Books

Worthy of your time

"Read any good books lately?" the office wag asks me, peering at me between a tower of books.

Yes, I've read a book or two this year. Some good, some not so. Depends on your point of view -- not just in general, but on a given day. Maybe you're in the mood this week for a book about a group of women who knit. Maybe you'll never be in that kind of a mood. A book bypassed this year might really speak to you next year. We bring our constantly changing experience of the world to a book, one of many reasons that reading is so rewarding.

I have the luxury of reading a chapter or two before making a commitment. We aim to help you make decisions about whether to invest time and money in a book. I read those chapters with a wider viewpoint -- if it seems worth your while, I'll ask someone to review it. If it seems worth my while, it comes home with me.

Here are some books that made it to the nightstand:

"The Uncommon Reader" by Alan Bennett. I wrote about this fine fable -- about manners, the royal wave and the compulsion to read -- in an earlier column. I recommend it. It's short enough that you won't feel that you've lost time in the reading. An excellent book for any reader, it's also a fabulous read-aloud for children and adults.

"The Post-Birthday World" by Lionel Shriver, a Tar Heel expat in Britain. I was totally engaged by the unfolding of this story of a woman exploring divergent paths her life might take. Told in two parallel storylines, the novel requires some attention, but not in a taxing, annoying kind of way. My touchstone for challenging reads (not counting "Finnegan's Wake," which I didn't finish) is "The Last Samurai" by Helen De Witt. This 2002 novel of a single mother and her genius son is a father-quest novel told in a pastiche of styles, ranking a 9 out of 10 on a challenge scale; Shriver's book is about 7.5. Both books are on my list to reread when I'm spending more time in a rocking chair.

"Loving Frank" by Nancy Horan. This fact-based novel story is a sincere, if imperfect, account of the years that Mamah Borthwick gave over her life to love Frank Lloyd Wright. Told from Mamah's point of view, the novel reveals history long suppressed by Wright's descendants. (Read Susan Davis' review of this at www.newsobserver.com search: Mamah).

"Songs Without Words" by Ann Packer. Unfettered by expectation -- since I had not read Packer's explosively popular first novel, "The Dive From Clausen's Pier" -- I dived into "Songs Without Words" with a clear mind. It was soon cluttered. I rather liked the layering of detail to create the whole picture -- until I didn't. Truly, the thing you love becomes the thing you hate -- in people and in books. And, as it turns out, that was the crux of the story as well, which makes for a nice parallel of form and function.

I will say that I rarely regret reading a book -- though I sometimes choose not to finish a book. Just once, I read a book that was so bad that I wanted my time back in triplicate. I only finished it because I was planning to review it; I loved the author's first book and opened the second with great anticipation. It let me down sorely and I opted not to review it because it was that bad. It gave me nightmares. It gave my children nightmares just looking at the cover.

So, read any good books lately? Let us know at share.triangle.com/bookclub.

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