April 2009

I've been twittering and facebooking and blogging like some kind of connection-hungry fool, so have left this poor little booklog for last. Here goes. Prospect Park West by Amy Sohn. Entertaining way to while away a hideous cold.

Try to Tell the Story by David Thomson I've always had a weird quasi-erotic fascination with English boarding schools. I blame it on those S/M floggings from Tom Brown's Schooldays.

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín A marvelous old-fashioned novel.

Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert Thank god I didn't read this book before I wrote my own Maine novel. I never would have bothered. She's so marvelous I would have thrown up my hands at the prospect of such clear failure by comparison. I love Ms. Gilbert.

Serena by Ron Rash Next time someone bitches me out for having unlikeable characters I'm going to point to this marvelous novel and tell them to suck it.

Glover's Mistake by Nick Laird I love Nick Laird. LOVE HIM.

Four Freedoms by John Crowley Not as good as Little Big.

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson Killer.

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff Now I'm scared. Really really scared.

Sophie's Choice by William Styron The first half is the best novel ever written. The second half kind of sucks.

Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies Compulsively readable. And terrifying.

The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood Because I'm crazy.

The Clothes on Their backs by Linda Grant Terrific.

The Women by T.C. Boyle This book is great, and a very interesting complement to the next one in the list.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan Neither Horan nor Boyle can have been happy about the other, but the novels were both very good. Boyle is a better writer on a sentence level, certainly, but I like this one very much, too.

February 2009

Hey, look at me, updating so soon! It's a lazy Sunday, I'm bored, and I already played Sorry, Uno and organized my 2008 tax boxes. All that was left was to update my log. The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee A fun, fast read.

My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru Some writers are just a delight to read.

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth I alternated between wishing I'd had this kind of care and thanking God I hadn't.

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam I'm on a bit of a doctor roll. Good book.

The Book of Dads by Ben George, ed. Some of these essays were terrific.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese Wild. Who knew that Ethiopia was an Italian paradise? And then, not.

The Lazarus Project by Aleksander Hemon I know this book is good, but it left me cold.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh Entertaining.

An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken Heartbreaking, funny. Read it in one sitting.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga Wow. India is just completely crazy.

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan A good, strong story.

The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher I love these British novels.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell I'm now completely obsessed with relative age disadvantage. My three younger kids are all completely screwed.

When Will There be Good News by Kate Atkinson This is when I fell in love with my crappy, plastic, hideous interface Kindle. I just felt like reading Kate Atkinson, and there she was.

December 2008

Wow. This is, I think, the longest I've gone since updating. I've been busy this fall with the election, as you no doubt know from reading the blog on the front page of this website. And then I had to reintroduce myself to my poor children, all of whom were in some kind of crisis. A Mercy by Toni Morrison I wish I had another 400 pages of this book. It was the hint of an incredible story, and I was desperate for the whole story.

The Center of the Universe by Nancy Bachrach This is the memoir my daughters will write.

Notes From an Exhibition by Patrick Gale This book terrified me. It was too close. I had to keep reminding myself that this isn't me. I'm nowhere this ill.

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill One of my favorite books of the year.

Novel About My Wife by Emily Perkins I kind of faded halfway through.

Telex From Cuba by Rachel Kushner Fascinating window into a world I had never even imagined.

Art & Ardor by Cynthia Ozick I feel like I learned more about writing from this small essay collection than from anything I ever read before.

Fearless by Matthew Yglesias Compelling read, but I think the movie was better.

Songs for the Butcher's Daughter by Peter Manseau I love a good Yiddish tale.

Whatever it Takes by Paul Tough Every American who considers herself a compassionate and politically astute person should read this book. Immediately.

Take the Cannoli by Sarah Vowell Nobody makes me laugh so hard.

The School on Heart's Content Road by Carolyn Chute Loved the Maine stuff. Had a pretty hard time with the icons.

The Risk Pool by Richard Russo No one writes blue collar despair like him.

Atlas of Unknowns by Tania James I'm a sucker for a good novel about the Indian experience.

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li Terrific writer. Grim grim grim story.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace It's so trite to say so, but it's a goddamn tragedy that he's dead. These essays are magnificent.

This Must be the Place by Nora Ephron Very lovely novel.

July 2008

I know I've been terribly derelict, but I've been trying to finish not one but two books. I went to Mesa Refuge in Point Reyes, the most gorgeous writing retreat, and just powered through. The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich Louise Erdrich's world is reliably lovely and strange.

The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer It's so incredibly delightful when a book just nails it, you know?

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout This book transported me. Completely.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri She writes such delightfully confident prose.

No One You Know by Michelle Richmond This book will keep Michelle on the terrific trajectory her last book put her on.

Cost by Roxana Robinson Oh God. I haven't not been able to get this book out of my mind. What a terrifying object lesson. The Road by Cormac McCarthy Why the hell didn't I read this earlier? This book. God, this book. The Wild Palms by William Faulkner How ridiculous is it that I forget every time how much I love Faulkner? City of Refuge by Tom Piazza This book taught me so much about Katrina. It's amazing how fiction manages to teach you something new, no matter how much news you read. A Curious Earth by Gerard Woodward A lovely little novel. Travels with Alice by Calvin Trillin I cried pretty much the whole time I read this, when I wasn't laughing.

Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell Perfect prose. The Spare Room by Helen Garner Every once in a while a writer just comes out of nowhere. I mean, she's been writing a long time, but she came out of nowhere to me. Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen Terrific memoir. I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley Funny little essays. Sweet. Art & Ardor by Cynthia Ozick These essays are so brilliant I can't believe it. Bogglingly brilliant. I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron Reread this for my nonfiction book. Always funny. Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace This man is to footnotes what the raised glazed is to donuts. The best ever. Consequences by Penelope Lively This book lost me in the end, although I liked it very much for a while. An Equal Music by Vikram Seth I reread this for the music for my novel. Far more detailed than I could ever be.

The Best American Essays by David Foster Wallace His essays are better than any of these.

Changing Places by David Lodge Lord, I do love David Lodge. The Great Man by Kate Christensen I liked this, but I wanted, I don't know, something more.

Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell I love Gaskell, but in the end what she lacks is humor.

Nice Work by David Lodge Good lord this man is the most incredible writer.

Growing Up by Russell Banks Awfully sweet memoir.

March 2008

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle BrownI tried to write this novel and failed. I'm glad Brown succeeded.

Persepolis: The Story of A Childhood by Marjane Satrapi Amazing, blah blah blah, but the casual references to evil Zionists freaked me out. The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante Oh give me a break! Misery misery misery, I get it. Get over it already.

Saturday by Ian McEwan This book was even better the second time. Knowing what was coming made it much more fun to watch it unfold.

December by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop An interesting young writer.

Triangle by Katharine Weber I wasn't particularly enamored of the mystery at the heart of this novel (far too easy to figure out) but I loved reading about the seamstresses. The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer Another brilliant novel by this brilliant writer. Earthly Possessions by Anne Tyler So here's the question...do I watch the movie or not? Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler Remember when a novel written by a woman about a woman could win the Pulitzer Prize? Yeah. No more. Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler Reading for tips on how to construct a novel. If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler It's incredible to watch Tyler take essentially the same main female character and put her through various scenarios in book to book.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert I'm not really into the whole meditation thing, but this book provided great "how to write a memoir" guidance. The Book of Getting Even by Benjamin Taylor Taylor's a terrific writer, but this book's breakneck pace was a bit exhausting. The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd I could not stop reading this book. I absolutely gobbled it up. Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg This memoir was beautifully written and often riveting. The Innocent by Ian McEwan I'll never tire of reading and rereading McEwan. I just wish he'd write as fast as I read. The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley What a discovery! I love this guy. The Short History of a Prince by Jane Hamilton She is an amazingly talented writer, and this character broke my heart. The People's Act of Love by James Meek I guessed the big secret right away, but I liked the book very much despite that. I felt like I learned some seriously creepy stuff. Very cool. The Family Markowitz by Allegra Goodman Another reread. It's just a pleasure to read this author's prose.

December 2007

What, really, is the point of a website that gets updated every two months, and then only with the books I'm reading? I'm violating every rule of proper website maintenance. Oh well. The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt I love a good historical novel, and this one is awfully fun, even with the math. Bridges of Sighs by Richard Russo I liked this book until about halfway through. Then I started getting annoyed. I just didn't buy that Sarah would throw her entire life away. I didn't buy that an artist of her presumed talent would bury all that. And then the end of the book, when this whole host of new characters was introduced, I lost all semblance of interest.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan The first time I read this I left disappointed. I wanted more. But you now what, this time it felt exactly right to me. Perfectly constructed.

When Madeline Was Young by Jane Hamilton Terrific and terrifically creepy premise. The Senator's Wifeby Sue Miller Sue Miller always just nails you, right at the end. I love her. The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit by Lucette Lagnado I wonder how many people even know about all the Jews from Arab and other middle eastern countries who ended up displaced. It's just so heartbreaking.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo This book was just downright delightful. Run by Ann Patchett I think I'm just too sour a person for this book. I'm too much of a bitch to like such nice people.

Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander Honestly, if I had a David Rakoff and an Auslander with me at all times, I would never be bored.

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin Despite the fact that this guy so CLEARLY has a chip on his shoulder about my husband, I still enjoyed this novel.

Yellowcake by Ann Cummins Ann is a marvelous writer.

The Whole World Over by Julia Glass You know what? As much as I love my own dog, I really REALLY don't want to read about yours. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah I avoided this book for the longest time because I figured after the brilliant What is the What that there was no point. But there was something remarkable about the way he told his story. And of course his story was remarkable itself.

October 2007

I know. I know. I suck. I really do. I've gone so long without posting, and I've kept crappy track. I have had about ninety million things going on this fall. Bat Mitzvah, kid issues, traveling husband. It's a miracle I'm even updating this book log now. But things are calming down. I'm about to begin what I hope will be no more than a six month revision process on my novel, so now's a good time to do this. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris I did not expect to like this book. I thought it would be precious and too cool, in both senses of the word. But I loved it. It's heartfelt, the writing is terrific, and the first person plural works beautifully. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. Wow! This book grabbed me by the throat and didn't let go.

Ingenious Pain by Andrew Miller Very ingenious, and great historical details.

Evening by Susan Minot Loved the Maine details. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison Oh right, THIS is why she won the Nobel Prize! Out of this world. Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth I was reading this book while trapped on a plane with 100 of my bretheren. I wanted to melt into my seat. When I wasn't laughing I was cringing with horror -- I know your pain, Philip Roth!!

The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute Great novel, great Maine info. Uncommon Arrangements by Katie Roiphe Thank God I live and am married NOW rather than back then.

Away by Amy Bloom I love her other books. Adore them, even. This one...I don't know. I just never cared that much about the character and I felt like the people she met were types rather than real people.

Music & Silence by Rose Tremain I learned from this book that you actually don't need to know that much about music to write a book in which it's a major plot and thematic device.

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace He's the funniest man alive.

Songs Without Words by Ann Packer Ann is a friend, and you must read this devastating book. Life Class by Pat Barker You all know how I feel about the Regeneration Trilogy, but I felt this book was something of a retreading of familiar territory.

June 2007

I'm still trying to read mostly things that are useful for my novel. So it's all about Maine, classical music, particularly prodigies, and wooden boats. And then some novels that take place over the course of many years, and the odd fun read. Family History by Dani Shapiro I love the way Shapiro writes about families.

The Dining Room by A.R. Gurney, Jr. A play. Which was supposed to be useful. And wasn't.

What I loved by Siri Hustvedt I found this book so much more compelling and lovely the second time around. I appreciated her prose much more this time around. She's very good.

Maynard and Jennicaby Rudolph Delson Awfully fun. In the Drivers Seat by Helen Simpson Her stories are so marvelously bleak! Brick Lane by Monica Ali Fabulous. These poor women. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini More terrible treatment of Muslim women! Khaled is the nicest man alive, and I seriously hope some cretinous mullah doesn't issue a fatwa against him. Falling Man by Don DeLillo The first chapter of this book is great. The rest isn't.

Black Dogs by Ian McEwan I read him to remind myself that less is more.

The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth This is my favorite of his novels, I think. Or at least it is this week. Any Human Heart by William Boyd Every bit as good as the first time I read it.

The Soloist by Marc Salzman Very useful.

Behind the Scenes at the Museumby Kate Atkinson Very very good. The Years by Virginia Woolf Ah. AH. What an amazing book.

April 2007

I’ve been reading a tremendous amount lately. Mostly because I keep trying to keep myself writing well and the best way for me to do that is read well. Michael’s about to head off on an incredibly long tour, so we’ll see what happens. Sometimes I just go to ground with a pile of novels, sometimes I lie in bed and watch Supernanny all night. Is it me or does that show not inspire an existential malaise? Picturing the Wreck by Dani Shapiro I recently met Dani Shapiro for the first time. She a delight. And gorgeous to boot. The Mistress’s Daughter by A.M. Holmes Some true stories are just so bizarre and incredible it’s hard to imagine how you could make them believable as fiction! Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje Everything out of this man’s pen is gorgeous. The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine Would have been an interesting article, but a bit of a stretch as a book. Double Visionby Pat Barker Is it just by comparison to the trilogy that this disappoints? The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen Other than the whole Mr. Turd debacle, this novel is truly marvelous. Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill Very brutal and funny. The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler I picked this book apart with a magnifying glass trying to figure out how it was constructed. On Boxing by Joyce Carol Oates I‘m reading up on boxing for my novel.

A Family Daughter by Maile Meloy Again, picking apart.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen I fucking hate when they put pictures of dingbats like Keira Knightley (what is WITH that underbite?) on my novels. But I needed a bigger print. Because I’m apparently getting incredibly OLD, too old to read my favorite books in pocket size. Black and White by Dani Shapiro This book made me use up an entire evening researching Sally Mann’s children.

Remainder by Tom McCarthy I loved it, until it jumped the shark.

On Beautyby Zadie Smith Does anybody still need to be told what an EXTRAORDINARY writer Zadie is? Persuasion by Jane Austen I just cry the whole time I read this book.

March 2007

The last couple of months have been a blur of touring. Snow. Bitter cold. And you can imagine the crowds. Actually, one night it was breath-takingly cold in Pittsburgh, but 1900 people came out to hear Michael and me talk at Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures. Three nights later, guess how many people came to hear just me in Old Greenwich, Connecticut? Two.But I read a lot. Love Invents Us by Amy Bloom I'm still rereading. And Amy Bloom is still marvelous.

The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker If you haven't read the entire trilogy, then you are missing too too much. Get thee to a bookstore or library.

The Cement Garden by Ian McKuin So delightfully creepy.

A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You by Amy Bloom Loved it as much as the other!

Border Crossingby Pat Barker Haven't you gotten the point yet? Read the trilogy. NOW!!

The Known World by Edward P. Jones Now this novel was even better upon rereading, and that's saying a lot.

A Disorder Peculiar to the Country by Ken Kalfus 9/11 books are just so hard to get right.

The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle This book is just so much goddamn fun!

Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta I never expected to love this book as much as I did.

The Edge of Darkness by Mary Ellen Chase A kind of dull Maine novel

All Aunt Hagar's Children by Edward P. Jones Lovely, beautiful, albeit catastrophically depressing stories.

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul So are we surprised this book was so incredible? The guy won the Nobel after all. My grandmother, by the way, when she heard that my husband won the Pulitzer, immediately began telling people he won the Nobel. The Nobel Peace Prize, actually. A Garden of Earthly Delights by Joyce Carol Oates She's a beautiful writer. One of the best. My God this book is bleak. The Evidence Against Herby Robb Forman Dew The fact that this book isn't a best-seller tells you what's wrong with contemporary literary fiction. Used to be a book like Dew's or like Anne Tyler's, would win the National Book Award or the Pulitzer. A book about family. About, gasp, women. Now we're completely obsessed with a certain kind of prose and we dismiss all books like these -- all family dramas -- as worthless. We dismiss them as "women's fiction." As "Oprah books." As if Ursula Hegi's book Stones From the River , for example, an Oprah book, wasn't magnificent. It's just sexism, pure and simple. The Truth of the Matter by Robb Foreman Dew As strong as the first.

January 2007

MacDowell was incredible, as usual. Read a bunch, wrote a bunch. Feeling pretty okay about my new novel. I decided to embark on a six month project - for the next six months, unless I'm reading for my novel, I plan only to reread books. The idea was that I want to read good stuff and good stuff only. What turns out to be happening, however, is that I'm finding that some books just don't hold up. So Long See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell This may be the world's most perfect novel. Or perhaps that's not fair to say, as I haven't read all the novels in the world. It's certainly the most perfect novel I've ever read.

13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley This book was tremendously helpful when I began the book. I kept rereading little sections of it. Regeneration by Pat Barker Every bit as perfect as it was the first time. Heartburn by Nora Ephron Fun read. Spartinaby John Casey I read this because I need to know about wooden boat building. I enjoyed it a lot. Charming Billy by Alice McDermott Still my favorite book. Henry and Clara by Thomas Mallon A book that DEFINITELY held up. Grab on to Me Tightly as if I knew the Way by Bryan Charles A fun novel by a sweet guy I met at MacDowell. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald You'll be stunned to discover that this book is nigh on perfect.

A Bigamist's Daughter by Alice McDermott Good but everything in the world pales in comparison to Charming Billy

The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies The first of the trilogy is delightful. Amazing, even. Then they sort of go down hill. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn This book was the tragedy so far of the rereading project. If you had asked me a couple of years ago what my favorite book was I'd have said this one. But upon rereading I discovered that the author has such a jaundiced view of her characters, so constricted, so ungenerous. I couldn't bear it. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides Marvelous. As marvelous as the first time. A Thousand Years of Good Prayersby Yiyun Li Every once in a great while a linguistic genius shows up. Someone who can create beautiful prose in a foreign language. She's ours. The Lobster Chronicles by Linda Greenlaw Now I know a little something about lobstering. The Lobster Coast by Colin Woodard Now I know a lot about lobsters. And the book was well written, too.

November 2006

I'm off to MacDowell again, glory hallelujah. God I love that place. But I'm planning on reading a bunch so I have to update before I go. I'm in a hard place with my next book. I've tried a couple of different things and they haven't worked. I'm praying for inspiration. Wish me luck. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida I loved this book. She writes like Joan Didion.

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron I didn't feel bad about mine. Now I do. I swear it's sagging just a little. The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn If you only read one book this year, let it be this one, okay? Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky Or let it be this one. This may be the best unfinished novel I've ever read. And one of the best novels I've ever read. Restless by William Boyd I adore William Boyd. So why didn't I love this book? The Mystery Guest by Gregoire Bouillier A bizarre yet entertaining little book. Mother's Milk by Edward St. Aubyn I'll never get sick of his vile characters. And he's maybe the funniest writer ever. A line of dialogue about a fat lady getting into an airplane seat. She thanks them for her patience and Roberts says, "It's sweet of her to thank us for something we haven't given her. Perhaps I should thank her for her agility." The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories by Valerie Martin She's a lovel writer. Got a little sick of the women's relationships, though. Good Faith by Jane Smiley I was ripping along happily to nearly the end, then I suddenly stopped caring. Probably more to do with me than the book, because this lady sure can turn a phrase.

The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut Could Africa be any more depressing?

The World Below by Sue Miller I wish I could write book after book with such grace and competence. Blue Nude by Elizabeth Rosner I just needed more story, but I loved the kibbutz part. So familiar to me. Don't Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff AGAIN I caused a scene on a plane by laughing like a maniac while reading a Rakoff book. The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud I can't really figure out why I didn't like this book more. After This by Alice McDermott It's not charming Billy, but then what ever will be? Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose She's pompous as hell, and her book list is positively asinine, but I did learn some things from this book. The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver Great idea for a novel. The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits Awesome. Hysterically funny and wrenching. And not just because she's my friend.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson She's amazing, but my favorite is still Behind the Scenes at the Museum. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards My editor loved this book.

August 2006

We're in Maine, on something of an extended vacation. Vacation for us means we don't do anything but work and play with the kids. It's been pretty grand, but frankly I'm surprised I haven't done as much reading as I expected. Maybe it's because the kids are obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and we watch it every night. I've also spent time getting my butt kicked at Scrabble, as usual. Playing Scrabble with my husband is exactly no fun at all. A Woman in Jerusalem by A.B. Yehoshua I love Yehoshua. Reading him you know you're in the hands of a great master. That said, this book is a bit slighter than recent ones. How I Came Into My Inheritance by Dorothy Gallagher Don't let the last name fool you, she's the daughter of Jewish reds from Russia and writes a truly hilarious memoir of her childhood. The Law of Dreams by Peter Behrens You all know I have a soft spot for sweeping historical fiction. No Direction Home by Marisa Silver I like this book, a sweet rambling story. I didn't, however, buy the love story for a minute. The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner Stegner is really one of the greats. I love his fiction. The English Teacher by Lily King An interesting novel with a loathsome main character. The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger This is a fine novel, but I truly loved some of her stories. The Verificationist by Donald Antrim It says more about me than him, but as soon as people started flying I lost interest. Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War by Deborah Copaken Kogan Okay, she's my friend, but this book is a delight.

July 2006

At the end of the week we leave for nearly two months in Maine. Not sure how that's going to work -- we have no childcare and tons of work to do. Michael is laid out with RSI in his hands, and I'm not sure if what I'm feeling is sympathy pains or if I'm going to get it, too. Damn those hellish track pads. Anyway, I'm updating a little early, and then might not for a while. Larry’s Party by Carol Shields One of the things that surprised me about this quiet, lovely, novel, is how BAWDY it is. When she writes about sex, she does so beautifully, but also graphically. Kind of cool, since she look like a genial, reserved professor. In the Cut by Susanna Moore I really feel like my life would be better if I didn’t have stuck in my brain the image of this woman’s nipple sliced off and stuck into the pocket of her murderer. The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan I think I read this years and years ago but I remembered nothing. Why is it that I retain so little, even from books like this one, which I enjoyed? I’m so envious of people who can recall with amazing accuracy everything that they’ve ever read.

The Girls by Lori Lansens I've always loved the whole side show evilness. One of us, one of us.

The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith I let this book's bad reviews sway me and didn't read it until now. I thought it was great and I'm ashamed of myself.

The Good Mother by Sue Miller Yes, I reread this again. It just helps me to read Sue Miller when I'm writing.

The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner Michael says I read this years ago, but I don't remember. Sigh. The writing is, of course, incredible, almost incredible enough for me to rise above the fact that much of the novel is about this man raging against age and, inevitably, death. Almost. Not quite. I feel the same about this book as I do about later Roth. I have a hard time being interested, although I'm sure in 20 years or so I'll be as obsessed with aging as they are.

Because it is Bitter and Because it is my Heart by Joyce Carol Oates I feel like I'm just discovering Oates afresh.

Shiksa Goddess by Wendy Wasserstein She's a much better playwright than essayist.

Memoirs of a Muse by Lara Vapnyar This book cracked me up.

July, July by Tim O'Brien Such a good writer, even if his women characters don't act quite like women, more like men's idea of women.

Can you Hear the Nightbird Call by Anita Rau Badami I can't say anything about this novel, because I'm judging a contest.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner Definitely my favorite book this time around. Magnificent.

May 2006

Indecision by Benjamin KunkelThis book is good enough, but if it had been written by a woman, with a female main character undergoing the same experiences, it would have been dismissed as chick-lit. It's a comment on the profoundly sexist nature of the literary scene that this book was hailed as possessing unambiguous literary merit.

The Darling by Russell Banks I usually shy away from books about Africa. Something about them -- the light is too harsh. I know that sounds insane, but it's the best I can do to describe how I feel. But this book was mesmerizing. Shows the power of good writing to overcome any bias.

No God In Sight by Altaf Tyrewala I was sent this book because the editor read my booklog and knew I have a weakness for Indian fiction. Man, did I love this. Tiny little fragments that together make a wonderful story.

Possession by A.S. Byatt I reread this novel because I thought it would be useful to Winter's End, the book I've been working on for the past year. Then, last week, I decided that my novel isn't working. It just plain sucks. I'm throwing it away and starting something new. But at least I had a chance to reread Possession.

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan I am obsessed with food. I love it, I'm freaked out by it. I don't do anything socially other than see movies and eat. I serve only organic food to my kids, and I'm convinced we all have lurking spongiform encepholopathy. Which is why this book is perfect for me.

Theft by Peter Carey I love Peter Carey, and at some point reading this book I decided there was no point to my being a novelist. I mean, I am incapable of writing like this, so why bother. I got over it, perhaps to literature's detriment.

The Chrysanthemum Palace by Bruce Wagner He's a terrific writer. But the story didn't seem to keep my attention like I wished it had. He says something almost nice about Michael, though.

Digging to America by Anne Tyler Can I just be Anne Tyler? She's exactly the kind of novelist I want to be.

Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam Wow. Terrific book. Great writer. And, um, I can't believe how miserable these people are.

The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty It is truly pathetic that I haven't read this book until now. I'm a moron.

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb How can I not have heard of this terrific writer until now???

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby Nick Hornby just cracks me up.

Oh the Glory of it all by Sean Wilsey Ok, I have to admit it, this is not a book I would normally pick up, but Melissa at Diesel (a fabulous local bookstore-unlike Black Oak which is a nightmarish local bookstore owned by a truly vile cretin who screamed at us last time we were there spending over one hundred dollars in his store because our children had pulled about ten books off the shelf in the children's section. We were happy to clean it up, we always do, and a little confused at the abuse.) insisted I read it. She was so completely right. It's amazing. Truly hysterical and sad. I'm planning my comment to Dede Wilsey should I ever meet her. "Oh you're the toxic witch I've read so much about."

The Nimrod Flip Out by Etgar Keret These stories are terrific and weird as hell.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell I'll read anything this man writes. He's great.

April 2006

It's been a while since I updated, and I've been reading a bunch...I was on book tour in Europe (Germany and Amsterdam) and spent a lot of time wandering the city, stopping in cafes and reading.Once again I'm trying to read primarily for my novel which means novels about women, novels with characters who are at once sympathetic and complicated.

The Good Wife by Stewart Onan This book is marvelous. I'm a sucker for a long story, and this once takes place over 25 years. And you know how I feel about prison and prison reform. I will say this - if this novel had been written by a woman, it would have been dismissed as "women's fiction."

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer I especially liked the little boy, and I thought the 9/11 stuff was done better than anyone else has done it. It had true emotional resonance. The grandfather's story did not, however, grab me as much.

Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh This book works much more successfully than her recent novel, Baker Towers. I admire what she did, the three narratives, the man viewed only through the lens of his wives.

The Missing World by Margot Livesy Delightfully creepy.

Morgan's Passing by Anne Tyler I usually love Anne Tyler, but this book bugged me. Perhaps it was simply that the main characters were the usual Tyler mass of ticks and idiosyncrasies, but despite the obvious pleasures of that, they didn't seem interesting enough to me.

Every Visible Thing by Lisa Carey Yay! Another Lisa Carey novel!!!

A Family Daughter by Maile Meloy I loved this novel, despite the fact that the ending disappointed me.

Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood I seem not to be able to get enough of these dark and gloomy east coast winter novels...

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan Have I mentioned that he's my favorite writer? He's just incredible. Truly. The PLOTS!!

Where I was From by Joan Didion I keep reading and rereading Didion to remind myself to write simply, sparely, elegantly. I wish I could write like her.

Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell Next time someone complains about my characters not being likeable, I'm going to point them to these masterpieces.

Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall This book deals with the same essential plot as Love and Other Impossible Pursuits...well, without the adultery.

Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris I would have like this book MUCH more had I not guessed the huge secret in the first five minutes. The problem with writing suspense is that it RUINS you for other suspense novels. You're too in tune to how they are constructed, or something. I like being surprised, and I never am anymore.

Name all the Animals by Alison Smith This book is so damn sad. I just kept crying.

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult I read this book to see how it's done. Jodi sits happily on the best-seller lists. She writes a certain kind of book, and does it really well. I wanted to pick it apart and see its bones. See if there's a chance I could write something that would appeal in the way hers does. To as many people. I know, a pretty venal reason to read a book. What can I say?

Daniel Isn't Talking by Marti Leimbach There are a new spate of books out there about autism. I think this one will likely be one of the best. She knows of what she writes.

A Million Nightingales by Susan Straight Susan Straight now proves that she can master historical fiction with the same grace as contemporary. God, I love her writing.

December 2005

It hasn't been so long since my last update, but I wanted to do this before I went on tour. Lots of novels, some old some new. Third Girl From the Left by Martha Southgate. I loved this one. Graceful and funny, and I found out so much more than I ever knew about Blaxploitation movies!!

Black Dogs by Ian McEwan I love McEwan, and so much about this book is his usual fabulousness. But for some reason the story wasn't his usual brilliance.

Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry Here's another writer I love whose book just didn't do that much for me. I mean, his writing is great, the rich world he's created. But the story in the end didn't come to much.

Howard's End by E.M. Forster I reread this because I needed a little Forster for my new novel -- and I'm so glad I did. He's just the best.

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively This book is lovely. The time switches are beautifully done.

The Reawakening by Primo Levi I just don't believe that someone who wrote just a gorgeous book -- honest without being bleak, full of humor about things that are never funny -- could have committed suicide. I don't believe it. He must have fallen.

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster This book nearly kills me every time. What a talent he has, writing beautifully about horrible people.

The Trick of It by Michael Frayn I liked this book very much, although I think that fact that it's an epistolary novel puts a sort of layer between the reader and the story. But still, so much is gained by that in terms of what we learn about the narrator through his own letters.

While I Was Gone by Sue Miller She's a terrific writer. Gives you a smash up plot and fine characters. One of my role models.

The Stone Woman by Tariq Ali I really really wanted to love this. He's so witty and insightful, and I don't read enough fiction in translation. But there's a kind of storytelling that's just hard for me to get into. So, it turns out that this book was written in English. I'd just assumed it was translated from the Turkish, mostly because the language was so stiff. It's much harder to forgive that knowing that it's not just a problem of translation.

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier I love the premise of this novel. It's so creative and weirdly fun. Creepily fun.

Two Lives by Vickram Seth When I was reading Suitable Boy, I was pregnant and even though I adored it, I had to stop because it was too heavy to balance on my belly. This one is another doorstop, and worth every page!

This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes. Funny, bleak. A marvelous L.A. story.

November 2005

I read a fair amount over the past few months. I've been trying to read things that will be helpful for the novel I'm writing now, so it's sort of a bizarre collection of books with dead narrators (changed my mind about that), books with characters driving around (to make myself feel better about a scene I was afraid might be plotless), and a lot of just really fine prose. I loath it when writers say they don't read while they're working. First of all, everyone could stand to have their style influenced by, for example, Joan Didion or Vladimir Nabokov. Or both. Second of all, then when to you read? I'm always working, and that's true of every serious writer I know. The Trouble Boy by Tom Dolby This book is snappy and fun, and ultimately winds up meaning a lot more than that. It's a great read, and then some. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion So much of this incredible book struck me so close to home. There were whole paragraphs that felt like they could be about my marriage. It's a heartbreaking marvel. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver I love a good book about a horrible child.

Small Island by Andrea Levy It does exactly what a fine, historical novel is supposed to do. Immerse you completely in its world. It's terrific. Death of an Ordinary Man by Glen Duncan I read this book because I was contemplating a dead narrator in my new novel. I've changed my mind, but I'm glad I had a chance to read this. On Beauty by Zadie Smith I read this book on a SF-NY flight and I must have sold a dozen copies, I was engrossed and enjoying it so obviously.

Intuition by Allegra Goodman The science details were so perfect in this book. I feel like now I actually know what life in a medical lab is like. Arthur and George by Julian Barnes The writing in this novel is magnificent. The only thing I wish is that the actual crime could be solved in a more satisfactory way. But that's what happens when you're dealing with true stories. The Awakening by Kate Chopin I reread this for my book because it deals essentially with the same themes. I'm probably not going to go with the desperate ending, however.

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons I wanted to reread this because it's short, and I am desperately hoping Winter's End will be, too. It wasn't particularly helpful -- to unique a narrator -- but it's a fabulous novel. Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie Another person whose style I aspire to emulate. The World According to Garp by John Irving I reread this because it had a writer for a main character, and it even includes the writer's work. Man, this book is a great read. Bicycle Days by John Burnham Schwartz He's a terrific writer -- lovely prose style. Makes me want to visit Japan. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov This book was absurd and marvelous. And the section about the daughter's death laid me out.

The Soloist by Mark Salzman He made me feel like I was a musician, like I understood for the first time the complicated relationship a real musician has to music. The Living End by Stanley Elkin So anyone who reads this knows I don't usually go for this kind of thing. But I actually enjoyed it immensely. Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion No one writes misery as well as Didion. I can't say I enjoyed this book. I was too busy feeling like the world was a hollow thankless place. She's the best.

Atonement by Ian McKuin I reread this because no one constructs a propulsive plot like McKuin. The suspense in the beginning is so intense I almost couldn't keep going.

August 2005

We spent the first part of this summer in a marvelous part of Maine, in the world's filthiest house. The place was crawling with bugs, so every novel I read ended up being splotched with the guts of a thousand mosquitos. And let's not even talk about the time I ended up brushing my teeth with a cockroach on my toothbrush. Anyway, I still managed to read some books I enjoyed, and others that I wondered what the big hoo hah was about. Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel There's no doubt that Ms. Mantel is an incredible writer, and for a long time I just loved this novel. Right near the end, though, I started dreading the arrival of those damned ghosts.

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan He may be one of my favorite contemporary novelists. And I'm just going to go and be trite and rave about that opening sequence. It's a marvel. Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman What's with all the novelists named Alice? Is it, like, a requirement that if you're named Alice you consider a literary career? Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick This book would have been astonishing if it had busted out a bit. It wanted to have a bigger canvas. I'm not quite sure why it ended up being stuck in a house. The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi Lord, these people's lives are miserable.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro I enjoyed this. I didn't expect to, but I really did. The Ornithologist's Guide to Life by Ann Hood The author's tragic loss of her daughter feels laced through these stories. I'm not sure if I'm imposing that on them myself or not, but I couldn't help but feel it.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss Interesting. Ben Marcus has an entire collection of short stories called "The Age of Wire and String." I wonder if this book is an "homage?" Except that Ben doesn't appear in the acknowledgment page. Perhaps just a strange symmetry.

Inheritance by Lan Samantha Chang This is a good old-fashioned, page-turning family saga. A little too much time is crammed into the last 50 pages of the book, but that's typical for the genre. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham A marvelous book full of loathsome characters. Some Hope: A Trilogy by Edward St. Aubyn The first of these novellas is so good, so incredible, that I thought I was reading the best book I'd ever read. Then it sort of degenerates into a drug book. You know; love of the heroin needle, blah blah blah. But it's worth reading for the sake of the first novella. The Master by Colm Toibin Toibin is a marvel, but the problem with writing a novel about a great novelist is that someone like James didn't do a whole lot of living. He did a whole lot of not living, if you know what I mean. He observed, but he didn't participate.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld Cute.

May 2005

Lots of good novels these past couple of months. And, wonder of wonders, two works of nonfiction. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson I decided to reread this because I kept insisting to people that I thought it was so much better than Gilead, but then I realized that I couldn't actually recall much of it. I was right.

The Body of Jonah Boyd by David Leavitt This was a fun read. He's a terrific writer and I enjoyed this book tremendously.

Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller Sue Miller is one of my role models. She concentrates on similar themes - family, love, loss. And tries to do so without being either trite or maudlin.

The Provincial Lady in America by E.M. Delafield I read this long ago (in college) and found it delightful then. I reread it because I was lucky enough to be compared to her in the New Yorker. A very flattering comparison.

The New Confessions by William Boyd One of the things I love about Boyd is that he writes about a character's whole life. He doesn't shy away from taking on decades and decades. You can immerse yourself in his novels, knowing you'll get the entire story.

Frangipani by Célestine Hitiura Vaite I enjoyed reading about Tahiti, a place I knew almost nothing about.

Inconsolable: How I threw my Mental Health Out With the Diapers by Marrit Ingman I love a bitter, angry mom. Especially if she's funny.

Josie and Jack by Kelly Braffet Delightfully creepy and weird.

Saturday by Ian McEwan He's such a confidant and masterful writer, even when his stories tumble to a plot-filled close. I kept stopping and reminding myself to watch what he did and try to emulate it.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (picnic, lightning) my God. I read this in high school (of course). And cannot believe I didn't reread it until now. There really is no one like him.

Fraud by David Rakoff I embarrassed myself on a plane by bursting out laughing over and over again. My seat-mates thought I was crazy.

Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates Again, to be in the hands of a such a master is a totally different experience. She's just so confident, so assured.

Pearl by Mary Gordon Well, this left me entirely cold. I'd be interested to know what other Jews thought of it. The portrayal of the Jewish converts to Catholicism was downright bizarre.

The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class Are Undermining the American Dream by Sheryll Cashin After reading this book I felt like I had to sell my house and move to a more integrated neighborhood. Thank God my kids go to an integrated school. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.