I've been crazy busy lately, but I've been fitting in some quality reading time, and thought I'd share some book recommendations:
The last book I read was Lydia Millet's Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, a wildly inventive novel about nuclear bombs. Here is the publisher's synopsis:
Oh Pure and Radiant Heart plucks the three scientists who were integral to the invention of the atom bomb: Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and Enrico Fermi as they watch history's first mushroom cloud rise over the desert on July 16th, 1945...and places them down in modern-day Santa Fe. One by one, the scientists are spotted by a shy librarian who becomes convinced of their authenticity. Entranced, bewildered, and overwhelmed by their significance as historical markers on the one hand, and their peculiar personalities on the other, she, to the dismay of her husband, devotes herself to them. Soon the scientists acquire a sugar daddy - a young pothead millionaire from Tokyo who bankrolls them. Heroes to some, lunatics or con artists to others, the scientists finally become messianic religious figureheads to fanatics, who believe Oppenheimer is the Second Coming. As the ever-growing convoy traverses the country in a fleet of RV's on a pilgrimage to the UN, the scientists wrestle with the legacy of their invention and their growing celebrity, while Ann and her husband struggle with the strain on their marriage, a personal journey married to a history of thermonuclear weapons.I love how Lydia Millet weaves together science and history and religion and human emotion--this novel is a strange, moving melding of art and social conscience. It impressed the hell out of me.
Aside from that (and Mary Sharratt's wonderful recently featured novel) I've been on a bit of a nonfiction kick lately. I absolutely adored Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. It's such an honest, funny, compassionate look at Elizabeth Gilbert's quest for wholeness after a disastrous breakup. The last section takes place in Bali, in the same area where I lived in 1990--it was wonderful to revisit that lush green place. And it was fun to read about her experience at an Indian ashram not too long after reading Rachel Manija Brown's hilarious, affecting memoir All the Fishes Come Home to Roost (which I mentioned after I came back from the Pima conference.) The peaceful ashram Elizabeth Gilbert visits is very different from the wild one Rachel grew up in, and I enjoyed seeing those contrasts. I still hope to get to India some day (even if I don't still feel that "my heart is in India!" as I once passionately exclaimed after my cousins offered me a free trip to Israel for my study abroad.) And of course Gilbert's culinary adventures through Rome made me very hungry for gelato.
I also recently read Rich Cohen's Sweet and Low: A Family Story. Rich Cohen and I graduated from New Trier Township High School the same year, but we never knew each other (it's hard to know everyone in a class of 1000 kids). Maybe we'll meet if I decide to go to my 20th (yikes!) high school reunion later this year. Anyway, his grandfather invented Sweet & Low, but Cohen's mother and "her issue" were eventually disinherited from the family fortune. "To be disinherited is to be set free", Cohen writes, and he uses that freedom to offer a probing look into the family business and air a lot of skeletons (some mob-related!) in the process. It's a fun, intelligent, bracing book.
I have a huge pile of to-be-read books. I'm not sure which one to delve into next--maybe The Betrayal of America: How the Supreme Court Undermined the Constitution and Chose Our President, although the friend who lent it to me warned me that it would make me sick. Maybe I should choose something a little lighter for the mood I'm in. Or maybe I should just focus on writing my own book...