• The Orphan Master’s Son

    Adam Johnson

    After no Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded last year, people who care about such things worried that it could happen again. Instead this novel set in North Korea was recognized for 2013, one of a few awards it’s garnered so far. Initially I wasn’t too intrigued by the reviews, but I guess I was swayed by the accolades....more

  • Grace

    Grace Coddington

    As someone who first learned of Grace Coddington from her feisty presence in The September Issue, I felt appropriately chided by the introduction where Coddington declares it “the movie that is the only reason anyone has ever heard of me.” That claim is mostly untrue in terms of the fashion world, but then the average person who saw that...more

  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

    Jeanette Winterson

    I loved Winterson’s first, semi-autobiographical novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit when I first read it as a teenager. Her slightly fictionalized Jeanette struggles through her religious upbringing with her crazy adoptive mother and a difficult coming-out experience. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is partially the memoir version of the same story, up until the...more

  • Salvage the Bones

    Jesmyn Ward

    It’s hard not to think of Benh Zeitlin’s beautiful film Beasts of the Southern Wild while reading this book that is also centered around an impoverished bayou community bracing for an approaching hurricane. The heroines also have similar fierceness nestled in vulnerability and struggle with the absence of their mothers but the presence of wounded fathers.

    But Salvage...more

  • Building Stories

    Chris Ware

    I assumed that I’d love this graphic novel due to its book-as-object nature, so much so that when I recently read Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s description of it being “not an actual book so much as a twee art project,” I also assumed that was an unnecessarily harsh opinion. Yet once I spent some time with it, I found myself agreeing...more

  • The Long Goodbye

    Meghan O’Rourke

    When I read the excerpt from this book in The New Yorker a couple years ago, I wasn’t particularly drawn to read the whole thing. But a copy showed up in a giveaway pile at work, and I wound up turning to it between library holds. I thought I’d put it aside when something else came along but instead...more

  • This is How You Lose Her

    Junot Díaz

    Partway into this collection, Teri tweeted a link to this comment thread on a Hairpin advice post, prompting a brief discussion of Díaz and how autobiographical his work might be. Since I haven’t read much about him as a person before, I wasn’t aware that his character Yunior, who is the centerpiece of this collection of stories, is...more

  • Tenth of December

    George Saunders

    I always feel I should like George Saunders more than I do; when The New York Times emphatically declared this “the best book you’ll read this year,” I thought perhaps these would be the stories that would teach me to love him. The flaw in this thinking being that I read several of them when they ran in The...more

  • The Round House

    Louise Erdrich

    For some reason I’ve never read any Louise Erdrich novels before, so I was glad to get to The Round House and later find out that many of her books are centered around the same fictional North Dakota reservation and the community there. It’s impressive to know that this book is grounded in a well-established history, but yet it can...more

  • Snow

    Orhan Pamuk

    Feeling pleased at the wintry theme at the time, I bought Snow with Winter’s Tale — now the association with Helprin’s novel is not at all flattering, but luckily they have little in common beyond cold weather. And whereas Winter’s Tale is best at the beginning, Snow felt rather tedious at the start and got better after the story was established....more

  • Calling Dr. Laura

    Nicole Georges

    It’s that time of year when I tend to think of Portland and my time living there — now five years distant; so it was fitting that Nicole’s new book came out right now. I read it in one snowy evening, finding many old familiars of that city and of the people. Nicole is someone I knew there, through mutual friends as...more

  • Storming the Gates of Paradise

    Rebecca Solnit

    I started reading Storming the Gates of Paradise early last year, but since it’s not a light read, the library wound up wanting it back before I could finish. Only thanks to having added it as my “currently reading” book on Goodreads was my memory jogged enough times to get another copy and finally read the rest. An anthology...more

  • The Englishman who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects

    John Tingey

    In many ways W. Reginald Bray could be considered a mail art pioneer, as he sent a bevy of interesting items through the post including, as the title reveals, himself — twice! He also posted his dog and various objects with addresses and stamps applied directly to them, as when he traveled to Ireland and dug up a turnip and etched his...more

  • Winter’s Tale

    Mark Helprin

    In 2006, a New York Times poll asked “a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages” What Is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years?, and Winter’s Tale incredibly received multiple votes. It’s not so strange to think that people...more

  • Smoking Typewriters

    John McMillian

    For the past couple years, I’ve been pretty focused on fiction, so I determinedly picked this history of the 1960s underground press off my to-read list in an attempt to seek a bit of balance, plus the alternative media angle still had my curiosity piqued two years after I first flagged it for later reading. I felt an ominous suspicion...more

  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

    Robin Sloan

    I imagine this quirky novel would be a talking point for people interested in the “digital humanities,” as it pits dusty, old books and their creaky scholars against shiny, electronic devices and their optimistic geeks. That’s definitely both exaggeration and simplification as there are characters that walk the analog-digital line, but then it’s also a lighthearted narrative in which...more

  • Wild

    Cheryl Strayed

    Like many people, I first came across Cheryl Strayed through her column Dear Sugar on the Rumpus, though her identity was still a secret at that point. Sugar’s advice is so unsparingly raw, honest, and compassionate — I think I read all the entries the first time I came across one of them. One day at a bookstore when I couldn’t...more

  • Americus

    MK Reed & Jonathan Hill

    I found this story centered around a fight to ban a series of fantasy books about witches to be rather black-and-white — and not just because it’s a graphic novel that is drawn that way. The characters are all clearly set into one camp or another, and there is no one in between. There is little sympathy to be found for those...more

  • Giving up the Ghost

    Eric Nuzum

    The story behind this book is a bit more interesting that its execution. In his adolescence, Eric Nuzum was haunted by a recurring dream of a girl in a blue dress screaming at him in gibberish, which lead him to numb himself with various substances and fear what may be lurking behind closed doors. Another girl, Laura, in his waking...more

  • Wildwood

    Colin Meloy & Carson Ellis

    I first heard about Wildwood through a Design Sponge post focusing on Carson Ellis’s beautiful illustrations about a year ago. It suddenly popped into my head again recently and turned out to be a good countertwist after finishing the Lydia Davis stories. Many themes in this story are common to young adult literature: the stubbornly brave children; the...more

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