The five best books I read in 2012

My reading has been all over the map this year, from gossipy cooking memoirs to hefty literary novels to travel writing and to, well, fluffy, escapist beach reads. But looking back over the 50 or so books I finished, five stand out. Four of them are novels. Two are written by women. Two are slim and novella-esque. Four are recent releases, with 2011-2012 pub dates, but one is 40 years old. After writing up these reviews I realized 4 of the 5 feature the Western U.S. I’ve been drawn to books about the West since realizing my stay in California was more permanent than temporary – I suppose it’s my way of trying to understand what remains, still, a foreign place. Anyway, here they are:

bernadette  1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? A witty novel by TV script writer Maria Semple (Arrested Development, Mad About You, SNL, etc.) that combines emails, psychiatric documents, police reports and letters. I enjoyed the playful knocks against Seattle and its “Subaru parents.” It’s original, funny and refreshingly different.  Looking forward to seeing more from this writer.

2. The Sense of an Ending My bookclub chose this 2011 Booker Prize barneswinner back in the spring and I admit I was reluctant and expecting stuffiness and/or tedium from British author Julian Barnes. Well. I read this slim novel in one sitting and was blown away. It’s masterful. The writing, the storytelling, the subtle plot twists … it’s so carefully woven, you’ll want to read it more than once to absorb it all of its intricacies.

3. Wild: From Lost to Found on the wildPacific Crest Trail  This one is on everyone’s end-of-year ‘best of’ lists, and with good reason. Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of hiking solo on the Pacific Crest Trail while reeling from grief and life missteps manages to be readable, honest and a well-balanced emotional ride. The intimate voice made me feel I’d been told a long, riveting story by a close friend and after I finished I kept retelling bits of the book to everyone I knew. Like all of Strayed’s writing, it sticks with you.

traindreams4. Train Dreams Jesus’ Son and Tree of Smoke author Denis Johnson has written a lovely meditation on the nature of the West and its development. Johnson’s beautiful writing is crafted with a subtle hand. Train Dreams was nominated for the Pulitzer in 2012.

stegner5. Angle of Repose “It should not be denied… that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led West.” Wallace Stegner’s masterful novel of the American West is not new (it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972) but for some reason, despite numerous recommendations from friends and family, I kept putting off reading it. What a mistake! I now count it among my favorite novels and hope to read it again this year. It’s cinematic and evocative, written as a story within a story. When I read this I was reminded how modern lit has changed and changed our reading habits – there’s no sell-it-quick first chapter to reel you in. Stegner starts slow and expects the reader to follow. But writing like this deserves the slow build and careful pacing it’s given.


Linktastic Tuesday: writing advice, ms length, and books for the beach

I wrote this post this morning … and then WordPress ate it. I responded by eating 2 pieces of cake slathered in rich chocolate frosting. Take that, lost hour of my life! Not so lost anymore! Ahem. Anyway, the cake was delicious and made me feel better. I did want to share a few links on this lovely, pollen-coated Tuesday*, so now, here they are, version two:

Richard Gilbert has a great review/interview post with author Althea Black on his blog, Narrative. Black is the author of the short story collection I Knew You’d Be Lovely, and her advice on the writing process was frank and to-the-point, which is the kind of writing advice I most love to hear. Black describes how she put herself through a DIY MFA, reading and learning from writing books, and working hard at what she does (writing I Knew You’d Be Lovely was a 15-year process!) My favorite advice (because it’s true, and because it’s the hardest to do):

Through many hours of revising, I learned that if there’s a section of your story that depresses you to look at, you should cut it. If there’s a word that feels fancy or a character’s action that feels forced, cut. If there’s a paragraph where you can feel how hard you’re trying, cut. Cut anything that feels writerly or show-offy or self-conscious. Cut anything that doesn’t keep the ball moving. That really great metaphor that does nothing to advance your story? Cut.

I love Black’s focus on economy of language — “never say with twenty words what you can say with two.” I will admit I was not familiar with Black or her stories but I am now going to rush out and find a copy of this collection.

Did you know The Great Gatsby is a novella? Me neither. It comes in just short of 50,000 words, which is the possibly arbitrary (and definitely debatable) number separating novel from novella.** Did you know you can find out the word counts of your favorite books on Amazon? Me neither. (Here’s how. You can only do it on “search inside this book” titles.)

I learned all this in “The Secret Lives of Novellas,” a short essay by Daniel Torday on the Glimmer Train site. Torday discusses his earlier obsession with word counts and what they represent, and how he realized that his WIP was long enough when it felt right to him, not because of a number. The WIP was published this spring, as a novella.

Looking for something to read on your summer vacation? Or, like me, just always looking for something to read? Two good lists of new titles for summer:
-Flavorwire: 10 New Must-reads for May
-Bookpage: 20 summer standouts

*I’m having a hell of an allergy attack today and am a sniveling, sneezing mess. Seriously, driving is not a safe activity for me. Too much sneezing.
** In his essay, Torday mentions that E.M. Forster defined the novel as “any fictitious prose work over 50,000 words.” In my MFA program, I was taught that the publishing industry considers 75,000 words a novel, though clearly that’s just a guideline. Nathan Bransford suggests 70,000-80,000 for a debut novel, and no more than 150,000. So, novellas: 35K-70K?

six degrees of separation

Speaking of reading, I’ve been immersed in two books over the past couple of weeks that I wanted to mention here. Both have ties to my MFA alma mater Emerson College. I’ll admit, I might not have been aware of them had I not been keeping an eye out for mentions of Emerson, and that’s why I wanted to bring them up here — they are worth noting.

The first, Day for Night, is by Frederick Reiken. I had Reiken for a lit class on short stories and it was one of the best classes I took in my MFA days, largely because he geared the class toward writers, and thus when we read a short story we spent a lot of time considering how it was written and consequently the class was as much a craft class as a lit class. Reiken has some terrific and very understandable theories about craft (you may have seen some of his essays in The Writers Chronicle). Anyway, Reiken’s command of craft is evident in his latest novel. It’s a kind of wild ride, this novel, with a “six degrees of separation” kind of premise that brings the reader from Florida to Utah to San Francisco to Israel and traverses time and, maybe, reality. There’s a bit of the fantastical here, and yet there’s also some historical reality — The Holocaust — that keeps Day for Night grounded. At first I wanted to classify this one as a collection of linked stories, but about a third of the way through the book it became clear that this is very much a novel, albeit with many different narrators. They are all telling the same story, in a way, though with varying degrees of knowledge of the big picture. Each offers a piece of the puzzle and Reiken is able to bring what seems like many disparate stories together in a way that I found pretty satisfying.

The second book is a collection of short stories by a recent Emerson grad … wow, wow, Laura van den Berg‘s first book, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us is fantastic. I’m a little late to the party –this collection has been lauded all over the place since it came out in late 2009. The book was a 2009 holiday selection for the Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” Program, shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor Award, and long-listed for The Story Prize. There’s a quiet sorrow in all of these stories, which have in common themes of loss and loneliness, despite their disparate geographic settings. (Van den Berg deftly writes about the Congo, Boston, Madagascar, and New York City, among other locales.) There’s a strangeness here to that contributes to the desolation (a Bigfoot impersonator, a store that sells Balinese masks, a search for the Loch Ness monster, a little brother who has found a tunnel to the other side of the world…) but doesn’t ever feel forced or, well, strange. Such is van den Berg’s talent.

I am eagerly awaiting her next book.

A year of reading

I read about 65 books in 2010, which is a recent record for me. Even during years involving the most-reading intensive semesters of grad school I think I only hit about 50ish books — a book per week. And in recent, busy years in which I spent far too much time on the Internet instead of with my nose in a book, my yearly reading totals plummeted to about 30. There were costs to hitting 65 books. The biggest was that I stopped reading the New Yorker regularly, for the first time in about a decade. I actually unsubscribed, since at any one time there might be (and still are) about 12 magazines laying around that I hadn’t gotten to (and might never?). I miss it, but I enjoyed the fact that I got through so many more books instead. So now I’m well-read, but under-informed. Hrm. We’ll see how long my New Yorker hiatus lasts. There must be a way to balance books and a weighty weekly magazine.

Anyway, so what did I read in 2010? I’ll spare you the entire list, but here are some highlights:

Best books I read in 2010:

The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver: This may be the best book Kingsolver has written yet. Trotsky! Diego Rivera! Frida Kahlo! As you’d expect from her, it’s precisely researched and beautifully written — to the point where I often found myself reading a sentence and then stopping in wonder to read it again and again. How does she do that?

The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen: I count this novel, along with The Great Gatsby and Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, as three stunning examples of “the great American novel.” It’s hard work, this novel, and it’s pretty depressing at times, but worth the effort.

, by Colm Toibin:
I picked this one up at the library on a whim, knowing nothing about it or the author, and ended up devouring it in a weekend. I find myself thinking back to it often. Toibin managed to create a vivid portrait of Brooklyn in the 50s, of Ireland in the 50s, and of a young woman who leaves one for the other.

This Boy’s Life, by Tobias Wolfe: No doubt this book makes the best-of lists of 20th century memoirs. Wolfe handles a troubled childhood with care; this material could have easily veered toward overwrought or angry. It doesn’t, and Wolfe’s talent for subtle humor in unexpected moments makes this memoir all the more powerful.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte: Shocking but true: I had never read this novel before. It absolutely blew me away. It’s one of only a few novels I’ve ever read that when I finished I wanted immediately to begin again.


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
by Aimee Bender:
A review I read of this novel described it as “subtle surrealism,” which I suppose is an apt description. Whatever you want to call it, I loved the quiet strangeness of this novel, and the rainy-day mood it evoked.

An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard: What can I say? It’s Annie Dillard, and it’s delightful.



Some other books I read in 2010 that I highly recommend:
Delicate Edible Birds and other stories,
by Lauren Groff
Old School, by Tobias Wolfe
Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby
Book of Clouds, by Chloe Aridjis
Miles From Nowhere, by Nami Mun
Ron Carlson Writes a Story, by Ron Carlson

June writing links: book review ninja edition

It’s summer, apparently. Could have fooled me! (In San Francisco it’s sometimes hard to tell. Hello, 50 degrees, fog, and gusty winds!) But no matter what your version of summer feels like, summer is for reading. As in, kick back in a lounge chair under an umbrella, listen to the ocean and sip tropical drinks while devouring some extremely engaging literature. (Or, you know, bundle up in a fleece and hide in the one wind-protected corner of your deck hoping to glimpse some blue sky behind all that rushing white stuff. Or, perhaps, head out to the ocean and have the wind and sand give you that microdermabrasion treatment you’ve been thinking about.)

Anyhow, June’s links are all about books:

First up, a nice little reminiscence of an alley full of used bookstores in Bangladesh.

Next, memoirs of illness –there are a lot out there, this M.D. writes, and they’re not all necessarily good, in the conventional literature sort of way. But: “there is no story out there that is not a great story.”

I’ve always wanted to be a ninja. Probably “book review ninja” is as close as I’m going to get.

A excellent, bookish cause.

Jonathan Franzen, whose writing I am in awe of, this month published “Rereading ‘The Man Who Loved Children’” in the NY Times. Whether or not you care about The Man Who Loved Children, the writing in this piece is stellar. It called to mind Franzen’s essay “How to Be Alone,” which is one of my favorites.

“She didn’t care if none of it seemed possible. It wasn’t possible, but it was true.” A couple of summer reading possibilities. I’m loving the term “subtle surrealists.”

“It was a land mine you wanted to go off.”

I had been driven to nonfiction against my wishes. I wanted to read fiction, but I had learned to be cautious about it.
When you open an book,” the sentimental library posters said, “anything can happen.” This was so. A book of fiction was a bomb. It was a land mine you wanted to go off. You wanted it to blow your whole day. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of books were duds. They had been rusting out of everyone’s way for so long they no longer worked. There was no way to distinguish the duds from the live mines except to throw yourself at them headlong, one by one.

From An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard

Ron Carlson Writes a Story

I picked up Ron Carlson Writes a Story because I was intrigued by the concept: A writer walks the reader through every step of his thinking and process during the writing of one of his short stories. I was intrigued, because I hadn’t heard of a writing book written that way, and I was intrigued because I find myself writing short stories these days, despite the fact I have no training in writing short stories beyond a love for reading them. I’m trained in nonfiction writing — structuring an essay, getting at some kernel of emotion in memoir, reporting and writing articles. I have been fumbling along with my short stories, trying to learn from my mistakes. Trying to read and analyze my own work as I might a short story in a magazine. There are a lot of books out on the craft of fiction writing, but I hadn’t come across one devoted to the process of short story writing. Sold.

I suppose it could be seen as pretentious that a writer would think his own story good enough to use as an example in this way. I didn’t think of that possibility until I finished the book and was contemplating what to write here about it, i.e. potential negatives. The truth is Carlson’s friendly, wise, often self-deprecating, sometimes irreverent voice pulled me into his writing process, and the more I read, the more I wished I could have him as a professor. (He’s currently the director of the much-lauded UC Irvine MFA program, but does teach at various workshops and conferences.) I didn’t get the impression that he saw his story as so fabulous he had to write a book about how it was created — he says he picked “The Governor’s Ball,” because he remembered exactly how he wrote it.

This book is Carlson’s nearly sentence-by-sentence play-by-play of “The Governor’s Ball.” It’s a meditation on writing and the practice of writing, delivered in bite-size pieces. There are quotes from other writers and short quips on why to avoid the dictionary or getting up to get another cup of coffee. Carlson argues that a writer’s understanding of his or her own process is “as important as any accumulated craft dexterity or writing ‘skill.’” For him, writing a story involves intuition, listening to what everything on the page is telling you, rather than writing to meet a pre-conceived ending. It involves a willingness to be lost. “The single largest advantage a veteran writer has over the beginner is this tolerance for not knowing,” he writes.

We live in a society that doesn’t offer any support or approval for ventures that aren’t clearly articulated and aligned for a goal. A writer gets past this. It’s going to be a mess before you’re finished, and you may not have a name for the mess or understand its utilitarian purposes. There aren’t words for everything. For now, we’ll call it the draft of a story.

Some of the advice in this book is common sense, but was helpful/inspiring to me all the same. For example, the oft-quoted, “The writer is the person who stays in the room”:

The most important thing a writer can do after completing a sentence is to stay in the room. The great temptation is to leave the room to celebrate the completion of the sentence or go out in the den where the television lies like a dormant monster and rest up for a few days for the next sentence or to go wander the seductive possibilities of the kitchen.

I took nearly two weeks to read the 100 or so pages of this slim volume, and I’m glad I did. I read it like a meditation of sorts every night before I slept. In the process of reading this book I realized why a story I’ve struggled to end for two years is still unfinished. And I know how I’m going to approach continuing a story I’ve just begun. In short, as book of writing advice, this one was a success. I think it’s more than that, however, and valuable for anyone writing or teaching fiction. Included are some of the better and more unusual writing exercises I’ve come across, and Carlson notes some common mistakes and preconceptions he sees in beginning students. A number of times while I was reading, I thought, if I ever teach a short story workshop…

I am masterful at deciding to celebrate the completion of a paragraph (no matter if it took two minutes or two hours) with a snack, or some coffee, or by stopping for the day. I tend to waste hours researching characters’ names (another of Carlson’s no-no’s.) From now on though I think I’m going to hear a little voice telling me to “stay in the room.”

You should read…

I’ve put up a new page on FCW which details what I’ve been reading. You can see a list of what I’ve been devouring, words-wise, including short stories and essays. I often find myself thinking back to short fiction and nonfiction I’ve read, and noticed last year that I often forget what story or essay I am thinking about, or where I read it. So I decided to keep track. Turns out, I read a lot of short works. Hrm.

Anyway, a couple of recent nonfiction reads that I highly recommend:

On October 13, 2002, I woke up in a train station in Secunderabad, India, with no passport and no idea who I was or why I was in India.

So begins “The Answer to the Riddle is Me” by David Stuart Maclean, which appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of Ploughshares. Maclean gives a riveting account of memory loss that I wanted desperately to read more of, and so I was glad to hear it’s part of a full-length memoir on the subject — hopefully to be published soon. You’ll have to get your hands on a copy of Ploughshares to read the text (recommended), but Maclean also read an adapted version of this piece on a recent episode of “This American Life,” which you can hear the audio of here. Maclean’s reading starts at 36:00.

The night sky in North Korea might be the most brilliant in northeast Asia, the only airspace spared the coal dust, Gobi Desert sand, and carbon monoxide choking the rest of the continent. And no electrical glow competes with the intensity of the stars there. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had propped up its old Communist ally with cheap fuel oil, North Korea’s power stations rusted into ruin. The lights went out. Now when the sun drops low in the sky, the landscape fades to gray and the squat little houses are swallowed by the night. Entire villages vanish into the dusk. Even in parts of Pyongyang, the capital, you can stroll down the middle of a street at night without being able to see the buildings on either side.
Such darkness is a curse, of course, but it also has its advantages. If you are a teenager dating somebody you can’t be seen with, invisibility confers measures of privacy and freedom that are hard to come by in North Korea. You can do what you like without worrying about the eyes of parents, neighbors, or the secret police.

I’ve been fascinated by North Korea ever since spending a year in South Korea as an English teacher some years ago. And now I’ve found the book that I’ve been looking for ever since I visited the DMZ and stepped, for a moment, into that country: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. It comes from Barbara Demick, the Los Angeles Times’ Beijing Bureau Chief, who’s been interviewing North Koreans since 2001. I’ve read two excerpts from the book so far. Both were staggering in terms of content and detailed reporting. The heartbreaking “Not Like I Don’t Like You,” appeared in the Paris Review last fall. And “The Good Cook,” appeared in the New Yorker November 2, 2009. (Neither site offers the full text of the essays, so add the book to your to-read list. I have.)

Another Sunday hodgepodge

It’s another Sunday, and so I thought, “how about another Sunday hodgepodge?

And then, because I have been up since 5 am taking care of a sick little boy, and am sick myself (again!) and my brain is not fully functioning, I thought, is hodgepodge really a word? Does anyone use it anymore? I had to reassure myself with a visit to Merriam-Webster’s website. I think more caffeine is in order.

But I digress. Here it is. The hodgepodge, I mean:

1. I’ve started keeping a journal. With a pen! And paper! I know, so 1999 1985, right? I’ve never been a consistent diarist, though I’ve always wanted to be. And yet, in my office I have an entire book shelf of notebooks full of my blathering and deep thoughts. Some years of my life are represented, some are not. Some of the notebooks are half-empty, or half-filled with to-do lists alongside pages of writing. Or drawings, alongside pages of to-do lists.  It’s been several years since I wrote in a notebook on a regular basis, and I decided to try it. My life these days is not measured in big events or dates so much as more insubstantial, quotidian sorts of things, and thus I’ve recently found myself unable to differentiate one week from the next, or even, sometimes, one day from the next. Journaling helps keep things in perspective. And, theoretically, it should help with my other writing. (Pathetic Sidenote: I apparently use a writing implement so infrequently in my daily life that writing a page with a pen is actually physically uncomfortable. And my handwriting has become a strange illegible scrawl in which vowels get squished and letters seem to get lost.)

2. I finally read Nami Mun’s excellent debut novel Miles From Nowhere. The spare prose and memoir-like quality of it blew me away.

3. I’ve been dealing with some writer’s block this week. I admit it, though I’m reluctant to. Writer’s block is an on-again, 0ff-again problem for me. Block is perhaps the wrong word for it; paralysis might be a better one. I have lots of things I want to say, and lots of ideas for novels, essays, memoirs and so on, but I keep sitting down in front of the computer and just, well, freezing. I read or heard somewhere that Joyce Carol Oates said that writer’s block is what happens when you’re not being honest with yourself in your writing. I’m paraphrasing, and probably poorly. (Does anyone know the source/actual quote? I can’t find it.) I sometimes think about that when I can’t write, though it doesn’t help much and just creates more anxiety about the writing process. I suspect that my writer’s block tends to come as a result of suddenly having time to write (hello, childcare!) after days of not. It’s a lot of pressure, kind of an “OK, go! You’ve got X hours to write and that’s it!” situation.

3. It’s been storming in the Bay Area for a week. We’ve had wind, lightning, thunder, hail, downpours, rainbows, flooding and even funnel clouds. This weekend was supposed to be a reprieve, but another Pacific storm is rolling in this afternoon. There’s a part of me that loves a bout of dreary weather; it’s a nice time to get cozy on the couch with a book or to write for hours in a coffee shop with foggy windows. But there’s another part of me, the one who has to take our white dog to the muddy park in a cold rain with a 25-pound 14-month-old strapped to my chest who wants to “hold” the umbrella, yeeeah. That part of me, not so much.

4. This month marks 10 years that I’ve been living in San Francisco. A decade! That’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere, ever. Probably there’s an entire post in me about that topic. Stay tuned.

The best books I read in 2009

Happy New Year!

With a new baby in the house, 2009 was a tough reading year for me. I read fewer books, and, because I was often in a zombie-like state of sleep deprivation and/or reading on my iPhone while nursing a baby in the middle of the night, sometimes the quality of the books I did read was not as I might have prefered. Still, I read a few books this past year that I would count among (an admittedly longish list) the best I’ve ever read:

The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yoko Ogawa

A quiet, subtle book that possesses a certain wistfulness that is common to a lot of modern Japanese lit. Also common to a lot of Japanese lit: a bittersweet element relating to a relationship that goes unfulfilled in some way. In this case, doubly unfulfilled: unrequited love, and a man who cannot remember those who love him like family.  Ogawa gets credit for managing to successfully write a novel about a man whose memory only lasts for 80 minutes — how does he build relationships if he cannot remember anyone from a few hours before? And I give her credit for writing a novel about math. Explanations of formulas and theorems and so on as part of fiction might turn some people off — I certainly thought I’d be one of them — but Ogawa makes it work.

Dreams from My Father – Barack Obama

I was completely wowed by this memoir, written well before Obama became president, or even ran for the Senate. It’s that aspect of the book, I think, that’s so startling. It’s impossible to read it, of course, without knowing what becomes of the man who in his youth and early adulthood struggles with his identity and purpose so much. Beyond that though, the memoir is well-written, with lyrical descriptions and an honest, thoughtful voice. Like any good memoir, this book is about much more than Obama’s life story, and I was impressed with how wide Obama’s worldview seemed to be – and how his thinking about community, race, history, and identity as displayed in this book were echoed in his presidential campaign. (Did he and his handlers do that on purpose? Is he that singularly focused?) I suppose I should say that in the run-up to the election last year I was what might be described as a lukewarm Obama supporter. I didn’t expect to be so blown away by this book, and I don’t think it’s perfect. There are moments in which I felt Obama glossed over some difficulties in his life – there’s no doubt he comes out looking pretty good in most of the situations in the book (though by no means all). The presence of his mother in this book is a bit foggy as well. I wondered how she felt about her son’s quest for identity. But these are small complaints. I came away believing that Obama may be one of American history’s great thinkers, and I feel lucky to be able to watch his career unfold.

Olive Kitteridge: A Novel in Stories – Elizabeth Strout

From a craft perspective, these are some of the best short stories I have ever read. In my MFA program, there was occasional discussion of the “prefect” short story, and if there is such a thing, I would guess that the stories in this collection are darn close. These are not easy stories to read, and I found myself at several points in the book having to put it down for a while – days even – before I could return to the thick emotion that pervades each story in the collection. They are not, despite that, heavy-handed, nor are they maudlin. This novel-in-stories revolves around a retired teacher, but also the small Maine town she lives in. The town and its people are undeniably American – by that I mean, it’s possible to come away from this book having read about the whole, not just a tiny slice.

Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates

I count this book as an example of “the great American novel.” It’s a masterpiece, it really is. For this reason, and for its structure, its characters, and its evocation of a time period, Revolutionary Road brings to mind another great American novel, The Great Gatsby. It’s not for the faint-hearted, particularly if you find reading about dysfunctional suburban marriage unsettling. It’s depressing. No surprise, really, since it’s about 1950s America, done better than (dare I say it?) “Mad Men.” Though if you’ve ever watched “Mad Men” you won’t be able to keep from visualizing the set, costumes, and characters from that show as you read Revolutionary Road.

The Song Is You –  Arthur Phillips

I bought this to read on my iPhone after being won over by a review somewhere in cyberspace. Not more than a chapter in, I had to go get the book from the public library because the language was too complex for me to read on an iPhone. What better compliment could there be for a writer? Phillips is a master of vocabulary, metaphor, and quirky turns of phrase. His writing is challenging to read – but it’s also fun. Music pervades every page of this book –the references to songs and bands are impressive in their number and, in some cases, obscurity. Some reviewers were annoyed by all the references, but I enjoyed them, in part because it felt like Phillips was enjoying them. Phillips revels in bands I grew up listening to (some of which I’d forgotten about completely). He writes what he knows, and what he knows is the experience of Generation X.


Unaccustomed Earth – Jhumpa Lahiri

The Story of a Marriage – Andrew Sean Greer

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth: Stories – Kevin Wilson