Category Archives: Memoirs and Histories

Discovering Inspiration in a Trunk Full of Letters

Years ago, I discovered a trove of letters in my backyard. I had just become the owner of a broken-down old house and when I went to clear out the weed-choked yard, I found a steamer trunk, hidden away in a rotting garden shed. When I opened the trunk, treasure spilled out: hundreds and hundreds of handwritten letters.

Most of the letters had been written by a boy to his mother, from the time he was just learning cursive (from 1899: “Do you think my writing has improved any?”) through the time of her death in the 1930s. When the boy, James, was at Princeton from 1908 through 1912, he wrote to his mother almost every day, and sometimes twice a day: “I am getting a good college education, developing like a film, apologizing to the grass every time I step on it, scrambling like an egg, yelling like a bear, telling the upperclassmen to go to @#$ ….”


When I first read the letters, I developed a bit of a crush on James. He was so funny and sweet, and affectionate. Every letter was signed, <em>your loving son</em>.

I wanted to write a book about his letters and the boy I’d fallen for, but I didn’t know what to write. And I was a young mother then, with three children under the age of six, a job, and an old house to renovate. I had no time to write. The letters were stored away, to be read in stolen moments.

When my oldest son was leaving for college, I went back to the letters James had written. I found that my feelings for the young man had changed. Now I felt a maternal pride –  what a good boy, to write to his mother so often–  and also a tiny surge of anxiety: would my son write letters to me? We live in a digital age, and I know I could expect texts and the occasional email. But letters?

I knew then the book that I wanted to write. I set off on a quest to understand why I valued the letters of James so very much, and why I looked forward to receiving mail from my own son. I researched back through thousands of years of letter writing, going through my own saved correspondence, dozens of archives in universities and historical societies, and the personal letters lent to me by friends and found in published collections of letters. I set about defining the exact qualities of letters that make them so special.

When my energy flagged, I went back to the letters of James. What had inspired me once would inspire me again. And then I got a letter from my own son away at school, signed with love. I worked even harder.

I wanted – I needed – to tell the stories of letters and of letter writers, going back through the centuries. Inspired myself, I wanted to inspire others: write a letter! The magic is in the written word, in the shared experiences, in the private and singular moments created with pen and paper between one correspondent and the other. From the Ancients (the Egyptians wrote thousands of letters, amazing given that most of them couldn’t read or write – they went to the local scribe) through to our modern times (James Joyce wrote the bawdiest letters ever), we humans have been writing letters. There is no reason to stop now.

Every letter we write starts a connection, creates a history, lays the first stones of a bridge, extends a hand. And who knows what inspiration may spring from the letters we write?

The publication of my book, Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing, is now just one week away. The inspiration discovered over fifteen years ago has finally come to fruition. James’ letters are on their way to Princeton, to become part of that University’s archive and maybe to stimulate another writer and spark an idea for another book. Because we never know where inspiration will come from. For me, it was in my own backyard, a trunk just waiting to be discovered.

The Brilliance of Ishmael Beah

The novel Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah is a brilliant book, not in terms of innovation or style, but in terms of illumination – and there is no better brilliance for a book, or for an author. In telling the story of the village Imperi and its inhabitants, Beah’s writing illuminates and animates: details of village life, past and present, become clear and vivid; its inhabitants spring into shape (and from the page) body and soul; and the surroundings of the Sierra Leone upcountry do indeed surround: reading his novel made me feel as if I myself was sitting at the feet of the elders, absorbing history and lessons and solace. That kind of storytelling is brilliance, and Ishmael Beah shines. Unknown

Beah utilizes both the lyrical verbal traditions of his country – “God and the gods would wave their hands through the breeze to wipe just a few things off the face of the earth so that it would be able to accommodate the following day” – and the clarity of simple English – “the night that followed, the rooster started crowing at 9:00 p.m. for daybreak” – to tell a story that is at times heartbreaking, and at times inspiring, and at all times, captivating. Beah has no agenda and no grand plan either. He lets his story unfold: a village in Sierra Leone, decimated by war, rebuilds itself through love and determination; then the village is destroyed again, this time by “development” and all the attendance vices of corruption, greed, and dismissal of the past. There are victims and there are villains, but most of all, there are survivors, some by hook or by crook, and some simply by going on.

Without any power in determining the future of the village or of themselves, there would seem to be two choices available to the villagers: resignation to the corruption or joining in with the corruption. But there is a third choice, as Beah has his characters demonstrate: acceptance (so strong and positive that it is more like courage) and optimism that all is not lost, until it is all is over. As one character advises, when a family is near despair, survivors understand that “the world is not ending today, and that you must cheer up if you want to continue living in it.”

What is magical and yet so very simple, and also so incredibly strong about the book is how Beah portrays the optimism of his people. Hope is not based on undefined “things will be better tomorrow” delusions (because they probably won’t be) but on the firm belief that comfort and even happiness can be found in the here and now: “this wasn’t the place for illusions; the reality here was the genuine happiness that came about from the natural magic of standing next to someone and being consumed by the fortitude of his or her humanity.” How basic is that? And yet how very wise: wisdom not only for the villagers to live by, but for all of us.

The villagers do want to continue living in the world, even if living in their village is no longer possible. Without any rights or property, expectations or certainties, the villagers still exult in what they do have: the promise that “miracles happen every day” – the miracles of human relationships, the highs of real conversation and connection, and the guidance of stories, passed down through generations, stories that re-root and then re-apply to each new phase of life: “We must live in the radiance of tomorrow, as our ancestors have suggested in their tales. For what is yet to come tomorrow has possibilities, and we must think of it, the simplest glimpse of that possibility of goodness.”

Ishmael Beah offers his own tales, stories of incredible resilience – living in the radiance of tomorrow – in his wrenching memoir, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, and now in this beautiful novel, Radiance of Tomorrow. I look forward to the possibilities of many more such tales from Beah, and hold tightly to hope for all the very real people who have inspired his brilliance.

Letters of Note, Splendidly Noted

Shaun Usher understands the art of letter writing – as any fan of his site, Letters of Note, knows – and now his book by the same name brings all that art to the printed page. Letters of Note, the book, is beautiful, large-size, fabulously produced, and above all, it is art. Not only are the one hundred letters he chose to reproduce here in the book great to look at, they are great to read, allowing experiences that are in turn transformative, moving, and inspirational (or chilling, in a few cases). The letters are historical and for the ages, personal and universal, just like art. Just like letters.

Anyone will be inspired to write a letter after perusing the examples offered by Usher, especially given the variety of styles – straightforward, like the letter written by Abraham Lincoln to a very young adviser; exalting, like the letter written by Mark Twain to Walt Whitman; honest and generous, like the letter written by Iggy Pop to a fan; humorous, like the one written by cartoonist Charles M. Schultz explaining that a newly-introduced character would be axed (and she was, as fully illustrated by Schultz in the letter); and heartbreaking, like the last love letter written by a Union solider before he was killed in the First Battle at Bull Run. Letters long and short are presented, typed and scrawled, elegant and rude – Usher has all kinds, and the lesson is: just do it. Write a letter, mail it, and make history.

The one hundred letters are put together with humor (nice juxtaposition: a letter from Queen Elizabeth II to Eisenhower, sharing her scone recipe, followed immediately by a letter from Jack the Ripper detailing how he ate the kidney of one of his victims), intelligence (good background information is provided for each entry, allowing a full appreciation of the letters without cluttering up the book with too much noise; taste (photos and layout and production), and most of all, with love. Shaun Usher ranks as one of the world’s great lover of letters and his reverence for the art of correspondence shows.The volume is so well-produced it could become an heirloom, passed down through generations. I can only hope that future generations will recognize the mode of letter writing, and find inspiration, as I do, in just how meaningful and lasting a communication by letter can be.

Furious Cool

In what is clearly (and beautifully) a labor of love, brothers David Henry and Joe Henry have brought Richard Pryor back to pulsating life, affirming both his humanity and his immortality as a comic – and tragic – genius. Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him is billed as a biography/memoir but it is more than that (and that already is a lot).th

Furious Cool is a fabulous history, alive with fascinating characters both reacting to and creating world-changing events; it is a study of the seismic cultural shifts of the second half of the twentieth century, when everything we knew about music, literature, television, theater, and yes, comedy, was turned upside down and sideways, blowing our minds and resetting all expectations; it is a documentary of epic proportions, based as it is upon mountains of research (all of it refined, sifted, and clarified); it is a love song and a dirge and silly ditty and a symphony of every emotion. Because Richard Pryor pummeled and shimmied and danced his way through all those emotions, and then brought everything he’d experienced to the stage and he gave it all back to us. He gave us the truth, funny and sad, familiar and strange, obvious and hidden.

Pryor felt it all, experienced it all, and expressed it all. That he managed to make us laugh so hard and for so long at truths that, in a stark light, were anything but funny, is proof of his genius. That we needed to be shown the truth, again and again, is the tragic part of the story; just as tragic as his hardscrabble childhood, his lifelong struggle with self-destruction, his abusive relationships with women, and his failure, again and again, to believe he’d accomplished anything worthwhile. As the Henry brothers prove in this well-researched and comprehensively presented book, Pryor accomplished so much that was worthwhile, timeless, and precious. That he also came out with movies, TV shows, and albums that were less than memorable only underscores how very hard he worked and played.

David Henry and Joe Henry capture a time I remember so well, being young and open and hungry. Like the Henry brothers, I was a white kid in a Midwestern suburb but when Richard Pryor opened his mouth, I (like the Henry brothers) understood exactly what he was getting at. The truth. Every person on the planet has to find his or her way to the truth of life’s unfairness, beauty, sadness, opportunities and limits. That I could get myself part way there riding on waves of laughter was a wonderful gift, and it was Pryor’s gift. Furious Cool reminds me of his present, and his presence, and for this, I am grateful, this Thanksgiving, to the Henry brothers.

Forgotten Books, Recovered Treasure

Pacing through the website of Forgotten Books, an online library with hundreds of thousands of titles, is like walking through the aisles of a favorite bookstore. I “open” one book, skim through, and alight upon certain lines that make my decision for me (yes, I want to read this book!) and that decision leads me to another turn down another aisle, and then another, and another, choosing and perusing books all along the way. Just like in a real and wonderful bookstore, Forgotten Books provides the adventure of opening doors (books! books!) that lead to greater and greater adventure, and more discoveries – and more books. If ever there were a source for fulfilling a bibliophile’s wildest desires, short of actually having feet planted in the world’s largest bookstore and hands reaching for volume after volume, Forgotten Books is it. It is the largest online library in the world, and offers free access to much of its website (and access to all of it at reasonable prices).

I went online to Forgotten Books in search of interesting letters – I am addicted to letters, as well as books – and a one-word search for “letters” led me within seconds to such interesting books as Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft by Sir Walter Scott, first published in 1830, and then onto Letters to My Son, written by William Gibson and published in 1917, and then, leaving letters behind I plunged into The Rosicrucians, Their Rites and Mysteries, by Hargrave Jennings, first published in 1907 and finally, to Travels in the Old World, by the Reverend J.M. Rowl, a marvel published in 1922.

Are you kidding me? Am I in heaven? Book heaven? I had sat down to my computer and my searching with a headache, head cold, and a fever. I rose up light as air and floating on sunshine. Okay, by bedtime I was back in a feverish state, shivering under blankets and hot water bottles, but at least I had plenty of reading material to keep me company. I had my downloaded forgotten but now recovere books, all of them found during my online treasure hunt. Was I looking for the Reverend Rowl? No, of course not. But how lucky I was to find him.

Not only can out of print and hard to find books be found on Forgotten Books, but images taken from many such books can also be viewed in their original state, with some 4 million images extracted from old books and available for viewing on the site. I searched for images of Wilkie Collins, and was thrilled to find his sweet old face, over and over, along with the designs imprinted on many of his first books. Searching doesn’t stop there, with images, but goes even further. There is the ability to chart the usage of every English language word throughout publishing history or to search for words or terms in the entire online selection. I could find 500,000 books related to a search term, 500,000 books – and each and every one of them available to me!

I am a stalwart fan of the printed page and I’d rather be in a bricks and mortar bookstore than just about any place on earth but this adventure – of reading books long out of print and difficult, if not impossible, to find – provides at-home access for finding books I never even knew existed. Online resources have their place – a wonderful, happy place – for fixing the addictions of book lovers everywhere. No matter where I am, or what time it is, or what state I am in (pajamas and slippers, Kleenex blotting my nose), Forgotten Books and its brethren provide a constant and beautiful feed to my need for books, all kinds and sorts of books. Addicted to books? Forgotten Books, and other online treasuries of long-gone books, will expand your universe and fulfill at least some of your desires.

Justified Paranoia

In Paranoia, Victor Martinovich has crafted a novel so real that the government of Belarus banned it two days after it was published in that country. It tells the story of two lovers, Anatoly and Elisaveta, who try to hide their affair in a state where nothing can be hidden; as paranoia sets in – are we or are we not being watched? – the fate of the lovers becomes sealed. We Americans have been given a light dose of surveillance paranoia over the past few months and some of the incidents in this book might sound scarily familiar (as well as the justifications: “the vigilance of one of the listeners made it possible to prevent a terrorist act…I am calm, for I know the right people are watching me”). Yet what we know of surveillance here at home is nothing compared to what is happening in Belarus. Shall we take Martinovich’s book as a warning?

There is paranoia, a clinical diagnosis of fearing the government is watching you, and then there is justified paranoia, when the government is watching your every move and you know it. Even worse, there is little you can do about it. And worst of all, the fear of being watched all the time just might drive you crazy. For those living in Belarus today, justified paranoia is a way of life. It can be dealt with by ignoring it (the government provides entertainments to preoccupy the body and mind), drinking it away (the government makes sure vodka is cheap and easily available), or by writing about it.

Martinovich has chosen writing. His book is an encompassing and moving exploration of how an unchecked political leader like Alexander Lukashenko, the permanently elected President of Belarus, can use weapons of surveillance and punishment, and yes, paranoia, to maintain power over a quavering populace. For how better to induce fear than to induce the fear of going crazy and being watched while doing so?

Not all of Belarus quavers however. There are artists, writers, and every day activists exercising their gifts of writing, performing, and demonstrating in order to expose the horrors of life under Lukashenko. Anyone who has seen the productions put on by the Belarus Free Theater will find many aspects of Paranoia reflected in the theater works of that brave (and banned) theater troupe.

Martinovich’s book is a true story mixed into a novel; it is an expose of a horrible regime presented through a love story and a mystery and an incisive, sometimes homely, sometimes funny portrait of a nation (picnics with “cut piles of cucumbers and tomatoes” – as the daughter of a Belarusian refugee, I was raised on such picnics). Martinovich uses the story of the two lovers – their intimate moments and special nicknames and secret meeting places and inside jokes – to show just what a terrifying violation it is when the government watches, listens, and documents every one of those intimate and special moments. The novel made me feel as if I were there; the reality exposed made me glad I am not.

“We’re shaking because they – oh what a terrible pronoun! – because they know everything. Because they can deprive us of our very selves. Because just by narrowing their lips during an interrogation, they can crush us. Because they see right through us and know what we’ll say next…”

The all-powerful dictator Muraviov (aka, Lukashenko) is the ultimate watcher, outdoing any Orwellian nightmare, and ultimate paranoia is the only outcome possible. Martinovich illustrates how subtly the paranoia begins (“the sight of your own reflection in glass behind which you were attempting to find something rational to explain your gut fears”) and then maneuvers into a deeper experience of it, as when the two lovers debate whether a chair was moved or a spoon replaced.

Does the fact that a gadget has gone inexplicably missing mean that someone is watching them? Guess what? It does. Welcome to justified paranoia. The bad news is that the next step is full-fledged insanity: “For everyone of my arguments [that I am not KGB], your paranoia will obligingly find ten counterarguments.” The lovers face off, with paranoia turning them from loyal to suspicious, and the rest is tragedy.

The English translation of Paranoia (with thanks due to Northwestern University Press and translator Diane Nemec Ignashev) includes an excellent introduction into the history of Belarus and the current regime of Lukashenko, making it easier for all readers to understand the story of Anatoly and Elisaveta. I trembled and shook while reading this novel, for I encountered the truth of a regime, and truth is stranger, and even more horrible, than fiction.

Time for Summer Reading

Time to read. Summer means many things — long days, hot weather, kids freed from homework, swimming pools and cool lakes and days at the seashore. Crickets (no locusts for us), fireflies, a rabbit in our front yard. Dinners cooked on the grill, lunches eaten in the yard, making homemade ice cream for dessert. Bike rides and kayak trips and maybe a baseball game.

And time to read. I have good work to do this summer (preparing my book on Letters, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, for its publication next spring and finishing up my book on poets) and housework (it never goes away, does it?) and I want to enjoy every moment I have with my kids. But I also want to read every day this summer for at least an hour a day. I spent a wonderful year reading hours a day, the year I read a book a day, but this summer, setting aside a full hour for reading is the commitment I can make. Days when I can read more, great! But every day I will make the space and find the place to read an hour a day.

I plan on reading some new books – Transatlantic, the new novel by Colum McCann, for sure — and I plan on rereading Brideshead Revisited, The Leopard, and a number of novels by Graham Greene. I will certainly read some mysteries and I know that my monthly book chats at Westport Public Library will inspire me with recommended books to read.

SO wish me luck, fellow book lovers, and I send the wishes back to you. May you find the time and discover all the joys of summer reading! I’ll be reporting back on great stuff I’ve read, and please let me know what’s been good for you. Read on!

Letters Between Father and Son

I have read many, many collections of letters but Dear Lupin, Letters To A Wayward Son, is extraordinary.  Roger Mortimer was a racing correspondent for years, and in retirement kept himself busy writing, going to the races, and having drinks and dinners and lunches with all and sundry, high and low.  His son Charlie was a bit of a puzzle to him, but Roger loved his son full heartedly, and was always willing to lend a hand when Charlie found himself, again and again, up to his neck in manure (a dependable English country expression, apparently). Their story, successful father and wandering son, may not be so extraordinary, but their bond, cemented and celebrated through these letters, is. 

Roger Mortimer manages to be funny, instructive, confiding, caring, diffident, and loving, while never losing the thread of what mattered: staying in touch with his son. His letters built the connection between them, a kind of arc of caring that, in the best of times would keep the son safe and the father informed.  And in the worst of times?  It seems to me that it was the connection between father and son that kept Charlie alive, and Roger living — Charlie would of course want to be around to hear the next round of news from Dad, and Dad needed to keep going to ensure having the great tidbits to write about!

Roger’s letters are a joy to read, veering from topic to topic, sometimes hilariously so, and mood to mood, and there is not a word I would miss, not a sentence I would not reread.  I am sure these letters have been well-edited, and perhaps the originals were not quite so perfect but the gems were always there.  And now, luckily for us, the gems have been polished up and presented for our reading pleasure.  Roger Mortimer died in 1991, but his wit and wisdom survive, in these marvelous letters.  I will soon be turning to another volume, entitle Dear Lumpy, which are a collection of letters written by Roger to his daughter Louise.

By the way, Dear Lupin refers to the son of poor Mr. Pooter, father to lumpen son Lupin,  in The Diary of a Nobody series, written by brothers George and Weedon Grossmith, and published first in Punch magazine.  Where does Lumpy come from? I have an idea…but let me read the letters first.



Foreign Correspondence

Geraldine Brooks wrote nonfiction before she moved over to fiction, writing her Pulitzer prize winning novel March, along with Year of Wonder, People of the Book, and Caleb’s Crossing.  I love the writing of Brooks and when a Facebook friend recommended I read Foreign Correspondence, Brooks’ book about the penpals she had through childhood, I  jumped.  A book about letters?  By one of my favorite writers?  What could be better? 

Foreign Correspondence fulfilled all my expectations.  It is a wonderful book, not only for its introspective exploration of letters but for Brooks’ marvelous personality which flows from every page.  Brooks both in person (I had the great fortune of meeting Brooks at a book luncheon hosted by the End of the Sidewalk bookstore in the summer of 2011) and on the page is lively and warm,  thoughtful and exacting, kind and gentle.  Reading Foreign Correspondence it was as if she were right there beside me, having a conversation while we shared a pot of tea or a bottle of wine.

At times very funny, and at other times quite sad, Brooks tells the story of how she discovered her long lost penpal letters while at home in Australia, tending to her father during his last illness. She mixes in the story of her childhood in a lower middle class neighborhood with the story of her parents, explaining how both she and her father used letters to make connections across country, political, and social lines.  While her father used his letter writing to voice enthusiasm or criticism (and to keep up a very important connection which Brooks only discovered later in life), the young Brooks used her letters to fly away in search of any place more interesting than what she saw as her tiny and boring corner of Australia.

We follow Brooks, first a young girl writing to penpals and then a grown woman, tracking down her correspondents to see how life has turned out for them.  All along the way, from child to grown-up, Brooks makes discoveries about herself, Australia, her parents, and her faraway friends that will prove formative to the woman she has become, not only as one of the best writers around but as an open-minded, open-hearted participant in the world.  Brooks has been around the world and back again, through letters and through experience, and she shares all she has learned with us, the lucky reader.

2012 Books and Thanksgiving

Thank you to the authors who make my year of reading — whether it is a book a day or a book a week — a core pleasure of my life.

Pure by Andrew Miller: Set in 1785 France, Baratte, an ambitious provincial engineer, is commissioned to clear out the oldest cemetery in Paris, disposing of the bones, destroying the attendant church and filling in the holes left behind any way he can. Miller is a marvelous writer, weaving his amazing story around the framework of his characters, each one so full of heart and muscle that they seem to come alive on the page. Or maybe it is the other way round, that his amazing characters weave and dance around the framework of his plot, a plot full of wild machinations and lofty dreams and sober realities.

Dead Scared by S.J. Bolton: I just could not put the book down (and this has been true of every Bolton book I’ve ever read) because of its twisting plot (offering surprises at every turn), compelling characters (including reappearances of some of my favorites from past books), fascinating setting (the colleges of Cambridge, England) and the constantly increasing undercurrent of dread and fear. The building of tension and suspense only crested in the very last paragraph, sending me into spasms of relief and then back into the book to reread the last hundred pages all over again.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: This book is a marvel and a gem. It is hilarious and heartbreaking, and it has a message: “Be brave in love and in life.” Jess Walter, himself, is brave, flinging his characters (whom he clearly loves) out in the world, through time and across continents, in and out of crazy and not-so-crazy situations, and allowing them (and us) to come to some very profound realizations about dreaming big, wanting more and taking on the world.

The Names of Things by John Colman Wood: This book tells the story of a man who journeys to Africa to find again the groups of nomads with whom he traveled years ago. As an anthropologist, he was always looking for the names of things as a way to define their meaning in the culture he studied and how such meaning connected to his own way of life. As a man now trying to deal with overwhelming sorrow, he finds that the name of a thing is only the place to start understanding the substance of experience, and that in the end, it is the substance that might sustain him, while the names twist away.

A Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny: Penny’s mysteries are wonderful, one after the other. In the latest, the heroic and kind Inspector Gamache finds himself behind the stonewalls of a monastery, soaking up the beauty of Gregorian chants and the ugliness of murder (along with rich stews, cheeses and wild blueberries dipped in dark chocolate — good food is always present in a Penny novel). Despite the abundance of gourmet treats, Penny doesn’t write feel-good, frothy novels with everything falling neatly into place by the finish; instead she creates real scenarios that expose the tolls exacted by real living, where good is not always rewarded and evil not always punished, where lives are overtaken by the tolls of abuse — and lives are lost.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed: I read Wild side by side with The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, and found striking parallels in the quests of Strayed and of Kerouac. Like Strayed, Kerouac had problems with packing his gear, choosing his shoes and planning meals (and satisfying his appetite!), but found what he needed: solace in the wild. Strayed was looking for solace, but even more, for restoration: After the death of her mother, Strayed hit rock bottom and decided the only way back to her true and good self was to undertake the hiking journey of a lifetime. (Some of us read tons of books to find solace and answers, some of us take long hikes.) In making that hike, she filled the hole in her heart and restored herself to sanity and strength.

And what a déjà-vu I experienced in reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, a book I absolutely loved. Like Kerouac and Strayed, poor Harold has the wrong shoes on for his trek across England, but he doesn’t let pain and blisters stop him. And like Strayed, fictional Harold has a hole in his heart that needs patching up. This surprising man and his lovely story took me by the hand, and then gave my soul a good thumping (I cried buckets!) — thank you for the hike, Ms. Joyce, and I look forward to your next novel.

Friendkeeping by Julie Klam: We can all use gentle and funny reminders of how to be a good friend — and why. Klam serves up her signature wit and big heart, and inspires us all.

And for good e-books, I give thanks for: The Fulcrum Files by Mark Chisnell: Set in England just before World War II, sailor Ben Clayton, committed pacifist, finds himself involved in an international spy game involving gambling, intimidation, weapons build-up and murder. This book satisfies sailing buffs, history fans, espionage addicts, and anyone else yearning for a good, satisfying yarn; and…

No One Knows You’re Here by Rachel Howzell: Syeeda, the reporter at the heart of the novel, is a modern-day heroine, complicated and smart and tough, who discovers that a serial killer is on the loose in the back alleys of Los Angeles. Based on the Grim Sleeper killings that occurred in L.A. in the 1980s, No One Knows You’re Here is about crimes that go unnoticed (committed against the underclass) and heroes that go unsung (journalists and writers), providing not only a great book but a sharp jab in the shoulder: Are you paying attention yet? After reading this book, you most certainly will be.