• 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 lives in a converted

    ...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

  • Citizen

    Claudia Rankine

    You like to think memory goes far back though remembering was never recommended. Forget all that, the world says. The world’s had a lot of practice. No one should adhere to the facts that contribute to narrative, the facts that create lives. To your mind, feelings are what create a person, something unwilling, something wild vandalizing whatever the skull holds.

    ...more
  • Outline

    Rachel Cusk

    I referred to 10:04 as feeling at times like “a novel of anecdotes,” with many parts structured around characters telling each other stories. Entirely by chance I picked up Outline shortly after and found Rachel Cusk built it entirely around this framework, though more people call it “a novel of conversations.” The twist is that the main character, a...more

  • Men Explain Things to Me

    Rebecca Solnit

    Rebecca Solnit wrote the first and titular essay in this collection in 2008, after which it was posted on TomDispatch. Since then it has taken off and been reposted several times, along the way inspiring the portmanteau “mansplaining.” It was worth rereading that one for a second or maybe third time, but the other six essays in this...more

  • 10:04

    Ben Lerner

    Leaving the Atocha Station was an unexpected pleasure, a book that I picked up uncertainly and felt won over by. Even though I was conscious of limiting my expectations (or at least trying to) with this novel, Lerner’s second, I still felt disappointed that I wasn’t as engaged with this one as I’d hoped I would be.

    There are similar...more

  • Loitering

    Charles D’Ambrosio

    In some people (usually willful or grandiose or highly defended types) there’s only a very small difference between talking incessantly and saying nothing. I vaguely remember a quote from Roland Barthes, who claimed his rhetorical needs alternated between a little haiku that expressed everything and a great flood of banalities that said nothing.

    I expected that I would really like this...more

  • Nobody is Ever Missing

    Catherine Lacey

    I had a hard time starting another book after Dust, and I waited a few days before picking up Nobody is Ever Missing. Lacey’s rambling, run-on paragraphs are in every way different from Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s meticulously honed prose, so it was an especially jarring transition. This is also not a complicated book; it’s about a woman who abruptly...more

  • Dust

    Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

    A dense and beautiful novel, Dust is largely focused on one splintered family and how their stories are interwoven with violent events in Kenya’s post-colonial history. Owuor writes with emotional intensity, and while her language feels lush and expansive overall, much of the narrative is peppered with lyrical fragments. The rhythm of these staccato interludes can take some time to...more

  • Things Fall Apart

    Chinua Achebe

    This is the archetypal modern African novel, and funnily enough it wound up on my list partially from Aaron Bady’s list of African novels to read before you die — posted in response to a list he found to be predictable. Of course this book is on the latter list, but I’ll be following it up with one of Bady’s suggestions.

    Things...more

  • The Unspeakable

    Meghan Daum

    Meghan Daum opens her second book of essays by explaining how she hoped that all together they would “add up to a larger discussion about the way human experiences too often come with preassigned emotional responses.” This examination of the disconnect with how one is “supposed to feel” compared to our actual feelings succeeds best in the opening essay, “Matricide,”...more

  • The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems

    Olena Kalytiak Davis

    I imagine if I had a more thorough knowledge of poetry, I would gather more from many of the poems in this book, as there are references I’m missing. At the back Davis apologizes for the “stuff stolen from other stuff.” While there is some quieter moments here and there, overall the book feels forceful. Dan Chiasson’s review for The...more

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