A Year in Reading: Hannah Pittard

December 15, 2014 | 4 books mentioned 3 2 min read

coverThis spring, in Chicago, Powell’s Book Store closed its Lincoln Avenue location. For local book lovers, it was sad news. But it was also (admittedly selfishly) somewhat happy news in that all prices were slashed by 50 precent. I was in the market to shake up my reading list. I wanted to encounter authors with whom I was entirely unfamiliar — not necessarily new to the world, but new to me. So when I found a small collection of NYRB Classics, I bought the entire shelf. There are too many good books from that pile to mention in this short space — though I can’t resist a swift shout-out to Stephen Benatar’s beautiful portrait of delirium, Wish Her Safe at Home – but the real show-stealer was Elizabeth Taylor’s A Game of Hide and Seek. It is a somersault through time and space. Taylor brings to vivid life more than a dozen characters — though the story truly belongs to Harriet and Vesey, would-be childhood sweethearts — then swiftly breaks the hearts of them all.

coverAnother book I am compelled to mention — not from the NYRB collection — is one that came out just this year, Howard Norman’s Next Life Might Be Kinder, which I picked up on the recommendation of a good friend. This novel is quiet and loud, funny and sad. It’s a story that both fetishizes grief and convicts it. I fell in love with Norman and I fell in love with his narrator, Sam, who was dubbed — in one New York Times review — as “churlish, impatient, uncharitable and rude.” I found this description both annoying (in its dismissal) and apt: One of my favorite sections of John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist is his account of the storyteller’s several qualities. (Sam, like his creator Howard Norman, is a storyteller.) Gardner says storytellers are prone to, among other things, “obstinacy and a tendency towards churlishness (a refusal to believe what all sensible people know is true)…,” which is Next Life’s very premise. It’s not me who’s reading Gardner currently; it’s my husband. But when he showed me the passage, I delighted in the exquisite rightness of the word — churlish. The reviewer hadn’t intended it as a compliment, but on Sam’s behalf, I’ve since taken it as one. Like Taylor, Norman is a temporal acrobat.

More from A Year in Reading 2014

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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is the author of three novels, Reunion, The Fates Will Find Their Way, and the forthcoming Listen to Me (2016). She is winner of the 2006 Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award, a MacDowell Colony Fellow, and a consulting editor for Narrative Magazine. She divides her time between Chicago and Lexington, Kentucky, where she lives with her husband, W. Andrew Ewell. Follow her on Twitter @hannahpittard.


  1. Great to see a shout out for both Elizabeth Taylor and NYRB. I haven’t read this title yet, but I did read Angel and loved it. I’ve read about 40 titles from NYRB, and almost all have been fantastic. Really some of the best books I’ve ever read.

  2. I made a special list of NYRB books to read this coming year. The Alteration and The Go-Between are both excellent.

  3. Glad to see someone heralding Norman, who never gets nearly enough attention, though I think the premise of the novel is less how grief can turn a man churlish or obstinate, and more the degree to which he wants the courtship within the marriage to persist.

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