CGG Book Club: My Name Is Lucy Barton
Hey guys! I have long been an advocate for books as gifts. Between my Holiday Reads, my occasional Beach Reads and my frequent book features throughout the year, there are few gift ideas out there that are as affordable, accessible, and customizable as books! So I thought it might be fun to highlight a few reads I’m devouring each month – plus do a great giveaway of at least one of them. Check out a few of my latest picks below!
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn – $12.99
Like everyone on the planet, I read Gone Girl a few years ago. But author Gillian Flynn had been on my to-read list for awhile before that thanks to recommendations from Entertainment Weekly (where Flynn has formerly a writer). I finally got a chance to pick up another book by the masterful thriller writer, and oh my goodness was it dark, but also quite timely. It follows the story of Libby Day, who was a young girl when her entire family was murdered and her older brother was put away for the crime, in part thanks to Libby’s flawed testimony. The story is told in alternating viewpoints between Libby trying to determine if her brother really was the killer in the ‘present’, and what was happening in the lives of her family in the hours leading up to their murders.
I say the book is ‘timely’ because I read it right around the peak mania for Netflix’s Making a Murderer. If you enjoyed that series, this book takes an interesting look at how the puzzle pieces of a crime can be so easily rearranged when you don’t have a proverbial ‘picture on the box’ to follow – similar to the Steven Avery case. Give it a read, but maybe avoid reading it right before bed – this one’s pretty spine-tingling!
The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay – $14.81
Are you on Goodreads? If so, then you probably know how hard it is to gain an average rating of over 4 stars – particularly when you have some 50,000+ people rating your book and it’s actually closer to 4.5. Such is the case with Katja Millay’s (originally) self-published phenomenon, The Sea of Tranquility. Told in alternating viewpoints between two damaged teens at the cusp of adulthood, the book is breathtakingly written from start to finish, with honestly one of the most perfect endings I’ve ever read in a book!
It is one of those unique YA books that transcends the label – adults will enjoy the story of Nastya and Josh just as much as the young adult audience it was originally written for. Sometimes you just want to pick up a book that you know is going to be good, and this is one I can happily recommend to everyone.
Now for the main event! I recently had the opportunity to read My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – check out my full review below!
What’s The Buzz?: Sometimes it’s not so much a book that gets buzz but an author. Elizabeth Strout has claimed one of literary’s greatest prizes – the Pulitzer – for her collection of interwoven short stories, Olive Kitteridge. If that name sounds familiar to you apart from being into the lit world, it’s because HBO adapted the book into an award-winning television mini-series. So needless to say, the profile of Strout is pretty high right now.
What’s The Plot?: In some ways, Strout’s profile makes this book all the more surprising. It’s short – capping at under 200 pages – to the point where it could arguably be a novella and not a full novel, but oh my stars there is a lot going on in every page. Like Olive Kitteridge, My Name Is Lucy Barton somewhat adopts a short story format. It’s actually written like a fictional memoir, with author Lucy reflecting on part of an extended stay she had in the hospital when her daughters were quite young and she had complications after a routine surgery. But the story jumps from that particular segment of her life to other aspects – her childhood, her affection for a neighbour during the bloom of the AIDS crisis, her aspirations to become a writer herself, and her life at present.
Virtually all of it ties back to one key thing: what it means to love. As we find out, Lucy’s childhood was anything but lovely, which makes her mother’s appearance at her hospital bedside all the more astonishing. As the two women spend a week together, Lucy is overwhelmed with relief and a shocking feeling of love – but as her mother spins tales about their neighbours, dredging up Lucy’s lonely childhood, Lucy is desperately wondering whether her mom is able to reciprocate those same feelings, and how it may impact her life from there (indeed, capacity for love is a question Lucy asks when dreaming of writing, considering her husband, or realizing as a mother herself what all she missed out on.)
What You Need to Know: Although the book is slim, it’s very carefully written. Each page is layered with meaning, making this excellent book club fodder as you assess what the stories Lucy’s mom tells us mean, or whether her mother has a selective memory, or if it’s perhaps Lucy’s own memory that’s flawed. If you like a book that requires some digging in and re-reading, then you’ll enjoy this one. But make no mistake – it’s not a hard read, and even on a surface level, it’s perfectly enjoyable. While the pages are loaded with meaning, the story is very readable, with a crisp, light tone and pages that pull you along (the short chapters help too).
Who It’s For: In a lot of ways, the book reminded me of the work of Canadian greats like Alice Munro or (non-Sci Fi) Margaret Atwood or even Margaret Laurence – particularly when we go back to Lucy’s childhood in rural Illinois. They have a similar feeling and tone, and the past and present are interwoven in a way that’s meaningful for the reader. If you like any of those writers, then you’d certainly enjoy this one. It’s also, as I mentioned, a cool pick for a book club. It’s short and easy to read, but offers plenty of debate and discussion options – including some from the author herself (note, don’t click on that link if you’re worried-ish about spoilers).
Exciting news! If you’re interested in winning a copy of My Name Is Lucy Barton, I have THREE to give away. Here’s how to enter for your chance of nabbing this enjoyable book:
1) First & foremost: you must be a subscriber to the Canadian Gift Guide to enter this giveaway. It’s as simple as finding ‘The Gift of Gab’ box in the righthand column and dropping in your email or clicking follow. Then, tell me in the comments below by March 16, 2016 – why are you interested in reading My Name Is Lucy Barton?
2) Entries are limited to one per person / per email address / per household (or more if you score bonus entries). A random draw will be conducted on or around March 17, 2015 to select the winner, who will have 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen in their place.
3) Entries are limited to Canadians that have reached the age of majority in their province. Quebec is not eligible for this promotion.
4) Bonus Entry: Follow Random House of Canada on Twitter, tag them and me (@cdngiftguide) in a Tweet about why you want to read this book! Post a link to your Tweet below in a separate comment to earn yourself an extra entry into the draw.
5) Bonus Entry #2: Add this book to your to-read list on GoodReads, and leave a link back to the page it’s on below in a separate comment to earn yourself another bonus entry.