good reads

I read, therefore I make book recommendations.

According to Goodreads, the social media platform for books, I read 54 books in 2015, surpassing my annual reading challenge goal of 50. Borrowing ambition from fellow reader and dear friend Emily, I tacked one book onto the previous year’s accomplishment and set a 2016 goal of 55.

To date, I’ve already read 17.

I haven’t made a recommended books list in ages, so here are a few recently read favorites that have ushered me through various stages of convalescence.

A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara: A top five lifetime favorite, no book has gutted me quite the same as A LITTLE LIFE. I finished over a month ago and still miss the main characters, four male friends whose lives entwine seamlessly but emotionally over several decades. Have the tissues handy; I ugly cried for the last 200 pages.

SMALL MERCIES by Eddie Joyce: I’m a sucker for anything 9/11 related, and this touching tale did not disappoint, weaving together varying perspectives of a family dealing a decade later with the tragic loss of one of their own. I’ve never been to Staten Island but reading this book, I felt immersed in its sights, smells, sounds, pizza, people and anguish.

THE ONE/HIDDEN BODIES by Caroline Kepnes: Sequels often disappoint me, but not the one-two punch socked by these contemporary psychological thrillers. So smart, a little sexy, devious and fast paced, I found myself cheering  (goddammit!) for the dark side throughout both books.

KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST by J. Ryan Stradal: I love food. I love to cook it. I love to eat it. This book, which centers around the professional (yet emotional) journey of a young chef, will leave you craving the magic its main character evokes with her culinary skills. Wine figures prominently in the plot, too.

Other reads worth a trip to the library or bookstore: THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, THE KIND WORTH KILLING by Peter Swanson, and THE BOOK OF SPECULATION by Erika Swyler.

Happy reading!


a year in good reads

You can’t be a good writer without being a voracious reader, and I take the book stack on my bedside table seriously. I find there’s practically no better way to overcome writer’s block than to pick up a book and lose yourself in its pages. Love the book or hate it, there is inspiration to be found in other people’s words. In fact, I so disliked one recently read book (which I will not mention because I do not want to author-bash) that I just had to get back to the computer and write because if that book got published, surely mine stands a chance.

Anyway, 2014 was undeniably a good year for reading enthusiasts. My absolute favorite book of the year was ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr. This book is an achingly beautiful interwoven tale of a blind French girl and young Nazi boy during World War II. I can’t even begin to do it justice with a plot description so just take my word for it and put it on your Christmas list now. And I mean, now now.

A close second was STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel. I picked a good time (shortly after the Ebola panic subsided) to read this novel about the end of most of humanity due to a highly contagious flu. Contrary to what you might think, there is nothing about this book that is hysteria-inducing. In fact, the death of ninety-nine percent of humans is very matter of fact; it’s how the remaining one percent connect to each other as they move on with life, love, religion and the arts that sucks you in and leaves you turning page after page, well past a reasonable bedtime hour.

EUPHORIA by Lily King and A LIFE IN MEN by Gina Frangello (both profiled in my summer reading list) rank in my top five, and rounding out the top is REMEMBER ME LIKE THIS by debut novelist Bret Anthony Johnson. This heart wrenching account of the upheaval a family endures after their kidnapped son is found and returned to them left me sleepless and teary. Okay, maybe that doesn’t make you want to run out and grab a copy, but you should.

As the last days of December tick down, I’m sad there are still so many books on my TBR list that I won’t get to before 2015 and its slate of offerings. EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng, THE CHILDREN ACT by Ian McEwan, and THE PAYING GUESTS by Sarah Waters would all be great finds under my Christmas tree and would quickly jump to the top of the pile of books currently awaiting my eyes.



where have all the bookstores gone?

Remember the days when if you had a little extra time, you’d meander into a bookstore? Walk between the aisles, looking for something new or maybe a long lost book written by a favorite author? Nowadays we instead spend our leisure time taking Buzz Feed quizzes and following on Facebook the lives of people who wouldn’t under other circumstances make the friend cut.

I miss bookstores. Hey, I fell for it like everyone else. I jumped on the Kindle bandwagon early. It felt safer to travel with an e-reader in case I’m ever stuck on the Tarmac for so long that if I finish my book, I conveniently have another waiting without all the bulk. But lately I’ve been craving books. Real paper and binding books.

I love the way books smell. I love the way they feel. You can bathe with them, sleep with them, and even dribble ice cream on them without concern.

My desire to trade my electronics for paper did not come out of nowhere. I’m inspired by the fact that I JUST WROTE A NOVEL and at some point in the undefined future, I’m going to want people to buy my book. And not the electronic version (though if that’s the only way to get you to read it, then fine). I want you all to buy the tangible version and take it with you everywhere so passers by ask, “hey, how is it?” To which you will reply, “I can’t put it down.”

But I digress.

These days when I buy a book, I usually order from Amazon because there are no more bookstores. I read an interview with a literary agent who said if you are a debut author and you aren’t going to a bookstore at least once a month to buy in hardback another debut author’s work, you aren’t supporting other writers. I want to help, I do. I believe in karma. Please someone let me pay full price for a hard cover book. But where?

Today I tried to hit the only Barnes and Noble I can think of, which I know is really no better than Amazon but forget finding an independent bookstore. Traffic jams, too many tourists and lack of parking got the better of me and I gave up the mission. This evening I stopped by Busboys and Poets. While I appreciate the curated (i.e. small) fiction collection, it wasn’t as satisfying of an experience. You can’t get lost in between two bookshelves.

I’m determined to bring back books. Let’s make it sexy again to carry a book. (I’d totally date that book toting guy.) If we demand it, they shall build it, right? As shopping trends move toward buying local, don’t forget that there are and should be more places to buy your reads than Amazon.