Ex Libris | Teeny Tiny Book Reviews

Ex Libris – teeny tiny book reviews from this paid-up, card-carrying bookworm.

A HOMEMADE LIFE, Molly Wizenberg

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Where to find the best macarons in Paris, how to cook eggs like the best chefs in America, nostalgic recipes for Tuscan bean soup and fresh ginger cake – and Wizenberg’s charming, chatty tone first developed on her blog Orangette – make this memoir-cookbook mélange a joy to read. I gobbled the volume up in the space of a working week, mentally planning that night’s dinner as I sat with it in my lap on the tube – the evening’s menu usually inspired by Wizenberg’s homely comfort food. That same white bean stew and chewy chocolate-chip cookies have already graced our kitchen table and did not disappoint. Next up: Wizenberg’s take on chana masala and a mouth-watering recipe for French yoghurt cake with a lemon glaze.

LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN, Colum McCann

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Teachers from the local high school in Newtown, Connecticut, the US town devastated by a school shooting in 2012, found McCann’s book so arresting that they chose it as the year’s book to help survivors of the massacre cope with the aftermath of the massacre.  The book has been described as a book about September 11 that never makes mention of the events on that clear blue-skied autumn morning – instead it centres around a disparate group of individuals and their reactions to French acrobat Philippe Petit’s daring walk between the twin towers on a tightrope (a real-life event that took place in 1974). While I found the book less immediately compelling than McCann’s latest novel Transatlantic (which I gushed about here), with time its subtleties revealed themselves and I found myself floored by McCann’s nuanced prose and the way in which the book stitches together such varied histories into a composite whole.

ESSAYS IN LOVE, Alain De Botton

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I accidentally ordered two copies of Essays in Love. I’d been pondering buying the book for so long I had somehow added multiple copies to my basket. It’s all worked out for the best, though, because Matt and I are reading it in tandem and thoroughly enjoying doing so; our very own book club for two (groan). The novel is uncharacteristic of its form in many ways, blended with philosophical musings in essay form and written in numbered bullet points. And though it is not the cheeriest manifesto on love you’ll ever read (to the contrary; it’s rather melancholy about love in the long-term), it’s full of insights so penetrating and astute that I’m resisting the urge to re-read the entire tome with a marker pen in hand. Particularly noteworthy too is the way De Botton, known to most as a popular philosopher rather than a novelist, weaves philosophical concepts into a classic love story so skillfully, both illuminating the timelessness of the plot and undermining the book’s central premise at the same time. Unlike dense philosophy theses, the two protagonists are so well-drawn and so recognisable that this book is a certified page-turner. (Oh – and it made me cry on the Hammersmith & City Line.)

What’s on your reading list this autumn? I’m looking forward to Margaret Atwood’s new dystopia The Heart Goes Last next and perhaps a Nora Ephron. Pretty please share your recommended reads in the comments! (Bookworms gotta stick together.) xo