Mid-winter makes it perfect time to update my current “must-reads” list.
As noted in prior reading lists (links at bottom), 2012 occasioned release of some fabulous fiction, including several I haven’t gotten to yet. I’ve discovered some other great books released prior to 2012, as well as a few winter-spring 2013 releases I’m really curious to read. Rounding the list are 3 books by writers I love, 3 works of nonfiction, and the “challenge list” that serves to seed the reading challenge I’ll publish in March: reading books you’ve always meant to read.
I’d love to hear your own reading recommendations, recent favorite reads or link to your own reading list in the comments. Happy reading!
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- Anuradha Roy, An Atlas of Impossible Longing (2011). This debut novel set in Bengal is being heralded internationally as a great new voice. the author, longlisted for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize, has also released The Folded Earth (2012).
- Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time (2004). The name alone sold me on this book — one I had often picked up and set down before finally taking it home last month. Update: I’ve read lots of haters on this book, but hands down, it knocked me off my feet with its humor, intellect and heart. I quickly added it to a top-recommended read list for upper MG and YA (lower, if not for the f-bombs).
- Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies (2012). See my prior post 2012 Year of the Book: Bring up the Bodies went on my winter list after it won the 2012 Man Booker Prize, making Mantel the only woman to have won it twice. Update: I finally got a copy of this and am reading it in June. Will update further as I finish reading but, in the meantime, it’s worth sharing advice I’ve heard from others: Since all of Mantel’s work is highly recommended and since she writes historical fiction, you would be safe to decide which of her books to read based on which topic most interests you.
- Helen Oyeyemi, Mr. Fox (2011).
2013 Releases I am Curious About:
- Eleanor Morse, White Dog Fell from the Sky (Jan. 2013). Compared to Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone.
- Karen Russell, Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Feb. 2013). I so want this collection of stories by the author of the 2011 award-winning novel Swamplandia and 2007 collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Vampires lost out in my most recent book run only to Mrs. Dalloway, as I have the March reading challenge to gear up for. Update: Russell’s stories are rich with intelligence and off-kilter with subjects as odd as teen girls enslaved and transformed into silk-spinners. So far, I’m partial to the title story. A little icked by the silkworm story. But genuinely impressed by her writing. Worth reading one of her titles.
- Ned Beauman, The Teleportation Accident (Feb. 2013). This LA crime noir/scifi novel made the longlist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize.
- Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed (May 2013). With its May release date, this is on my Winter list merely as reminder to look forward to it for the Summer List, considering the insight of Hosseini’s prior novels: The Kite Runner (2004) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2008). Update: I plan to get a copy of this new release and hopefully watch Hosseini read at Books & Books in Miami 6/19. He is on tour, so you might check if he is reading at a bookstore near you. Or, read this New York Times interview with Hosseini.
Writers Who Inspire Me:
This lists morphs over the years, along with growth of my writing and interests — but there has always been a mental short-list of writers whose work really inspires me. In addition to the 3 authors below, there is Tea Obreht, who has no book for me to add to the list as she has only published The Tiger’s Wife.
If one thing were in common among these writers, it is each of their lack of fear of being intelligent in their writing (think that through: they don’t fear when the writing begs complexity or a long sentence, don’t rush it into something more commercial), fueled by a familiar ease with folklore or magic.
- Alice McDermott, Child of My Heart (2003). Child of My Heart was McDermott’s first novel after her National Book Award winning Charming Billy – and my love of her writing in CB was impetus for seeking out Child. Update: I may post separately about the experience of reading this, as it became a favorite read for 2013, although I fought it the first 25 pages.
- Nathan Englander, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (2000). Nathan Englander is on the short list of authors I’d like to workshop with, which says a lot. His 2008 novel Ministry of Special Cases made my favorite reads of 2011, as intelligent, poetic and haunting. His 2012 collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank , made my reading list last year. Update: tsk. Despite my love for Englander, Unbearable Urges lost out on recent buying trip when I realized it was a story collection. LOVE his stories, but Ishiguro’s novel won out.
- Colum McCann, Fishing the Sloe-Black River: Stories (1996). I love listening to interviews of McCann for his soft Dublin vowels and his ease with poetic intelligence. He also tops my list of writers I’d love to workshop with, and this collection is one of his books I’ve not yet read. McCann is best known for his award-winning, best-selling Let the Great World Spin.
- Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero (2008). While Ondaatje was best known for his Booker Prize-winning The English Patient (loved), my favorite was his novel In the Skin of a Lion (1997). I’ve not read his more recent work, and Divisadero came recommended by a friend. (I’ve also heard good things about his 2011 The Cat’s Table.)
Follow links to either list in the title above to read more about these highly recommended or award-nominated books.
- David Abrams, Fobbit (Sept. 2012).
- Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Mar. 2012)
- Matthew Dicks, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (Aug. 2012).
- Sarah Winman, When God Was a Rabbit (Apr. 2012).
- Margot Livesey, The Flight of Gemma Hardy (2012). I’m trying not to cheat and look this up, but I can’t help finding inspiration from Jane Eyre in this one. Livesey is an intriguing writer and this is in my current stack. Update: I thoroughly enjoyed this book – you could feel Livesey’s childhood thrill of Jane Eyre in richly reimagined scenes — although I couldn’t help feeling the love more flat than sultry. Top marks for all but that.
Three More 2012 Releases That Call to Me on Every Book Run:
- Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus (2012). I resist the circus theme, but can’t hold out much longer — I’ve heard such great buzz about this book.
- Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home (2012). You had me at the title.
- Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins (2012). You had me at the cover.
Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction:
These are titles I’m reading with my sons, my 5th or middle grade students, or (admit it!) just because I love YA & MG fiction:
- Rebecca Stead, Liar & Spy. I wish I could take credit for discovering this one. I do follow Rebecca on Twitter and had her 2009 novel When You Reach Me on my to-read list, but this book came as a Christmas gift to my son from Mimi & Papa. Update: Quiet in its own way, Liar & Spy is funny, mysterious and so intelligently written. Rebecca earns my Gold Star for Writers Who Get Kids. It’s one I quickly recommend to my kids.
- Katherine Erskine, Mockingbird (2011). A National Book Award winner. Update: ever empty a package then keep shaking for more to come out? I wanted to like this book, but eh. Pros: for the same reasons I liked Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time(above), I liked the POV of an Asperger’s narrator. But. I’m around kids all day (the age of the narrator) and the plot arc felt too issue-y and forced. Perhaps the author’s note at the end rammed it a little too far. It still is a 3-4 star book, but not on my top-recommended.
- Theodore Taylor, The Cay (1987). Set in Curacao during World War II, this is a novel I’m reading aloud with my 5th graders. I inherited this one from prior curriculum, not yet sold on it. Update: I am NOT a fan of this book. The best thing to come from it was the opportunity to teach kids that “setting” can be expressed myriad ways: within the opening pages, there are 2 sentences that each hold 6 separate means of expressing setting — which is great, as kids so often think it is only made up of literal time (date, hour) and place (actual location).
- Charles Baxter, Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction (2008). Baxter wasn’t my workshop leader when I went to Bread Loaf Writers Conference, yet I came away from that intense week more impacted by the advice in Baxter’s afternoon lectures than the whole week of my workshop. This collection of writing on craft just arrived in the mail. I also recommend his Bringing the Devil to his Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life (2001).
- Shane Connaughton, A Border Diary (1996). I’m fascinated by the culture of borders within related but disputed lands, which was motivation for the hometown of my main character in Wake. This memoir is an odd first-person source in that it recounts a small village along the Antrim-Fermanagh border at the time of the 1994 ceasefire – but during the border country’s use in filming The Run of the Country, as recorded by the hometown Irishman who authored the story.
- David A. Sousa & Carol Ann Tomlinson, Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom (2010). If the first 2 were for development of my craft in fiction, this goes to craft in teaching. This book applies decades of brain research (into how brains learn, and how individual students learn differently) to concrete methods for differentiating in the classroom to reach and activate all learners. Love this book.
Writers I’ve Been Meaning to Read:
This part of the Winter List will receive special attention and an update in March, as I’ve stumbled across a vintage literacy challenge to take on reading of a book “you’ve always meant to read.”
I’m curious about the kinds of books we forever postpone on our “to read” lists — and what keeps us from tackling them.
- Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2006). I was a huge fan or Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day but haven’t gotten myself to read anything he’s written since. Update: ooh, since I misplaced my Mrs. Dalloway, can this count as my March Challenge book? I read this in 2 days, over spring break. For all of part 1 I argued with his narrative style — talk about unnecessary clauses and modifiers that added nothing! The plot twist in part 2 lights a fire, and I did read nonstop to the finish. Not my favorite, but thought-provoking.
- Haruki Murakami, IQ84 (2011). Like Ulysses, I keep hearing this is a book that a writer should challenge themselves to read. I see that brick-of-a-book and can only think of the 3 or 4 books it has to be good enough to take the time of.
- Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton (Sept. 2012) or one of his earlier works.
- Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925). I’ve read other works by Woolf (I’m a fan of To the Lighthouse) and have read and viewed so many adaptations, but don’t know that I’ve ever read the original of Mrs. Dalloway. Update: Don’t laugh. I swear I can’t find my copy of Mrs. D. Honest – I did not hide it. Looking, looking…
Hmm… What other books have I never gotten around to reading? And which are on your list?
If you have a minute, please click this link to a survey where you can leave your insights or the kinds of authors or titles you never get around to reading.
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What Are You Reading?
I’d love to hear your own reading suggestions in the comments. Let us know the favorite books you’ve read this year or ones on your must-reads list. If this inspires you to blog your own list, share link to your post so we can come read with you.
Where do the book links take you?
For convenience, you can click book titles for their link at Amazon — or find them at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:
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- Last Week’s Friday Links for Writers 02.22.13
- All you need to plan for summer: 2013 Writers Conferences & Workshops
- From last month’s January Challenge: January Challenge Week 4: And Then Plans Changed
- Love books? A “vintage” post from my series, Living With Books: Living With Books 04: Books & Fashion
My Reading Lists from 2012:
- 2012: Year of the Book
- Next on My Reading List: Fall 2012
- Reading Lists: Nobel in Literature, National Book Award & Man Booker Finalist
- What I’m Reading: Summer Reading List 2012
Happy reading, all!