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: Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland

I was asked to join a book group, and the first selection was the new Jhumpa Lahiri novel, The Lowland. I had read her Pulitzer-Prize winning book of short stories, The Interpreter of Maladies, last year, and liked it well enough?but I don’t recall feeling that it was the best choice for the Pulitzer or that she was soon to become one of my favorite writers. But, wow, The Lowland?this is a beautiful book.

Novel, rubber tree, fancy new iPhone filter

Novel, rubber tree, fancy new iPhone filter

The novel follows the lives of two brothers raised in Calcutta, one of whom stays in India while the other goes off to the States to study. Their paths diverge in stark ways, until one brother’s choices throw his wife into the life of the other. Back in Rhode Island, basically estranged from their families, Subhash and Gauri live with their daughter Bela carrying deep secrets that threaten everything: their relationship with each other, with their daughter, with their careers.

The novel spans about seventy years, and Lahiri deals with this by playing with time. Some passages snail along; then, there will be a ten-year gap between chapters. She compresses three?no, four?generations into under four hundred pages. At the end of those 340 pages, I felt sure I could have read another hundred.

In the book group, reactions were somewhat mixed. Some felt Lahiri had not developed certain characters or scenes well enough. But for me the book was almost perfect. It managed to be technically excellent?so I was reading it thinking, wow, that sentence is exactly what it should be?and also emotionally knifing. I kept rereading passages not because I was confused about what had happened but because I wanted to feel, again, the immense pain and tragedy she manages to render in a few short sentences. The book’s themes are relevant and important to me: it’s about motherhood and parenting, about being a parent?and a child; and about career and women’s difficult choices around career. It’s a book about revolution and tradition and the bonds of family.

Here’s a teaser:

He was never invited into the room. For some months he received no indication of Bela’s progress. Sitting in the waiting area, with a view of the door Bela and Dr. Grant were on the other side of, made him feel worse. He used the hour to buy groceries for the week. He timed the appointments, and waited for her in the parking lot, in the car. When it was over she sat beside him, shutting the door.

How did it go today, Bela?


It’s still a help to you?

She shrugged.

Would you like to go to a restaurant for dinner?

I’m not hungry.

Would you like to write her a letter? Try to speak to her on the phone?

She shook her head. It was lowered, her brow furrowed. Her shoulders were hunched, pressed toward one another, as tears fell.

See also:

Maureen Corrigan’s review of The Lowland on Fresh Air

Review of The Lowland on NY Times

Review on The Guardian (spoiler alert!)

What’s Up…Friday?

I’ve been wanting to do a What’s Up Wednesday post for a while. For the uninitiated, What’s Up Wednesday was an idea for a weekly blog post started by YA author Jaime Morrow, who blogs here. I love the simple check in on a busy week. Every Wednesday, you write about….


Alas, I guess I’ve been up to other stuff on Wednesdays, because I keep missing it. So, what the hell–it’s a What’s Up Friday kind of day.


I just picked up Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip, after having inched my way through his novel Nature Girl. I hadn’t heard of Carl Hiaasen until a month or two ago, when my father-in-law gave a soliloquy about how funny he is.

photo-4Turns out ye olde FIL was right; Hiaasen’s pretty funny. He satirizes all facets of American society with a not-so-subtle environmental bent that really appeals to me. I’m not sure I’m up for a Carl Hiaasen bender, but I do enjoy reading him–and other “commercial” fiction, which I find to be very ambitious. In fact, Hiaasen has inspired me to write a blog post called “In Praise of Commercial Fiction”–stay tuned.

This morning, I went to my local independent bookstore and purchased the new Jhumpa Lahiri novel, The Lowland. This book is up for the National Book Award and I believe the Booker Prize, too, and I’m reading it for a new book club, three.


Sadly, not much. I’m still very much in professional development mode, e.g., querying my book to agents. I don’t like this as well as writing, but it has its moments. A week or so ago, after a nice exchange with novelist Tara Conklin (who’s also part of Popcorn), I started being a little more, well, bold. Yesterday I found myself writing a query letter that began “I’m sure twenty writers have claimed they have the next X, but in my case, it’s true…” Because, of course, why not? I got this fortune-cookie fortune last week and tucked it into my wallet:

photo-4You never know.

Oh, and–I should also mention my postcard poem project! My friend Mike Dockins and I are sending poems to each other on postcards. He writes one, I respond; vice versa. His handwriting, it turns out, is more legible than mine.


Fall; postcard poems; the women in my new creative women’s group; Buddhism/meditation; my garden; my son; Project Runway.


Strictly the usz: grading papers, parenting, tending house, playing a little music, enjoying family and friends. Oh and trying to make my son a dragon costume for Halloween, while simultaneously trying to get him to stop being afraid that dragons are in his room at night trying to kill him. Maybe the kid understands something about psychology that I don’t: face your fears by dressing up as them for Halloween?

Should I dress up as an unpublished memoir?

Have a great weekend, folks.

Summer Reading Redux: Recommendations?

Last June I posted a list of summer reads, and I thought I’d do the same this year. Looking back, I realize I did okay with my list; I read Wild, All the Pretty Horses, Operating Instructions, and Look at Me, but not necessarily all during the summer, and I ended up bailing on the New Yorker entirely (I finally let my subscription lapse).

What I hoped, readers, was to hear from you. What’s on your summer reading list, or what have you read recently and loved? My acupuncturist got me inspired to read some Jhumpa Lahiri; The California Prose Directory 2013 is on my nightstand now (and I’ll be plugging it next week), and I hope to finally tackle The Big House. I’ve also been pondering going through a Murakami phase. But other than that, I’m a wide-open book (ha!).

What do you recommend? I’ll compile a list, to be posted by summer vacation time. You’ll have to take care of your own beach umbrella and sunscreen.