My son recently returned from a year trekking in Nepal and Australia, where he migrated from hostel to tent to hammock to hostel, living out of a single backpack and waiting tables, bartending, reading and writing nonstop. Each month he would post a photo of his current book supply lined up on a wooden floor. I loved those photos, which is why I’m totally stealing the idea from him.
1. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elana Ferrante. This is the fourth and final of a quartet of novels set in Naples (translated from the original Italian) about the intense, lifelong, always-challenging friendship between two women. From girlhood to old age, these books track their lives against the backdrop of a gritty neighborhood in a gritty city in a rapidly changing country. I was obsessed with these novels and read them one after another as fast as I could (which is not fast; I’m a slow reader). I can’t even tell you why they absorbed me so utterly; they tell instead of show, they are full of minute, step by step description of action, both women frequently annoyed me . . . and yet I couldn’t put them down and will never forget them. Highly recommend.
2. We Forgot Brock! I picked this book up at a book conference in Los Angeles at the end of October, read it through on the spot, and immediately began gnashing my teeth that I hadn’t thought this idea up myself –about a little kid and his invisible friend, both of whom are hilarious beyond measure– and written this book myself, so that then I could look at it and feel full of happiness that I had done something worthwhile with my life, instead of looking at it and feeling jealous that nooooo, somebody named Carter Goodrich had written it. AND illustrated it. Curses! Carter Goodrich happened to be sitting at the table next to me at the time, and I told him how jealous I was, and he turned out to be a really great and funny guy, which was even worse because I couldn’t be pissed at him. Go out and read this book because I guarantee you will love it.
3. A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler. I have been reading Anne Tyler novels all my life. She’s one of my favorite writers. This one was a tough read for me, different from her others in a way I can’t pinpoint. Maybe because it felt too close to some aspects of old age as I have observed them? Not sure. I recommend it anyway.
4. Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler. A few years ago, when Bossypants (by Tina Fey) came out, I lay on a window seat in my friends’ house in Canada and read it straight through, laughing out loud the entire way. Amy’s book is a worthy successor, or maybe a lady-in-waiting, to the throne of Hilarious Badass Women Who Write Disjointed All Over the Map Books. Amy and Tina are fearless and confident in the way I want all girls to be fearless and confident.
5. All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. I was at the launch reading of this book, at an old church-turned-public-library in Greenwich Village, at the end of October, and I was electrified by the reading. This book is co-written in two voices, a black teen and a white teen. It takes as its central event the brutal beating of the black teen and spirals out from there into a personal exploration of what it means to be white and what it means to be black in the same school, same neighborhood, same city. A fast and intense and thought-provoking read.
6. Between Me and the World, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. 150 slim pages of pure, intense, distilled thinking and experience of race, the assumptions of human beings on what race is, and how those assumptions play out in the everyday life of those considered by themselves and others to be black or white. All of which serves as the framework and context for the murder of Coates’ friend Prince Jones. This is an astonishing, disturbing, brilliant and profound book told in eerily calm words, a letter from a black man to his black son, written and framed in terms of the physical body, on what it means to live in this country.
7. Maybe a Fox, by Kathi Appelt and me. I read this thing for the seven zillionth time this week, changing a few pronouns and swapping out the word “gulped” for anything else that would make sense in its place. (How many times can one smallish novel contain the word gulped? Not nearly as many as we had, I can tell you that.) My lovely friend Kathi and I, inspired by 1) a poem about a fox and 2) the fact that we adore each other, started writing this book together a bunch of years ago, and I just went through it for the last –please dear God let us hope– time, because it goes to print next week. How many times did we re-write this sucker? We have no idea. We don’t even want to know. Suffice it to say that our eyes are glazed over, our brains are fried, and we are both in need of strong drink.