cannie and her husband are discussing having another child. It all adds up to another fun read by Jennifer Weiner.
Here is the book women of a certain age have been waiting for! Sure, there have been a million books on the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. Recent autobiographies of Eric Clapton and Ronnie Wood have sold well. But there is a glaring lack of books by and about the women of rock, unless they happened to be groupies or muses. Now, female Baby Boomers have a book to call their own: Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—and the Journey of a Generation, by Sheila Weller. Weller tells the story of each artist in alternating chapters, from childhood to the present.
Seeing how differently each woman reacted to the similar circumstances of their lives is a fascinating look at the possible choices women in the 1960s and 1970s had to make. Carole King, the oldest of the trio, got pregnant in 1959 by her boyfriend and song-writing partner when she was 18 and got married right away. Joni Mitchell got pregnant when she was a single, poverty-stricken folksinger in provincial Canada; she gave her baby up for adoption in 1965. Carly Simon, the youngest of the three, brought up in a wealthy, sophisticated family in which sexual intrigue was accepted, managed to avoid an unplanned pregnancy, despite her many lovers, but had two children with husband James Taylor. By using the details of their personal lives to illuminate their music, Weller makes the point that these particular women were icons because their journeys paralleled those of their fans. While she refers to albums and song lyrics in the text, this is by no means an exhaustive look at the artists’ careers; it concentrates on the chronology of each life with a heavy emphasis on their romantic/sexual relationships. Yes, it was fascinating reading (in a gossip magazine sort of way), but I couldn’t help wishing that the music had been presented more seriously, and the lovers with a little less schoolgirl gushing. That is a minor quibble with a book I thoroughly enjoyed. Pull out your old albums and settle down for a trip through your past.
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri is an amazing collection of short stories by the author of Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake. The first five stories stand alone; the last three are linked, like a novella in three parts. All deal, in one way or another, with the relocation of a family, an individual, a culture or a relationship to somewhere it has never been before. Her characters, Bengali immigrants and their American offspring, take root in the reader’s mind as they do in their unaccustomed surroundings, learning to settle where they are planted and blooming there. Jhumpa Lahiri is a master of her craft; it is difficult to believe this is only her third book. If you have read her before, you’ll rush out to read this collection; if you’ve never read her before, do yourself a favor and do so.
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982 and currently works at the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. Stop by the store if you are looking for a good book—she’s read a lot more than she can talk about here!