Beloved, best-selling, award-winning, critically acclaimed writer Anna Quindlen is back with a new novel, Still Life with Bread Crumbs. Our reviewer describes the book as "a journey of self-exploration, of getting to know who you are rather than who others expect you to be. It’s a meditation on art, age and commercialism wrapped up in a delightful story—perhaps the best-selling author’s finest novel yet." (Read the full review and our interview with Quindlen about the book.)
We were curious about the books Quindlen has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites. She graciously agreed, sharing five recommendations, in fact:
By Alice McDermott
McDermott is a gifted miniaturist whose prose, with its precision and indelible imagery, is almost poetry. This story of the “unremarkable life” of a broken man opens at the bar where mourners gather with his widow after his funeral and then follows the winding path of memory through love, lies and disillusionment. Everything McDermott writes is pitch-perfect and goes straight to my heart, but this may be her best.
The Cazalet Chronicles
By Elizabeth Jane Howard
I’m cheating here: This is really five novels, but I dare any reader to try to read just one of these interlocking books about a large upper-class family. (I just reread the series for the fourth time.) Start with The Light Years, and follow three generations of Cazalets as they try to hold or find their place in the fractured society of an England poised between one world war and another. The family home in Sussex, the London streets savaged by the blitz, the growing pains and love affairs: the characters become more friends than fiction.
The Shortcut Man
By P.G. Sturges
Michael Connelly’s public praise made me pick this up, but the sharp smart prose and the twisted world view kept me reading, through this first novel and the two that follow. Noir cut with wisecracks, thriller leavened with slapstick: these stories of an L.A. guy named Dick whose fist starts to tingle whenever he encounters bad attitude and who gets things done outside the strictures of the law made me laugh out loud. Sturges might turn out to be the heir to the Elmore Leonard fortune.
The House of Mirth
By Edith Wharton
There’s probably no female protagonist in literature as tragic as Lily Bart—and yes, I’m including Anna Karenina. Beautiful, intelligent, “horribly poor—and very expensive,” she knows what society demands of her: an advantageous marriage, a bargain in which she will provide the gilding and her husband the gold. But during the course of this novel Lily makes one misstep after another, sliding down the mahogany banister of position and respectability to certain disaster.
Beautifully written, utterly unforgettable, this is a portrait of a lady as the amoral chatelaine of a logging camp in the American South during the Great Depression, as well as the story of the poor guy who is utterly dazzled by her. As far as I’m concerned, this novel, as powerful and inexorable as a thunderstorm, is as good a piece of fiction as I’ve read in the last decade. It’s a new classic in the category of love gone horribly wrong.
What do you think, readers? Will Still Life with Bread Crumbs—or any of Quindlen's recommended books—be going on your TBR list?
(Author photo © Maria Krovatin)
• If you're a fan of puns, you're going to get a kick out of BuzzFeed's Valentines from famous authors.
• We're digging Slate's article featuring Kyle Cassidy's striking photographs of librarians taken at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia last month.
• We could all use a little virtual vacation to someplace warm and sunny and bookish. Thankfully, Curbed takes us on a tour of Hemingway's fabled Key West home.
• Wednesday was the 205th anniversary of Darwin's birth. The Appendix posted a bunch of adorable doodles that his children drew on his papers, including the manuscript for On the Origin of Species.
May your day be full of love . . . and books, of course!
A big congratulations to the 10 winners of our recent Library Love Fest contest, who'll each be receiving one book or audio book for themselves and five for their local libraries:
Susan S. (Brookings Public Library, South Dakota)
Lonnie F. (Sharon Public Library, Massachusetts)
Yvonne J. (Brosville/Cascade Library, Virginia)
Dennis E. (Indian Trails Library District, Illinois)
Gail W. (Ruidoso Public Library, New Mexico)
Caryl D. (Orange County Rancho Santa Margarita Library, California)
Vivian T. (Kanawha County Public Library, West Virginia)
Staci M. (Knoxville Public Library, Iowa)
Kathryn H. (North Central Regional Library, Washington)
Sheila A. (Washington Township Public Library, New Jersey)
If you haven't already, be sure to bookmark our contests page and check back often—because we love giving away books!
Science and love? At first, it may seem like an unlikely pairing, but in his highly informative new book, The Science of Happily Ever After, Ty Tashiro, PhD, presents tips for how to best go about choosing a mate—wisdom generated from examining lots of true-life stories and scientific research in the fields of sociology and psychology. In this guest post, Tashiro explains how we should stick to three wishes—and no more—when it comes to selecting our ideal partner.
If a fairy godmother granted you three wishes for your ideal romantic partner, then what traits would you wish for? When a bright undergraduate in my Psychology of Relationships course at the University of Maryland asked me this question five years ago, I found it so compelling that I eventually decided to devote two years of my life searching for the answer. I knew that guidance about how to wish wisely for enduring love was buried somewhere in the thousands of scientific papers about dating, sexual attraction and marriage. The answers I found are explained in my new book The Science of Happily Ever After.
I know that three wishes does not sound like much, but consider the following thought experiment to see why three is the magic number: Imagine that a bachelorette has an opportunity to choose among 100 eligible bachelors who are randomly selected from the population. Let’s say that her three wishes for traits in a partner include some who is: tall, college educated and employed at a good job.
1. If we conservatively say that someone “tall” is 6' or taller, then 80 of the 100 eligible bachelors would walk out of the room because only 20% of men in the United States are 6' or taller.
2. The wish for someone who is college educated would rule out 16 of the remaining 20 bachelors because 30% of men have a bachelors degree.
3. If having a good job were code for someone who has a job that pays pretty well, maybe someone at the 70th percentile in yearly income ($60,000/year) then only one man would remain out of the initial 100.
You can play this wishing game with just about any set of three wishes, and it almost always whittles down 100 possible options to just about no options. However, this is more than just a game. In online dating situations, it’s common for people to inadvertently narrow their pool of available dating options by specifying certain characteristics of people they will date. Although people should certainly maintain standards for who they will date, it’s unfortunate when something that is not a real necessity, but is rather just a preference (e.g., height, love of the outdoors), rules out hundreds of potential partners who might have possessed the traits that really matter for long-term relationship success.
I wrote The Science of Happily Ever After with the goal of explaining why it’s important for singles to prioritize the three things they want the most in a partner and to be stubborn about getting partners who fit those criteria. This is not a book about settling for someone mediocre, but rather a book about how to be smart about prioritizing what you really want.
The Science of Happily Ever After is filled with entertaining stories about people looking for love, the common problems they face while trying to choose a partner, and straightforward explanations of the vast body of research on romantic relationships. I also explain why many people squander their three wishes on superficial traits and provide suggestions about the traits that can significantly improve the odds of finding relationships that are satisfying and stable.
With Valentine’s Day upon us, sometimes it’s easy for singles to wish that they had somebody, anybody, who could fit the “responsibilities” of being a partner. However, one of the saddest situations is ending up with a lifelong partner who simply fills a role. For singles looking for happiness that can endure, they should be sure that they have a good idea about what it is that they want in a partner, so that they can be sure that they find exactly what they wish for.
Thanks, Ty! Readers, will you be checking out The Science of Happily Ever After? Visit Ty's website to learn more.
A Girl Walks into a Bar: Your Fantasy, Your Rules by Helena S. Paige
Morrow • $14.99 • ISBN 9780062291974
published February 4, 2014
I had a Pavlovian response when I first saw this book. Like so many other kids growing up (way) back in the '80s, I regularly devoured "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, so holding one written for grown-up women about an adventurous single gal's night on the town . . . well, it sure sounded like a lot of fun to me! Author Helena S. Paige (actually a pseudonym for three writers: Helen Moffett, Sarah Lotz and Paige Nick) opens the book with you getting ready to meet a friend at a bar—your first choice will be what kind of undies you'll put on (which reminded me of the "absolutely enormous" knickers scene from Bridget Jones's Diary). Which of the four options you choose will set you on your way to an unforgettable adventure.
The book is described by the publisher as a "choose-your-own-erotic-destiny novel." There are indeed erotic parts, but they're balanced with plenty of fun and humor. Fans of Maya Banks, Sylvia Day and the Fifty Shades series will most enjoy this one—particularly if they gather with friends and a bottle of wine, and read it aloud.
Here's a scene to draw you into the adventure:
A taxi pulls up in front of you, interrupting your thoughts, and the driver gets out and leans over the roof of the car.
"Finally! That must have been the world's longest five minutes!" you say to him, hands on your hips.
He looks at a piece of paper he's holding, his face confused. "Mr. Cornetto?" he aske.
"No!" you snap. "I called you almost half an hour ago. Your guy said you'd be five minutes!"
"I'm afraid this taxi is for a Mr. Cornetto."
"I think you must mean me," says a voice from behind. You whirl around, ready to confront whoever is trying to steal your taxi, and you're taken aback when you see the sexy salt-and-pepper guy who rescued you from Chest Wig earlier. Mr. Intense. The guy who smells like a blend of cedar and leather. The one who could give George Clooney a run for his money. Miles, was it?
"Oh, it's you," you say. Then redden with embarrassment. At this rate, you're going to slay him with your wit.
"Is everything all right?" he asks, looking from you to the taxi driver.
"Everything's fine. I was just waiting for a taxi, but this isn't it."
"Well, there's no reason it couldn't be," he says. "Why don't we share it?"
"No, I wouldn't want to impose—it's fine, really. He offered me a ride, too," you say, indicating the bodyguard on the corner, who's having some kind of altercation with whoever's on the phone. "And anyway, you already helped me out once tonight."
"Are you sure? Your friend looks like he's got his hands full."
He's so attractive that you struggle not to stare. Dropping your head, you notice you're still clutching the "Immaculata" invitation. Your thoughts buzz as you try to decide what to do next.
• If you go to the art exhibition, go to page 52.
• If you share a taxi with the George Clooney look-alike, go to page 105.
• If you take a ride home in the sports car with the bodyguard, go to page 162.
What are you reading this Valentine's Day week?
Melanie Shankle's best-selling memoir, Sparkly Green Earrings, delivered a laugh-out-loud portrait of the good, the bad and the hilarious aspects of motherhood. In her new memoir, The Antelope in the Living Room, Shankle turns her keen observation to marriage, sharing the ups and downs, the joys and disappointments of her own 16-year union with husband, Perry—all with her trademark, relatable humor. In this guest post, Shankle takes a refreshingly honest look at the holiday of love: Valentine's Day.
I’m sorry if the title led you to believe this was going to be any sort of actual researched work detailing the true history of Valentine’s Day. Because you’ll never convince me that it’s not just a holiday made up by Mr. Hallmark to find a reason to sell greeting cards and boxes of chocolate in that historically dead period between Christmas and some relative’s birthday.
And since the dawn of Valentine’s Day, it has proved to be a harbinger for most women as the day of the year we most prepare ourselves for disappointment. Maybe you’re in the minority of women and your husband actually shows up with two dozen roses and a piece of jewelry from the jewelry store at the mall to tell you he’d marry you all over again. If that’s the case, good for you. We’re all happy for you even though we may not like you. Also, you can quit reading now.
But for the rest of you, I will share a little story. In The Antelope in the Living Room, I write about the first Valentine’s Day my husband and I spent together. We’d been dating a little less than a year and he showed up at my apartment with a giant tin full of red cinnamon-flavored popcorn. And because I was a 24-year-old girl in love, I assumed there was a good chance that there might be a ring box containing an engagement ring at the bottom of that popcorn.
I was wrong.
My daughter read the story from my book out loud about the popcorn the other night, and she stopped at the end of it, looked up at me with a look I can only describe as pity and said, “I can’t believe you thought Daddy was going to put a ring in a bunch of popcorn to ask you to marry him. You didn’t know him AT ALL back then.” And I laughed out loud because she is so right.
Back then I had all these romantic, sappy notions of what Valentine’s Day should look like, and it involved candlelit dinners, roses and other grand gestures. But the truth is that real love isn’t just about a day of the year. True love is the daily commitment to share a life together that is sometimes messy and beautiful and frustrating and wonderful all at the same time. It’s the courage to pick up the pieces and fix what’s broken and constantly work to keep it all woven together.
And so for me, I’ve learned that Valentine’s Day isn’t going to look like it does in the movies or on Hallmark commercials, which is probably for the best because I really do not care for the chocolate assortment contained in those heart-shaped boxes. (It only takes biting into something with coconut filling once to scar you for life.)
So Valentine’s Day at our house is going to look pretty much like every other day of the year. There will be dishes to wash and dinner to cook and kids to drive to soccer practice. There might be pizza delivered for dinner and maybe a card that says, “I Love You” if it happens to be a particularly good year. There will be a car already started in the morning to warm it up for me before I have to leave the house and trash cans rolled out to the curb and leaves blown off the back patio because he knows they drive me crazy.
And what I’ve learned is that all those things look a whole lot more like real, true, lasting love than any piece of jewelry ever could.
Thanks, Melanie! What do you think, readers, will you be checking out The Antelope in the Living Room? Learn more on Melanie's blog.
(Author photo © 2013 by Leslie Lonsdale)
Maya Banks' blockbuster Breathless Trilogy left countless readers breathless, themselves—and eagerly anticipating more from the veteran romance writer. Luckily, the wait ended with last week's publication of Letting Go, the first in her brand-new Surrender Trilogy. Since Valentine's Day is this week, we thought it was the perfect time to ask Banks about the books she's been reading lately. She responded by sharing that she gravitates toward comfort reading when dealing with the stresses of deadlines. Here are her favorites:
I’m a huge comfort reader, especially when I’m in a rut or when I’ve come off exhausting deadlines and just need to recharge the batteries. Sometimes I just crave a book I already know that I love because there is nothing more satisfying than settling in with an absolutely yummy book that I know will make my heart happy.
Dark Prince by Christine Feehan is a book that, no matter how many times I read it, never fails to satisfy the romance lover in me. Feehan was the first paranormal author I ever read. Until discovering her, I would have said paranormal romance simply wasn’t my “thing.” But those early books in her Dark series still have the power to captivate me and give me that ahhh feeling, no matter how many times I go back and reread them.
Julie Garwood has been a favorite since I was a teenager. I always say that everything I learned about writing fully fleshed-out secondary characters I learned from her. Even if a character in her book has only one page of airtime, Garwood makes him or her interesting and fully fleshed out. I read every single page, because she makes every single page interesting. My two favorite comfort reads by her—and two of my top five favorite books of all time—are Saving Grace and Honor’s Splendour. I could literally read either of those books and then start back over from the beginning and read it all over again. They’re just that good.
Sharon Sala’s older books also hold a space on my shelf of comfort rereads. I adore Out of the Dark, and I cry every single time I read it. It’s emotional and poignant and just hits all my buttons. Another favorite of mine is Remember Me. It has some of my all-time favorite tropes and just does it for me every time.
Many authors will also say that they don’t have a favorite book of their own because they love them all, but I’ve written and published more than 60 books, and I do have favorites, even though my answer may change depending on my mood or if I’ve just reread a certain title. I absolutely love Whispers in the Dark, Book 4 in the KGI series. Very close runners-up are The Darkest Hour and Shades of Gray. The common thread in all three books is that they’re deeply emotional, and I adore emotion in my stories.
What do you think, readers? Will Letting Go—or any of Banks' favorite comfort reads—be going on your TBR list?
(Author photo © Ben Riley Johnson Jr.)
• Printmag.com rounds up some of the most striking covers of books coming out this year, like the one for Paper Lantern: Love Stories by Stuart Dybek (right).
• Mental Floss highlights 10 annual literary holidays. Which will you be celebrating?
• A couple of weeks ago, we linked to an amazing 16th-century six-in-one book. This week, Neatorama posted an interview with Dr. Erik Kwakkel, the—cool job alert!—medieval European book historian who originally brought the book to the world's attention on his blog.
• Coming soon: a collection of Robert Frost letters that could have a big impact on the common perception of him as a not-so-great guy.
• Flavorwire presents 12 fabulous author selfies, including one of world traveler Elizabeth Gilbert (left).
With Valentine's Day right around the corner, we thought it would be fun to share some of our favorite recent literary love stories—and our thoughts on what makes them memorable.
Of course, our compilation of five books is hardly comprehensive, considering the countless options to choose from. So, we're hoping you'll help us expand the list by voting for your favorite love story in our poll. Voting will be open through Valentine's Day, and we'll share the results the following week. Without further adieu, our favorite recent literary love stories:
Lynn, BookPage Editor
Helen Simonson's debut novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, proves that a love story about an older couple can be just as enchanting—and just as appealing to readers—as the connection between two freewheeling 20-somethings. Pettigrew, a retired (and very reserved) British military man, is irresistibly attracted to Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani woman who runs a shop in his village. But with Pettigrew’s son and the narrow-minded ladies of the village standing in their way, can the major and Mrs. Ali build a life together? Simonson shows a wonderfully deft hand in exploring the personal and cultural issues that frame this touching story.
Read our review>>
Trisha, BookPage Managing Editor
Samuel Park’s moving first novel features a strong, memorable heroine torn between love and duty in Korea during the 1960s and 1970s. When Soo-Ja meets Yul, she immediately feels a connection. Unfortunately, she has just agreed to marry another man. Since going back on her promise would mean disgrace for her family, Soo-Ja rejects Yul to marry Min, a decision that haunts her for 20 years. Though Soo-Ja and Yul see each other only periodically, and usually by chance, their fraught encounters are tense with the passion of unrequited love. Fans of grown-up, realistic love stories like Ha Jin’s Waiting or Austen’s Persuasion will devour this debut.
Louisa Clark and Will Traynor: The fact these two are such an unlikely pair makes their love story all the more moving. Freshly laid off and desperate for work, “ordinary girl” Lou takes a job as a companion to Will, an acerbic quadriplegic, former adrenaline junkie who’s understandably despondent due to his predicament. Lou speaks her mind, has a razor-sharp wit and is self-deprecating in a way that dares readers not to succumb to her charms, as Will himself eventually does. Yes, Me Before You is a multiple-hankie novel, but the end brims with such hope and promise that readers will find themselves smiling despite their tears.
Cat, BookPage Associate Editor
We often think of brilliant writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda as a fast-burning, glitzy mess at the heart of Jazz-Age NYC. Therese Anne Fowler’s novel Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald promises a beautiful and damned love story, but also something more. Fowler peels back the layers of history to reveal the unglamorous and rather normal story of their love. It’s the perfect book for readers who like a little dark truth with their romance.
Read our interview with Fowler>>
Hilli, BookPage Editorial Assistant
Eleanor & Park begins when two misfit teens meet on a school bus in 1986. There are no vampires and they don’t live in a dystopian society (depending on your view of suburban Omaha). Rainbow Rowell painstakingly captures the experience of young love—the bliss of holding hands, the shaking fits of glee after a first kiss, the mixtapes—but refuses to shy away from the confusing, untidy aspects that come with the territory. Eleanor and Park are real people with real complexities and a real, grown-up story that will break your heart in the best possible way.
Read our interview with Rowell>>
What do you think, readers? Chime in with your comments, below, and be sure to vote for your favorite literary love story—stay tuned for the results!