Let me tell you that so many people I know loved The Library Book by Susan Orlean. It’s probably because I work in a library and know so many librarians. I enjoyed learning about the history of the Los Angeles Public Library, I enjoyed reading about the fire that happened at the main branch in 1986 (the same day as Chernobyl, so while it should have made the evening news, it didn’t), and Orlean tells her intertwining stories well.
It seems a waste to review a book published in 1991, one that cemented the name of an entire generation in place. And yet, here I go.
Generation X is both timeless (e.g. diagnosing all kinds of late capitalism problems like the pain of not having health insurance, the despair at a lack of a coherent future, the inevitability that we’re killing the planet) and very, very much of its time (e.g. it centers mainly white men and revolves around the idea that somehow falling into depression and doing your best to leave late capitalism behind will somehow fix the problems inherent to late capitalism).
I have an incredible soft spot for this book. It is problematic and dropping out of society just means that those who are left can run it into the ground (a thing that the book does passingly comment on); but it reminds me so solidly of a time when I was young, when I was trying to figure out who I was, of a time before the internet when it was so much easier to be aimless. I can’t not love it.
Everything Everything is a very sweet YA romance that I quite liked. There’s a girl, Maddie, who is allergic to everything and can’t leave the house. Ever. She is shockingly well adjusted and ok with this – she knows it keeps her safe and alive. But then a Boy moves in next door and everything changes. They communicate via text and email and then he comes over and she decides she needs more.
It’s a delightful, specific story about two people falling in love for the first time, and if you like romance novels, it’s a good one.
The Proposal was a super-sweet, very swoony modern romance set in Los Angeles. The actual wedding proposal takes place at the beginning of the book: a public proposal on the big screen at a Dodgers game that was definitely not discussed ahead of time. Nikole is rescued from her upset now-ex-boyfriend and an angry crowd by Carlos and his sister. Nikole and Carlos go on to have a very enjoyable romance.
Recommended, especially if you need a pick-me-up.
An aside, not just about this book: one of the things I like about most modern romance stories is how they deal with issues of diversity, living in a social media filled world, consent, sexism, and generally what it’s like to be a woman navigating the current world. These are books written largely by and for women, and they are sometimes written at an amazing clip, which means they can react to the issues of the day faster than other genres. And it’s all wrapped up in a happy package, a thing that can feel radical in and of itself.
So consider a good romance novel the next time you’re looking for a book.
What’s it about? The White Album is a famous set of essays by Joan Didion about the various aspects of living in California in the 1960s and 1970s. She covers weird neighbors, the California governor’s mansion, how to pack, migraines, depression/anxiety, and a wide range of other topics. It is a window on a particular time in a particular place.
Why should you read it?
Well, if for no other reason that it allowed me to start describing my own kitchen as “for snackers, not for cooks.” (We’ve moved in the last few months. Our new kitchen isn’t set up for even semi-serious cooking.) There may be a bon mot for you too.
But it also is a window on an era: it’s a very specific slice of American history, when the baby boomers were protesting Vietnam, when the idealism of the 1960s moved into the hedonism of the 1970s, and what it was like to be a young adult during that time. Now we’ve moved so far away from that to the-market-and-capitalism-will-fix-everything… It can be jarring to think of the world like that. Part of why we moved on is because of criticism like Didion’s. She didn’t give the era a warm, happy glow. She points out its flaws, and does it well.
It’s a critical eye looking at a time that was often romanticized (at least when/were I grew up). For that, I am grateful.