Winter reading list in place – Empty Nest by Curt Swarm


“American Pastoral,” (Pulitzer Prize) “I Married a Communist,” and “The Human Stain,” all by Phillip Roth, make up a fairly good trilogy on the human condition, man’s ungodliness, and search for the meaning of life. I hadn’t read any Phillip Roth since college. Back then, “Goodbye, Columbus” and “Portnoy’s Compliant” were great reading and all the rage. “Goodbye, Columbus,” starring Ali McGraw and Richard Benjamin, was an excellent movie and very popular with the college set, making for great book sales. Then I read “Letting Go” and became tired of Roth’s seemingly pointless mind wanderings, and didn’t read anymore of him until now. In my early seventies, and possibly more mature (maybe), I’m a little more tolerant, not to mention having more time. Roth’s books, of which there are a slew, deserved my second look.
“The Goldfinch,” by Donna Tartt, may be the book of the year, as well as movie, starring Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman. I was initially attracted to the book because Ginnie and I were feeding goldfinches, Iowa’s State Bird, at our window, and were captivated by their black and gold beauty and feeding habits. They like to hang upside down. When Ginnie started reading “The Goldfinch,” I was jealous and had to hurry up and finish Roth so that I could follow suit and have someone to discuss this new book with. “The Goldfinch” is a famous 1652 painting by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius. If you examine the painting closely (Google it), you will notice that the bird is tethered to its roost by a tiny gold chain (not shown on the cover of the book). Hmm. An otherwise free and beautiful bird in bondage becomes the central, but obscure, theme of “The Goldfinch.” We’re all in bondage. The book is over 700 pages long, and if you find comfort in a seemingly never ending saga, you’ll be happy. Like Roth, Tartt way overwrites, but is worth plodding through. 350 pages would have sufficed. Both the book and movie are a must for 2019-2020.
Richard Russo has a new book: “Chances Are…” You may remember Russo from “Nobody’s Fool,” which earned him a Pulitzer Prize. The book was made into a movie starring Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, amongst other big names. “Chances Are…” is an entertaining whodunit that will keep you glued to your reading chair right up to the end.
Margaret Atwood has a followup to “The Handmaid’s Tale” called “The Testaments.” And Elizabeth Strout, another Pulitzer Prize winner, has a follow up to “Olive Kitteridge,” called “Olive Again.” Evidently “follow ups” are in vogue. I should be set for reading through Thanksgiving.
Susie Clark’s first book, and smash hit, “And Then There Was One.” A big shout out to Susie Clark! In my annual winter creative writing class, a new writer appeared, like a shining star in the night sky: Susie Clark. She has written her first book, and hopefully not her last, “And Then There Was One.” Quite simply, it is the most tragic, well written, true story of anyone I know personally. That I mention her name with the likes of Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Strout, Donna Tartt, Phillip Roth and Richard Russo, should tell you a lot. So powerful is her self-published book, coming out of little ole Mt. Pleasant, that she scored a personal interview on WHO Television, Channel 13, in Des Moines. Don’t pass up this opportunity. If you want her signed book, “And Then There Was One,” her email address is, and phone number: 319-217-3405.
Happy winter reading.

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at or visit his website at

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