Favorite books from November

The best things I read in November, in no particular order.

Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems

Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems, Robin Coste Lewis. Good grief, everyone should read these poems. Really so pleased and delighted that Lewis received the National Book Award for this. Very well-deserved. (With thanks to Wei for giving us a copy.)

Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs

Hold Still, Sally Mann. Difficult and beautiful and strange all at once. I felt a particular bond with Mann, owing to the fact that she lives about an hour from here, in the green, rolling paradise that is the Virginia countryside.

Letters to a Young Poet

Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. Why did I wait so long to read these letters? Silly of me. Should be required reading/inspiration for writers.

The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene. Greene always surprises me. I tend to expect something stuffy from him, which is unfair, and then he eludes me.

As We Are Now

As We Are Now, May Sarton. An unflinching and yet moving portrait of a dying woman, locked away and seemingly forgotten in a nursing home, who is striving to stay human and sane.

The Charterhouse of Parma

The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal. What a crazy, unexpectedly fun romp through the Napoleonic era! We follow the air-headed romantic Fabrizio, who is constantly saved from death/torture/exile by women.

What did you read and enjoy in November?

Favorite books from October

The best things I read in October, in no particular order.

The Stories of John Cheever

The Stories of John Cheever. What is wrong with me that I waited so long in my life to read John Cheever? Good grief. These stories wrecked me. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more thrilling and perfect collection of short stories. They stuck with me; I think about them still all the time.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander. This came out a few years ago, but I’d still consider it vital reading for all Americans. It is shocking and grim.

Moon Tiger

Moon Tiger, Penelope Lively. Despite the title and cover, I was thoroughly enchanted by this novel, a multifaceted portrait of a British historian’s life and loves.

2666

2666, Roberto Bolaño. I felt breathless and tired, having finished this emotionally and (literally) physically heavy novel. But also proud. And grateful.

What did you read and enjoy in October?

Favorite books from September

The best books I read in September, in no particular order.

A Little Life

A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara. Good grief. I almost hesitate to recommend it, because of how intense it is, but wow, what a novel. It eats you alive. And it’s fully deserving of all of the accolades and nominations it has been raking in lately.

Stuart: A Life Backwards

Stuart: A Life Backwards, Alexander Masters. A gripping, unusual biography and a riveting portrait of homelessness in England.

Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut. This is the sort of thing I should have read in high school, but I am glad I finally got around to it; so surprisingly funny in all of its bleakness.

The Folded Clock: A Diary

The Folded Clock: A Diary, Heidi Julavits. A well-told and well-curated diary spanning two years of Heidi Julavits’s life.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (Neapolitan Novels, #3)

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante. Despite the book covers, Elena Ferrante can do no wrong.

Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations

Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations, David Ferry. A surprising array of poems; I particularly liked his translations, especially of Rilke.

What did you read and enjoy in September?

Favorite books from August

The best books I read in August, in no particular order.

Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Required reading for all Americans, especially white Americans.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston. This was my second time with this novel (read it again for my church book club), and it was just as dazzling and powerful the second time around. Notably, I felt struck by what an important feminist novel it is.

The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight Into Beauty

The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty, Soetsu Yanagi. This book, a series of philosophical essays on Korean and Japanese folk art, so perfectly captures all that I adore about Japanese aesthetics. I am dying to go back to Japan and fill up an entire suitcase with ceramics.

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West. This tome is so deeply worth it. Rebecca West travels throughout the former Yugoslavia and the Balkans on the brink of World War II and writes about the region and its history with such beauty, wit, and strength. Highly, highly recommended.

Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing

Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, May Sarton. I knew from the first sentence that I’d love this novel, and I was right. The dialogue flags in places, but it’s beautifully composed, and the characters are extremely memorable and strong. This is the first book of Sarton’s that I’ve read, and I’m looking forward to reading many more.

White Girls

White Girls, Hilton Als. Bold and occasionally inscrutable essays by a powerful writer. I particularly enjoyed his perspective on Flannery O’Connor, and the essay about André Leon Talley was pitch-perfect and heartbreaking by turns.

A Life in Letters

A Life in Letters, Anton Chekhov. Collected correspondence from Chekhov’s life, which shines a light on his humor and very human genius.

What were the best books you read last month?

Favorite books from July

The best books I read in July (all fiction this month!):

Coup de Grâce

Coup de Grâce, Marguerite Yourcenar. This is the third novel of Yourcenar’s that I’ve read, and I’m increasingly convinced that she’s perfect. Her psychological analysis is unmatched. This tiny novel is narrated by an egotistical young Prussian who is in love/hate with a damaged and yet strong young woman.

My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love

My Struggle, Book 2, Karl Ove Knausgaard. Karl Ove. How’d you get to be so wonderful.

The Story of a New Name

The Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante. If you can’t tell, summer 2015 is the year of dueling masterful series for me: Knausgaard and Ferrante, Ferrante and Knausgaard. I am reading them both breathlessly, in quick succession. This is book two of the Neapolitan Novels series, and it’s just as dazzling as the first, although a heckuva lot darker.

Victory Over Japan: A Book of Stories

Victory Over Japan: Stories, Ellen Gilchrist. I’d never heard of Gilchrist before, but this was a completely charming and engrossing series of stories featuring powerful, memorable Southern women in starring roles. A lovely summer read, actually. I am usually reading very seasonally inappropriate books, but I’d recommend this to someone for a beach vacation.

What was the best thing you read in July?

Previously:  Favorite books I read in March, April, May, and June.

Favorite books from June

The best books I read in June:

H is for Hawk

H Is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald. Stop everything and go read this book. It entranced me completely. Macdonald is a masterful writer, and she held me in her spell for the entirety of this gorgeously written book — part grief memoir, part goshawk guide, part meditation on the beauty and mortality of the natural world.

My Struggle: Book 1

My Struggle, Book 1, Karl Ove Knausgaard. The Norwegian Proust! It is everything everyone says it is (magnificent, breathtaking, compelling, mystifying). I read it on the plane to and from Iceland, and it made that sum total of 12 hours in air feel like a beautiful passing minute.

Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus

Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus, Robert Farrar Capon. To a skeptical, literature-loving, doubt-filled Christian like myself, the pleasures of reading Capon are vast. This book brightened my own weak conception of my faith and what matters about it in the end.

Mislaid

Mislaid, Nell Zink. Bizarre and impeccably told. The New Yorker  profile on Nell Zink made me intensely curious about her, and I devoured this novel, her most recent, with great fervor. The frequent references to the University of Virginia and the Virginia countryside, in which I reside, were also delightful.

Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood, Steven Mintz. I’ve always found American history interesting, and this is a particularly interesting history textbook. Steven Mintz covers the movements within American childhood (and parenting) from the Puritans to Columbine High School. It’s extremely fascinating. We’ve come a long way, regarding children, and we’ve changed our collective minds about them over and over again.

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy; translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. This is the third time I’ve read AK, and it never fails to please and delight. Read for my church book club. I love the way that this novel, after centuries, still has the power to enchant and enrage readers (our book club was divided strongly into pro- and anti-Anna camps). I think it’s an immortal work of art.

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on Their Decision Not To Have Kids

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, ed. Meghan Daum. I’ll probably still have kids, Mom, but it was intensely interesting to read a variety of perspectives on why people choose not to have them. I read this book in a sitting, with great focus, on my deck. It was only after I’d finished that I looked up and thought, The only reason I was able to read this book in one breathless sitting is precisely because I do not have children.  So there’s that. The women’s perspectives, naturally, were more resonant with me on a theoretical level, but the three men’s essays were the funniest and most lighthearted on the topic (probably because men, biologically and culturally, can be more laissez-faire about childrearing).

Austerlitz

Austerlitz, W.G. Sebald. I’m not sure if I really get  German literature, but this was beautiful and unusual, even if the prose was murky and dark at times. The photographs were so fascinating to me.

What did you read in June? Any recommendations?

Favorite books from May

For whatever reason, I apparently didn’t read as much in May as I did in April. These were the best books I read last month.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint, Nadia-Bolz Weber. After hearing Bolz-Weber speak at Mockingbird in April, I felt completely hooked and bought Pastrix as soon as the conference concluded. Part memoir, part testimony, Pastrix chronicles Bolz-Weber’s journey to believe, become sober, and start a church in Denver. Highly recommended.

The Sellout

The Sellout, Paul Beatty. Uncomfortably raucous, Beatty presents a scathing satire of race relations in America, imagining a narrator who decides to re-segregate his California town and take an old black man as his slave.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert. The world is ending, and Kolbert has the science to prove it. A grim but well-written account of how humans are hurtling the planet toward the next great extinction. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Thousand Cranes (Penguin Modern Classics)

Thousand Cranes, Yasunari Kawabata. I come back to Kawabata over and over again for his lovely, spare, luminous prose. He writes such sad, distant characters, but I am drawn in by them time and time again. I particularly enjoyed the rushes of nostalgia for these places in Japan, specifically Kamakura, and for the gorgeous traditions of Japanese art and tea.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande. A compelling account of end-of-life care in America and the drastic changes that need to be made to improve the quality, not quantity, of life for all of us as we near death.

What were some of the best things you read in May?