Good Books I Haven’t Really Read: Anna Quindlen, Stephen Prothero, David Talbot and a Book About French Love . . .

Patricia Bracewell, author of historical novel "Shadow on the Crown," speaking at Left Coast Writers meeting, Book Passage, corte madera, CA. Photo by BF Newhall

And Patricia Bracewell’s book makes eight. I resisted purchasing her tantalizing historical novel, Shadow on the Crown, at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA, earlier this week. So it’s not on my gotta-read list — yet. Photo by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Seven books I never read. Make that five, because I did actually skim through two of the seven intriguing books currently languishing on my bookshelf, crying out to be read. (Is skimming reading?). One of the two is by Anne LaMott, the other by Lauren Winner. More about those books tomorrow.

That leaves five books I’ve dearly wanted to spend quality time with in the past year, but haven’t.

And that’s because I’m writing a book myself. Specifically, I’m writing a book in 2013, when authors of books, if they hope to have anything but a miniscule readership of long-suffering family and friends, must also act as their own publicists.

Anne LaMott, author of "Help, Thanks, Wow," signs books at Montclair Presbyterian Church, Oakland, CA, November 2012. Photo by BF Newhall

Anne LaMott signed books and greeted fans at Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA, after reading from “Help, Thanks, Wow” last November. Photo by BF Newhall

Patricia Bracewell, author of the newly released book, Shadow on the Crown, clarified this point Monday night at a meeting of the Left Coast Writers, a bustling writers salon that meets monthly at the Book Passage bookstore in Corte Madera, CA.

Patricia is one of those enviable authors who actually scored a contract with a major publisher, Viking/Penguin. Her book has gotten the full treatment – a hardcover first edition, in-house editors, copy editors, designers, distributors, and an actual publicist who does things like organize book tours and send out review copies.

Patricia’s book looks like a great read. It’s historical fiction that takes place in 11th century England. But I didn’t buy her book the other night. Why? Because I knew I wouldn’t have time to read it.

To her audience of forty or so aspiring poets, memoirists and fiction writers, Patricia confessed to having the same problem – not enough time to read.

There are so many potential authors out there today, self-published and otherwise, she said, all of them blogging and tweeting and Facebooking like mad, that in order to keep up she’s had to put in many hours a week on social media – despite the serious back-up she already has from her big-bucks publisher.

All those hours of online networking, fun as they are, leave Patricia (and authors like me) little time for reading other people’s books, even the delicious-looking ones – like the five I’ve listed here today and the two I’ll talk about tomorrow.

dust jacket of Anna Quindlen's book "Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake" is red with a sparkler burning. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake: A Memoir, by Anna Quindlen, Random House, 2012, $26 hardcover.

A writer who works at home, whose children no longer live there but whose bedrooms are “preserved as shrines, complete with old posters and artwork and high school course notes crammed in the desk drawers,” Anna Quindlen is a woman after my own heart.

And I love the title of her book. It’s my idea of how to be a woman of years.

Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love, by David Talbot, Free Press, 2012, $28 hardcover.

I’m dying to read this 453-page book. David Talbot sat in my living room for a couple of hours interviewing my husband Jon about the role Jon’s father, one-time San Francisco Chronicle editor Scott Newhall, played in the city’s history.

Talbot’s book has kind words for my maverick father-in-law. I should read it.

Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, by Anne LaMott, Riverhead Books, 2012, $17.975 hardcover.

LaMott gets a little preachy in this book – that’s the trouble with structuring your book around an idea (prayer) rather than a narrative as LaMott does so well in her memoir Some Assembly Required, which I’ll be talking about tomorrow.

Also, I’m feeling a little ripped off: Eighteen bucks for 101 skinny, airy pages?

Still, I like the excruciatingly honest way LaMott talks to God. Toward the end of the book she finds herself hollering, “Help me not be such an ass.” Which she promptly realizes is a fourth great way to pray – and fodder for another book. Let’s hope it’s not a skinny one.

Marilyn Yalom signed her book, "How the French Invented Love," at Mrs. Dalloway's bookstore in Berkeley, CA. Photo by BF Newhall

Marilyn Yalom talked about her book, How the French Invented Love, at Mrs. Dalloway’s bookstore in Berkeley, CA. And, yes, that’s lipstick on her right cheek. She got kissed by one of the francophiles in the audience. Photo by BF Newhall

How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance, by Marilyn Yalom, Harper Perennial, 2012, $15.99 trade paper original.

Courtly love, gallant love, romantic love, existential love and more – all bound up in a sensuous, deckle-edged paperback with French flaps.

I’d love to know more about the varieties of human love in la belle France as Marilyn Yalom, a scholar with a mischievous take on history, has studied – and experienced? – them. But apparently not enough to tear myself away from my Facebook page.

The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation, by Stephen Prothero, HarperOne, 2012, $29.99 hardcover.

Stephen Prothero asserts that “the United States isn’t just a country; it is also a religion of sorts. In the hearts and minds of the faithful . . . the stories we tell about our nation are sacred stories.”

What’s more, says Prothero, the American religion has scripture – the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Roe v. Wade, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are just a few of the texts reproduced here.

This 533-page tome is fascinating. I could read it in bits and pieces. Maybe if I leave it on the breakfast table for a few weeks I’ll work my way through it over time.

Or not.

Tomorrow: Two books I did read. You might also enjoy reading about a book called “Beyond Forgiveness.”

Cover of trade paperback by Marilyn Yalom, How the French Invented Love. A couple is kissing.





  1. jenny gonzales says:

    i love the planet

  2. Do I ever identify with you, Barbara?! And how! The thing that most chisels away at my self-respect is my not making time to read the stack of must-reads in my office. That’s my New Year’s Resolution three years running now. Any day now…
    BTW, Barbara, your blog of last week was fantastic! Like one of those fashion programs on TLC or VH1. Really fun. You were stunning in the purple Lauren. And I think your choice of earrings, but no necklace, will be perfect.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Interesting how we browbeat ourselves about those unread books . . . and all the other gotta-dos, which we don’t really have time for, but think we should.

      A post on shoes and earrings to go with my mother-of-the-groom gown is in the works. I paid a visit to the mall yesterday.

  3. I haven’t read these books either, but “How the French Invented Love”, and “The American Bible” are ones I might like to read.

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