Twenty Novels I’m Grateful For

I had this idea to choose twenty books I was thankful for as an homage to one of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving. But then I realized I couldn’t choose only twenty, or decide which to include. So welcome to my multi-part series, Books I’m Grateful For, with today’s installment: novels. (Still to come: poetry! And more.)

Happy Thanksgiving, readers. I’m thankful for so much this year, and I hope you are, too.

Twenty Novels I’m Grateful For:

1. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

2. The Longest Journey, E.M. Forster

3. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner

photo-44. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

5. The History of Love, Nicole Krauss

6. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

7. Room, Emma Donoghue

8. The White Bone, Barbara Gowdy

9. Spartina, John Casey

10. The Color Purple, Alice Walker

11. The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri

Thank you google images

Thank you google images

12. State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

13. Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson

14. The Road, Cormac McCarthy

15. Possession, A.S. Byatt

16. Disgrace, JM Coetzee

17. Another Country, James Baldwin

18. American Pastoral, Philip Roth

19. My Antonia, Willa Cather

20. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides

I could go on, and on, and on…but I will stop there.

What novels are YOU grateful for?

Plug: Bookish

A friend turned me on to this new Website called Bookish, which works a bit like the Netflix algorithm that says to you, “You may also like…” after you’ve watched a movie and rated it highly. In other words, you plug in a book you like, and Bookish recommends five or ten others you might also like. There’s even a “more like this” button, so you can hone in more closely on a few gems.

I tried it out.

When I typed in Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Bookish recommended:

  • Learning to Fly, by Steph Davis;
  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson;
  • A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson; and
  • The Expats, by Chris Pavone.

Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder yielded these suggestions:

  • In One Person, by John Irving;
  • Before I Go to Sleep, by SJ Watson;
  • Seven Types of Ambiguity, by Elliot Perlman; and
  • The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown.

I haven’t read any of the above books. I guess before I can really recommend Bookish I should read one or two and see how well they did, but I love the concept.

One catch: Bookish, so far anyway, is definitely geared towards new releases. I typed in two of my favorite Modernist classics, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth. To the Lighthouse wasn’t even in the database. House of Mirth was, but no suggestions came up. They say they’re adding new books every day, so maybe they’ll get some classics on there, too. I hope so.

Hey, speaking of algorithms, Netflix keeps telling me to watch “The Queen of Versailles.” The cover photo completely turns me off, but Rotten Tomatoes gives it 95% and five stars. Anyone seen it?

Books You Can Lose Yourself In

I thought it was really interesting that two blog posts today were about the immersive (I think I just made up a word) world of fiction. The Living Notebook writes about Absorption today, about fiction that “brings us further into [a] dream, overwhelming our senses until the dream seems real.”

And over on popcorn, Karen McHegg discusses books that “create a world different from the one [she] lives in.” You can read about those books here.

It made me think: which books have most absorbed me in recent years? My first thought was Emma Donoghue’s brilliant novel Room. I also felt immersed in the strange world of Karen Russel’s Swamplandia and the more-real-yet-also-quite-strange one of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder.

Which books have absorbed you lately? Head on over to popcorn and tell Karen McHegg.

And me? Today I’m immersed in three-year-old land. L. had a touch of pinkeye, and I knew I’d get the stink eye if I sent him to school.



Plug: Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder

I still have about 25 pages to read, but I am officially plugging Ann Patchett’s novel State of Wonder. The book was sitting on my bedside table for weeks but didn’t excite me, probably because the cover is kind of nondescript and the title just didn’t evoke much–innocence, childhood, maybe science? Then a friend said she was reading a novel about a single woman who travels to the Amazon and I thought, perfect.

Thank you google images

Thank you google images

The book is just beautifully done. It has elements of magical realism, a la Karen Russell’s Swamplandia, but since I know that book annoyed a lot of people don’t take that as your main comparison. Perhaps I should say the book has elements of the otherworldly, and while it seems to be making a statement about primitivism–one might argue that it’s a bit reductive in its portrayal of Amazonian tribes of Indians–I am fascinated by the people that Dr. Marina Singh encounters on her journey. So much about it is surprising, unexpected. I realized about 50 pages ago that I had no idea what was going to happen, and as we all know, if you can’t wait to find out, that makes for a page-turner!

You may recall I mentioned Patchett’s Truth and Beauty as one of my Must-Read Memoirs way back when.

Well, folks, it’s the last day to vote in the Medium Short Fiction Contest, where my story “Shunyata” is an entry. As my sister in law said, I do wish it weren’t a popularity contest, but there you have it. I have been pretty popular; my story, about love lost and spirituality found, hit the #2 slot on Saturday but this morning is back around #5. Top three get read and judged by an agent and the prize is $2,012. Every vote really does count, and today is the last day to vote, and if you haven’t and you’re so inclined…well, I’m very grateful.

Here’s to reading in the new year!


Notes on a Week

I know I promised, barring disaster, a Fall Reading List, but I woke up thinking meh. Suffice it to say that on my nightstand are Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions, Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, a book by Eleni Sikelianos called The Book of Jon, a book about tigers that my husband recommended, and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, which I started last night. Oh, and those damn New Yorkers.

Been a little crazy in Crazytown of late. I remarked to another preschool mom the other day that I am a “yes-sayer.” She said breezily, “Oh, I’m not. I’m so good at putting up boundaries and saying ‘no’ that sometimes I look around and realize I haven’t seen anyone all day!” I instantly liked her.

But not me: I took on a bigger position at the school because they needed someone, I decided to revamp one of the major assignments in my composition class, I agreed to a more aggressive blogging schedule over on popcorn, I took an extra shift in the writing center?you know, the usz.

And fun stuff, too. My friend A. is getting married this weekend. I arrived at her house yesterday morning to find her and her family dreadfully hungover. The wedding dress was slung across a chair in the living room. The bride answered the door in false eyelashes, heavy mascara, and sweatpants, talking on her cell phone. Her mother told me three times, “I’m so glad you’re here!”

There’s a short story in there somewhere, I know it.

I’ve coined a new phrase: “procrastiblogging.” As in, blogging instead of writing your book or doing your schoolwork. Not that I’m guilty of this or anything, but you know.

Have been thinking I want to start a food blog…

Need to learn how to use Twitter…

I have had a good idea about how to treat all the extraneous characters in my memoir?all the fellow travelers, the hostel owners, the guides, the people who are a very real part of the fabric of life when you’re backpacking for a year but who make the fabric of a book a little overcrowded. I think I have figured out how to retain those characters without them being too distracting.

I am ruminating on titles, too. I have two possibilities that are exciting me a little (still top secret, sorry).

The end stage of a book is excruciating, you know that? I keep telling myself I just need to work harder at finishing it (maybe true; see above about being compulsive yes-sayer and procrastiblogging). On the other hand, I remember that writing is a process and that this process may be slower at some times than at other times. That maybe dragging out this last revision is just





And to quote Garrison Keillor, here is a poem for today.


God grant me the serenity to work things

hard, and carefully.

I accept the things I cannot change. I lie

fallow between mountains.

God grant me the hamster wheel, fly wheel, nautilus.

Copper pipe with brass fittings.

God grant me the Mill river, all in a sheet

over the dam. Grant me the wide Connecticut

and everything that falls beneath it

because it is fast, and silent,

and sometimes I feel breathless.

(? Susie Meserve, 2012)