• The Mother Knot

    Kathryn Harrison

    It felt appropriate to read this directly after Annie John since they are both beautifully spare books about difficult mother and daughter relationships, although they are very different stories beyond that. Twenty years after the death of her mother, Kathryn Harrison weaned her third child, setting off a depression with unclear origins. She begins to unearth feelings and experiences...more

  • Annie John

    Jamaica Kincaid

    A stunning and spare coming-of-age novel, Annie John was originally published in The New Yorker chapter by chapter as separate stories. Kincaid focuses primarily on the internal shifts Annie experiences as she matures, mostly in how she transitions from loving and wanting to emulate her mother to nearly despising her and feeling ambivalent about her life in Antigua. Though Annie...more

  • Beautiful Mutants / Swallowing Geography

    Deborah Levy

    These two short novels are weird with incredibly loose narratives, or rather collections of characters and scenes in which things happen with a feeling of sequence. Within these loosely tied vignettes are some beautiful passages rooted in the anxieties of exile. Deborah Levy has published several more novels since these first two, and I gather her work has evolved into...more

  • The Warmth of Other Suns

    Isabel Wilkerson

    Isabel Wilkerson’s book about the migration of African Americans out of the South is appropriately epic considering it spans the greater part of the 20th century (from 1910–1970). She interviewed over 1,200 people and spent fifteen years researching and writing this book that is part oral history, part narrative non-fiction focusing on three migrant’s experiences in detail (basically each person’s...more

  • Night Sky with Exit Wounds

    Ocean Vuong

    I’ve been reading these past few months since I last posted here, but quite slowly, and then I never got around to writing anything about the books before the library demanded them back. But I read Ocean Vuong’s essay in The New Yorker’s fiction issue, with several pieces on the theme of “childhood reading.” His is centered around the...more

  • The Odd Woman and the City

    Vivian Gornick

    I picked up a dog-eared copy of this book from the library, which came in handy, as I didn’t have to feel too bad about refolding corners down on the existing creases as I made my way through it. A memoir of New York City and walking and relationships, both romantic and platonic, Gornick meanders through the divide between the...more

  • Between the World and Me

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Ta-Nehisi Coates has contributed some of the more tendentious analysis on African-American identity and history in the US, including his Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations.” This book came about after he reread James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, which includes, in part, an open letter from Baldwin to his nephew.

    Between the World and Me is...more

  • In the Unlikely Event

    Judy Blume

    Pretty sure I haven’t read Judy Blume book since I was maybe at the oldest a preteen. This is not a YA novel: in “This American Life” parlance, it goes a little beyond acknowledging the existence of sex between adults. Based on the true events of three planes crashing in Elizabeth, New Jersey (her hometown), between December 1951...more

  • Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments

    Elise Cowen

    Someone I could kiss
    Has left his, her
                     tracks
    A memory
    Heavy as winter breathing
    In the snow
    And with weight & heat
                     of human body
    more


  • Lost Canyon

    Nina Revoyr

    Some suspension of disbelief is necessary to appreciate Lost Canyon, from the moment a park ranger tells the quartet of Los Angeles-based hikers their planned route is closed due to fire and he sets them up with a hand-drawn map for a trail elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada — one that supposedly hasn’t been accessed in years. The book is prefaced by...more

  • 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 the...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 still nothing

    ...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

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