Evie Wyld's thought-provoking new novel, All the Birds, Singing, introduces readers to Jake Whyte, a young Australian woman who tends sheep on a remote island off the coast of England and who has been trying to track down the beast that's threatening her flock. A second narrative explores what led Jake to the isolated island in the first place. Of the book's highlights, our reviewer says, "Wyld excels in the intimate details that make up the relationship between humans and animals." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Wyld has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
By Richard Flanagan
I was in Perth recently and on the way to a radio interview the lady who was taking me there told me I had to read it. I’d recently met Richard, and enjoyed his company and so it seemed like a good idea. The book has the dark feeling of great art to it. It’s based on Flanagan’s father’s experiences as a POW working on the Thai-Burma Death Railway. I want other people to read it, because I need to talk about it with someone.
By Colin Barrett
This is a book of short stories that my editor sent. He never sends me books, and so I knew it’d be excellent. I love this for its brutality and also its humanity. The ordinary way extreme violence is described, and the domestic nature of the lives of his characters. It’s one of those books that makes you wonder if the characters are good people doing bad things or bad people doing good things.
The Night Guest
By Fiona McFarlane
This was sent to me in my capacity as a bookseller. The cover was so beautiful and unusual that I really wanted to sell it in my shop, so it was a relief when the book was fantastic too. It’s very funny, and also incredibly dark and harrowing. It’s been a long time since I read a book with an elderly protagonist who isn't a caricature of old age. Fantastically enjoyable to read.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding All the Birds, Singing—or any of Wyld's recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Roelof Bakker)
Maggie Shipstead's second novel, Astonish Me, is our Top Pick in fiction for April. Our reviewer describes it as "a request, a demand, a dare, all wrapped up in two little words, heavy with promise. And like the prima ballerina at the heart of the novel itself, Shipstead delivers a glorious story that does exactly what it says it will." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Shipstead has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This had been on my to-read list forever, and when Adichie won the NBCC Award for fiction, I finally remembered to go out and buy it. What a truly spectacular book. Everything about it is alive and essential and harmonious: the flawless prose, the fully-realized characters, the looping shape of the narrative, the vividly textured settings. Although Adichie's story speaks to big, thorny issues like race and class and immigration (not to mention love), her characters all feel like complete, complex people, not props for an argument, and the novel has a gentle archness and lightness of tone that makes its remarkable depth and insight seem effortless.
I was at a book festival with Arthur Phillips this winter but shamefully hadn't read his books, so I decided to start with his first, Prague, a novel that came out in 2002 and revolves around a group of ex-pats living in Budapest, not Prague, in the early 1990s. (The cheeky fake-out of the title alone is reason enough to love this book.) It's full of wit and casual brilliance and a pleasantly convoluted nostalgia-that-is-also-a-deep-suspicion-of-nostalgia and characters who, like real people, are capable of holding all sorts of endlessly shifting, often contradictory convictions and delusions. On a technical level, the omniscient voice, which I think is incredibly difficult to sustain, is used masterfully and acrobatically throughout to deliver all kinds of structural surprises and to convey a sense of overarching vision.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
By Adelle Waldman
Waldman's debut novel is so sharply observed it's a little frightening. I've read it twice, and both times I felt the continuous sense of recognition that the best fiction inspires, where you keep thinking, "Yes, that's exactly how it is!" The consciousness of the protagonist, Nate, is rendered with an intricate completeness that I found immensely satisfying, but I was also fascinated and moved by the novel's many insights about fickleness of desire and its resistance to intellectual governance. There's a formidably critical mind behind this book, but I'd hesitate to call the novel satirical: Waldman forgoes comic exaggeration in favor of precise, measured, unflinching truthfulness tempered by compassion, even tenderness.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding Astonish Me—or any of Shipstead's recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Michelle Legro)
Jean Hanff Korelitz's new novel, You Should Have Known, is the type of unrelenting page-turner that keeps readers (including myself) up way into the night, simply unable to put it down. Our reviewer calls the taut story of how the comfortable and predictable life of a Manhattan therapist is completely upended "an insightful, compelling tale." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Korelitz has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
Blood Will Out
By Walter Kirn
Last week I gave a reading with my friend, novelist Jane Green, at R.J. Julia bookstore in Madison, Connecticut. R.J. Julia is one of the great bookstores—warm and friendly and full of people who love books. The store has a very sweet tradition of thanking writers who come to give readings by letting them choose a book from the stock. Here’s the funny part: thousands of books to choose from and Jane and I both picked the same one: Walter Kirn’s new memoir, Blood Will Out. I’ve been fascinated by the Clark Rockefeller case since I first read about it in 2008, as I am fixated on sociopaths in general. But Kirn, who actually met Rockefeller (or “Rockefeller”) in 1998 and maintained a connection with him for years, had a front row seat to his constant myth making. Kirn’s willingness to examine his own culpability in accepting these falsehoods makes his memoir a powerful examination of deceit and its even creepier cousin, self-deception.
How I Became Hettie Jones
By Hettie Jones
I had dinner at the American Academy of Arts and Letters the other night with my husband (he’s the member, not I!). The room was so full of important writers, artists and composers that even the most determined name-dropper would run out of steam before getting through a fraction of them, but I was most truly thrilled to be sitting with the daughters of Amiri Baraka (who’d been memorialized in a pre-dinner ceremony). I’ve had no special feelings for Baraka, but their mother, Hettie Jones, is the author of one of my very favorite memoirs, the sublimely entitled How I Became Hettie Jones. The book is Hettie’s account of leaving her Queens childhood for Beat Generation art and bohemia in 1950s Greenwich Village, marriage to poet and playwright Baraka (then known as Le Roi Jones), and what it was like to be a white woman married to a black man who ultimately came to feel that he could no longer be a black man who was married to a white woman. Their daughters, who are my age, are characters in a book I’ve loved for twenty years; talking to them and hearing about their lives only made me want to read it again.
By Alison Bechdel
Last fall I was lucky enough to see the Public Theater’s production of Fun Home, a musical adapted from Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same name. I’m not a big fan of graphic anything, and had only vaguely heard of Bechdel, but I was so wowed by the power of Bechdel’s work that I went rushing out to read all of her books. Bechdel is a deeply cerebral writer, processing and reprocessing the motifs of her life with reference to literature, philosophy and psychological theory. Her story may not sound outwardly eventful (father, mother and three children grow up in an old Pennsylvania home; the daughter’s gradual self-identification as a lesbian may or may not create a crisis of identity in her closeted father), but Bechdel manages to funnel an entire world of ideas into and out or her autobiographical material. I loved Fun Home and Bechdel’s more recent Are You My Mother?, but I had the best time of all with the omnibus edition of her hilarious and wonderful syndicated strip Dykes to Watch Out For. Am I converted to “graphic anything”? Nope. But I’ll read whatever Bechdel writes from this point on. And if Fun Home transfers to Broadway, I’m definitely going to see it again.
(Author photo by Mark Czajkowski)
We love books about books, bookstores, book lovers—anything to do with books! In Gabrielle Zevin's new novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, the titular character is the prickly proprietor of a seen-better-days bookstore—Island Books—whose life is turned upside-down . . . in a good way. The enchanting book has a little of everything: romance, books, friendships, second chances. Read our interview with Zevin about it.
We were curious about the books Zevin has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
The Sisters Brothers
By Patrick DeWitt
When I was in college, I read that Vladimir Nabokov loved Westerns, and because I loved Nabokov, I thought I should make a point to read Westerns, too. For years, I’ve struggled through Westerns, but I don’t think I’ve ever truly enjoyed one until The Sisters Brothers. I loved reading about Eli Sisters’ struggles with oral hygiene, weight and romance. I wept for his horse, Tub. After a long dry spell, this is the Western I have always wanted to read.
My Accidental Jihad
By Krista Bremer
I ended up reading My Accidental Jihad because I met the author, Krista Bremer, at a book event. I’m not sure I would have read the book if I hadn’t met her. That one provocative word in the title might have led me to make assumptions about what kind of story this was going to be. In a way, this is the point of such a title. Though the word has a specific connotation to an American reader, jihad, as Bremer explains, means struggle. The context of this memoir is Bremer’s marriage to an older, Libyan, Muslim man, but at the heart of the story are the issues with which many women struggle: feminism, spirituality, love and children. The book is gently humorous, too: At one point, Bremer’s young daughter gives a Western makeover to a Muslim Barbie doll. [Look for our review of My Accidental Jihad in our May issue.]
Not so long ago, I wrote a Young Adult series, and to an extent, the writing of it burnt me out on ever wanting to read another one. That said, I was irresistibly drawn to the premise of The Winner’s Curse. A young noblewoman buys a slave, and then the two slowly fall in love. But how can she love a person whom she owns, and vice versa? This is a fascinating book, with interesting things to say about race, class, gender, history and power. In an odd way, it reminded of Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. I can’t think of a more perfect, provocative read for a mother-daughter book club.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry—or any of Zevin's recommended books—to your TBR list?
Walter Kirn's chilling new memoir, Blood Will Out, details his fascinating, 15-year friendship with Clark Rockefeller, the man who claimed to be of the well-known aristocratic family but who ended up being not only an imposter but also a murderer. The book, which our reviewer calls "equally dark, edgy, humorous and philosophical," is our Top Pick in nonfiction for March. (Read the full review right here.)
We were curious about the books Kirn has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share.
Reality Hunger: A Manifesto
By David Shields
As people migrate into virtual worlds housed inside their electronic devices, a corresponding pull is building up that tugs us toward the actual, the palpable. Because life feels increasingly fictional, that is, we need not go to books for yet more make believe. This singular essay on our current predicament as authors and readers (and that means everyone) reveals the new possibilities of world building in serious literature. It shows us how the mind and spirit clothes itself in excerpts and quotations, samplings and borrowings, in its struggle to find definition and significance in an elusive age of flux.
How to Sell
By Clancy Martin
This novel of the retail jewelry industry and a Biblical contest for love between two brothers is a masterpiece of contemporary noir. Vanity and chicanery rule the day, and no one and nothing can be trusted, least of all the value of the bright baubles that drive the main characters' dodgy family business. Darwin was a romantic about life compared to Martin in this book, but his pessimism is strangely bracing, like a walk down a long street of shadows in the cold.
The Red Book
By Carl Jung
This is a mysterious, poetic and sometimes incomprehensible diary of the great psychoanalyst’s dream life. I like to read it before bed. It opens doors into my unconscious mind, and its presence lingers through the night. Jung reminds us that we’re all heroes on the inside, and that our insides are vast and bottomless. He gives us access to our mythical selves and challenges us to explore them and stay brave.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding Blood Will Out—or any of Kirn's recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo © Beowulf Sheehan)
Peter Stark has an affinity for adventure—whether it's writing about it or engaging in it himself. His latest book, Astoria, chronicles John Jacob Astor's early 19th-century attempt to settle the frontier of the Pacific Northwest by financing two expeditions—one by land, the other by sea—to the remote region. A couple of the adjectives featured in our review of the book are "sweeping" and "spellbinding." Check out the full review right here.
We were curious about the books Stark has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend some recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share.
In the course of doing research for a book like Astoria, which my agent has called “historical adventure,” I find myself reading bits and pieces of all sorts of works of nonfiction, as well as explorers’ journals and memoirs, history, anthropology and many other eclectic subjects.
But here are a few of the nonfiction books I’ve read (or am in the course of reading), and enjoyed recently, that weren’t directly related to research:
FORGET ME NOT
By Jennifer Lowe-Anker
The author was married to one of the world’s best-known mountain climbers, American Alex Lowe, and is a passionate artist as well as outdoorswoman in her own right. The couple climbed together; they traveled together; and they had a family of three boys together. While Jennifer took on the role of mother, Alex continued to travel around the world for long stretches, pursuing his passion for climbing, out of which he had made a career. In 1999, he was killed in an avalanche while climbing in Tibet, leaving behind Jennifer and their three young sons in Montana. One of his closest friends, and climbing partners, Conrad Anker, survived the avalanche. Their shared grief over Alex’s death brought Conrad and Jennifer closer together, and eventually they married, with Conrad helping to raise the three boys.
As a writer of adventure and exploration, and adventurer in my own right, as well as a father, I was attracted to Jennifer Lowe-Anker’s story. It offers a deeply personal insight into the risks and rewards of pursuing a life of adventure in the outdoors.
THE FOOTLOOSE AMERICAN: Following the Hunter S. Thompson Trail Across South America
By Brian Kevin
Kevin takes to the road in the footsteps of Thompson’s yearlong, 1963 journey through South America, in which Thompson sent some of his first dispatches back to publications in the U.S. There’s a certain eerieness in witnessing the young Thompson’s observations and experiences abroad, knowing, as we do, the role he would have in shaping the “new journalism” over the next several decades and what he branded “gonzo journalism.” It seems odd to call the young Thompson “innocent,” but there are glimmers of it in some of his dispatches and letters, as well as the beginnings of the provocative, confrontational stance he would adopt in print in subsequent years. Kevin also provides an intriguing modern-day travelogue to the places that Thompson visited, places where I haven’t been, but have wondered about.
By Ted Tally
This is actually a play, not a book. I’ve been interested in the dramatic possibilities of explorers’ stories, and an actor friend, Jeremy Sher, recommended I read this play. Based in part on letters and journals, it follows the Scott party in the early 1900s in its valiant British attempt to reach the South Pole before a Norwegian party led by Roald Amundsen, and especially focuses on the fatal return journey where the Antarctic winter caught Scott and his deteriorating men. I’ve been curious to see how dialogue and flashbacks can capture the spirit and the context of one of the great adventure stories of our time.
AMERICAN SPHINX: The Character of Thomas Jefferson
By Joseph J. Ellis
I’ve read a good deal of Jefferson biography, and I read this one specifically while researching Astoria. While it doesn’t cover in any depth the expeditions Jefferson launched to the West, which has been my focus, American Sphinx gives a multidimensional character portrait of the man who shaped so much of the North American political geography. I also love the title, which, for Jefferson, is utterly appropriate.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding Astoria—or any of Stark's recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Amy Ragsdale)
After his much-acclaimed biographies of John Cheever and Richard Yates, Blake Bailey reflects on his own family's difficult story in The Splendid Things We Planned, which our reviewer calls "an unforgettable look at a family doing its best in the most trying of circumstances, those where no good outcome exists." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Bailey has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend some recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share.
MS. HEMPEL CHRONICLES
By Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
I was a school teacher for several years, and if someone were to ask me what was the least likely book I'd ever want to read, my answer would be (in effect) a collection of thematically linked stories about a quirky but lovable seventh-grade teacher. Unless, that is, such a book were written by a genius, as in this case. Ms. Hempel is, I think, one of the most enduring creations in American literature: tolerant, obliging to a fault, a little feckless, gifted in her own right but overwhelmed by the sheer endearing quiddity of each and every one of her students. It's not a book about teaching, really, so much as a study in human endurance, and yet I think it's the best thing ever written about teaching: the joys, sorrows and downright horrors of giving up the best years of one's life so that other (potentially less deserving) souls may thrive.
THE PATRICK MELROSE NOVELS
by Edward St Aubyn
There are five Patrick Melrose novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother's Milk and At Last. How I wish there were 50; how I wish I could depend on reading them for the rest of my life—the way I read Wodehouse's novels, say, whenever (blessedly) I don't have anything else to read. And indeed there's something of Wodehouse in St Aubyn, I think, if Wodehouse were inclined to write about sociopathic child-molesting fathers, heroin addicts, a whole gruesome family blighted by narcissism of every sort. But of course Wodehouse would never write about such people, so I'm all the more grateful for St Aubyn, who proves that one can be funny without losing a whit of gravitas where gravitas counts. Along with his humor and almost peerless elegance of style, St Aubyn is an Olympian judge of character: He puts us into the heads of monsters, and manages to make them comprehensible and even—almost—sympathetic. Proust is something like that, though not nearly as funny.
What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out The Splendid Things We Planned or any of Bailey's recommended books? By the way, see which other author recommended the Patrick Melrose novels.
(Author photo © Mary Brinkmeyer)
Anne Fortier follows up her New York Times best-selling debut, Juliet, with another novel rooted in one of history's most notorious tales. Our reviewer describes The Lost Sisterhood as "a gorgeous journey from England to North Africa to Greece, thrilling readers with beautiful settings, courageous women and breathtaking adventure." (Read our full review here.)
We were curious about the books Fortier has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
By Sally O'Reilly
I just finished this, and I’m jumping at this opportunity to recommend it to book lovers far and wide. It tells the story of Aemilia, a young lady at the court of Elizabeth I, who becomes the obsession of an up-and-coming playwright . . . yes, you’ve guessed it! Was Aemilia really Shakespeare’s famous “dark lady”? O’Reilly’s fabulous novel makes a very compelling case.
The book won’t be on the shelves until June, but then now you know there is something to look forward to this summer. Dark Aemilia is a must-read for all lovers of Shakespeare and old England, and while it is written from the perspective of a woman, I am confident men will enjoy it, too. I am usually careful with my books, but this one quickly became a victim of dog ears and pencil-marks, because O’Reilly touches on so many crucial historical moments and writes with such intelligent elegance.
The Greek Myths
By Robert Graves
Hardly a month goes by where I don’t reread a chapter or two in Robert Graves’ classic, The Greek Myths. It is one of those masterpieces that have long since won a permanent place on my what-to-bring-to-a-desert-island list. There are many renditions of the ancient myths out there, but to me, Graves' still rules supreme. Not only does he have an encyclopedic knowledge of the ancient world and its legends, but he is also able to re-tell the myths as if he were an ancient storyteller, and we the gaping audience sitting around his campfire. “Some say—” is his favorite opening, and indeed, he makes us believe the mythological heroes and heroines are still at large around us in the darkness . . .
In addition to the collected works of Shakespeare, I find the Greek myths make a fantastic graduation present, or simply a birthday gift for ambitious young readers.
Ronia, the Robber's Daughter
By Astrid Lindgren
I am just about to begin reading Astrid Lindgren’s wonderful Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter to my little girl. I can’t wait! This was one of my favorite books growing up, and now, decades later, I feel as if Ronia’s magical forest was as real as my own childhood memories. It is one of those rare books that make you eager to go out and find adventure in nature—a much-needed quality in today’s world, I think.
Born in 1907, Sweden’s Astrid Lindgren was such an inspired, paradigm-shifting author, and a real pioneer when it came to creating strong, adventurous female characters. My mother used to read The Children of Noisy Village to me, over and over; each individual chapter has its own plot and makes for a perfectly happy and wholesome goodnight story for boys and girls alike. Illustrations are sparse, but since the writing is so engaging and straight-forward, these are fantastic starter-books for transitioning away from picture books.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding The Lost Sisterhood—or any of Fortier's recommended books—to your TBR list? By the way, The Lost Sisterhood is one of four books we're giving away in this week's Women's History Month contest.
(Author photo by Grant Simeon)
In The Story of Charlotte's Web, it was E.B. White. In his new book, The Adventures of Henry Thoreau, accomplished nature writer Michael Sims turns his eye to one of 19th-century America's most iconic figures. Our reviewer deems the book—which focuses on Thoreau's youth—"an amiable and fresh take on the legendary sage of Walden Pond." (Read the full review right here.)
We were curious about the books Sims has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share.
The Ghost in the Glass House
By Carey Wallace
I read a lot of children's and YA books, and lately my trend has been ghost stories. Most have been picked up randomly at library book sales—excellent older stories such as Betty Ren Wright’s The Dollhouse Murders and Colby F. Rodowsky’s The Gathering Room. But I've just read a fine new one by Carey Wallace, the author of the gorgeous 2010 novel The Blind Contessa's New Machine. Her first YA novel is elegant, witty, poignant and just as rich for adults. During the Jazz Age, 12-year-old Clare Fitzgerald travels with her wealthy, restless mother from hotel to rented house, from Europe to the United States. The mother is on the edge of having to address her demons, the daughter on the edge of adolescence. Then Clare meets Jack—or rather his ghost.
Wallace writes beautifully: “The unfinished walls were hung with a whole museum of curiosities: garden tools with handles rubbed smooth as driftwood, a pail full of the stubs of beeswax tapers, a few of Mack’s work shirts, soft with age, and a neat collection of herbs tied with scraps of ribbon and labeled. . . . As Clare’s eyes adjusted, she realized the shadows beyond the jars were full of roses, dozens of them, dried and stacked bloom to bloom like the skulls Clare’s mother had taken her to see, packed cheek to cheek in the Paris catacombs.”
By Marcel Proust, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, revised and annotated by William C. Carter
I’m always rereading. I reread my favorite writers from childhood and everything else that I love: Kenneth Grahame, Jim Kjelgaard, Ruth Rendell, Dickens, Rilke, Hazlitt, Kevin Henkes, Philip Pullman, Annie Dillard, Thoreau, E. B. White, Beverly Cleary, Ovid, Raymond Chandler, Homer. Currently I’m re-reading Swann’s Way, which I’ve read twice before in its entirety and dozens of times in pieces. I’ve read the whole vast In Search of Lost Time, originally in the Moncrieff (and Kilmartin & Co.) translation, and I’m working my way through it a second time now in the multi-translator Penguin edition from several years ago. Now, thanks to this annotated revision of Moncrieff, I find myself returning again to the first volume. It’s a handsome deckle-edged trade paperback with crisp type, broad margins, and helpful annotations by the foremost biographer of Proust in English, William C. Carter (who is rivaled only by Jean-Yves Tadie, whose French masterwork was translated by Euon Cameron). Most importantly, it’s a full revision of Moncrieff, with endless corrections and thus a spectrum of restored nuances. Also it’s easy to hold in bed. And it smells great, which is only appropriate.
I read Proust for his psychological insight and his breadth of vision, but mostly for the cinematography. Has any other writer so beautifully captured the fleeting experience of everyday life? “For many years have now elapsed since the Combray days, when, coming in from the longest and latest of walks, I would still be in time to see the red reflections of the sunset in the panes of my bedroom window.”
The Letters of Pliny the Younger
I’m reading these vivid, lively, elegant letters in a sturdy red cloth edition from the original 1909 set of Harvard Classics. I grew up in the country in eastern Tennessee and never made it to college. The seeds of my personal library were the 50-odd volumes of the Harvard Classics, which I bought in a cardboard box at a library book sale for four dollars when I was in my mid-20s. I’m still reading and re-reading them.
They include Pliny’s account of the death of his esteemed uncle, now called Pliny the Elder, and a terrifying eyewitness account of the latter’s death during the eruption of Vesuvius, because he was determined to get closer to the volcano and understand what was happening. The letters provide a time-machine panorama of the intellectual, moral, and social issues dominating Roman life in the first century. They make me want to write about this era. Pliny also brings to life his ordinary days and the surprising comfort of his villa: “Adjoining this angle is a room forming the segment of a circle, the windows of which are so arranged as to get the sun all through the day: in the walls are contrived a sort of cases, containing a collection of authors who can never be read too often. Next to this is a bed-room, connected with it by a raised passage furnished with pipes, which supply, at a wholesome temperature, and distribute to all parts of this room, the heat they receive. . . .”
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding The Adventures of Henry Thoreau—or any of Sims' recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Lauren Sloan Patterson)
Bich Minh Nguyen's enthralling second novel, Pioneer Girl, offers a version of the immigrant experience that's different from the one we usually read about: the Middle America Asian-American experience. Our interview with Nguyen about Pioneer Girl highlights the fascinating inspiration behind the book, also offering a peek into her creative process.
We were curious about the books Nguyen has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
Happiness, Like Water
By Chinelo Okparanta
I love the distilled experience of reading short stories, and Okparanta’s debut collection is powerful and heartbreaking in the best way. Set in Nigeria and the United States, the stories follow characters struggling in their relationships, families, and social and political circumstances. The question of identity, especially for women, is always at the forefront, as in two of my favorite stories here, “On Ohaeto Street,” about a couple’s doomed marriage, and “America,” about a woman whose decision to emigrate creates hope but also signals the loss of family heritage.
Son of a Gun
By Justin St. Germain
I recently taught this memoir, which is as clear-eyed, beautiful and intense as one could hope for in a work of nonfiction. While St. Germain focuses the narrative on his search for understanding in the years after his mother’s murder, he also reflects on the landscape of Tombstone, Arizona, and its culture of myth-making and violence. With restraint and care, St. Germain weaves together ideas about past and present, rage and stillness, loss and reinvention.
By Natalie Baszile
I just started this lovely and absorbing novel about a mother and daughter who move from Los Angeles to Louisiana, drawn by an inheritance of 800 acres of sugarcane land. The farming life and the Southern country life are completely unfamiliar to Charley Bordelon and her daughter Micah, and they have to learn quickly. Much is on the line here, as Charley feels like this is her one big chance to start over and make a life for herself and Micah. And there’s a tantalizing mystery, too: Who was Charley’s father? Why did he leave all this land to her? I can’t wait to see how the stories and secrets unfold.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding Pioneer Girl—or any of Nguyen's recommended books—to your TBR list?