I KNEW YOU’D BE LOVELY by Alethea Black
For Christmas, one of my aunts gave my mother and me a selection of five books for us to divide up and read, and this book of short stories was one of the best. The prose is quiet but beautiful. What impressed me most was how Black allows her characters to have happy endings. There were a couple times, after the story ended, that I realize I’d almost been holding my breath, because I wanted good things for these characters, but were shocked when they happened. For that revelation alone—that it’s possible to write a well-crafted short story that ends on a relatively high note—this book is worth reading, especially for writers. (In other words, maybe I’ll stop beating up my characters with so frequently).
BRAIN ON FIRE: MY MONTH OF MADNESS by Susannah Cahallan
I’d wanted to read this memoir ever since my sister and I heard a story about a strange neurological disorder affecting young women, its symptoms appearing so much like demonic possession that some wonder if it’s the true source of reported cases of possession in the Middle Ages. Cahallan, a reporter for the New York Post, was in perfect health until coming down with bizarre physical, mental, and emotional symptoms that rendered her incapacitated. This book is Cahallan’s attempt to recapture the thirty days she lost to anti-NDMA receptor autoimmune encephalitis. By necessity, it’s extremely technical, but still a good read.
THE COLOR MASTER by Aimee Bender
Aimee Bender is one of those authors I’ve been meaning to read, ever since THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE, which I still haven’t read, came out. When I read descriptions of her latest book of stories—fabulism! trauma in apple orchards! ogres eating children!—I was super excited. My favorite story in the book, “The Red Ribbon,” ended up being one that while not overtly magical, still contained great elements of exaggeration and raised interesting questions of about the nature of relationships. “Appleless” was vivid and creepy and reminded me a great deal of Goblin Market.
THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER by Jojo Moyes
My mother lent me this book, just as she’s lent me about half the books I’ve read in the past several years, and I may be the writer, but she’s got amazing taste. She introduced me to, among others, Elizabeth Berg, Anita Shreve, Liane Moriarty, and now Jojo Moyes, all of whom I love. I’m going to call it now and say that THE LAST LETTER will be one of my favorite books I read this year. It’s the most amazing love story told in a sharp and witty manner. The character Anthony reminds me quite a bit of the Humphrey Bogart character in Casablanca, and Jennifer, who starts out docile, becomes fierce and fearless. I just loved everything about this.
GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn
This was a reread, and I liked it even better than I did the first time. People seem to have very strong feelings about GONE GIRL in one direction or the other, and I’m one of those who adore it. Gillian Flynn writes the most alluringly sociopathic characters in modern fiction. Beyond that, her prose is top notch. I’ve tried to write using two first person narrators, as she does here with Nick and Amy, and it is much harder than it looks to distinguish each character’s voice as well as Flynn does here. I’ve heard arguments that this book isn’t feminist enough, but my two favorite passages are Amy’s observations about how women are seen:
“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer…Men actually think this girl exists.”
“Tampon commercial, detergent commercial, maxi pad commercial, Windex commercial – you’d think all women do is clean and bleed.”