• The Boat

    Nam Le

    Image of The Boat (Rough-Cut)

    “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” is probably the best story in this book. Largely autobiographical, a writer in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop follows the drunken suggestion of a colleague to mine his father’s experience in Vietnam because “Ethnic literature’s hot.” His father conveniently arrives for a visit, and he feeds a new page into...more

  • Logotypes and Letterforms

    Doyald Young

    Image of Logotypes & Letterforms: Handlettered Logotypes and Typographic Considerations

    In the strongest sense, letterforms do not age but become fixed to a period of time primarily in their application. Longevity is often precluded by blatant design approaches that are banal, modish, and consequently ephemeral. Many products and graphics are designed to seize the moment and cash in on a popular idea.

    When I first browsed through this book, I...more

  • Here is New York

    E.B. White

    Image of Here is New York

    It was a little funny to read this slim little book directly after Play it as it Lays, as they are both wrapped so much in hot weather and it’s been colder and colder lately.

    Originally written for Holiday Magazine, the extended essay is a nostalgic look at New York City (Manhattan, mostly) from the perspective of White, who...more

  • Play It as It Lays

    Joan Didion

    Image of Play It As It Lays: A Novel (FSG Classics)

    There’s something soap-operatic about this terse novel detailing a vaguely successful Hollywood actress’s nervous breakdown. Avoiding histrionics, the story details all the gossipy founders of Maria Wyeth with glances to her similarly challenged friends. Despite the concise nature of Didion’s prose, she manages to paint nuanced settings, from the freeways Maria drives all day for a while just to fill...more

  • Bottomfeeder

    Taras Grescoe

    Image of Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood

    A few years ago I abandoned my vegetarianism and started adding fish to my diet. Mostly I felt like I needed variety in my protein sources, but also there are a lot of nutritional benefits to eating fish. I’ve looked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Guide many times, but have always found it difficult to consistently remember...more

  • Make it Bigger

    Paula Scher

    Image of Make It Bigger

    An attractive tight-back bound book with edge-stained pages, Make it Bigger is at its heart a survey of Scher’s work from the 70s through the 90s. Yet it feels more like a memoir or a study of process than just a portfolio of her work. I loved her discussion of discovering how to “sell down” designs at CBS Records...more

  • Collected Poems

    Paul Auster

    Image of Collected Poems (Paul Auster)

    Reading this book on the subway was probably not the best approach, but I managed to struggle through it. Auster’s earlier poems have some overwrought tendencies, but in a way all of his poems fit together as a larger work, making this collected volume very useful. He’s attached to images of stones and whiteness and snow among other things, and...more

  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

    Raymond Carver

    Image of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories

    I’ve somehow managed to never read an entire collection of Raymond Carver’s short stories, despite being somewhat of an enthusiast of the form and having read a few of his stories in passing. This one caught my eye at the library, as I’d guess Murakami played off this title with his recent memoir. It turns out the title story...more

  • Where I Was From

    Joan Didion

    Image of Where I Was From

    Maybe I’m just a hater this week but I couldn’t find much to latch onto in Didion’s exploration of her history with California, including her pioneering ancestors’ treks to get there. Though it’s kind of a personal history placed within a larger context, even the parts about her family read strangely impersonal. It seems like each chapter starts out interesting...more

  • Forever

    Pete Hamill

    Image of Forever: A Novel

    Starting in Ireland in the 1700s, Forever follows the ordinary-boy-turned-hero Cormac on a revenge mission across the Atlantic to Manhattan, which somehow manages to result in him being granted eternal life by an African shaman — just so long as he stays on Manhattan. The rest of the book skips ahead to significant points in the island’s history to show how he...more

  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

    Haruki Murakami

    Image of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

    I really loved this memoir, though I have to say that the translation probably isn’t the best. It’s hard for me to be entirely certain since I can’t read the original in Japanese, but I’m guessing it’s no coincidence that Philip Gabriel has translated two of my less favorite Murakami novels (Kafka on the Shore and Sputnik...more

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

    Susanna Clarke

    Image of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

    Getting through this hefty tome of “historical fantasy” is already no small feat for the average reader. My current commute rarely offers up a seat on the subway, so for weeks I was balancing this 700+ page hardcover library book on my pole-grasping arm, often finding my wrist a bit numb for a several minutes afterwards. I’d say it was...more

  • How to Breathe Underwater

    Julie Orringer

    Image of How to Breathe Underwater

    I wanted to like this collection more, but there was something missing or it just wasn’t the right time to read it. Maybe the stories are just a little too polished, a little too clean. Like The Mother Garden, all of these stories involve some element of sickness or grief. But unlike that one overall this book doesn’t feel...more

  • The Namesake

    Jhumpa Lahiri

    Image of The Namesake: A Novel

    I watched the movie version of this story in the winter, thinking I’d already read the book — it was actually Lahiri’s short story collection Interpreter of Maladies that I’d read just before this one was published. I was worried I’d picture Kal Penn as Gogol the whole time and to some degree I did at the beginning. But...more

  • Waiting for the Barbarians

    J.M. Coetzee

    Image of Waiting for the Barbarians (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century)

    I took this book and Disgrace out from the library at the same time, unsure if I would read both. I still didn’t have any of my holds in when I finished, so I started this one immediately afterwards. It was interesting to read the two so close to each other. There are a lot of thematic similarities in...more

  • Disgrace

    J.M. Coetzee

    Image of Disgrace

    I’ve been wanting to read something by Coetzee since he won the Nobel Prize in 2003. I guess it took an open reading slot and a wander around the library to make it finally happen. This book is sparse in the way it’s told but incredibly nuanced at its heart. While the story is simply about an older professor...more

  • You Shall Know Our Velocity

    Dave Eggers

    Image of You Shall Know Our Velocity

    I got this book when McSweeney’s had their big sale last year. I never read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and I never read this one even after I bought it. It happened that when I was unpacking my books, I was a week into a misguided mission to read Roland Barthes’ Image, Music, Text. I...more

  • Pale Fire

    Vladimir Nabokov

    Image of Pale Fire

    While Lolita holds fort as Nabokov’s best known novel, Pale Fire rates vaguely higher on the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. Comprised of a 999-line poem in four cantos by a (fictional) famous American poet, John Shade, as well as a foreword and extensive commentary by his friend, Professor Charles Kinbote, at times it...more

  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

    Junot Díaz

    Image of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

    I’m pretty sure that I read and enjoyed Díaz’s book of short stories, Drown, years ago, but it must have been pre-log. It’s been so long, the first time I noticed this book, it was more because of its distinctive cover than recognition of the author. Then Díaz won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for this epic...more

  • The New York Trilogy

    Paul Auster

    Image of The New York Trilogy: City of Glass; Ghosts; The Locked Room  (Contemporary American Fiction Series)

    I read this while I was in the UK recently, and it’s now several weeks since I got back, so details are already getting a little fuzzy. These three books, technically separate but subtly threaded together, have been on my list for a long time. Ostensibly detective novels at the start, each one devolves into surreal and existential mysteries...more

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