Great Reads

De Robertis, Carolina. Perla

De Robertis’s second novel (after The Invisible Mountain, 2009) tackles head-on the lingering traumas left behind by Argentina’s state-sponsored regime of terror during the 1970s and ‘80s.  In the opening pages, 22-year-old college student Perla, left home alone by vacationing parents, finds a naked man in her living room.  He is dripping wet, smelling of rotting fish and seawater, and she can find no possible way he could have entered the home. Oddly, she is unafraid, though she knows perhaps she should be.  As the rest of the novel unfolds, Perla and the naked man both reflect on their lives up to this point.  Perla’s father, a man she loves with all the loyalty an only daughter can muster, is also a Naval officer and thus, one of the men responsible for the kidnappings and torture Argentina’s government perpetrated against its own citizens. She knows she should hate him, but cannot quite bring herself to do so. Her lover, an investigative journalist, has recently broached to her the idea that she herself was stolen as an infant from one of los desaparecidos­—the disappeared.  Rejecting the idea, she fled his arms and retreated home—only to be confronted by the naked wet man.  That man, meanwhile, is finding his own memories returned to him slowly. In life, he was himself one of los desaparecidos, taken from his pregnant young wife and tortured mercilessly before being thrown from a plane into the ocean along with countless others.  Why he has returned from the waters now, and why he has arrived in this home with this young woman, is something they must discover together.

With Perla, De Robertis has fully embraced the tradition of magical realism so representative of Central and South American literature.  Lyrical even when describing the most horrific of torments endured by los desaparecidos, De Robertis’s novel is powerful and affecting in its clear-eyed examination of the lasting impacts of the dictatorship upon both the victims and also the perpetrators of its many horrors.

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Lawson, Jenny. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (a mostly true memoir)

Jenny Lawson, best known for her side-splittingly funny, irreverent blog at thebloggess.com, delivers more of the same here, in her (mostly true) memoir.  Jenny grew up poor in rural Texas, the daughter of a taxidermist father whose idea of a good joke was making puppets out of roadkill.  An outsider who later struggled with eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and now rheumatoid arthritis, she recounts the trials and tribulations of her life in a no-holds-barred, double-barreled, profanity-laden manner.

Readers of  her popular blog will already be familiar with the way in which, in Jenny’s hands, the simplest of stories become extended digressions into the labyrinthine twistings of her often bizarre thinking process . Anyone looking for a straight-forward memoir should look elsewhere, but those who share Jenny’s twisted sense of humor and irreverent outlook on life will find themselves belly laughing out loud and garnering strange looks from those around them.

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Lively, Penelope. How It All Began

If you're looking for a 2012 well-written literary read that is a) not depressing b) easy to read and c) thoroughly enjoyable, look no further.  If you have never picked up a book by Penelope Lively before, this is a good place to start.  And if you have--well, you won't be disappointed.  This book is about how people's lives influence one another...the changes that occur after a woman is mugged of her purse and injured.  Imagine a rippling effect, if you will.  It's a good book for anyone who thinks that his or her actions don't matter--because this book proves that they do!  Actually, it's a great book for everyone.  Penelope Lively is a spectacular British writer who has many years of writing under her belt, and she just keeps getting better.

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Groopman, Jerome E. How Doctors Think

Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of medical essays, so I pretty much knew that I would enjoy this book before I started reading it.  But I had not read Groopman before (other than a few of his essays in The New Yorker) so my mind was open to dislike it.  Well, all the great reviews couldn’t be wrong!  And they weren’t.  It is a very good book.  What is particularly interesting about this collection is Groopman’s focus on the relationship between doctor and patient and how a doctor’s perceptions can influence the quality of care a patient receives.  For example, in one essay, Groopman writes about an athletic and attractive man who goes to the ER because he has pain and shortness of breath, but he is turned away without receiving the treatment he needs because the doctor treating him views him in such a positive light and is unable to see past the patient's robust facade.  If you enjoy reading books by Oliver Sacks or Atul Gawande, you will want to read this book as well.   Groopman writes in a similarly engaging style and, like the others, addresses fascinating medical issues.  Additionally, this book will give you ideas on how to become a better patient and communicate in ways that help doctors move past their preconceived notions that they may have about you and your health.

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James, P.D. Death Comes to Pemberley.

P.D. James takes on life after Pride and Prejudice in her newest book, delighting mystery and Jane Austen fans alike.  On the eve of Pemberley’s annual Lady Anne’s Ball, six years after their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy’s household is brutally disrupted by a hysterical uninvited guest, Lizzie’s sister, Lydia. She claims that her husband, Lt. George Wickham has been murdered by his friend Capt. Martin Denny in the woods.  But upon investigation, it seems that the opposite is true and the inhabitants of Pemberley must cancel the ball and mount a murder investigation in its stead.

Infused with Lizzie’s signature wit, the plot explores the secrets, pasts and hidden agendas of the characters. And It’s no surprise that Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are fantastic sleuths. James does a wonderful job capturing Austen’s style while also adding a little life to the familiar; a winning take on the classic.

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