You won’t find the drama or affairs or subsequent aftermath at the core of other memoirs about marriages, but instead a quiet, lyrical meditation about what it’s like to spend a lifetime with another human being. Shapiro speaks honestly about this rarely examined topic. But her new book, an extraordinary memoir of her 18-year marriage, cements her reputation as a great writer. Shapiro is a wonderful novelist and memoirist who may have become more famous from her appearance on Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday than from her nine books combined. “Hourglass” is insightful, compassionate, intelligent, and graceful. It bravely illuminates Shapiro’s long-term relationship, and thus our own relationships, contemplating how our lives evolve, separately and together, when those lives don’t turn out as we planned, or we don’t turn out as we planned. Another gift of truth is one of my favorite books in recent memory, “Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage.” It’s a stretch to write about Dani Shapiro for a column about the SoCal literary landscape; Shapiro has never lived in California as far as I know, but she’s married to a screenwriter and she’s danced with Hollywood herself and, well, she’s another truth-teller with another gorgeous new book.
This Northern California truth-teller, and author of nine books of nonfiction and seven novels, has at least one more thing to say in her new book, “Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy.” If you’ve read Lamott previously, then I’m preaching to the choir. When asked about her next book she replied that she might have already said everything she had to say. A couple of years ago I heard bestselling author Anne Lamott speak at All Saints Church in Pasadena. (“You do you,” would be her cheer.) And everyone would benefit from her profound and deliciously funny observations about the human condition, this time through the lens of mercy, what she describes as “radical kindness” to ourselves and to others. Blue skies. A green landscape, the likes of which we haven’t seen in quite awhile. Poppies. Mercy seems to me to be a good idea these days and Lamott reminds us of that truth in this forthright and engaging new book. If you haven’t, don’t let Lamott’s nods to religion and the Old Testament scare off the more secular among you. The purity of spring. Her answer was candid and thankfully wrong. Perhaps that’s what’s been informing my reading lately and what’s led me, not to my usual diverse assortment of recommendations but to a simple list of books by authors who share a mission to speak the truth. She is a badass, born-again Christian and recovering alcoholic who has her God but respects you and yours. Springtime in Southern California.
You can reach Hill at www.AllisonKHill.com or readingalovestory.tumblr.com. Truth-tellers are often truthsayers, those who speak a truth that is sometimes difficult or even confronted by opposition. Allison K. As Hemingway said, “The writer’s job is to tell the truth.” All three of these authors, truth-tellers and truthsayers every one, have done their job with these exceptional books. Hill is president and CEO of Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena and Book Soup in West Hollywood, and a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post book section. Good writing always speaks the truth.
Whether that truth is welcome or not. And finally, I must mention the incomparable bestselling and award-winning author Margaret Atwood and her not new, but definitely noteworthy, novel “A Handmaid’s Tale,” recently adapted by Hollywood as an original television series and set to premiere on Hulu this month. Atwood’s novels have always proven Ralph Waldo Emerson’s point, “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures,” and “Handmaid’s” themes of government, women’s rights, and civil liberties will resonate as hot topics with Americans today, but Atwood is Canadian and she wrote this dystopian novel set in England back in 1985. At the time, Atwood was writing about the dangers of complacency and power in the wrong hands, principles not politics—what seems to me to be an important distinction in this day and age if we are to protect what is most valuable to us and our society. It is that truth that I suspect will be highlighted when “A Handmaid’s Tale” finally airs.