Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A few years ago, I started documenting the books I finished, mostly because I felt like if I did all the work to read them, I wanted something to show for it - at least for my own eyes. An acknowledgement of how I spent my time. I made note of the ones that I particularly liked, and since I’m not quite sure what this space is for, I thought I’d write down my recommendations from the past year here.

But once I saved images of the book covers and looked at them consecutively, I thought it wasn’t worth a post. These names are well known names, and as a writer, I should be recommending the small press wonders, the undiscovered classics. But then I read this piece On Pandering and it literally absorbed me whole. Why didn’t I want to post the books I liked reading? Because they are not obscure? Or because these books are marketed to a certain crowd (females), and there's a lot of pastel on the cover?


This is, perhaps, a female-centric selection but regardless, these books (mostly memoirs) are filled with inventive and beautiful writing that's no less serious or hard-hitting than Philip Roth or Johnathon Franzen or whomever. I thoroughly enjoyed them and hope you do too.

Meaty – Samantha Irby writes about growing up parentless, living with Crohn's disease, and other generally messy topics. The book is refreshingly honest and funny, without any vague, subtle literary humor, which I never really like (Irby writes many of her jokes in all caps).

M Train – I can’t even recall what this book was about. Drinking coffee mostly. And watching crime shows. There’s a chapter on Patti Smith’s love for her late husband that I reread from time to time.

A House of My Own – A memoir of sorts about living a literary life, living in the cross-section of borders, and being a woman (specifically, a woman who never wed). After many years writing fiction, Sandra Cisneros finally puts together a collection of essays. I definitely recommend reading through.

The Lowland – Though her short stories are unbeatable, this Jhumpa Lahiri novel still sticks with me. Her writing is mesmerizing and enjoyable.

The Empathy Exams – I read this book per late David Carr’s advice, and it ended up being one of my favorites of the year. Leslie Jamison pushes the boundaries of what essay writing can do, with incredibly articulate and calculated prose. She explores different ideas of pain and empathy through a wide range of topics such as the reality of Morgellons disease, running ultra marathons, and having an abortion.

The Unspeakable: And Other Topics of Discussion – Another essay collection I enjoyed. Meghan Daum does a nice job of writing personally, but never solely for the sake of nazel-gazing.

Between the World and Me – So this one is kind of a no-brainer, considering the year this book had. It’s a quick read, which led me down a Ta-Nehisi Coates rabbit hole on Youtube after finishing. This book also added James Baldwin’s classic "The Fire Next Time" to my must-read list for next year, which I think makes it worth the read alone.

Caramelo – I love reading long, ornate pieces of fiction every now and then. One of Sandra Cisneros’ masterpieces, this book chronicles the unique history of a Mexican-American family, fast forwarding and rewinding, going across the Mexican border and back.

Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish – So, this is sort of niche book to put on the list but for any intermediate Spanish speakers out there, I recommend this one. Informative, engaging, and well written, it’s the only time I learned how to speak Spanish from reading a book.

She Left Me the Gun: My Mother's Life Before Me – A disturbing memoir from British journalist Emma Brockes. I was in awe of the book the whole way through, mostly due to the subject matter but also due to the way in which the details were unveiled.


Sarah said...

I am so obsessed with Empathy Exams. It makes me want to give up writing, because I feel like my essays will just never be as sweeping and good. You have recommended Meaty to me before, and I really need to get on it. Thanks for these! ---S

Sally said...

Sarah, you're welcome! Thanks for stopping by. Albeit Meaty has a very different tone than Empathy Exams (which, I know, was so good), I found the book to be refreshing. So much these days seems saturated in filters and poetic language, and Meaty is kind of the anecdote to all of that. Hope you like it. - Sally

litterless said...

Meaty looks so good! I had heard of a few of these but not most - I'll have to jump on my library waiting list. Thanks, Sally!

Libby Massa said...

Now I don't need to bother you asking for book recs, I know where to find them :)