Thinking about my reading habits, I'm really not sure what draws me to a particular book - just a gut sense that we'll get along. I really appreciate a good short story. I read some essays and poetry. I'm also a sucker for "lost classic" type novels, coming-of-age stories and memoirs.
Known as both a solo singer/songwriter and as the pioneering force behind the bands Throwing Muses and 50FootWave, Kristin Hersh's writing is as startling, expectation-defying and fresh as her music. Here, she chronicles her friendship with the brilliant and frustrating Vic Chesnutt and the end of her own long marriage.
This immediately appealing New England noir is set in a small coastal Massachusetts town in the sleepy, early 1960s. With shades of Patricia Highsmith, Ottessa Moshfegh takes us into the mind of a repressed, self-effacing young woman who is ready to snap.
As an experiment in "immersive attention," Ruth Ozeki observes her face for three hours while recording her thoughts and feelings. This probably sounds pretentious, but she brings to this project her knowledge of Zen Buddhism, Japanese-American history, and her general curiosity and brilliance. A chapter on the effort involved in creating Noh theater masks is particularly delightful. A gem!
Matthew Desmond tells an urgent story of landlords and renters in several present-day Milwaukee neighborhoods. He follows families over the course of multiple forced moves, often from bad apartments to even worse ones, while analyzing the complicated relationship between poverty and eviction. This is a complex tale of anguish, ingenuity, and sacrifices made of necessity.
Every page of this graphic memoir radiates love and sorrow. The author and his wife escape an increasingly stressful life in New York City in search of a slower, more peaceful home for their young family. But their two-year-old daughter passes away suddenly, and their grief is overwhelming. This is a hard book to read, but it's a beautiful tribute to their little girl and a lifeline to anyone who is grieving.
The '70s classic is back in print, and it's impressive how little the advice and the clothing have dated (with the exception of the chapter on "borrowing" ethnic clothing). This book focuses on how to develop personal style, and the people photographed in their favorite outfits look fantastically quirky, individual and confident, though it doesn't hurt that a lot of them are 6 feet tall and gorgeous. As a 5-foot-tall non-model, though, there's still a lot of helpful advice here for me & probably for you, too!
Prepare to become totally immersed in the story of two best friends, Lila and Elena, growing up in a provincial 1950s Naples neighborhood. The children of "the neighborhood" experience hardship; there's a pretty high body count for a relatively quiet book. Stasis reigns; one family's departure from the neighborhood later becomes mythic. Electricity flows between the two girls as they recognize in each other an intelligence that is underappreciated by everyone else. Elena studies and wins praise from from her teachers; Lila must leave school to work at her father's shoe factory, but meanwhile she's devising her own plan of escape, so she hopes. This is the first of four books. (yay!)
This funny, highly quotable, charmingly digressive memoir tells the story of Stephen Fry's school years. He conveys the texture of private-school life in late '60s England -- he repeatedly gets into trouble and begins to realize he's gay, in a time and place where "gay" is barely even a word. I read this years ago and am thrilled it's finally back in print in the US.
The author tells the story of his college roommate, Robert Peace. Rob grows up in 1980s Newark with a devoted mother and charismatic, incarcerated father, and becomes a master at code-switching: he's the reserved, studious Rob at school, but at home he's Shawn, who likes a smoke and a drink, and can talk to anybody. His uncommon intelligence and self-discipline earn him a spot at Yale, where he begins selling marijuana to pay for his school supplies. Rob's post-graduate drifting could be anyone's, except for the crucial facts of his family's poverty and his own lack of a safety net, which lead to violence. The author tells Rob's story with a minimum of flourishes and a sharp self-awareness. The depth of his research into his friend's life elevates this book beyond mere parable.
A book about Céline Dion, you may ask? Yup, and it's a thoroughly enjoyable exploration of taste, French-Canadian pop music history, the felicities of music criticism, as well as a jargon-free introduction to various types of critical theory. Carl Wilson, not a Dion fan at the start of this book, makes a sincere and enlightening attempt to both examine what's really behind his musical preferences and to change them.
Detail by detail, slowly and patiently, Tessa Hadley builds a life so rich and so ordinary, it's easy to forget you're reading fiction. The protagonist, Stella, observes everything at a calm remove, even when she's describing chaos. The result feels like a kind of reckoning with how much control we really have over our lives. Subtly different from anything else I've read.
This novel was a bestseller in 1956, released just before the author's 19th birthday. The publisher hoped it had found the American equivalent of Bonjour Tristesse. Polished it ain't. But something about it feels vital despite a few of the trashier plot twists - the headstrong young woman at its center fascinates as she bounces from boarding school to Hollywood to high-society New York City. It's also enriched by the introduction, an analysis and an excellent afterword by Pamela Moore's son.
These laugh-out-loud funny stories are mostly set in a disquieting future that isn't so different from our present. Pretty much any adjectives you can think of to describe these stories sound po-faced ("surreal," "deadpan," etc.) so I'll just say that his writing is sort of your-brain-but-smarter. Saunders also has a real knack for satirical brand names.
If you've read a Colette novel, you've met women like the three profiled in this biography. Mercedes de Acosta, Madge Garland and Esther Murphy moved in their respective, largely queer intellectual circles during the first half of the 20th century but also crossed paths in this simultaneously influential and insular world. Brilliant in their own ways - one edited British Vogue, one was a "failed" writer and one famously tried to romance Greta Garbo - they all undermined themselves to various degrees.
This is one of the best novels I'll read this year - it has the dark pull of a really great mystery and a raunchy, heartbreaking narrator in 13-year-old Joe Coutts, who's growing up on an Ojibwe reservation in the 1980s. Joe's mother survives a violent assault on her way to work at the tribal offices. Her subsequent depression renders her unable to help the police investigation, and the other adults seem frustratingly ineffectual, so Joe decides to pursue justice on his own.
Junot Diaz returns to writing about his character Yunior from Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. This time his themes are machismo, the legacy of racial/colonial violence and the possibility of finding what he calls "decolonial love." Because this is Junot Diaz, though, the delightful writing manages to carry all this heavy stuff lightly. This story collection is quieter than Oscar Wao and a little more unified than Drown - but, like Drown, has an amazing final story that seems to sum up the rest of the book while going beyond.
Since there was no Pulitzer for fiction this year, it seemed like a good time to look at past winners who may be less widely read today. Halfway through this rich collection of stories I'm amazed at how easily Jean Stafford switches between settings and moods. You can listen to one of her most unnverving stories, "The Interior Castle," at Miette's Bedtime Story Podcast. In contrast, all of the stories about young Americans in Europe had me laughing out loud. She has to be one of the most versatile short story writers ever.
Margaret Atwood really takes you for a ride with this book, but in a good way. The lives of three women are revealed through their interactions with a mysterious fourth woman who acts as a transformative force. I love the structure of this novel, with all of its layers and echoes. Why didn't I read this sooner?!
Robison falls somewhere between Lydia Davis and Amy Hempel but is funnier than either. In this post-Hurricane Katrina tale, she packs tons of funny/heartbreaking insights into her signature short, fragmented chapters.
The author's love of words makes these stories exceptionally powerful - read Pink (page 39) and you'll understand. Despite the difficult subject, this collection is a delight!
Emma Straub's first collection of short stories is funny, subtle, precise and bittersweet. There's no major drama to be found here, just very well-observed moments in her characters' lives (some of which we follow over several stories) - yet each story feels rich and complete. It's exciting to watch a young author develop a unique voice, and I'm looking forward to her forthcoming novel.
Eliza Griswold spent seven years traveling throughout Africa and Asia at ten degrees north - a region that is home to more than half of the world's population of both Christians and Muslims. This culmination of her work and travels serves as a captivating, detailed primer on the complicated relationship between these two faiths and their adherents. I went into this book with little background knowledge and found it very approachable.
This is a witty, useful guide for anyone who wants to try her or his hand at writing poetry for personal enjoyment (or really any of the reasons you might learn to paint, play the piano, etc.). Informative and entertaining!
Get out your pen and notepad, because you will want to make a list of writers to investigate as you're reading. This is a very amiable book that should appeal to fans of Anne Fadiman's essays. Elaine Showalter is opinionated and manages to cut certain book down to size without seeming mean-spirited -- but the real pleasure lies in her evaluations of lesser-known women writers. I think she intends this book to be partly an invitation to talk about these writers, and in that she is successful. It would be a great choice for a book group.
This novel requires a bit of patience at first, but ultimately there are many reasons why it's my favorite book of the last ten years: beautiful writing, full of readable detail; layers od psychological complication; and slow building tension. Leo, who is the young narrator of the book, spends the summer of 1900 at his upper-class school friend's estate. He becomes smitten with both his friend's older sister and the man she loves, who works nearby as a tenant farmer. This is, of course, a socially unacceptable love, which naive Leo unwittingly facilitates by serving as a secret "go-between"for the couple. This is a quiet novel that sneaks up on you with its emotional impact.
This novel is a pleasure to read, can be read on many levels, and will linger in your thoughts for a long time. Lea de Lonval is an older courtesan and Fred Peloux (Cheri) is her beautiful and haughty young lover. Their liason of six years ends as the scales begin to fall from Cheri's eyes. When they meet again in the second novel, the france of the first book has been radically changed by WWII and Lea and Cheri themselves have been altered by time. Maybe not the most consoling of novels, but a wonderful and satisfying one.
This is such a fun book! Set in Paris in the 1950's, it features assorted Americans, Parisians and our protagonist, Sally Jay Gorce, a perceptive, funny 21-year-old who tells of her misadventures there in a tart, deadpan voice.
These ten stories are funny, plain-spoken tales about people out of their depth. My favorites are "Pearl and the Swiss Guy Fall in Love".and "Desert Hearts," but they're all good!
This is the first in a trilogy of crime novels anchored by Maureen O'Donnell, the young woman at the center of the chaos. She's tough and fascinating, one of the few fictional characters I wish I could meet. She has survived a hellish family life, a breakdown and a subsequent stay in a hospital and wakes up a year or so after being released to find her married therapist boyfriend murdered in her living room. Maureen isn't what anyone could call "well" or "stable" but the damaged and vulnerable bits of her are just that - aspects of a complex personality. She's not a female super-sleuth; instead she's fueled by vengeance, a desire to clear her name and an increasing fear that she may have had something to do with the murder after all. Furthermore, she's not entirely trustworthy, but neither is any other character, subjectivity (particularly as is concerns experiences of abuse, mental illness and relationships between family members) being one of the big themes of this book. The trilogy is set in Glasgow - Garnethill is one of its neighborhoods - and the city is as fully drawn and authentic as Denise Mina's characters. Despite the frequently grim themes, this is not another miserablist novel; its ironic humor makes it pretty darn exhilarating to read. Amazing book, the best I've read in months. (Be aware, though, that there are some passages dealing with sexual abuse that are as disturbing as they should be. It's an unsettling book, but worth your being unsettled.)
Anne Fadiman revives a neglected genre - the familiar essay - in this collection. Familiar essays combine the personal and the scholarly in a way that is completely winning in this case. I defy you to read her essay on Charles Lamb (on whom she has a "monumental crush") and not develop an intellectual crush of your own, on both author and subject.
I would recommend ANY graphic novel by Alan Moore. One of a handful of writers who showed that graphic novels could be literature - if you're at all intrigued, pick any one of his novels and you won't be disappointed.