Here are some books that climbed inside me.
Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
I cried like a child at the end of the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. And several times before the end. If there is a spell against the dark, it must be, “Someone will come.”
Inferno is the book the Modernists meant to write. Eileen Myles captures the actual experience of being alive.
I clenched my jaw most of the time I was reading Room. Jack sends me. I trust him even when we’re rolled up in a rug being dead.
Grim and human, Hunger Games is reminiscent of Never Let Me Go, and the Lottery, and Anthem. A ratcheted story of will and rebellion, class and resourcefulness, pity and pageantry. You’ll devour this one, and immediately crave the second.
A wise, good humored book about feminism, and writing, and language, and goodness. Unless is a novel about the many kinds of otherness.
What is the landscape of survival? Anne Michaels’ book fuses poetry and narrative, and creates a map of earth and soul. A wrenching, tremendously valuable novel. One where you pause, and savor, and are changed.
The Queen’s Gambit
The best stories are surprising and inevitable. The Queen’s Gambit is such a story. Fragile, and ruthless, and honest — the deep and terrifying mystery of genius.
The Little Women
Katharine Weber’s novel The Little Women explores the aftermath of parental betrayal, and the cannibalizing of personal details by an author, and the life of characters on and off the page. For me, the novel expands into fascinating layers of metafiction.
The Emperor’s Children
Claire Messud’s ironic, powerfully human story of three thirty-year-old New Yorkers is shattering and lush and gorgeous. Imagine Austen colliding with James and tackling the complex struggle of perception and reality in late American society. Let this book work you over.
Never Let Me Go
The narrator in Never Let Me Go tells a story unlike any you have ever read. The tension in Ishiguro’s novel is unrelenting, and even as you piece the plot together, you will not be prepared for the revelations.
Miss Pym Disposes
Josephine Tey wrote quiet stories, and Miss Pym Disposes is one of my favorite. A girls’ school, a murder, a busybody. But the friendship at the center of this book is deeper, and more frightening than the simple plot might suggest.
Name All the Animals
This memoir hurt me.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is pure pleasure. An updating of Greek myths, the heroes are hilarious, and clever, and in constant peril. I wanted to be these kids, and reading their adventures is the next best thing.
A Room of One’s Own
Money and a solitary place to work. These are still vital for the artist. A Room of One’s Own is a lovely book, and easily read. If you’re able to track down a copy of Eileen Atkins’ monologue, you’ll have a particularly delightful experience of Woolf’s treatise.
Fun Home is a brave book, and beautifully rendered. I’ve never experienced a story like this, and the restraint is poignant.’
I’m not entirely sure that I get Nightwood, but I love the language and the characters, and I go to the bookcase sometimes just to touch its spine and reconnect with the story.
Mad and operatic. During my first reading, I remember having to remind myself to breathe. And the scene where the web-footed woman takes her gondola to the house of her married lover in order for her poor insane friend to steal back her still-beating heart is, even now, the way I conceptualize breakups. Messy, furtive, dreamy, improbable.
The Graveyard Book
Nobody Owens lives the most unusual tale of heartbreak I have ever read. Gorgeous, and unpredictable, and eerie.
Housekeeping is the kind of story that you want read to you at night, so that you can dream in this language with these characters.
A compelling book about citizenship. Layered and inventive, violent and funny, an urgent and compulsive read.
The Accidental is circular and complicated, and explores multiple voices and perspectives with disconcerting ease. I was deeply involved with these characters, even when I didn’t want to be.
Julie & Julia
A delightful, unapologetic book.
An astonishing collection of essays: anti-establishment, insightful, tough-minded. When I read Cultural Amnesia I felt tethered to all the world.
Patchett’s prose is hard and tender and feels like love. The Magician’s Assistant is a book to savor.
My favorite novel: indelible and lovely.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Didion has style to burn, and a terseness of tone no one has ever quite captured again. Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a classic collection of essays.
The Golden Compass
The first book in Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series. Check out the audio version in which a full-character cast includes the author’s dynamic narration. I find the daemon to be one of the most remarkable conceits in literature.
Master and Commander
If I’d pursued a dissertation, it would have involved the Aubrey/Maturin books, with a particular emphasis on his three major female characters. O’Brian is a master of the anti-climax, and this series is superb.
A tautly plotted thriller. Waters explores class and sex in a style uniquely her own.
And Her Soul Out Of Nothing
My copy of And Her Soul Out Of Nothing is trashed. I’ve read these poems so often that I sometimes dream in Davis’s language.
The Love of a Good Woman : Stories
Oh, the best of Munro’s short story collections. Violence often informs these stories; though frequently outside the action, it is ever present. No one compresses time and characterization as well. The title story in this collection is unforgettable.
The Jane Austen Book Club
A fun, smart book. If you’re familiar with Jane Austen’s work, Fowler’s novel will resonate that much more deeply.
The Great Fires
For years I carried The Great Fires in my backpack. Gilbert taught me that grief and love are different names for the same god.
State of Wonder
Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder is a difficult novel to shake. With her usual subtle elegance, she’s pulling apart race and class and art and sex and the primitive. She’s writing about children and parents. She’s writing about arrogance and science. Come to the Amazon.
Are You My Mother?
Go buy Alison Bechdel’s latest graphic novel. Mothers. Daughters. Therapy. Lesbians. Memory. Art. Love. Family stories. Language. Comics. It’s fucking awesome. Read it.
Flora & Ulysses
Kate DiCamillo’s latest Newbury-winning book is about heroism and poetry, about a squirrel who loves donuts with sprinkles on them and the round face of the girl who saves him from a vacuum cleaner. This is a book about love.
Book of Ages
Benjamin Franklin wrote more letters to his sister Jane than to anyone else. This historical nonfiction by Jill Lepore explores the literary remains of a woman who lived in one of the most turbulent times in America. With actual lives, the book examines Virginia Woolf’s provocative treatise: If Shakespeare had had a sister, what would her life have been like?
Dept of Speculation
Jenny Offill’s novel is a rare treat — lean and lyrical — a peculiar portrait of a marriage, at once restrained and filled with raw, honest beauty.
Code Name Verity
Elizabeth Wein’s novel is such a compelling read that you find yourself enduring situations so taut and subtle that you hold your breath paragraph after paragraph. A pilot and a spy in World War II, the story follows two young women on a mission in occupied France.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Karen Joy Fowler’s wit is wild. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read The Jane Austen Book Club. But this novel is another thing entirely. A story about family, memory, primates, sisters, jealousy, science. I’m not sure I have read a book more perfectly executed than this one. It’s about story, yes, but so much more. It’s about everything all at once.
This amazing book reminds me of Bel Canto with the strange juxtaposition of art and death, suffering and gossip. But Station Eleven is more devastating in scope, more terrifying and more hopeful. In its aftermath, I have never been as grateful for coffee and fruit in my life.
Pax is a story about trauma. And love, and family, and war, and the relationship between children and animals. And guilt. But more than anything, it’s a story about trauma; and once I had finished Sara Pennypacker’s novel, which is itself traumatic, I wanted to hand this book to everyone near and far and tell them the experience of this story is cathartic.