Yes, it’s a little late into 2014 to be doing one of these posts, but one always needs something new to read, don’t they? Let me suggest five books for your literary pleasure.
The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
Yes, I’ve previously talked about this book here at P-Mag, but if you needed extra encouragement to read it, let this second mention be your sign. From that review: “She has written a family saga that feels very grounded in reality, centered around matriarch Edie. Edie cannot stop eating or obsessing over food, and it is severely affecting her health. Her husband, Richard, after decades of marriage, leaves her, and now her adult children are wondering how they can care for her and process their parents’ split, all while managing their own complicated lives.”
Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook
My review for this book also appeared on this site earlier this year, and for any fan of post-punk, rock, or indie-type music, this is a fascinating read. From my review: “Rock from the North of England is one of those subjects that consistently holds my interest, which is no surprise to anyone who has paid any attention to my writing. Upon discovering Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, I knew it was a book I needed to read. Peter Hook, bassist for Joy Division and New Order, has produced a satisfying, insightful account of the formation of Joy Division up until singer Ian Curtis’ suicide. 33 years have passed since Curtis hanged himself, and perhaps those decades have provided an adequate amount of time to gain some perspective. Hook writes in a relatively grudge-free and informal way, and ghostwriters (if one is to read between the lines in the acknowledgments) further flesh out the timeline in italicized paragraphs between sections.”
My Education by Susan Choi
While reading My Education, I stopped to send a text message: “This book has some great sex, and it made me think of you.” And I meant it — those scenes felt real and wonderful — so I was surprised when Choi’s book made the short list for 2013’s “Bad Sex in Fiction.” I have come here to defend the book’s honor. I loved My Education, and I am puzzled by some of the complaints I’ve read. What is more interesting in fiction than flawed characters and varying degrees of fucked up situations?
(Okay, maybe there are stories that are more interesting to you personally, but well-meaning people making bad decisions in love or otherwise? That’s my wheelhouse, maaaan.)
Love, lust, and loneliness! Of course I loved this book. Susan Choi writes about desire and intoxication with the body in a way that made me say, Yes. It’s even set in the 1990s. Come. On.
Who we need right now is no less significant than what we need long term. My Education tells the story of grad student Regina, who becomes fascinated with professor Nicholas Brodeur, only to fall in love with his wife, Martha. Though teacher-student college relationship stories are hardly new literary territory, and neither is obsession, Choi has created one of my favorite queer novels that I’ve read to date.
Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of Creative Life by Dani Shapiro
I loved Shapiro’s previous memoir, Devotion, and Still Writing contains all sorts of writing wisdom and motivation. She has so much to say about sitting down and getting to work, while also talking about her own process. It’s the sort of book one wants to keep near for inspiration when the creative path gets tough. David Abrams (author of the very excellent novel, Fobbit) had this to say, while talking about how much he enjoyed Shapiro’s book:
I love Dani’s book and for the past two months, I’ve been using it as a motivator, a propellant to push me to my desk and get my ass in the chair. I begin each morning by cracking open Still Writing like it was my scripture reading from Our Daily Bread. But for all of Dani’s wisdom and gut-honest accounts of her own writing life, I still felt myself go limp with inertia those early weeks in October, while at the same time self-distractions raged like a blizzard in my snow-globe head.
Yes, Not-Writing begets more Not-Writing, and we must push through those feelings. It isn’t as hard as we think.
Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites by Kate Christensen
What’s funny about this recommendation is that I haven’t actually finished the book. I’d borrowed it from the library and hadn’t quite finished it when it came time to re-check. Unfortunately, someone had placed a hold on the book, and I was headed out of town for a couple days. There would be no time to quickly finish, and yet, I am confident in my recommendation. Kate Christensen has written a wonderful memoir about growing up, her nostalgia and memories associated with food, and the difficult chapters in her life concerning her family and her school situations. Sections of the book end with recipes, which are great, but the personal stories are what one remembers. If I still had the it, I’d post an excerpt, but trust me on this one. Blue Plate Special will make you reconsider why you love the specific meals that you do.
Now it’s your turn — What excellent books have you read lately? Give us a shout in the comments.
(A more basic version of these recommendations, along with lists of several other excellent books, previously appeared on Glorified Love Letters.)