What to Read Now

      Our favorite Book Critic, Ellen Heltzel, stopped by to share her picks for what to read now.

      "Thirty Girls," by Susan Minot. Surely one of the best novels to be published so far this year, this one is based on a real-life event and tells the stories of two women in very different situations. One is Jane Wood, the American writer who travels to Uganda to publicize the plight of women abducted and raped by a rogue band called the Lord's Resistance Army. The other is 16-year-old Esther, who has endured the LRA's savagery. It's a tribute to Minot's writing skill that she can contrast their lives and sorrows without making Jane look like a complete narcissist and while making the fictional Esther more than just a victim.

      "My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread and the Search for Peace of Mind," by Scott Stossel. Stossel, editor of The Atlantic magazine, may be guilty of TMI -- Too Much Information -- in this account of his own lifelong struggle with anxiety. But his personal experiences, from the mind-numbing drugs he was given as a child to his reasonable concern that his own children share his worry genes, are just the door opening on his extensive and often fascinating research. Medically speaking, anxiety didn't exist until the pharmaceutical companies came up with antidotes for it -- a fact that Stossel doesn't candy-coat, even while acknowledging his own dependence on medication.

      "A Religion of One's Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World," by Thomas Moore. The former monk and psychotherapist, author of the bestselling "Care of the Soul," is back with the contention that the choice isn't between organized religion and a secular materialism; rather, the "care of the soul" simply requires that you cultivate some spiritual connection with the world. This is not a fluffy self-help book but one that shows Moore's deep scholarship and understanding of the human psyche as he offers ways to frame an independent sense of the sacred.

      "Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir," by Penelope Lively.
      This well-known English writer, now an octogenarian, takes the odd name of this book from some personal treasures that have memories to go with. But her perspective is much broader than her own experiences. She covers the momentous flow of history since World War II and reflects on how longer life spans like hers have made old age "the new demographic," raising many questions about how society will manage. (An ammonite, by the way, is a fossil shell.)

      "Revertigo: An Off-Kilter Memoir," by Floyd Skloot. Portland writer Skloot is known for his highly praised essays as well as novels and poetry, and a subject matter that he has made his own: the world of disability. In the midst of a healthy, marathon-running middle age, he was struck down by a virus that affected both his body and his brain. Now, 25 years later, he reflects on the many pieces of his life that have thrown him "off-kilter": illness, acting, books -- and a recent bout of vertigo that lasted 138 days.