Books

Landscape first appeared in print as an English word at the beginning of the 17th century. It meant what it meant. Over time, however, we've managed to co-opt it with adjectives like historical, political, sociological, economic, technological, cultural and many other variations on a... landscapian theme.   

Is it just me, or is everyone in the process of decluttering at the moment? I blame the new Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo for this resurgence of decluttering (originally made popular by Kondo's 2014 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up; Ten Speed Press, $16.99). Which is not to say I'm not a fan of decluttering; on the contrary, it has me thinking about how to stick to the goal of a more minimalist lifestyle after the original clearing out.

The middle of winter is when I like to do a lot of armchair travel. This is partly a coping mechanism for the cold, dark, rainy days, and lately I've been thinking that a cruise sounds fun. I have been on only one in my life. I was a teenager and with my parents, so I was just along for the ride. What I remember most were the long days far from dry land, when I managed to devour the entirety of Steinbeck'sEast of Eden (Penguin, $18). While we did go parasailing in Cabo San Lucas and joined an excursion to a secluded beach in Puerto Vallarta on that trip, I wonder what it'd be like to take charge of such a trip myself.

I grew up reading books with strong female protagonists, books such as Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (Clarion, $7.99) and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (Puffin, $8.99). So it's always surprising and a little dispiriting to me when a parent or grandparent at the bookstore asks for recommendations for a boy with the proviso that "he doesn't like reading about girls." At least half of the books I intended to hand them are immediately out of the running, including a number of classics. The reverse--girls who will only read books about girls--comes up much less frequently, in my experience.

As a newcomer to the U.S. several decades ago, I made my first foray into American literature with Edith Wharton's Custom of the Country (Vintage, $12), and soon I was devouring everything this fine lady had written. This week, as we celebrate what would have been Wharton's 156th birthday, it's an opportune time to highlight some of her most impactful work.

I don't think there's an official category for "Retail Lit," but there should be. We just need more books. I spent many years working in retail, but I have precious few books on my shelves that reflect that world. John Updike's short story "A&P" and Steve Martin's novel Shopgirl (Hyperion) come to mind.

By any measure, the last two years in American politics have been turbulent, if not downright disorienting. As politicians engage in shouting matches on social media (and elsewhere), I've been turning to an unlikely source of comfort: memoirs by staffers from the Obama White House.

Many people view January as a time to start fresh and make improvements in their lives. A good way to take steps toward that goal? Pick up some helpful guides to getting to know yourself and adjusting habits, career and relationships to fit your personality better.

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