• The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

    Lydia Davis

    I read the first two books in this collection not quite two years ago. Now maybe wasn’t the best time to revisit this, as I felt pretty distracted until the end when I was able to find some focus again. But then reading one of Davis’s books is more of an effort than you would expect, partially because her...more

  • The Flight of Gemma Hardy

    Margot Livesey

    I’m not sure why exactly I rescued this book from a free pile, but I’d guess it was due to its Jane Eyre roots and my appreciation of Wide Sargasso Sea. I was really convinced I had never read Jane Eyre, but according to what I wrote about Jean Rhys’s book, I did, at some point. Apparently my memories...more

  • Swimming Studies

    Leanne Shapton

    The best adjective I’ve seen so far to describe this book is “pointillistic,” as it was described in The New York Times review. Invariably “quietly” will qualify other descriptors, which rightfully suggests it’s a tricky book to recommend to others, especially if you don’t know how it fits in with their usual reading choices. I recently found myself in conversation...more

  • The False Friend

    Myla Goldberg

    I was surprised that I hadn’t heard much about this novel from the writer of one of my favorites, Bee Season, which maybe someone else would have considered a really bad sign. But I enjoyed her second novel, Wickett’s Remedy, and have a fond memory of attending a reading for that book where she talked in detail about...more

  • Other People We Married

    Emma Straub

    Summer, with all its distractions, is generally an opportune time for reading short fiction that you can digest in small segments. This collection seems like a particularly good fit, as many of the stories have themes of travel. At some point I thought to myself that it was strange that two of them had a character with the same name;...more

  • How Should a Person Be?

    Sheila Heti

    I might have skipped this semi-autobiographical novel entirely if I’d only read James Wood’s rather negative opinion in his New Yorker review. Luckily a friend pointed me toward Johanna Fateman’s Bookforum review, and I reconsidered. It’s a strangely tricky book, as I suspect readers will either relate or entirely not-relate to the character Sheila’s ambition to be the...more

  • Man Walks into a Room

    Nicole Krauss

    Not long after unpacking my books after moving, a friend asked for a book recommendation, and I pulled The History of Love off the shelf, which reminded me that I had put this one, Krauss’s first novel, on my list a while back. The History of Love has stayed a favorite of mine for several years and her next...more

  • The Dream of a Common Language

    Adrienne Rich

    When Adrienne Rich died earlier this year, I felt compelled to pick up something of hers, since I couldn’t recall reading much of her work before, though I felt familiar with her in principle. It took me a while to actually get to reading this since I haven’t been reading much poetry lately, and it often feels like a...more

  • Blue Nights

    Joan Didion

    A few months ago I saw a reference to Didion’s essay “Goodbye to All That” and read it again and remembered that I still hadn’t read this semi-follow-up to The Year of Magical Thinking about her daughter Quintana’s death. While the first book is primarily about grief, this one is focused more on mortality, and, more specifically, Didion...more

  • 1Q84

    Haruki Murakami

    Waiting for the paperback version of 1Q84 meant being rewarded with a manageable three-volume set and also hearing the mixture of enjoyment and ambivalence that early readers already worked through. Since I’ve read so much of Murakami’s work, I knew I’d read it regardless of the overall less-than-stellar trend in responses. Most of the book was entertaining to read,...more

  • The Bathroom

    Jean-Philippe Toussaint

    Sometimes when you’re stuck with a book you can’t get into and can’t let go of, the best thing that can happen is to stumble upon something else that will give you the route to move on to the next one. In this case, I’d been carrying around Zadie Smith’s On Beauty for several weeks, untouched beyond the first...more

  • Netherland

    Joseph O’Neill

    Somewhere on the internet, Netherland was compared to Open City, and I swapped my copy of the Teju Cole book with my friend’s copy of this one so we could compare our comparisons. There are a lot of parallels from the post-9/11 New York City setting to the searching meanderings of the main characters, though the main difference is...more

  • Another Country

    James Baldwin

    I’d been reading this book off and on for about six months, having gone through a few periods of being too distracted to read, before I decided it was time to hunker down and finish it.

    It’s a bit tough in the beginning since the best character tragically exits the scene in the first section, and there is a bit...more

  • Open City

    Teju Cole

    Comparisons to W. G.Sebald alone sold me on this debut novel from this Nigerian-American writer. His character Julius also grew up in Nigeria and now lives in New York City practicing psychiatry; in his spare time he wanders the city (and at times travels to other cities to wander) in contemplation, revisiting events from both near and distant pasts...more

  • A Death in the Family

    James Agee

    I was around the corner from my usual library branch when I finished The Stranger’s Child and felt that I should get another book in my hands promptly. Since reading Let Us Now Praise Famous Men last year, I’d never officially added this to my reading list, but it was on the right shelf at the right time....more

  • The Stranger’s Child

    Alan Hollinghurst

    I haven’t read any of Hollinghurst previous novels, but I’ve been told they involve contemporary gay men having lots of sex, and therefore you may not feel comfortable reading them on the subway. At his Bookcourt reading forThe Stranger’s Child, he used the phrase “uncharacteristically restrained” in response to a question about the lack of detailed action on the...more

  • Good Mail Day

    Jennie Hinchcliff & Carolee Gilligan Wheeler

    The news about the USPS a few weeks ago was dire, so I bought some new stamps (I recommend a couple panes of the Pioneers of American Industrial Design — they’re good forever!) and picked up this book for a little inspiration. I met the Pod Post girls Carolee and Jennie years ago at a Portland Zine Symposium,...more

  • You Think That’s Bad

    Jim Shepard

    The most frequent comment I see about Jim Shepard’s writing is that he attacks such a wide variety of worlds, in terms of places and places in time. It seems to go against the “write what you know” commandment passed down to aspiring writers, except each story feels convincingly accurate; he is apparently able to research well and therefore know...more

  • Consider the Lobster

    David Foster Wallace

    After reading Infinite Jest two years ago, I didn’t become a DFW fanatic, settling instead for a measured respect for a writer who manages to be incredibly brilliant and hilarious at the same time. I’ve been meaning to get to this collection of essays, especially since I’m not sure when I’ll embark on another epic novel, namely his...more

  • Invisible

    Paul Auster

    By writing about myself in the first person, I had smothered myself and made myself invisible, had made it impossible for me to find the thing I was looking for. I needed to separate myself from myself…

    Paul Auster is one of those writers with one extremely well-known book — most likely you’ve read The New York Trilogy, if you’ve read...more

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