Posted on December 6, 2015
2002, from what I remember, was a rough year. I finally recovered from a two-year off + on cocaine addiction, I was still on leave from Columbia and I was in a particularly fragile place. What I do recall is writing a list of 50 things I wanted to do that would focus on creating something instead of destroying everything. That was the year I launched an online literary journal, Small Spiral Notebook, I got serious about writing my first book, and I absolved to read a book a week. The idea behind this was if I was immersed in great work, I’d create it, and in that first year I read 80 books, and every year since I’ve made a point to document all the books I’ve read in an effort to remember them. The books served as emotional and professional bookmarks, and looking back it was easy to see why I chose the books I did–I was reading stories of people who had journeyed through a similar dark country in which I still waded through.
If I look back on the books I read this year, it becomes clear that I’m desperate for an awakening. All the children’s books represented my relentless pursuit of awe and the non-fiction books were meditations on character, quiet, and solitude–cultivating a fertile ground from which to grow. I have some reading goals for next year (especially after reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s essay on learning Italian): finding more works-in-translation, reading more from the POC, gay and transgender communities. While I naturally cleave to fiction and stories, I’m making a point to read smart reportage and narrative non-fiction.
So here we go. A snapshot of nearly all the books I read in 2015. I know I left some out (I’m scanning my shelves and I’ll add more as I remember them), but you get the gist. Hope this makes for good reading recommendations!
Posted on December 31, 2014
Years ago, I used to keep a running list of books I’d read over the course of a year. The habit started in 2002 when I resolved to read 52 books in one year (I ended up reading 60), and it continued through the greater part of this decade, except the past few years when I was too busy trying to fix my life instead of tracking it. And while I loathe year-end round-ups of any variety, I do see the value in keeping a list of books I’ve read. In the same breath I can provide a smart book recommendation while seeing where my head was at over the course of the year. Looking back at all of these stories, it occurs to me that I was drawn to people who were lost and broken but set out on the road to self-repair.
Candidly, I purchased many more books than the 25 I read this year. Some were epic disappointments (I might be the only person on this planet who couldn’t get into Ben Lerner’s latest), some still remain on my to-read stack (Lydia Millet, Darcey Steinke–I’m coming for you come January), and others I couldn’t read because the prose style or story was too close to that of my own novel.
Paul H. Connolly’s On Essays: A Reader for Writers | Marilynne Robinson’s Lila | Peter Chapman’s Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World
Jessie Hartland’s Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child | Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn | Katie Crouch’s Abroad | Brando Skyhorse’s Take This Man | Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park | Molly Wizenberg’s Delancey | Michael Cunningham’s The Snow Queen | Celebrating You (and the beautiful person you are) | It’s Gonna Be Okay | Lydia Millet’s Magnificence | Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure | Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch | Yiyun Li’s Kinder Than Solitude | Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable | Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply | Susan Minot’s Thirty Girls | Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business | Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal | Alejandro Junger’s Clean Gut: The Breakthrough Plan for Eliminating the Root Cause of Disease and Revolutionizing Your Health | April Peveteaux’s Gluten is My Bitch | Nadya Andreeva’s Happy Belly
Posted on October 2, 2014
Since I was a child, I believed in the power of books; they had the propensity to save, to whisk me away from the world in which I lived and plant me temporarily somewhere else. Immersed in a stack of books, I could fall deliriously in, imagine myself in different lives, countries, and taking on the shape and voices of different people. While that sounds slightly schizophrenic, it was magical for a child who also found that she understood the world through writing about it. Through reading and living there was the writing. Always the writing. I grew up reading poems, Sweet Valley High and Nancy Drew when I was a small, and then when I was 11/12, I started mixing those books with Salinger and Cheever, more sophisticated poems (Frost, Browning–even though I didn’t know what they meant, I loved the melodic rhythm of the words). When I was a teenager, I carried a bookbag of extra books to school–I wasn’t popular, at all–and I spent the days between classes and lonely lunches, reading. Often I was bored by my AP English reading lists because I’d read those books already, and sometimes didn’t agree with my teacher’s interpretation. I liked Cheever’s Bullet Park when everyone else called it a failure, and ever since then, I read only literary fiction.
All other books were like gnats, annoying distractions. I mean, I ran a very prestigious non-fiction series at KGB Bar years ago, and I struggled, even then, finding the books, save the memoirs, interesting.
Until a few years ago when I realized I’d been missing out on SO MUCH. My myopic view toward books started to work against me as a writer. I only exposed myself to the books I wanted to write, rather than challenging myself by reading authors who had stories to tell but didn’t always rely on language as a device to tell them. I started reading more non-fiction (I tend to like biographies, industry exposes, and anything with a story as opposed to books that center around the theoretical), YA fiction (OMG, YA HAS BEEN SO AMAZING OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS!), graphic novels (I tended to drift to ones relating to food), and food/travel essays. All of these books, styles and approaches started to infuse my fiction with a lot more light. The challenge with writers (as opposed to general readers) is that we’re covert sleuths. We look at books from two perspectives: the enjoyment we get from reading a good story, and then the vivisection, the how did he/she do this? We break apart, we dissect, we analyze. I actually ripped apart a book and started moving the pages around to understand how a non-fiction author structured her book in hopes that it could help my own experimental fiction novel. Crazy, right?
When I went to Spain I carted four books with me, two of which I left behind because I didn’t enjoy them at all. Ironically, I left the literary/experimental fiction behind, and found myself comforted by reading Peter Chapman’s Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World. The book isn’t new, and I found it on someone’s stoop, but while I found the history of United Fruit, and its social, political and economic effects on Central America, and America, powerful. The company was often called “the octopus,” and that image was palpable as a writer. Thinking about how one entity can find its way into so many lives and change them, damage them. Oddly, reading this and going back to editing my novel felt natural, whereas picking up two of the lit books I brought felt distracting, annoying, filled with language tricks. If anything, it made me go back and see if I was annoying readers with too many tricks.
Other books I’m LOVING right now:
Darcey Steinke’s Sister Golden Hair (OMG. I have been waiting for a new novel from Steinke, author of Jesus Saves, for ages) | Eliza Robertson’s Wallflowers (Stories) | Janie Hoffman’s The Chia Cookbook (who knew?) | Hemsley + Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well
Any great recos? Books you’ve loved? Let me know!