The One I Stayed Up Too-Late While Jet-lagged For: Gail Caldwell’s NEW LIFE, NO INSTRUCTIONS. I laughed, I cried, I cringed, I loved every single word, her honesty, the way she lays it out and holds it back and composes every scene from her very real and not-so-perfect life. Her great big giant heart. Thanks to AmyG for recommending this book about 3 days before I was ready to leave for a long trip. I remember exactly where I was, in the middle of the night, when I turned the last pages, and how I sat there with the light on, under the covers, closed book on my lap, husband asleep, thinking about it ALL.
The Memoir I Tried Not to Read: Emma Brockes’s SHE LEFT ME THE GUN. Holy hell. This story is so crazy you almost believe it can’t be true. Though of course it is. Aren’t they always? It’s a roller coaster of what it’s like to find out, little by little, what came before you. Like, as Joan Didion might say, being “nibbled to death by ducks.” This book drove me batty, and for good reason. It’s a story about inheritance; about looking back and moving forward. Are we who our ancestors were? What do we carry forward, and what do we leave behind? What are the mysteries of our mothers, of the women in our families who kept their many many secrets? If you missed it, you’re missing out.
The Mystery I Carried With Me Everywhere: I picked up Kimberly McCreight’s RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA at the bookstore. Never heard of the writer and knew nothing about the story, and yet when I pulled it off the shelf and read the first page, I was sold. And when I say I could not put the book down, I really mean I COULD NOT PUT THE BOOK DOWN. I had to find out what was going to happen next. I found out later it was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Yes, my friends, this is her first book. And she’s tall and blonde and gorgeous. I want to hate her but never ever will — and I’ll read anything she writes from here on out. You should, too. (p.s. I got an email last week from a friend saying, “Have you read RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA? I can’t put it down!! — so see, it’s not just me).
The Novel I Read Back in May and STILL Can’t Stop Thinking About: Roxane Gay’s AN UNTAMED STATE scared the hell out of me. I had trouble sleeping. I looked at wealthy fathers and young husbands and mother-in-laws and random, seemingly harmless men differently after I read this book, and I am still, all these months later, thinking about just how f-ing dangerous it is to be a woman in the world. This book terrified me for me, for my sister, for my daughter, for my nieces. It put me on guard … in a good way. This book made me more aware. More aware of my surroundings, more aware of men the in places I’m simply being myself, a woman, more aware of how easy it is for horrific things to happen to women and what it’s like to try, and try and try and try, to survive.
And Then There Were Books About War: My favorite novel of the year is Roxana Robinson’s SPARTA. I won’t say much, because I don’t want to spoil anything for readers, but nobody writes as beautifully about war — or about anything, really — as Roxana Robinson. The story is heartbreaking and the writing is just beyond spectacular. Man, can this writer tell a story. It’s like you’re sitting on the front porch swing with her and your iced tea glass is empty but you’re afraid to get up for a refill. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. And in other news, I just started reading Phil Klay’s REDEPLOYMENT, a book of short stories about soldiers at war and/or returning from — it’s original and devastating and even, dare I say, funny. A new voice you have to read. You just have to.
The One That Met All of My Expectations … and Then Some: Meghan Daum’s essay collection, UNSPEAKABLE. I regularly read Daum’s column in the LA Times, and that’s all I know about her. But this collection of memoir pieces about so many of the things we think and feel but cannot, in polite company, “talk about” is just beyond the beyond. Her opening essay “Matricide” is, alone, worth the price of admission, as she digs into the complex emotions she has about her mother and her grandmother, and nothing is ever wrapped up in a big red bow. Of course there is also an essay about her dog, and you know I loved that!, though it’s not really about her dog at all, in the end. It never is, right? Daum’s essays are raw life; they are messy and real and will make you cringe … right before you think, “I feel like that too, but I would never tell anybody.” Loved that most of all.
One last note: I’ve all but given up my eReader. It’s great for instant gratification, and for reading in bed or on a dark airplane, but I can’t get past loathing its very existence. One more screen to stare at? No. I have enough screens. And I love paper books: old, new, hardback, soft-cover, trade paperbacks and regular; books I can hold in my hands one at a time and shove into my purse and stack on my nightstand and litter the house with and page back-and-forth when I’m neurotic about missing something.
What was your favorite read of 2014?