What to Read While At Home

Books a Million: A Grifter, Showgirls, Survivalist Mormons and the Cuban Revolution

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Thanks to a corrupt hard drive that mysteriously failed this past weekend and was rushed up to Nashville a couple days ago in hopes of a full data recovery mission, a lot of my content is on pause until I get my life’s work of photos and those three terabytes of data back (hopefully). PSA: Back up your devices, people! And also don’t feel guilt if the major disaster and subsequent tech malfunctions render you unproductive; I’ve used this week to tackle five books during a pandemic after a pretty fruitless reading year so far.

How I read: As a frequent traveler (usually…), I’m a big fan of the Kindle Paperwhite, which only costs about $100 and is how I consume all long-form reading, but I’ve also listened to a couple Audible audiobooks this year while doing lawn work. If you have yet to do a free 30-day subscription, I recommend doing that now as you get to keep the two books even if you don’t stay on as a subscriber. If you own a Kindle, I also highly recommend getting a library membership as you can get most any book via your local branch delivered straight to your e-reader.

Here’s what I’ve read over the past two months:

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat Pray Love was one of the worst books I’ve ever read, but nevertheless I’m a huge fan of Liz Gilbert’s writing, and City of Girls totally redeemed her in my mind. This fictional coming-of-age tale is set in New York in the height of World War II; at the age of 19, protagonist Vivian is sent to live with her aunt, the owner of a failing playhouse, in the big city after she drops out of Vassar. What follows is Vivian coming out of her shell (and sheltered upbringing), becoming gal pals with one of New York’s most prominent showgirls and living a life of true Manhattan glamor, flitting about among the glitziest clubs and the “who’s who of New York.” This book is pretty slow to start—really, I wasn’t invested until a third of the way through—but worth sticking with until the end.

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

Next Year in Havana is a book recommendation from my mom and chronicles the lives of a quartet of sisters growing up in a wealthy sugar family during Batista’s rule over Cuba. Another book that was slow to start, it toggles back and forth between 1958 Havana when 19-year-old Elisa falls in love with a revolutionary and present day when journalist Marisol, her granddaughter, travels to the island for the first time to spread her grandmother’s ashes. What she finds there is a whole different life her grandmother lived that she knew nothing about—and plenty of secrets that had been buried for decades. I have the second installment, When We Left Cuba, currently on my Kindle just waiting to be read.

Educated by Tara Westover

Wow, wow, wow is all I can say about this memoir that chronicles an impoverished survivalist Mormon family’s lives in rural Idaho, the father of whom demands his children work in the precarious setting of a junkyard. Told from the perspective of one of the younger children, this is a tough one to digest, I’m going to be honest, as it’s full of emotional abuse and domestic violence, but it’s also a book you need to read to see how many in this country actually live. And it has a happy ending, relatively, as the author Tara does make something of herself despite having zero formal education in her formative years. I honestly can’t believe it took me two years after this book came out for me to finally pick it up, as I’d heard nothing but rave reviews about it, but the cover looked boring, and this is one of those cases when I did judge the book and definitely should have. Educated gets a solid 10 stars from me.

Stars of Alabama by Sean Dietrech

Oh my stars, this was a sweet, poignant book about intersecting lives in the South amid the Great Depression: 15-year-old Marigold loses her baby when she leaves her in the woods on a quest for food for the starving duo; a traveling preacher makes his way across the South in search of direction; and a pair of migrant workers and a bloodhound build a family for themselves as they move from place to place in search of work. It really gave me better insight to what life was like during that era, and it has a lovely ending, despite chapters full of hardship.

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

I’m a big fan of quick psychological thrillers, and Something in the Water had been in my Kindle library since it was a Reese Book Club pick last year. The book leads off with documentary filmmaker Erin burying her husband Mark’s body, but you won’t find out how—or why—he died until close to the end of the novel. Then, the book jumps back in time to their meeting at a bar, the months leading up to the wedding, their honeymoon in the Maldives, and the shocking discovery that eventually leads to Mark’s death. In the end, I thought everything was too hastily resolved and tied up with a neat little bow, so don’t expect a zinger like, say, a Mary Kubica novel. Every major character is pretty unlikable, and while not a terrible book for lovers of suspense, it definitely wouldn’t be at the top of my list.

Meet Cute by Helena Hunting

After finishing Something in the Water, I wanted something light and easy so I picked up my first piece of chick lit in a hot minute. It wasn’t the most engrossing piece of literature, but Meet Cute was entertaining enough—and only took me a single morning to read, so it would be a good plane book, you know, if we’re ever allowed to go places again. Meet Cute has two narrators: ambitious Kailyn Flowers who is on track to be partner at her firm and former teen heartthrob Daxton Hughes, who gave up acting for law and has been Kailyn’s nemesis since their law school days. This majority of the book takes place once they reconnect five years after UCLA when his parents hire Kailyn to manage his little sister’s trust, then are killed in a tragic car accident just months later. It’s pretty predictable as chick lit tends to be, but the kind of easy, no-heavy-thinking read I needed this week.

My Friend Anna by Rachel Deloache Williams

I’m halfway through this memoir about being friends with famed grifter Anna Sorokin-Delvey, who was able to scam her way through Manhattan for numerous years before winding up in Rikers Island, and I’m not entirely sure I’m going to finish it. The writing is just too bland and tell-it-like-it-is, like a kid’s diary entry (“and then we went to lunch at [x famous restaurant]. Then, we nabbed a table at [coveted bar].” etc.). For those who were truly riveted by Anna Delvey’s story—and I was such a person when The Cut article first came out—this might hold your interest, but ultimately it’s too many words for so little substance. I don’t fault the author, a Vanity Fair photo editor, for wanting to profit off the grief she went through; I just wish she’d done so by hiring a ghostwriter instead.


Since I have zero travel and very little work on the immediate horizon,  I’ve got nothing but time (and plenty of home renovation projects…) on hand and a whole lot of reading planned. Just this week, all of these books popped up in my library holds, and I couldn’t be more excited to tear through them: The Rosie Result, The Tuscan Child, The Giver of Stars, One Day in December, Normal People, The Testaments, Code Name Hélène and When We Left Cuba.

What have you read during this forced period of solitude?



What to Read This Spring | Book Recommendations

  • April 13, 2020
    Molly Olson

    I just flew through The Rosie Project, and now am working my way through a Kristin Higgins book. I’ve added some of these suggestions to my reading list, which is getting super long at this point! Surprisingly I haven’t read *quite* as much as I thought I would during this shelter in place, but I hope I can turn that around! 😀

  • April 13, 2020

    I read When We Left Cuba which I liked a little better than Next Year in Havana – it is a quick read. I just finished Monsieur Mediocre, which as a francophile I enjoyed a lot. Just started book 1 in a French detective series – we will see how it goes. I have been reading a lot more recently especially on the weekends trying to escape, news, social media and just being on my laptop. Just missing an animal to snuggle up to me while I read!

  • April 13, 2020

    Thanks for sharing these! I may look into some of your choices. 🙂
    I read Educated at the very beginning of this quarantine for my neighborhood book club without knowing what I was going to be reading. So powerful, as you said. Just after that, I read The Rise of the Magicks by Nora Roberts (third of a trilogy about the aftermath of a cursed plague that has decimated the population … a little strange to be reading at this time). Since then, I’ve kept to lighter fare – a translation, a romantic comedy and a YA on Kindle (Your Perfect Year, Love on Beach Avenue, Now a Motion Picture – the last of these was my favorite) and Anne Bogel’s new book, Don’t Overthink It.
    Thanks for the tip about Kindle and libraries. I have just the app, not the device, but I’ll look into that!

  • April 15, 2020

    I do really enjoy a good bookish post! I’m reading Mythos by Stephen Fry and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens at the moment. I can already tell the latter one will be a proper tear jerker! I really enjoyed Something in the Water, I think because it’s not the most standard thriller book imo. I’ll check out Mary Kubica’s books though, as I’ve never read anything by her.

  • April 15, 2020

    I just read Long Bright River by Liz Moore. I read about it in the NY Times, put it on hold at the library, and then had second thoughts when I saw how long it was. ha It’s a hefty book, but once I got into it I couldn’t put it down. It seems like it might be your cup of tea.

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