Category Archives: Dusty Shelves


Jenny Offill |  Fiction, 2020

204?/225? pages


Recommended by my colleague and friend Dan, I don’t seem to understand this little book.  Lizzie is a librarian in a University library.  She helps her drug-addicted brother cope and maybe recover; she fantasizes about the end of the world and prepares for her “doomstead;” she clearly loves her son Eli and her husband Ben.   Some reviewers say she is an amateur therapist, but I see no evidence of that in the book.  She asks an insightful question sometimes.  That’s all.  There are many interesting sentences and paragraphs but no discernible plot.  Reviews are mostly 5’s and 1’s ... not a lot of middle road.  I will look forward to reading about what you liked about this book, Dan, and anyone else who read it and liked it.



Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs

Jennifer Finney Boylan | Nonfiction Memoir 2020

249 pages


I thought Good Boy: My Life in a Seven Dogs was one of those sappy books where a dog and its owner fall inextricably in love and then at the end the dog dies and the reader weeps.  Actually, I was hoping it was one of those books.

It isn’t.  Instead it is exactly what it claims to be ... “my life.”  It is a memoir of the author’s life, age 11 to age 60-ish.  Dogs play an important role, but they are not the central characters. When the book begins, the author is James.  When the book ends, the author is Jennifer.  Remarkably, she spends nearly 30 years as James before she transitions.

This book is not the least bit preachy or political.  It is simply an honest heartfelt story of one person’s life.  There is nothing particularly remarkable about this person’s life, other than the obvious truth, and the fact that he and she had some of the most misbehaved and undisciplined dogs I have ever read about.  Interestingly, this is at least the fourth memoir Boylan has written about her life (and her 16th book).  She apparently tells her story though a variety of lenses, including parenting from both genders.

I enjoyed Good Boy very much.  I don’t know how it would read if you have read any of her other memoirs, but this being my first, I found her writing style light, sometimes humorous, (especially about her crazy dogs), vulnerable, very self-aware, and insightful.  I both learned and was entertained.


Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

Beverly Daniel Tatum| Nonfiction, 1997/2017

453 pages


Oh my, I thought I was in real trouble when I started reading this book.  The first many pages were statistics and I kept falling asleep.  Most of these statistics I already knew, but more important, they were boring to read.  I finally wised up on page 44 of the 73(really?) page prologue to the new edition and flipped to the book itself.

I breathed a great sigh of relief.  Here was the psychologist, the educator, the writer, the woman with a sociological perspective who wrote about people.  Now I could engage with what she was saying.  Beginning with differentiating between (individual) prejudice  and (systemic) racism, Tatum sheds light on many nuances of racism, from how do you explain slavery to a four-year-old and an analysis of the voices in The Lion King to racial identity, Affirmative Action, and White Supremacy.

In the end, I went back and finished the prologue.  The only reason to read the prologue first is if you are uncertain systemic racism exists and you need to be informed and convinced before you would care to read the book itself. Otherwise, save it for last.

I don’t want to recommend this book specifically.  There is a plethora of books to read on this topic of racism, activism, identity, history.   A library full.  And I suspect you will find what I found.  On a topic I feel I know something about, there is much, much, much more for me to learn.  I don't care what you read.  But if you do choose to read something, inspired perhaps by the murder of George Floyd and protests in most every town in our country and beyond, please tell us about it here.



The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Alix E. Harrow | Fiction 2019

371 pages


I read a lot.  I guess that is obvious if you are reading my blog.  Sometimes, oftentimes, I will get into a book and then want to rush through to see what the next magic is in that pile from the library. When I find a book that invites me to slow down and savor every word, well, I simply fall in love.  Such is my experience with The Ten Thousand Doors of January.  I read it slowly, one chapter at a time.  I didn’t want to rush.

January is a girl and young woman living in the early part of the 1900’s, who has a special connection to doors.  She learns that doors are portals to “elsewhere.”  Her father is off chasing artifacts around the world, while January is raised by a benevolent benefactor.  But, of course, all is not as it seems.

This is another debut novel that delights.  What is it about debut novels?  There is something so fresh ... a new voice, a new intention.  I usually have the sense that debut novelists choose every word and write every sentence very carefully.

I happened upon this book through one of those “if you liked that book, you will like this book...” references, with “that book” being The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern.  The Ten Thousand Doors of January has less magic than Morgenstern’s books do, so I know that Harrow’s realism will appeal to some of my blog readers.  I became a bit confused about what was happening around pages 250-300, but recovered by the end, and I sincerely recommend.


Normal People

Sally Rooney | Fiction, 2018

273 pages


This is the story of Marianne and Connell.  We witness four years of their lives in Ireland, from school through university.  They move in and out of each other’s lives, always good friends, sometimes lovers, sometimes not seeing each other for months.  But yet, they understand each other.  Deeply.  In school, Connell was popular and well liked and everyone ignored Marianne.  In University, the tables turned and Marianne came into her own, while Connell struggled with shyness and uncertainty.  Both, by the way, are brilliant, which perhaps explains much of their attraction to one another.

I sometimes complain about lack of character development, and so I must give credit where credit is due.  Sally Rooney has created two immensely rich and well-developed characters, both with flaws, both with gifts.  The story is frustrating, as they cannot land on what relationship they want with each other.  Sort of like a new jazz improv band that hasn’t figured things out yet.  When they come together and play in unison, the music is good.  Not yet great, but good.  But when they spin off and do their own thing, nothing really clicks, everything is imperfect and out of sync.

My memory of my discovery of this book is indelible. It was March 15 and my friend Carol and I were in Dudley’s bookstore downtown for a cup of tea.  We were sitting far apart and didn’t hug and yes, the next day Oregon went into lockdown.  On this, my last excursion into the world for a long time, Normal People was propped open on a shelf with a recommendation from a Dudley’s staff member.

I didn’t know how I was going to rate this book until the last page.  I give it three hearts.  It comes with my recommendation, with a bit of hesitation.  It is well-written and an interesting read, but is ultimately unsatisfying in some way.  Oftentimes relationships do not fall into easy, explicable molds.  This is true for Marianne and Connell.  Normal People will make you think.


Know My Name

Chanel Miller | Nonfiction 2019

368 pages


On January 17, 2015, Chanel Miller (known to the public as Emily Doe) was sexually assaulted outside a fraternity house at Stanford University.  This is the true story of the next four years of her life, as told by Chanel.

Wow.  I have not been sexually assaulted.  I thought I knew intellectually what it was probably like to be living with this experience.  What I didn’t know could fill a book. Literally.  This book is powerful, educational, and a page-turner.  It is an amazing crafting of a memoir.  Chanel’s mom, a Chinese immigrant, tells her at one point, “Good and bad things come from the universe holding hands.  Wait for the good to come.”  (P 138).  This statement foretells a long, difficult journey.

Miller’s victim statement was read aloud in the US House of Representatives. Miller was interviewed on 60 Minutes, and Know My Name graced the NYT best seller list, Washington Post’s Top Ten Books of 2019, and “best-selling books” in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

The story is not easy to read, truth be told.  And her story must be read.  It is important, compelling, and engaging.  One reviewer called it “Unapologetically large.”  I highly recommend Know My Name.


The Big Oyster

Mark Kurlansky |  Fiction, 2006

307 pages


A Review in two words: discombobulated and boring.   I finished it only because it is a book club read.  I kept telling myself I “should” enjoy this more.  The title, The Big Oyster, is a play on the nickname, The Big Apple, which is a dead giveaway about the topic of this book.  While I adore oysters, Kurlansky’s book is really the story of the history of New York, which is among the more boring topics I can think of.

A number of professional reviewers gave it high ratings. But I also like to peruse Goodreads, which is filled with reviews by regular people, not book reviewers.  The Big Oyster has a pretty low overall rating on Goodreads, at 3.9.   The readers who liked it became fascinated by the topic and were pulled in.

The one, two, and three star reviews on Goodreads were very similar to my assessment.  Unfocused, with digressions stemming off from other digressions. This is more a history of New York through the lens of the oyster, than the story of the oyster itself, which would have been shorter, more pointed, less wandering. And IMHO, less boring.

The moments I DID like were the oyster recipes.  Here is a bit from one of the oldest recipes in the book, from an anonymous writer, mid-1600’s.  (Page 68).  “Shelle oystyrs into a pott and the sewe therwith.  Put thereto fayre watyr; perboyle hem.  Take hem up; put hem yn fayre watyr.  Peke hem clene.  Blaunch ...”

Clearly, I cannot recommend this book.  However, if you are fascinated by the history of New York City, you might love this book, for it tells the history in quite a unique manner.


The Outdoor Girls

Laura Lee Hope | Fiction 1913

212 pages


Laura Lee Hope is the pseudonym for a group of authors who wrote The Bobsey Twins, The Outdoor Girls, and five other multi-book series for children. When my Aunt Helen died in 2009, I found a box of The Outdoor Girls in her basement. She had 19 of the 23-book series, published between 1913 and 1933.  She signed them “Helen Sigetich” and often included a date, 1926 in the first one, or her address, 6550 McGraw.  I bought three more to fill in the gaps, but have not yet put my hands on the rare 23rd volume, The Outdoor Girls in Desert Valley.

I read three of them over the last few days, to see what these century-old stories were like.  I am impressed with the number of adventures the girls find themselves in, from discovering a lost $500 bill with a note attached, to finding the truth about the white ghost with chains on Elm island. The authors use big words like obdurate and auspicious, and, even as a mature adult in another century, I did not feel talked down to.

It was fun to explore this series of books, set in a time when telephones were not yet in every home, much less any other technology.

I am most curious to know if any of you read this series while a young person?  I read The Hardy Boys religiously, and an occasional Nancy Drew, but never anything by Laura Lee Hope.  What do you remember?


The Mezzanine

Nicholson Baker | Nonfiction, 1986 & 2010

142 pages


It was funny!  Yes, this is not a guest blogger!  I, Andrea, found this book funny.  It is allegedly the story of one escalator ride up to the Mezzanine where our narrator works, but of course that in and of itself would not create a book.  So, instead, he goes back to his past, his childhood, to relay stories about the most mundane things.  He begins by exploring the CVS bag in his hand, which has shoelaces inside and takes him back to learning to tie his laces.  We move on to explore a multitude of items and actions, including, but not limited to, glass milk bottles and the brilliant discovery of coated cardboard with a little V that you make at the top; learning how to turn a t-shirt right side out; the grooves of LP records, and the grooves made by ice skates; how to put on deodorant when you are all dressed; Lorna Doones in the vending machine; the evolution of drinking straws, etc., etc.

We first learn his name when someone greets him as he is peeing at a urinal in chapter 10.  It is Howie.  Howie is OCD, analytical, and/or has an amazing memory for the little, intricate, repeatable stuff of life.  This is all about the little stuff of life.

The Mezzanine has many footnotes, which were quite enjoyable, except a bit hard to navigate in an ebook. Because there was no plot, but only rambling observations, the book became a little tedious for me.   Still, Baker is quite a clever writer.  And I did laugh often!

Book # 20 during stay-at-home.


The Glass Hotel

Emily St. John Mandel |  Fiction, 2020

320 pages


As The Glass Hotel opens, we meet Paul.  We follow Paul from Toronto to a very small town (Caiette) on the very tip of Vancouver Island BC, and back again.  And then the time changes.  What year are we in?  Mandel switches locations, time, and, most important, characters, in a manner that is scratch-my-head confusing.  About page 100, I was ready to give up.  But I persisted.

For a significant portion of the book, (maybe one-third?) we follow Vincent, Paul’s half-sister. Vincent is the most interesting character in The Glass Hotel.  Or, more precisely, she finds herself in the most interesting circumstances.  She leaves The Glass Hotel in Caiette, where she works as a bartender, with its wealthy owner, Jonathan Alkaitis, to go to New York and enter the “kingdom of money.” She and Jonathon pretend they are married for three years, until Alkaitis receives a 170-year prison term for designing and managing a Ponzi scheme.  Later, Vincent decides to be a cook on a cargo ship.

Her circumstances are interesting, but I don’t think Mandel does a good job of developing characters.  Her work with Vincent is the best, but I don’t know much about Vincent’s personality or her feelings or her inner thoughts.  We only see her actions.  And Alkaitis is just a caricature of a sweet rich guy running a Ponzi scheme.

It feels like Mandel’s book is making a statement, rather than writing a story.  However, I am at a loss. The intention of the book in unclear to me, though some reviewers say it points to the capriciousness of life, and so is particularly appropriate for these times.

It wasn’t boring or particularly hard to get through.  I just found it rather vapid.  I can’t recommend it, I must admit. Though, as always, I look forward to hearing from those of you who loved it!

From The Atlantic, Ruth Franklin:   The Glass Hotel is a jigsaw puzzle missing its box. At the book’s start, what exactly it is about or even who the major figures are is unclear…