Reading Matters

Former Observer book columnists weigh in on what they’re reading

Polly Paddock in 2000
Polly Paddock in 2000

Four of my fondest friends happen to have served as columnists/editors for this page before me. Well, actually, before and after me: Polly Paddock, Sam Hodges, Jeri Fischer Krentz and Pam Kelley.

I’m always curious what they’re reading, and I thought you might be, too.

Polly is retired, lung cancer-free for three years now and a grandmother of three. She’s just started Ann Patchett’s bestselling novel, “Commonwealth,” the story of five decades in the lives of a blended family. “I love everything by her,” Polly says, “especially ‘Run,’ (a 2007 novel showing how poverty and wealth can exist only blocks apart), “which would have been good to re-read this election season.”

She’s just finished Paul Kalanithi’s bestselling “When Breath Becomes Air,”for her book club. “I rarely read nonfiction,” Polly says, “but it was terrific – great writing, great ideas from someone confronting his own mortality.”

Sam Hodges lives with wife Kit Lively, a former Observer editor, in Dallas. Sam is a writer for the United Methodist News Service. He says, “My best reading of late has been Nick Hornby’s ‘Ten Years in the Tub: Soaking in Great Books,’ which collects his book columns for The Believer magazine. I like books about books, and Hornby – a novelist and screenwriter – is funny and insightful (in a working writer’s way) as he sizes up the books he’s been reading. It doesen’t hurt that he’s a major fan of my favorite writer: Charles Portis.” Sam, by the way, is the author of one of the funniest newspaper novels I’ve ever read: the 1992 cult classic, “B-Four.”

Jeri Krentz, now associate director of communications at The Duke Endowment, a private foundation, says, “I can’t stop talking about the book I’m reading right now. It’s ‘A History of Reading,’ by Alberto Manguel. I found it one of the Little Free Libraries that I pass on my walk. Manguel divides it into ‘Acts of Reading’ (being read to, the shape of a book, private reading) and ‘Powers of the Reader.’ As one reviewer said, if you love reading, ‘this, at long last, is your story.’”

Pam Kelley, a recent Observer retiree, is at work on a nonfiction narrative about cocaine, race and ambition in Charlotte. Pam says, “It’s been months since I finished Matthew Desmond’s ‘Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.’ But his exploration of poverty is the best book I’ve read in 2016. Desmond, a Harvard sociologist, lived in poor neighborhoods near families he profiles. The result is writing that’s vivid and heartbreaking. Though Desmond was in Milwaukee, he could have written this book about countless American cities, including Charlotte, where our affordable housing shortage has become a crisis.”

Thanks, old friends. I wish we could all be together to discuss these great books.