• 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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

  • Drops of this Story

    Suheir Hammad

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    While I really like the concept of each piece of this book as drops that collectively represent all the challenges of her life as a Palestinian American, it felt like Hammad spent a little too much time talking about writing her story through all the different references to wetness and where it found her compared to actually threading the pieces...more

  • Sixty Odd

    Ursula K. Le Guin

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    I took out a bunch of poetry books and maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for this one, or maybe I’m not into Le Guin’s poetic “wryness.” I suppose she is better known for her fantasy and sci-fi fiction.more

  • Kissing God Goodbye

    June Jordan

    Image of Kissing God Goodbye: Poems 1991-1997

    The mix of personal and political poems felt a little awkward at times, but I like her down-to-earth style.


    Your voice and the weighted
    stammering between us

  • Invisible Man

    Ralph Ellison

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    Though I started this book with the news that many people find it just a little too long, knowing that must have helped, as I was not overwhelmed by the length at all. Though everything is drawn-out in this book — like this sentence at the beginning of chapter five, as the students are walking to chapel for vespers:

    Above the decorous

  • Last Night at the Lobster

    Stewart O’Nan

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    A little novella about endings and regrets for what maybe never could have been, dressed in the ill-fitting hopes that anything is possible. You can feel that tightness and slack in all the wrong places.more

  • Miracle Fruit

    Aimee Nezhukumatathil

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    Poetry can be pretty good reading for subway reading as it often is comprised of shorter pieces that you’re more likely to reach an even stopping point when you reach your destination. But I’m kind of out of practice in reading verse these days. The beginning of this book felt so prose-like and conversational, but by the end things flowed...more