• The Fatal Eggs

    Mikhail Bulgakov

    Image of The Fatal Eggs (Hesperus Modern Voices)

    It’s been many years since I last re-read The Master and Margarita… [I believe this link is for the Michael Glenny translation — there’s some debate as to the best one… I own the Burgin/Tiernan O’Connor, but I’ve heard some people like the Mirra Ginsberg even though that is a translation of the censored version of the book.]...more

  • Reading Lolita in Tehran

    Azar Nafisi

    Image of Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

    An intriguing concept, pairing a memoir about living through the Iranian Revolution and the resulting totalitarian regime with literary criticism of Western literature as an attempt to put it all into perspective. Unfortunately Nafisi’s effort fell flat to me, mostly because the writing feels too weak for the task.

    The structure of the book itself is confusing, as she shifts around...more

  • The Grapes of Wrath

    John Steinbeck

    Image of The Grapes of Wrath (Centennial Edition)

    I managed to get through all my schooling without ever reading The Grapes of Wrath (or any other Steinbeck novel), and since all sorts of people keep saying how “timely” it is, my curiosity got the best of me. Initially it felt like slogging through required reading until a certain point where I was amazed at “how timely!” it is....more

  • Wide Sargasso Sea

    Jean Rhys

    Image of Wide Sargasso Sea (Norton Critical Editions)

    Years ago I read Jane Eyre for the sole purpose of reading Rhys’s retelling of it from the perspective of the woman locked in the attic. Luckily the book stands solidly on its own so my now hazy memories of Jane Eyre didn’t get in the way.

    This critical edition includes all sorts of letters and essays and excerpts...more

  • Sleepwalking Land

    Mia Couto

    Image of Sleepwalking Land

    I love how this book describes a meandering journey that somehow always seems to stay in the same place as it progresses. Really, it’s two meandering journeys: in one, an old man and a young boy, refugees from Mozambique’s long civil war, seek refuge in a crashed and charred bus. While the duo never venture far from the bus, the...more

  • Unaccustomed Earth

    Jhumpa Lahiri

    Image of Unaccustomed Earth

    I have to admit I felt bored with the first part of this short story collection. Not really because the stories themselves were boring to me — Lahiri has a consistently elegant storytelling approach that I enjoy — but because the consistency itself pulls it down as a collection. It’s almost like each story arcs in such a similar fashion that they seem to...more

  • Valley of the Dolls

    Jacqueline Susann

    Image of Valley of the Dolls

    After seeing the movie version recently, I heard that the book is apparently excellent as well — in that “so bad, it’s good” sort of way, of course. I’d been struggling to get into Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives and felt like I could use something a little trashier for crowded commutes on the N train. For that, it was...more

  • Ficciones

    Jorge Luis Borges

    Image of Ficciones

    I’ve wanted to read something by Borges for a while but I always felt intimidated by his reputation of “superhuman erudition.” Most of this book is pretty cerebral with stories that are really academic-sounding fake histories; yet as the book progresses, the stories edge into the accessible range.

    I took too long to type this up and don’t have the patience...more

  • 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

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