Ann Patchett is the author of six novels, The Patron Saint of Liars, Taft, The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto, Run, and State of Wonder. She was the editor of Best American Short Stories, 2006, and has written three books of nonfiction, Truth & Beauty, about her friendship with the writer, Lucy Grealy, What now? an expansion of her graduation address at Sarah Lawrence College, and, most recently, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a collection of essays that examines the theme of commitment.
I read The Yellow Birds in manuscript back in the early spring, gave it my whole-hearted endorsement, and have thought about it every day since. I’ve been waiting to buy up stacks of this book and give it to everyone I know. Powers joined the army at seventeen and did two tours in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 as a machine gunner. Then he came home, went to college, got an MFA, and wrote one of the great war novels of our time. It will stand next to Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (and if you haven’t read that one yet, well, please do). The Yellow Birds is spare, direct, and strangely beautiful. It isn’t about trying to make sense of war or glamorize or damn war, it’s about trying to survive war. In this busy fall season of big books by blockbuster authors, I think this is the book to buy first.
By the time I finished I was as glad to have found The Swerve as Poggio Bracciolini was to have found Lucretius’ manuscript. This book is especially good company for an election year because it puts our petty partisan arguments into a chilling historical perspective. Now that I’ve finished, I find myself walking around thinking -- atom and void, atom and void, atom and void. I urge you to give this one a try. It will expand your understanding of the human condition, and how many books can you say that about?
Cat's Eye is a perfect book for fall if you’re ready to take on a novel that is more ambitious, more unsettling, and better written than what you might have picked up over the summer. The plot isn’t one that can be easily summed up, I don’t think any of Margaret Atwood’s novels can be easily summed up, so let me just say it is an experience of total immersion. Once you go into Atwood’s world there’s nothing to do but give yourself over to it.
Thank heavens for the New York Review of Books Classics. They bring back so many wonderful books that might have otherwise been forgotten. This book was first published in 1929 and it tells the story of a group of children who are sent home to England from Jamaica after a hurricane. Then there are pirates. It is such a startling and true perspective of childhood, and so beautifully written, you'll wonder why you never read it before.
Act One, by Moss Hart, was published in 1959. He died in 1961. I am still mourning the fact that he didn’t live to write Act Two. Reading this book is like being seated next to the wittiest, most charming, most urban man at the world’s loveliest dinner party. He was one of the greatest comic playwrights of his age AND he was married to Kitty Carlisle. Act One is not available as an ebook.
If you want to be a songwriter, or know someone who wants to be a songwriter, or you like to sing in the shower, then this is your book. I’ve given it to so many people and they continue to thank me for years. It is an endless treasure trove. Don’t you want to know all the words to “Honeysuckle Rose” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”? Pure pleasure, and not available as an ebook.
If you’re a fan of Eudora Welty, or you like to garden, or you’re interested in the history of American gardening, or you’d like a well written, beautifully photographed, very touching book about plants as seen through the eyes of a literary icon, you’ll love this book. I received it as a gift and read the whole thing cover to cover. It is not available as an ebook because it is simply too pretty.
I picked this up because of the review by Anthony Doerr in the NYTBR. He said it was brilliant, and I agree whole-heartedly. It is the story of a northeastern logger at the turn of the century and beyond. I am always impressed when an author manages to pack so much life into so few pages.
Tired of vampires? Tired of young adult novels about abuse, addiction, and alienation? What about a story where kids turn into birds and save the world? And what if it’s written by one of the best writers of grown-up books? Buy this one for your children and go get a copy of Maile’s terrific short story collection Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It for yourself. (Isn’t that the best title ever?)
I won’t rest until every customer who comes into Parnassus has read this book. It’s the book that made me want to be a bookseller. I found a mildewed copy in a used bookstore and I loved it so much I got it reissued. A priest, a confession, a dark secret. Don’t start it too close to bedtime because once you get past page ten there is just no stopping.
Edith and I appeared together at the Southern Festival of Books and had a great time talking about short stories. Hers are the smartest and deepest I know. This book was nominated for the National Books Award this year and, in my humble opinion, it should have won.
This recommendation comes with a warning: make sure you're comfortable with post-modern fiction before taking this on. If you miss David Foster Wallace, you're going to love Tenth of December. It is beautiful and funny and painful and profound, a compact masterpiece. It defied all my expectations of what a short story can do, and then it broke my heart. I mean that as high praise.
Schroder is a story about small lies and wrong decisions becoming enormous, life-altering events. This book snuck up on me, starting quietly and becoming deeper and more resonant with every page. Gaige takes an essentially unsympathetic character and makes us care for him deeply by showing us the world through his eyes.
The Antagonist is a knockout. Written as a one-way email conversation in which the narrator harasses his former college friend, this story of the past, and how the narrator slowly comes to terms with it, is startling and surprising and completely fresh. If you ever looked at an angry misfit and wondered how he got to be that way, and wondered if he'll ever change, this book explains it all. I loved it.
Townie is a memoir like none other. Poor and small, Andre gets picked on in the rough neighborhood where he grows up after his parents divorce. His brother and his sisters and his mother are all bullied, beaten, and abused in various ways, and Andre longs to be their defender, so he starts lifting weights and learns to fight. The thing is, once he starts fighting, he just can't stop. This one is from the acclaimed author of The House of Sand and Fog.