It’s a rainy day at the beach and I am stuck inside contemplating my suitcase. For once, I have made what I hope is a manageable reading list. It manages to be manageable because I’ve already read some of these (this summer—no cheating!) and I am at the beach for two weeks and I am unemployed until September. If I am unable to read ten books then I should ask for a refund on my post-grad AWP membership.
Here is my list of my highly recommended OR highly anticipated books:
1. The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison
Essayists rejoice: this book is a best-seller! What a rare bird indeed—popular AND intellectually stimulating nonfiction. We can only hope this is a good omen for future publishing amongst our ranks. The first few essays are really engrossing and leave me itching for more. (This is an inside joke because one of the essays is about Morgellon’s disease, a condition where people think they have things crawling under their skin.)
2. Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer
In the grand tradition of to-do lists, one writes them in order to cross things off. I’ve already finished this book. Check. It is the quintessential post-MFA read: Dyer writes in a lackadaisical frenzy about not being able to do anything at all. I will tell you that by page 20 it was already one of my favorite books—if that’s not enough recommendation, then know that Steve Martin says it’s the funniest book he’s ever read.
3. Lady Chatterly’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence
Dyer’s book is about how he can’t write a book about D.H. Lawrence. I will see if I can read a book about D.H. Lawrence. I haven’t read Lawrence’s fiction yet, only essays, but his essays are incredible so I hope for the best with this (banned, lascivious) book.
4. The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem
OK, this one is a cheat: I’ve been reading it for two years and finally finished it this month. It’s 511 pages long though, so whatever. A wonderful, epic, sprawling, autobiographical novel about growing up white in a black neighborhood. Delicate and moving and gorgeous.
5. My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
I’ve heard so many good things about this Italian novel, the first of a three part series. The opening is spare and absorbing—can’t wait to keep reading it!
6. The Artist as Critic, Oscar Wilde
McNally Jackson sells these adorable re-printed copies of this book and I finally broke down and bought one. It’s a short play about art. I need all the over-the-top aphorisms I can get right now so, of course, Wilde.
7. The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner
Rachel Kushner came and read in Iowa City and the sections she read aloud (she’s a great reader!) were hilarious. Excited to start!
8. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
After this book won the Pulitzer, you simply could not get a copy of it at the library so I had to read her earlier novel, The Secret History, instead. I could not put that book down—gorgeous and gripping, a rare genre indeed: the lyric thriller. I’m expecting more of the same here!
9. Can’t and Won’t, Lydia Davis
My favorite—I read half of this, but the cover is so gorgeous (and the book is so heavy) I had to leave it at home before departing on this vacation. Her micro-stories are perfect for reading one, resting one’s eyes, then reading another.
10. Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett
And last but not least, another ideal post-MFA read. This is Patchett’s memoir of her time at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop with her BFF Lucy Grealy. It’s sad but beautiful but most of all wonderful; especially the parts where she describes little things about life in Iowa that I know so well.