What We Are Reading: July

Being in the book business, we are naturally avid readers. We would like to share with you what our staff is reading each month. We would love, in turn, to hear what you’re reading!

Perksofbeingwallflower1The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

review by Caroline Cook

I read this slim novel in just a few days, and it really struck me. Chbosky’s narrator, Charlie, tells his story in the form of letters to an anonymous recipient. The letters are extremely personal and intimate, really letting the reader in to Charlie’s emotions and psyche.

Who among us hasn’t felt like a misfit at some point in our lives? In that way we really connect to Charlie as he navigates his freshman year of high school, trying to find friendship, love, and a place to belong. I found myself rooting for and worrying about Charlie like he was my own friend. The supporting cast of characters, from Charlie’s sister to his two best friends, are richly nuanced and fully realized. Each person in the book has their own triumphs and demons, and Charlie, being an observant wallflower, sees them for who they really are. Even after finding somewhere to fit in, Charlie must come to terms with a dark secret in his past in order to move forward.

The critically acclaimed film version, written and directed by Chbosky, is well done, but after reading the book, I felt that it only touches the surface of the depths that the book achieves.

EmptyMansions_coverEmpty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune, by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

review by Marilyn Noble

Why would an extremely wealthy heiress, of sound mind and body, the sole owner of several over-the-top luxurious mansions, spend the last 20 years of her life living in a spartan hospital room in self-imposed exile from family and friends? Reading this book won’t answer that question, but it will give you a peek into the lives of one of America’s wealthiest families, the Clarks.

Huguette Clark was the youngest daughter of copper baron W. A. Clark and his young second wife, Anna. The elder Clark was a self-made millionaire, and his fortune was on par with the other elite of the Gilded Age – Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Astor – but rather than lavish funds on large philanthropic projects that would carry his name into posterity, Clark built the most expensive house on 5th Avenue in New York City, which was torn down only 15 years later and replaced by an apartment building. He also had a connection to Arizona – he built the town of Clarkdale, the company town for his United Verde mine. Huguette lived a life of privilege and indulgence in the U.S. and France, but once her parents and sister died, she became increasingly eccentric, collecting dolls and dollhouses and giving extravagant sums of money to her employees and friends.

The two authors, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a Clark relative, did a tremendous amount of research that included talking to Huguette herself before she died in 2011. The book is a fascinating look at the lives of the rich, famous, and odd. And it proves that tired old saw: truth really is stranger than fiction.

81FH9rfylgLBe Here Now, by Ram Dass

review by Jim Turner

Dr. Richard Alpert, (Ram Dass) and psychedelic pioneer Timothy Leary were fired from Harvard in 1963. Seeking more than fleeting LSD spiritual experiences, Alpert went to India and studied with guru Maharaj-ji. He stayed several years and published Be Here Now in 1971.

The first part is autobiographical, on white paper with magenta ink. Then it changes to heavy brown paper with intricate drawings and words that slither all over the page. The metaphysical concepts here are best pondered a little every day. This is followed by another white-page section, “Cookbook for a Sacred Life,” featuring quotes and suggestions from sources ranging from the Bible to the Bhagavad Gita. There are selections on sleeping, eating, meditation, and even dying. Finally, there’s an eclectic bibliography divided hippie-style into “Books to Hang Out With,” “Books to Visit With Now and Then,” and “Books It’s Useful to Have Met.”

Interior page of Be Here Now.

Interior page of Be Here Now.

Tens years ago, Americans rekindled their interest in physical health. Now the focus is on yoga and meditation to relieve depression, anxiety, and even physical diseases like Parkinson’s. It’s a good time to review this formerly neurotic psychology professor’s maxim: “Be Here Now.”

 

 

 

 

 

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