Shelf Life by Rachael Mason
In the last week, all I wanted to do was read. My desire to lose myself in a story was even stronger than usual.
I think it probably has something to do with the amount of household chores I needed to complete. I should have spent the entire week getting my house ready for my family's annual Easter egg hunt. Instead, I avoided all except the most pressing tasks in favor of television, movies and two books.
The books I picked up were so good, I just couldn't help reading them when I should have been cleaning. The first one was "Cowboys Are My Weakness" (W.W. Norton, $13.95), a collection of stories by Pam Houston.
I liked the characters and the sense of place that Houston creates throughout the book. The stories are set in the rural lands of the West. I've never been out West (except for a family vacation to Colorado when I was 3), but I had no problem imagining the locations that Houston describes.
I really liked the tension Houston creates in "Selway," which depicts a couple boating down the highwater rapids of a river. I wanted to crawl into the story and warn the characters not to head down the river.
In the book, Houston also includes two dogs that were so realistic, I feel like I've actually met them. In "Jackson is Only One of My Dogs," the author introduces the title character, as well as another dog named Hailey. Houston describes Jackson as "clearly a human trapped in a dog's body," while Hailey is a good dog who loves nothing more than getting her stomach wet and lying around in the dirt. Of course, I liked Jackson better, even though he causes a lot of trouble for his owner. Jackson and Hailey also appear in another story, "A Blizzard Under Blue Sky."
Because the stories in "Cowboys Are My Weakness" are all fairly short, I finished the book almost too quickly. At some point, I think I'll read it again, though.
Houston's book is a hard act to follow, but so far Anna Quindlen's "Rise and Shine" (Random House, $24.95) is holding its own. I haven't finished the book yet, but I can't wait until I can find more time to read it.
"Rise and Shine" depicts two sisters who live in Manhattan. Bridget, who is a social worker in the Bronx, narrates the story. Her older sister Meghan, the host of a popular morning news show, is wealthy and seems to have a perfect life. But after Meghan is overheard using profanity on the air during what she thought was a commercial break, things start to fall apart.
Quindlen really brings New York to life in her novel. As I read it, I felt like I was walking down the city streets with Bridget. No wonder I couldn't stop reading. I'd much rather be in New York than at my own house, washing the dishes, scrubbing the floor and figuring out exactly where to put all those books piled on the kitchen table and chairs.
If there's a book you think I really ought to read, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.