Looking for a book recommendation? Look no further! Here are a few good books I've enjoyed lately...
Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini
Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini burst onto the literary scene in 2004 with his wildly successful debut novel The Kite Runner. Over the next 10 years he released two additional novels, A Thousand Splendid Suns (2008), and And the Mountains Echoed (2014), and while they never reached the same level of popularity as The Kite Runner, I found them to be every bit as wonderful. Hosseini writes with achingly beautiful prose about Afghan and Afghan-American life, family, and love. If you’ve not read his first three books, I cannot recommend them highly enough.
Hosseini’s latest release, Sea Prayer, is something completely different. It is not a full-length novel, like his others books. Essentially it’s a long poem, featuring gorgeous watercolor illustrations. At only 48 pages long and requiring less than ten minutes to read, it could easily be mistaken for a children’s book. While Sea Prayer can certainly be read by or with a child, it is a book for adults and children alike, a book for everyone.
Sea Prayer is the prayer of a father for his son as their lives are ravaged by war. According to the note in the book, it was inspired by the story of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in September 2015 while trying to reach Europe. Read this book. Savor it. If necessary, cry over it. It will only take ten minutes of your time and you will be a better person for it.
The Trees by Conrad Richter
From the late 1930s to the 1960s Conrad Richter was one of the great American writers of historical fiction, winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1951 for his novel The Town. Most of Richter’s works focused on the development of various American frontiers. While I’ve read plenty of historical fiction about the settling of the original 13 colonies, the western plains, and the American south, this was the first historical novel I can remember reading about the settling of Ohio, the state where I grew up.
Today, Ohio is the 7th most populous state in the country, with three substantial metropolitan areas (Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland), as well as huge swathes of highly productive farmland. But in the late 18th century, Ohio was a vast, dense forest, aptly described by Richter in the book’s first paragraph as having a “midday twilight,” as the vegetation was too dense for the sun to fully shine through. It is in this “midday twilight” that we meet Worth and Jary Luckett and their five children. Worth, a hunter, has decided game in Pennsylvania is too scarce, and has packed up his family to move to the wilds of Ohio. Unlike America’s favorite pioneer family, the Laura Ingalls clan, the Lucketts have no horses and wagon to carry themselves and their supplies. They travel on foot, barefoot, bringing with them only what they can carry.
Told primarily through the eyes of 15-year-old Sayword, the family’s oldest child, the reader is immersed into the primitive world of these earliest settlers, where privation, loneliness, and danger are the norm. Despite all of this, Sayword is the epitome of what modern readers expect a successful pioneer woman to be: stoic in the face of any hardship and willing to work endlessly from dawn to dusk without complaint. The greatest strength of this book, in my opinion, is the historically accurate dialogue and use of contemporary narration to fully saturate the reader into the time and place being depicted. The authenticity of the language rings true in every sentence. Furthermore, The Trees, together with its sequels, The Fields and The Town, is not only the personal story of one pioneer woman, but the story of an entire society as it transitions from a people reliant on hunting, to a people reliant on farming, to a full-fledged town.
Sisters First: Stories from our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush
The child- and young adult-hoods of Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush could never be categorized as normal. As children, they were first the grandchildren of the U.S. president, and later the children of the governor of Texas. As young adults, they were the daughters of the president of the United States. I picked up Sisters First because I couldn’t help but wonder life must have been like for these women during their formative years.
Sisters First is written in a breezy, conversational style, with the sisters taking turns writing short chapters which are presented (roughly) in chronological order. Overall, the book is pleasant and interesting, with funny and bittersweet anecdotes from the women’s growing up years. They manage to defend some of their behaviors that were so harshly criticized by the media without sounding defensive, and while they don’t spend much time discussing their political views, there’s a nice section by Bush about how she disagreed with her father on the issue of gay marriage, and how they maintained a civil discourse through their disagreement. In the Acknowledgments, Hager and Bush describe the book as a love letter to each other, but to me it felt more like a love letter to their parents and grandparents, for whom their deep love and respect is obvious. For a book about life in a political family, Sisters First felt surprisingly apolitical, a refreshing respite in today’s political climate.
What about you? What good books have you read lately?
Long before becoming a librarian, Emily was an avid library patron. She enjoys reading fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, biographies, and classic children’s literature. Her favorite book is Anne of Green Gables
by L.M. Montgomery.