My siblings brought me closer to the twenty-first century over Christmas celebrations last year. I now know how to torment them with obnoxious gifs, and they loaded my podcast feed with recommendations. I have limited time to enjoy podcasts on a regular basis so I got real selective, real fast. All Things Considered on NPR by Terry Gross has stayed in my lineup. It’s probably been months since I listened to the episodes that led me to these books, but as they trickled in through the library and I gradually read through them I felt justified in my decision to keep this podcast on my list. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!
Four books, four different topics, and four great reads!
It started with an interview with an author named Luís Alberto Urrea. While he has several books in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. It was the latter that I explored first. I started with Nobody’s Son. Urrea’s family dynamics with an American mother and a Mexican father lend substantive credibility to the theme of identity being of primary concern. But, it is Urrea’s exploration of time and place, the ghosts and importing that leave a mark but eventually disappear, and the (often hilarious) retelling’s of memories that provide the depth of content to make this a compelling read. Masterfully written, laugh-out-loud funny, and rich in substance.Next was a book that perhaps was only mentioned briefly in the interview, or if it was discussed at length I only remembered on piece. In the interview Urrea discussed his choice for the dedication: “For the dead, and for those who rescue the living.” The subject of Mexican-American relations in light of immigration issues is one that I routinely explore in my reading, but this story The Devil’s Highway was a harrowing account of an immigrant group’s trek across the desert and the men and women who worked to rescue them. Urrea’s empathy and investigative prowess shed light on a sobering and challenging story that is more complex than a news cycle would allow.
From there I went on a road trip with a bedbugger through states and decades. Finn Murphy’s book The Long Haul is an engaging ride through the U.S. from the driver’s seat of a truck cab. Laced with trucker tidbits (do you know which states have the best public radio or the difference between a chicken choker and a reefer?), humorous and sentimental anecdotes, and perceptive analysis on themes related to race, class, and the American experience, this book was informative, funny, and thought-provoking.
Last but not least I read Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler. A tragically beautiful memoir of Bowler’s daily battle with Stage IV colon cancer. Bowler grapples with sorrow and loss and faith and grief as she fights to remain present with her husband, son, career, and the two-month increments by which her life is measured. There are no easy answers or happy endings, but the graciousness Bowler extends to readers is in illuminating a path, often littered with sentimentality, with generous authenticity.
All in all, not a bad book in the bunch. All Things Considered is an interesting podcast in and of itself, but definitely a winner at picking books!
Where do you get your book recommendations? Read any unusual or surprising ones lately?