Dear Book Doctor,

I’ve been up to my ears in non-fiction recently, because that’s what people keep recommending – Alain De Botton, Ekhardt Tolle, Amy Poelher, Lena Dunham, Amanda Palmer. From vulnerability to mindfulness, applied economics to gender politics, systemic inflammation to neurodiversity, I’ve covered a lot of ground, but you know what’s missing when I scroll through my Kindle? FICTION!

The only novel I’ve read so far this year is Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Haruki Murakami). Do you have any recommendations for a good rainy weekend read – not requiring too much effort, but not so brainless that I figure out the ending by the halfway mark? I generally prefer genre fiction to literary, but beyond that I don’t have strong preferences.




Dear Lola,

I have been there. We all get in a reading rut from time to time. I have been quite submerged in nonfiction myself lately, so it was a treat to come up with some options for you.

A genre read is a cozy thing. As summer is coming I find I need a little break in the form of books that don’t ask me to change my life or rethink everything I’ve ever done. I do gravitate to those books, and it seems like you do as well, based on your list of authors. I suspect we have been hanging out in the same aisle of the bookshop.

Now on to you, Lola. I’m a bit intimidated, as you are quite current in your nonfiction reading, and you’ve already read the most recent Marukami. You know what’s coming out, or at least you hang out with people who do. A challenge to give you something new…

I will give you a few to choose from:

One that I absolutely loved, and will be especially enjoyable for anyone who read and loved Pride and Prejudice, which I suspect you have, is Longbourn by Jo Baker. It’s a dreamy read about the lives of the servants below stairs in the Bennett home and is beautifully done. We Jane Austen nerds get to perk up whenever there is something happening above stairs that we know from P&P, which is so much fun. If you haven’t read it already, I would.

Another that I found magical and that has images that are still with me over a year later, is Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. The plot switches back and forth between early 60s Italy and present-day Hollywood. The descriptions are incredible, and the characters are both deep and subtle. He even manages to pull of Richard Burton as a character, which is quite a feat. I just adored this book.

Funny, these were both recommendations for my very first book dr. letter, but even so I can’t resist re-suggesting them.

In addition, recent discoveries:

I have just this week started Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch. It’s definitely genre fiction- a London crime novel, to be specific, however there is an X-Files element as well. (If you loved The Rook, this is for you. If you don’t know about The Rook and you like genre fiction, you must read it immediately.) Midnight Riot is surprisingly believable and feels much more like this world with a bit of the unusual thrown into it. And if you like audiobooks, the narrator is fantastic. He has an incredibly sexy voice, a bit like Idris Elba’s, and he’s quite good at characters.

However, if this is completely off the reservation, here is something a bit more traditional:

Jojo Moyes’ One Plus One is a charming little novel. (If you ever want a real weeper, try her Me Before You.) A house cleaner with a gifted daughter has a run-in with her wealthy-but-troubled boss and this unlikely encounter unfolds in a way that changes them both. Moyes is a versatile writer that thrives when characters from different cultural or class backgrounds come together. I quite enjoy her and also find her to be a talented and skilled writer.

I hope this survey of fiction has gotten you fired up to return to the fiction section. Do let us know what you select and how you like it!

Happy reading,

the book dr.

  • June 11, 2015 - 04:04

    lola - Thanks Book Doctor! Definitely fired up to start fiction-ing again : )

    With the exception of P&P, there’s nothing there that I’ve read yet (how embarrassing!). I will be working to rectify this over the summer. But where to begin…?!ReplyCancel

    • June 11, 2015 - 14:49

      caroline - Lola-

      Fantastic- I was worried you’d write back and say you had already read all of these. Phew! Please do let me know what you think… I must say, you’re in for a treat.ReplyCancel

  • June 25, 2015 - 13:54

    Ephemera Almanac, Volume 6: Summer Reading. | the book dr. - […] reading! what are your reading goals for the summer? I am going to follow the lead of a recent book dr. letter and dive into a lot of fiction. Can’t […]ReplyCancel

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First of all, Happy Birthday and thank you to my friend Catherine Theis, who was kind enough to tell me she couldn’t put this book down. I trust this lady’s judgment.

I remember first seeing the ad for Book 1 of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle  in the NY Times book review at least a year ago, if not longer. I had heard nothing about it, and my initial thought was, “Oh, please.” It seemed like a trumped up self-important book. I wondered what he could have possibly had to say that warranted such a presentation.

Yes, despite my love of books and perhaps because of them, I am often very judgmental. I figured out early that I wasn’t going to have time to read every book out there, so I am often hoping to rule a book out of my pile as much as I am hoping to include it. I wrote this one off quickly and moved on.

But it kept coming back around again. The reviews were certainly impressive. I would not be swayed.

“It’s actually really good,” someone told me. “I think you’d really like it.”

I continued to ignore this. One of my most intense flaws (of which there are many, I assure you) is that I am equally likely to push books on others and totally ignore suggestions given to me. I am trying to get better about this.

So when Catherine told me she had not been able to put this opus down and wasn’t really able to say why, I knew I wanted to get a sense of it first hand. Who am I to ignore the suggestions of a real live published author?

It is a dive, reading this book. It is a complete immersion inside the head of the author. Given the fact that he is quite neurotic and has a tendency to cry much more often than other people, I felt right at home. There was a long portion lived when he was young and was trying to scrounge up beer for parties and make an impression on girls juxtaposed with his adult life. Much of the story was mundane- the kind of everyday human drama that we each live through at various points. Granted, there are portions that are quite a bit more dramatic than what I hope to experience in my life, but it is all relatable.

So what makes this book so compelling and as compulsively readable as, I do have to agree here, it is?

I think it is the incredibly vivid detail. I cannot imagine how he managed to remember all of this detail. It is so real, it was a bit like watching a film rather than reading. At one point he says he doesn’t remember much of his childhood well, and I nearly laughed out loud. I felt like I had lived his life along with him by the end of this book.

Now it is categorized as an autobiographical novel rather than a memoir, and perhaps this is how Knausgaard deals with the detail he had to invent or flesh out from what he imagines must have happened. But still, it feels like the real thing.

I stand corrected. Or at least my earlier self does.

This is a good one. Give it a try for sure. Do let me know what you thought in the comments, or come back and drop a line if you are inspired to read it now.


  • June 10, 2015 - 13:40

    Sophia Roberts - I have read four of these six books, so far, and agree with you, that this volume is an amazing piece of work – a first-rate example of how to turn one’s life into a piece of fiction.ReplyCancel

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This week’s Ephemera Almanac is unofficially titled “The Woo-woo Edition.” Whenever I share any of my many spiritual habits and resources, I tend to add the explanation “I used to live in San Francisco.” Something about San Francisco, with its long slow hugs and nude hot tubbing explains even the most obscure practices, even though I moved away ten years ago this summer. Still, you can take the girl out of SF…

In honor of my days up north, here are this week’s links:

  • My morning ritual always includes meditation, which I time with this app. It has held me accountable for over four years. Tip: you can customize the singing bowl sounds, which is a lovely feature. I change it up every few months.
  • I usually try to read something inspiring, even just a few pages, before meditating. This beautiful book by David Richo is my current choice. Everything of his I have read has been loaded with insight. Sometimes I am not always thrilled with what I find, like this morning when I was forced to own up to some controlling tendencies lately, but taking a personal inventory is always valuable. (Especially for those around me!)
  •  After sitting, I journal for a bit in my extra large black floppy-covered plain paper Moleskine, if I have time. I get to my journal at some point every day. But my must-do in the morning is checking in with my Desire Map planner. This has been an incredible compass to me. And it’s incredible to see how my goals unfold over the year when looking back.
  • This beautiful article explored the relationship between a mother and daughter, as well as their debate around print versus eBook reading. So touching, and shows how a person’s spirit stays with their books. Tissues recommended.
  • I adore Gerhard Richter. Looking at his work in galleries over the years has always induced meditative states. I am dying to watch this film. I just found out about it and it is definitely on my watch list. Has anyone seen it yet?
  • Pema Chödron audiobooks. I get them from the library on my phone. Turn your commute into a retreat!
  • And, if you’re just not ready to be introspective and woo-woo, I give you the nope lama.


  • June 4, 2015 - 17:59

    anne - this is wonderful! visually beautiful and great information.ReplyCancel

    • June 4, 2015 - 21:24

      caroline - Thank you, Anne!ReplyCancel

  • June 4, 2015 - 19:03

    masha - Love your morning ritual. Thanks for the info about the app. and David Richo, going to check this out. I recently made a change in my morning ritual and started reading something before I journal and it seems to be enhancing my ritual. Thank you for sharing. <3ReplyCancel

    • June 4, 2015 - 21:23

      caroline - Thanks, Masha! David Richo is pure gold. Let me know how you like him. What are you reading before your journal? I am always excited to hear about books people love…ReplyCancel

  • June 4, 2015 - 23:32

    Claire - Ooh yes – I’m glad you shared the Insight timer too – I will be experimenting! And I am Desire Mapping this year too…ReplyCancel

    • June 8, 2015 - 13:19

      caroline - Claire- do let us know how the experimenting goes…ReplyCancel

  • June 5, 2015 - 04:55

    lola - Insight Timer has been the best thing for my meditation practice! My teacher always said we should just keep going till we get to 20 minutes (which we would ‘naturally’ know, pfft) – how do you measure that without intermittently opening your eyes? So disruptive. Have just realised, though, that since I started using it in flight mode, it’s not recording my consecutive days : (

    Pema Chodron <3 And the article on books vs Kindle was lovely. Really enjoying the ephemera almanac so far…

    (I like DL, but have never been able to get into Desire Mapping (or finding a word for the year, or a lot of feelings-related stuff) – think I'm just not wired for that kind of thing.)ReplyCancel

    • June 8, 2015 - 13:18

      caroline - I’m so glad you are enjoying, lola! If you turn off flight mode it will sync eventually. I was worried it wouldn’t record my sessions when I was in Mexico recently and had the app on airplane mode and once I got home it did sync and I was still on track.

      Glad you loved the article- that one was so sweet, I found. And Desire Mapping and words of the year aren’t everyone’s thing. I’m glad to hear you’ve found yours!ReplyCancel

  • June 5, 2015 - 21:01

    Kat - Me too – D. Mapper in common ..
    Caroline! I am so inspired by your epherema contribution!! Thank you❤️ReplyCancel

  • June 7, 2015 - 11:13

    Dal - Thanks for the fantastic resources, I’ll be trying the insigt app too. The Desire planner looks great, maybe something for next year? And *moleskins* – love ’em.
    I’m so dissapointed I didn’t get to naked hot tub when I wan in San Fran! Though having just seen San Andreas I’m not so sure….. xoxReplyCancel

    • June 8, 2015 - 13:16

      caroline - Haha! San Andreas does not seem like motivation for hot tubbing. Don’t worry- the San Franciscans will be there next time. xoReplyCancel

  • June 8, 2015 - 13:07

    barry mcwilliams - Just downloaded the app.ReplyCancel

    • June 8, 2015 - 13:16

      caroline - Excellent! I love that thing.ReplyCancel

  • August 13, 2015 - 14:36

    Meditation and Mindfulness in Hawaii| the book dr. - […] week, we’re returning to the woo-woo. It seems that everyone enjoyed that previous woo-woo edition, so I’m going to share more resources for meditation and mindfulness this week on the […]ReplyCancel

  • November 9, 2015 - 15:24

    How to have a wealthy spirit | the book dr. - […] I recall, everyone really enjoyed an Ephemera Almanac I wrote a while back about all my woo-woo practices and recommended spiritual […]ReplyCancel

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Looking for a Friend in a Crowd of Arriving Passengers: A Sonnet

Not John Whalen.
Not John Whalen.
Not John Whalen.
Not John Whalen.
Not John Whalen.
Not John Whalen.
Not John Whalen.
Not John Whalen.
Not John Whalen.
Not John Whalen.
Not John Whalen.
Not John Whalen.
Not John Whalen.
John Whalen.

-Billy Collins, Aimless Love


This made me laugh out loud lying in bed. Granted, I already raved about this book on Monday, but this seemed like exactly the push I needed to revisit to get me through the rest of the week.

  • June 3, 2015 - 14:18

    Janet McQueen - So simple and so funny! Thanks for the big LOL, Caroline, I needed that … 🙂ReplyCancel

    • June 3, 2015 - 15:42

      caroline - I did, too! Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂ReplyCancel

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pensive woman

Today, we have an afternoon rescue for an urgent letter:

Dear book doctor,

I’m in the jury duty waiting room and I’m reading the most delectable book, The Fractalist by Mandelbrot. It’s so fun to sit in near silence and feel as though it is my job to read. But I’ll finish it today and if I come back I need another title stat!




Dear Frederique-

I like your style, as I dream of jury duty for just this reason. There is nothing like a guilt-free day of reading in the middle of the week. However, given that it’s only Tuesday, you might need more than one book. You could potentially be reading all week.

These should keep you good and occupied should you need three more days worth:

  • The Poisoners Handbook, Deborah Blum. full disclosure: I haven’t read this one yet, but a friend just recommended it with such intensity over lunch that I feel confident. Given that this is about the birth of forensic medicine in the Jazz Age, you may be able to learn enough to be disqualified as a juror for too much expertise? Worth a shot…
  • Gangsterland, Tod Goldberg. A hit man has to go underground after a job spirals out of control. Where does he go? To Vegas. To pose as a rabbi. Even though he’s not Jewish. A page turner and perfect to fantasize about as a backstory for the case you may be in the jury seat for…
  • On Mexican Time, Tony Cohan. This is the escapist wildcard to dive into when you get a little claustrophobic and really want out. This memoir outlines a couple’s decision to up and move from L.A. to San Miguel Allende in the 80s. Both artists, the descriptions are lush and immediate. You’ll feel like you’re on vacation instead of trapped in a government building.

I have given you links to Kindle books and have kept to eBook options, since I know you don’t have time to get to a bookstore or the library tonight. Good luck with jury duty- if you end up on the sot of case they put you in a hotel in isolation for, write back! I’ll make you a much longer list…

Happy reading,

the book dr.

  • June 3, 2015 - 08:14

    Claire - I think I’d go for On Mexican Time, the escapist option…ReplyCancel

    • June 3, 2015 - 14:45

      caroline - It’s a really good one. Let me know what you think if you check it out, Claire!ReplyCancel

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