• Thunderstruck

    Elizabeth McCracken

    Is it really possible that I didn’t read any short story collections in 2015? This is a great one to rekindle an appreciation of short fiction, solid tales with a sense of humanity and a droll flavor. The nine stories in this collection are united in different senses of tragedy: there are both sudden and prolonged deaths, severe injuries, missing...more

  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

    Elena Ferrante

    The Neapolitan novels are a recurring conversation topic among my reading friends, with the vast majority having read them already or starting to read them now. Often in the ongoing discussions, there’s an initial cluelessness in not understanding exactly why everyone keeps talking about the books (and why their covers are so ugly — it’s on purpose!), followed by a kind...more

  • Speaking and Language

    Paul Goodman

    I can’t remember how this book arrived on my to-read list, but I went through the trouble of tracking down a used copy, so it must have been a convincing recommendation.

    The “Defense of Poetry” subtitle is largely a tease — a reference to other works with similar titles that Goodman was apparently thinking about when he wrote this. Most of...more

  • Dear Thief

    Samantha Harvey

    I saw this book on a giveaway pile and initially ignored it. In concept, it sounded somehow weak, comprised of a letter a woman writes to a friend who disappeared years ago, a letter largely about a betrayal that seemingly lead to their estrangement. Yet the power of this book is its lyrical writing and philosophical asides. There is a...more

  • Escape Plans

    Teri Vlassopoulos

    The rotating point-of-view structure in fiction has started to become somewhat of a literary trope to me, often unnecessary and even distracting. But I love how Teri uses it with purpose here. (This is another book where I have some friendly bias to acknowledge, having known Teri and her writing for many years.) I can see a lot of her...more

  • The Sonnets

    Ted Berrigan

    This book plays with repetition and deconstruction with many instances of the same lines being rearranged or placed in different contexts throughout the poems. I liked the concept, even if the poems I liked the most were the outliers that seemed to resist the collage treatment.

    XVII

    Each tree stands alone in stillness

    After many years

    ...more
  • M Train

    Patti Smith

    “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” As M Train opens, Patti Smith enters a dream set in an isolated landscape, trying to get the attention of a cowpoke, “vaguely handsome, intensely laconic.” He ignores her and claims her dream as his own before declaring, “The writer is a conductor.” The book proceeds through eighteen “stations,” rather than chapters, though...more

  • Nights of Indigo Blue

    Theresa Varela

    I’ve been friends with Theresa since before her first novel Covering the Sun With My Hand, so a bit of partiality will be inevitable here. There are some similarities between the two books — both are set in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where Theresa grew up — but this one is a little different as it’s the first in a series of mystery novels...more

  • Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

    Carrie Brownstein

    In the summer I read Kim Gordon’s memoir, Girl in a Band, and struggled to write anything about it. The book is broad and scattered, attempting to establish Gordon’s roots as an artist while also covering basically every side project she took on while she was the bassist for Sonic Youth for twenty years. She seems to write the least...more

  • Infinite Home

    Kathleen Alcott

    I suppose we are reaching peak Brooklyn when in the course of two months, I’ve read two recent ensemble novels based in Brooklyn brownstones. (The other one I skipped writing about.) The characters of Infinite Home are a disparate group who barely interact with each other for years, yet in the course of this story come to bond into a...more

  • My Brilliant Friend

    Elena Ferrante

    After reading A Little Life, I floundered about, starting and not finishing several books, getting to the end of one only by skimming through the last twenty pages. Some of them are surely good ones, I just wasn’t in the mood for them. As September neared and Ferrante fever grew in anticipation of the publication of the fourth...more

  • A Little Life

    Hanya Yanagihara

    It’s hard writing about this book as it’s very engrossing and entertaining in some ways, but so devastating in others. At the beginning it appears to be a story about a group of four guys leaving college and commencing their adult lives in New York City, a pretty standard coming-of-age scenario. The narrative focuses on each friend in turn, revealing...more

  • Hammer Head

    Nina MacLaughlin

    Reading this immediately after Frank Bruni’s memoir, in which he is so open about his life, Nina MacLaughlin seems very guarded in comparison. She has some funny and touching stories to tell about leaving a career as a journalist to become a carpenter, responding to a Craiglist posting almost on a lark, but while she attempts to make clever literary...more

  • Born Round

    Frank Bruni

    Frank Bruni is best known for the five years he spent as restaurant critic for The New York Times, but while this memoir is very food-focused, only a sliver of it is about his tenure in that position and funny stories of his challenges in dining incognito. Though he opens with the first phone call he received about the job,...more

  • Slant Six

    Erin Belieu

    There are many entertaining moments in this book, but ultimately Belieu’s dark humor feels more superficial than profound. All the same, I keep laughing at this encapsulation of hipster superiority:

    WHEN AT A CERTAIN PARTY IN NYC

    Wherever you’re from sucks,

    and wherever you grew up sucks,

    and everyone here

    ...more
  • All the Light We Cannot See

    Anthony Doerr

    It’s not very often that I’m drawn to read historical novels, yet this one received so many accolades, including this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, that my curiosity prevailed. I can see why it has wide appeal: Doerr has a sentimental writing style and the alternating chapters are short enough that they can’t get too complicated — they generally pull each other...more

  • Still Life with Oysters and Lemon

    Mark Doty

    Most often classified as a memoir, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon feels like a novella-length personal essay that starts with Mark Doty’s interest in 17th century Dutch still-life paintings and moves through an elegiac exploration of objects and intimacy. It’s surprisingly expansive for its length, and Doty manages to suggest a lot of detail in his descriptions and narratives....more

  • After the Tall Timber

    Renata Adler

    One of the downsides of my technique of requesting lots of popular books from the library and then reading them as I progress through long hold lists is that I sometimes get books when I’m not truly prepared to delve into them. Most likely I would have picked something lighter after just reading a long non-fiction book than another...more

  • Quiet

    Susan Cain

    As someone who has consistently been described as quiet, I felt obligated to read this book, though I didn’t expect to be blown away by it. I would say Quiet seems most useful for people who never realized they are introverted or extroverted people who just don’t get people who fall on the other side of the spectrum. Cain draws...more

  • Call Me By Your Name

    André Aciman

    I spent about a month trying to read Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory before finally accepting that the passages I liked were buried in overwrought nostalgia about a privileged childhood that just didn’t resonate with me. It felt like the wrong sort of prose to apply persistence to appreciating. Instead I turned to this novel with similar...more

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