Sometimes, the books we’re reading are not books that we want to recommend. In fact, we might not want to admit to reading them at all. I’m reading one such at the moment—although I had a good excuse, really I did. I enjoy listening to the Selected Shorts podcast while I do the dishes, and sometimes, I like a story well enough to want more. When I heard “Occupy Jen’s Street” from Simon Rich’s The Last Girlfriend on Earth, I laughed throughout and at its conclusion, decided that it was the best send-up of callow, knee-jerk activism I had ever heard. I eagerly procured a copy of the book from the library; my mistake was humiliatingly obvious the instant I started to read. Rich’s writing is so glib, so fluffy in its made-for-TV way, that it only works when read aloud. On the page, the stories are so flimsy that reading them feels like reading scripts for comedy sketches much more than it feels like reading stories. (Rich used to be a staff writer for Saturday Night Live and it shows.) In my defense, “Occupy Jen’s Street” is a stand-out in the collection, but perhaps I should have known that I am too old for this sort of thing. I can’t remember the last time I read a book that made me feel so old. (Kids today.) That said, I keep on reading it because it is funny, even if the laughs are cheap and profane, and I find that it’s perfect for putting myself to sleep. Many of the “love stories” are manically brief, and there’s no danger that they’re going to keep me up with caring. If you prefer to care about what you read, however, do read on.
“Dear Marjo” Columnist Marjorie Osterhout is relishing a domestic mystery: “I’m a good way into The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty, and I still don’t know what the secret is. But I do know it’s sealed in an old envelope that was well hidden until his wife accidentally discovered it. Will she open it, or won’t she? I suspect she will, but for now she’s just carrying it around with her and trying (unsuccessfully) not to think about it. As for me, the reader, I also can’t stop thinking about it. The story is told from several different points of view, giving us a glimpse of each character from the inside and also from the outside–with interesting differences. Meanwhile, small threads connect them: a TV show, the Berlin Wall, a dead nun; absent, dead, or faithless husbands. Who knows where those threads will lead? The Husband’s Secret is one of those rare books that’s both character driven and plot driven at the same time. It’s a compelling read that will keep me turning pages until the secret and its bombshell effects are revealed.”
Kate Haas, Creative Non-Fiction Co-Editor, shares some inspiration: “I highly recommend my current read, Drama High by Michael Sokolove, whether you have an interest in youth theater or not. When Sokolove grew up in Levittown, Pa., it was full of middle-class families doing well. Then the union jobs left. Now it’s a poor, struggling, blue-collar town with a mediocre high school. Except for one thing. Truman High has a nationally known drama program. On a shoestring budget, it puts on edgy plays wealthier schools won’t touch. It’s invited to premiere the high school versions of Broadway shows like Les Mis and Rent. It wins prestigious competitions. And it’s all because of Mr. Volpe, who’s been overseeing drama at Truman for 40 years. Sokolove goes back to his old high school and spends two years following Mr. Volpe and his students. It’s more than just the story of how they do it; it’s about education in this country, what’s happened to communities like this in the U.S., what makes a great teacher, and what drama can do for kids.”