Jane Dystel recommends:
Isek Dinesen is one of the pen names of author Karen Blixen who from 1914 through 1931 owned and lived on a coffee plantation in Kenya. While there this last September, I visited her home (and the plantation) and in preparation for doing that, I read OUT OF AFRICA, which is actually a book of essays written in no particular order about her time in Africa. The prose is vivid and describes in a straightforward manner British East Africa before World War II. During the time Blixen was there, her marriage broke up and she had an affair with adventurer Denys Finch-Hatton, but nothing about those experiences appears in the pages of this book. Instead she describes the different people she encountered along the way—and those with whom she worked—and the many adventures she had. The reader learns about the animals she encountered, most memorably Lulu the beautiful gazelle who lived on the plantation for year. While wandering around the actual plantation I found myself imagining where she might have been. An evocative read.
Miriam Goderich recommends:
When I was an undergraduate at Columbia, there was a superstar professor in the English department we were all in awe of. Carolyn Heilbrun was brilliant and, it was rumored, fun. She wrote deeply impactful books about women in literature—both as authors and protagonists. Under the pseudonym Amanda Cross, she also wrote delightful academic cozies featuring the wry, no-nonsense Kate Fansler (Heilbrun’s fictional alter-ego). For many years, she kept her mystery writing a secret so as not to jeopardize her teaching position in what was for most of her career a bastion of white, male privilege (Columbia was the last Ivy League college to admit women in the mid-1980s). I found the Amanda Cross mysteries frothy fun but I really loved Heilbrun’s “serious” works, especially the influential WRITING A WOMAN’S LIFE Tackling issues of creativity, storytelling, and gender with a feminist’s verve and a scholar’s thoroughness, Heilbrun explores the limitations imposed by culture and society on female authors striving to create their own narratives and those of other women and exhorts her readers to write their own experiences as faithfully, truthfully, and bravely as possible. I felt empowered by that book and still recommend it to young women who are trying to find their voices and tell their stories. Check it out.
Michael Bourret recommends:
My recommendation is for all the people, like me, who have been hearing about GONE GIRL for ages but just haven’t gotten around to reading it. I finally downloaded the book a couple of weeks ago because I was eager to see the movie—David Fincher is a favorite director. But Jim McCarthy convinced me, without much effort, that I really should read the book first. And oh, how right he was. This was exactly my kind of book: so juicy and fast-paced, dark and twisty. It’s the sort of book that you just don’t want to put down because you know there’s yet another surprise coming in the next chapter. But the book isn’t just a pedestrian thriller, one in which you forget the book and move on to the next thing. This is a sticky book, one that makes you look at yourself and your spouse or friends just a little differently. So for everyone who doesn’t believe the hype, the people who reflexively don’t want to read the things everyone else is reading (I count myself as one of you!), I say this one is so worthy of the praise and your attention. You won’t regret it.
Stacey Glick recommends:
I don’t have a lot of time to read fiction outside of work and our work book club (and a local personal book club I just joined!), but I had lunch with the amazing editor Amy Einhorn several months back and she brought me a copy of her book, the smash hit THE HUSBAND’S SECRET by Liane Moriarty. I hadn’t read the author’s previous novels, and had been hearing a lot of good things about this one. It also happened to coincide with my local book club reading the novel, so I figured it was time to start reading. I was really struck with a lot of things about the novel. The author’s ability to tie together multiple overlapping storylines was impressive and reminded me of another favorite book, Tom Perotta’s LITTLE CHILDREN, my favorite novel about suburban dysfunction. And while the book’s plot, when you describe it out loud to friends, might sound contrived and past the point of believability, it doesn’t read that way and if it does, you’re so invested in the fast-paced narrative that you can forgive it. There are a couple of surprise twists that literally had me gasp out loud (ask my husband and kids when it happened in the car one afternoon). I’d love to find a book like this for my list. Gripping, twisting, relatable, disturbing, and highly entertaining.
Jim McCarthy recommends:
If you pick up a copy of Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s novel ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE, you may notice that the cover is littered with stickers. The book won something like a zillion prizes—it’s so decorated that I feel a little bad for the designer whose beautiful artwork is covered up. If you’re at all like me, when you see that many prize stickers on a young adult novel, you might start to worry that you’re about to embark on one of those novels that is more “good for you” than, say, enjoyable. Push through that feeling, though, and you’ll discover a book that is equal parts funny and heartbreaking that also happens to deal with questioning sexuality without being about that. It’s really about friendship and family and confusion and the anger of young men. The best teen novels in my mind breathe with an authenticity of life at that moment between childhood and adulthood. Sáenz’s greatest achievement is capturing exactly what that feels like in a way that is perfectly specific to his characters while remaining expansive in its identifiable nature.
Jessica Papin recommends:
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR by Joel Dicker is a sly, page turner of a whodunit, a story within a story that is both a clever satire of writing and publishing and a well-framed mystery. Translated from the French but set in New England, it is international crime only in that it comes from abroad. It will not do for New Hampshire what Stieg Larson and Jo Nesbo have done for Scandinavia, namely convince the reader that these liberal social democracies are teeming with neo-nazis, sadists and sociopaths. Instead, it’s a brainy sort of beach read featuring a wunderkind of an author, his Norman Mailer-ish mentor, a missing manuscript and a vanished Lolita.
Lauren Abramo recommends:
If you’ve read and seen Gone Girl, another good way to get that tension fix is Paula Daly’s KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE. Daly takes a familiar premise—man abandons sexless marriage under the neglect of his careerist wife because of her slutty temptress friend—and deliciously loads it with secrets and intrigue until the book has you hooked. By the time all the skeletons have been extricated from their closets and carefully orchestrated lives have been toppled, you’ll know the characters for who they really are and still have a hard time seeing just where they’re heading. With a surprising amount of suspense for a novel where the reader knows more than the protagonist plus a delightful hint of campy glee, it’s the perfect way to fill the void in the week between new episodes of Serial.
John Rudolph recommends:
From way back in high school, when my band at French Woods Festival for the Performing Arts summer camp put on a concert rendition of TOMMY (long before it was on Broadway, thank you very much), I’ve always been a huge fan of The Who. I guess my dedication has flagged a bit, since it took me a while to get to Pete Townshend’s memoir, WHO I AM. But I finished it up a few weeks ago, and of all the rock bios I’ve read recently (Rod Stewart’s, Bob Mould’s, Neil Young’s), it’s by far the most thoughtful and introspective. What’s fascinating, too, is how much Pete thought of himself as an artist with a capital “A”, and how much serious artistic intent went into not only the Who’s music but virtually every aspect of his life. And while Pete had his share of transgressions, unlike Rod the Mod who laughs them off, Pete digs deep into his soul to try and explain his behavior (a lot of which comes with apologies to his ex-wife Karen). My only quibbles are that Pete, as a former editor at Faber & Faber (a job which he seems to have taken quite seriously), should have given Karen more personality on the page and spent less time listing his boats—the dreaded Chuck Berry effect. But with an incredible sharp eye for detail and a no-holds-barred approach to his own failings, as well as those around him, WHO I AM is must read for even the most casual Who fan. And like quite a lot of the Who’s music, it’s pretty darn funny, too.
Michael Hoogland recommends:
I never read Joshua Ferris before picking up TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR, and I’m kicking myself for such an oversight. Shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, the novel follows the complex Dr. Paul C. O’Rourke DDS, a Manhattan dentist with atheistic tendencies and a pathological obsession with the Boston Red Sox. Paul is a misanthrope who loves people and only wants to belong, an atheist who wants to believe, a dentist who struggles to tell people to floss, and a technology addict who—you guessed it—hates technology. We meet Paul as he is living his conflicted life after recently breaking up with his girlfriend, Connie, who is also his receptionist. Then one day, he discovers his online identity has been stolen: a website has been created for his dental practice, comments all over internet forums are written in his name, and a Twitter account appears spouting strange religious messages tweeted by the hand of none other than Dr. Paul C. O’Rourke, DDS. Originally furious at the perpetrator, the more Paul reads his “own” writing, the more interested he becomes in the man behind himself, and when he begins corresponding by email with the identity thief, Paul can’t deny the pull of the man’s claims: that a people, the Ulms, have survived since the ancient times of the Old Testament, secretly persecuted and eliminated from spreading their message, the message to doubt God. And perhaps, just maybe, Paul has finally found a something that could be everything. Hysterical, heart-breaking, and beautiful all at once, TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR has everything you look for in a novel in as far as characters and storyline go, but Ferris’s observations of the minutiae of everyday modern life is what makes it the best book I’ve read in years.
Rachel Stout recommends:
Long a fan of Colm Toibin’s sparse, yet elegant prose, I was eager to get my hands on a copy of his latest, NORA WEBSTER, which, recounts the life of a woman, possibly unremarkable, and delivers a narrative so deeply human that it’s impossible not to feel. Feel what, well, that changes throughout the course of the book, but every page is filled with a feeling of some sort. Nora, recently widowed, is left in Enniscorthy in County Wexford, Ireland. She’s got four children, yet struggles to connect with each of them in a different way. Mourning, and looking for a way to first recreate the life she had with her husband and then, later, to compose a new life for herself altogether, Nora comes into her own, as an observer and finally, an active participant. It’s not the story so much as the characters, the aforementioned raw emotion and the timelessness of Toibin’s beautiful writing—though the book takes place half a century ago, the sentiments and sense of it are as relatable and real as anything we know today.
Sharon Pelletier recommends:
If you tried to read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas in 2004 when I came across it in book club circles, or if you picked it up last fall when it hit the movie screen, only to find yourself perplexed by its segmented narratives and sometimes unintelligible dialects…well, now is the time to come back to this bold, mischievous, and imaginative author. Mitchell’s new novel, THE BONE CLOCKS has the same sweeping audacity as his previous works, but this one is also just a rollicking good time. Like Cloud Atlas it boasts several sections that jump through time and are narrated by different voices, but The Bone Clocks tells just one story easily traced through the time hops and perspective shifts. And it is a story that considers humanity’s deepest questions – our mortality, our planet’s mortality, how best to protect those that we love – through the lens of one very ordinary woman pulled into a most extraordinary supernatural battle. Whether you’re giving Mitchell a first chance, a second, or a third, you won’t regret it.
Eric Meyers recommends:
When a really fine fiction writer can speak to us as adults while illuminating the essence of childhood, that, to me, is something to be cherished. The older we grow, the harder it is to place ourselves back in time, and to remember the details of our earliest emotions. P.L. Travers managed to do this with her Mary Poppins books, as did A. A. Milne with his Winnie the Pooh books and Robert Louis Stevenson with his exquisite A Child’s Garden of Verses. Americans like Harper Lee, Ray Bradbury, and Booth Tarkington also captured that lightning-in-a-bottle insight into the emotions and perceptions that fill our formative years.
Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane (William Morrow, 2013) gave me that kind of wonderful jolt of recognition, and it released long-forgotten feelings in a way I hadn’t really expected. Gaiman clearly remembers the powerlessness, confusion, and frequent terror young children feel in the face of the adult world. And he writes about it in a manner that is so heartbreakingly real, it will snap you right back to your own childhood, with all its questioning, fear, and insecurity.
Told as a first-person remembrance of the unsettling supernatural events that took place one summer in the life of a seven-year-old boy, this is an instant classic, a near-mythological tale that carries certain echoes of The Wizard of Oz. And, like that greatly loved story, it gives its little protagonist friends and protectors—angels, in a sense–who help shield him from the otherwordly evil that seeks his destruction.
Gaiman, the prolific author of over 20 works, had been writing for young audiences for many years, but made his return to adult literary fiction with this acclaimed book. It is universal enough in its scope, however, that it undoubtedly appeals to his younger fans. I probably would have loved it as a child—though I would have missed out on the rich frisson of recognition, not to mention the emotional catharsis, that can only come from reading this marvelous book through adult eyes.