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.