Some of the fiction I’ve enjoyed this year so far:
I’ve loved Penelope Fitzgerald’s brilliant and moving novellas, especially Offshore, The Book Shop, The Blue Flower, and The Beginning of Spring. Fitzgerald astounds me with her capacity to bring emotion out without having to articulate it directly, and for her incredibly graceful, pared-down, incisive, brilliant way of moving in and out of various characters’ consciousnesses. Each of her books creates a whole world, pungent, intense, lingering, disturbing, wonderful.
Also, I’ve fallen in love with Claire Keegan’s novellas, especially Foster. Her handling of the first person voice of a child who visits relatives one summer, near the coast of Ireland, is nothing short of brilliant. This is a novella you are enticed to read twice, three times . . . because you start to realize that you’ve missed delicate and hugely important clues along the way. I fell in love with this child, and have the yearning — unusual for me — to see her in a sequel!
In the Time of Our History, by Susanne Pari, a compelling work of fiction about an Iranian-American family, and the way secrets linger across generations.
Afterword, by Nina Schuyler, a fascinating and increasingly moving novel about AI.
I Have Some Questions for You, by Rebecca Makkai, a riveting, imaginative, wonderfully obsessive novel, filled with questions about memory, bias, and justice.
A Sky Full of Song, by Susan Lynn Meyer, a beautifully written middle grade novel about a Jewish Ukrainian girl who emigrates to North Dakota in 1905. (I love all of Susan Meyer’s books for children; she brings both a lightness and a gravitas that are perfect for genuine stories like this one, which address prejudice in empowering ways for kids of this age.)
The Last Life, by Claire Messud, a pungent, beautiful novel about three generations of a French-Algerian family, seen through the eyes of the daughter and granddaughter, Sagesse LaBasse, both as a teenager and as an older, more reflective woman, who has lived most of her life not in Algeria or in the south of France, but in the U.S. Such a compelling inquiry into memory, family conflict, and the power of secrets.
Beloved, by Toni Morrison. This is my . . . 7th? . . . time reading this astoundingly majestic, human, gorgeous novel by a writer who opens up worlds with each page.
Sorrowland, by Rivers Solomon. Not my usual reading choice! but I enjoyed this book a lot, in the context of an inspiring reading group at the library of Guilford, CT, called Writing Injustice.
Also: a disturbing but fascinating novel by Colm Toibin, The Story of the Night; a beautiful book about the surprises and intricacies of family, The Latecomer, by Jean Hanff Korelitz; The Swimmers, by Julie Otsuka (a gorgeous novella that will linger with you!);
2019 – 2022:
I have enjoyed so many books since 2018! Where to start? Again, a handful — just a handful — of highlights:
Niall Williams’ novels have poured into my heart, and taken up residence there. Four Letters of Love, History of the Rain, and This is Happiness are all passionate and slightly messy and gorgeous novels, with an extraordinary sense of voice and the powers of art, and his memoir In Kiltumper: A Year in an Irish Garden has been a consoling, beautiful accompaniment to a life lived too much indoors during a pandemic.
The Plague, by Albert Camus, newly translated by the inimitable Laura Marris. An absolutely beautiful, sensitive, compelling translation of this unsettling story about a place beset by plague. A wonderfully illuminating book for a pandemic!!
The Safe House, by Christian Boltanski, translated by Laura Marris. This one is a memoir, although it reads like fiction, about a family’s secrets and struggles during World War II and the Holocaust, in France.
The Book of Lost Light, a debut novel by Ron Nyren, set in the years before and after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, is a powerful, subtle, memorable inquiry into photography, grief, and art’s power (and powerlessness) in the face of time.
Flight Advice, by Tobey Hiller — a delightful, whimsical, and keenly imaginative collection of fabulous tales, containing magical dogs, mermaids, and a marvelous account of “Story”‘s life.
Exuberance, a new collection of poems by Dolores Hayden, filled with lyrical, sharp, mesmerizing, and insightful poems about early aviators in the U.S.
Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands,by Hazel V. Carby, is a beautifully researched, unusual, and riveting account of Jamaica and the U.K., mingling personal history with original documents and a deep, rich swath of research.
Other wonders (all novels):
My Good Son, by Yang Huang; Still Life with Insects, by Brian Kiteley; His Favorites, by Kate Walbert; The Boy in the Field, by Margot Livesey; Anna Karenina, by Tolstoy (read yet once more!); The Reef, by Edith Wharton (also a reread); The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich; Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan; The Parable of the Sower, and The Parable of the Talents, by Octavia Butler; An Artist of the Floating World, by Kazuo Ishiguro; Brown Girl, Brownstones, by Paule Marshall.
2017 – 18:
Too many superb books to count! Here are a handful of the highlights:
True Love & Other Dreams of Miraculous Escape, by Micah Perks. This novel — composed of subtly and beautifully linked short stories, is brilliant, wise, & so much fun to read.
Hungry Ghost Theater, by Sarah Stone. A gorgeous novel about a family of theater artists and activists, filled with urgency and passion.
Other wonderful books, each one of which pretty much floored me:
Perpetua’s Kin, by M. Allen Cunningham
Survivor Cafe, by Elizabeth Rosner
Trick, by Domenico Starnone (trans. Jhumpa Lahiri)
Books by Leslie Connor: Crunch, All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle.
Ready to Fall and Freak, by Marcella Pixley
The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene (my 3rd time reading this one, I think)
Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Unless, by Carol Shields
The Hours, by Michael Cunningham (a 2nd read)
2017 Spring and Summer:
I read a wonderful, unusual novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. I had been hesitating to read this, because I thought the subject sounded so disturbing (Lincoln’s opening up of his son Willie’s tomb, in the days after Willie’s death). Once you start reading this story, however, you instantly realize that it is filled with voices — the voices of Lincoln and of his son Willie (as a spirit) . . .of other people in the graveyard, who haven’t yet “moved on” . . . and of various people, past and present, writing about this relationship between a grieving President and his beloved little boy. It’s compelling, radiant, and fascinating.
Other highlights of my reading spring and summer:
Sylvia Brownrigg’s achingly beautiful, subtle novel, Pages for Her; Paolo Giordano’s Like Family; Lawrence Raab’s new collection of essays, Why Don’t We Say What We Mean?; one of Peter Newton’s collection of haikus, The Searchable World.
Chapter books, ages 10 and up: a lovely novel by Leslie Connor, Waiting for Normal
Children’s picture books: Deborah Freedman’s gorgeous, inspiring The Story of Fish & Snail, Blue Chicken, and This House, Once; Jennifer Therme’s excellent story about Darwin’s trip to South America, Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure; and many more.
Summer 2016 & Winter 2016 – 2017 highlights:
My favorite novel in the last few months has been Tessa Hadley’s The Past. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Hadley’s work, I so encourage you to find her short stories and novels as soon as you can. The Past shows her at her magnificent best, creating a whole world to dive into, filled with real and engaging characters. Each sentence, each page, adds depth and texture. I never want to leave a Hadley novel!
Other books I’ve loved include:
Paul Lisicky’s beautiful memoir, The Narrow Door; What Becomes Us, by Micah Perks; Hum, a new collection of short stories by Michelle Richmond; The Marble Army, by Gisele Firmino; Picking Up the Flute, by John Elder; Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf; Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms; The Light of the World, a luscious, poignant memoir by Elizabeth Alexander; Skating with the Statue of Liberty, a wonderful new children’s book by Susan Meyer.
Winter & Spring, 2016 — highlights:
The South, Colm Toibin; Levels of Life, Julian Barnes; They Came Like Swallows, William Maxwell; The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro (my 3rd or 4th reading of this one!); The Portable Veblen, Elizabeth McKenzie; The Essential Haiku, trans. Robert Haas (actually, I am always dipping into this beautiful book of haikus)
Summer – Fall 2015 — highlights:
The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka
The Love Object, Edna O’Brien
The Heather Blazing, Colm Toibin
Norah Webster, Colm Toibin
The Children’s Crusade, Ann Packer
The Stranger, Albert Camus
The Haberdasher’s Daughter, a collection of poems by Suzanne Levine
Winter/Spring of 2015! I read a wonderful bunch of books in the last year. Some highlights include:
The Ambassadors, Henry James
A Fanatic Heart, Edna O’Brien
Devotions on Emergent Occasions, John Donne
Arcadia, Tom Stoppard
Electric City, Elizabeth Rosner
Gravity, Elizabeth Rosner
Other People’s Worlds, William Trevor
Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson
To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, by John O’Donohue
A Cup of Water Turns into a Rose, poems by Lawrence Raab
The Mechanics of Falling and other Stories, by Catherine Brady
Fire Year, by Jason K. Friedman
Date of Disappearance, by M. Allen Cunningham
Mendocino, by Ann Packer
Insignificant Others, by Stephen McCauley
The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud
Someone, by Alice McDermott
Uncle Vanya, by Chekhov
The Trouble with Poetry, by Billy Collins
Charlie’s Exit, by Tobey Hiller
Fly Away Peter, by David Malouf
After Auschwitz: A Love Story, by Brenda Webster
Dissemblings, by S.P. Elledge
A Far Cry from Kensington, by Muriel Spark
Trapline (poems), by Caroline Goodwin
The Island of Misfit Girls, Rayme Waters
The Mechanics of Falling, Catherine Brady
No Man’s Land, and Betrayal, Harold Pinter
Four Hours in My Lai, Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote
We the Animals, Justin Torres
Hawkweed and Indian Paintbrush, Jonathan Strong
Mine, Tung-Hui Hu
Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel
Swim Back to Me, Ann Packer
Scotland the Brave, W. B. Carnochan
Burying Ben, Ellen Kirschman
The Green Age of Asher Witherow, by M. Allen Cunningham
An Appalachian Childhood, by Deany Brady
The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton
The Gravity of Birds, by Tracy Guzeman
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler
Short stories by William Trevor, especially “The Hill Bachelors”
The Translator, Nina Schuyler
Holding Silvan, Monica Wesolowska
Highlights of 2012
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
Enchantment, by Thaisa Frank
Love and Summer, by William Trevor
The Mirrored World, Debra Dean
Kepler’s Dream, Sylvia Brownrigg
Heidegger’s Glasses, Thaisa Frank
Blue Nude, Elizabeth Rosner
The Forgotten Waltz, Anne Enright
And the Pursuit of Happiness, Maira Kalman
Venus in Transit, Shirley Hazzard
A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
At Freddie’s, Penelope Fitzgerald
The Blue Flower, Penelope Fitzgerald
Persuasion, Jane Austen (reread!)
Chekhov short stories
The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (reread)
Love in Translation, Wendy Tokunaga
Summertime, J.M. Coetzee
Waiting for the Barbarians, J.M. Coetzee
French Lessons, Ellen Sussman
A Room with a View, E.M. Forster (reread)
The Sufferers: Stories and Polemics, Taha Hussein
Foreign Bodies, Cynthia Ozick
Half in Love (surviving the legacy of suicide), Linda Gray Sexton
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
The Map of Love, Ahdaf Soueif
Saints and Sinners, Edna O’Brien
No Heroes, Chris Offutt
Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
Noah’s Compass, Anne Tyler
Women Building History: Public Art at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, Wanda Corn
The Anti-Romantic Child, a memoir by Priscilla Gilman
Black Radishes, a YA novel by Susan Lynn Meyer
Composed, a memoir by Roseann Cash
Beggar Maid, Alice Munro
Servants of the Map, Andrea Barrett
Dubliners, James Joyce
“Ward Six,” Chekhov
The Light of Evening, Edna O’Brien
Speak, Memory, Nabokov
The Untouchable, John Banville
Consolation, Jonathan Strong
The True Sources of the Nile, Sarah Stone
Cakewalk, Kate Moses
Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
First Darling of the Morning, Thrity Umrigar
The Reader, Schlink
A Change of Climate, Hilary Mantel
The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa, ed. Robert Hass
Assemblage, S.P. Elledge
At Weddings and Wakes, Alice McDermott
The Painted Veil, Somerset Maughm
The Delivery Room, Sylvia Brownrigg
Morality Tale, Sylvia Brownrigg
Vienna Triangle, Brenda Webster
The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford
Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger
The Whole World Over, Julia Glass
That Night, Alice McDermott
After This, Alice McDermott
Claude and Camille, Stephanie Cowell
A Separate Peace, John Knowles
The Mechanics of Falling, Catherine Brady
Looking After Pigeon, Maud Carol Markson
The Gathering, Anne Enright
The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett
Three Junes, Julia Glass
Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri
The Reader, Bernhard Schlink
The Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawa
A Mercy, Toni Morrison
The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, Brian Moore (for the 4th time!)
Yesterday’s Weather, stories by Anne Enright
Shy Girl, Elizabeth Stark
After This, Alice McDermott
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
Drawn from Life, Jonathan Strong