A Year in Reading: Christine Coulson

December 7, 2023 | 4 books mentioned 2 min read

I wrote a short novel because I like short novels. I am also a museum girl, raised at The Metropolitan Museum of Art where I worked for 25 years. I like books to feel like going to an art exhibition, an experience that consumes you in a single visit and then lingers because of the images the author has conjured in your head. These are the books that stuck with me this year, each one a masterpiece, and here given a museum wall label to match.

cover Christine CoulsonMargaret the First: A Novel, 2016
Danielle Dutton (b. 1975)
Wit and historical ambition on paper

A baroque portrait in spirit, but really an abstract rendering of a life that could not be contained on any canvas. As audacious as its subject, Dutton’s writing is quick and daring, so fleet in its prose that you are actually seduced by the text—and the extraordinary 17th-century Englishwoman who inspired it.

cover Christine CoulsonWomen Holding Things, 2022
Maira Kalman (b. 1949)
Humor, wisdom, and digressions on paper

Kalman’s images always speak volumes, but this time the narrative teaches us big, important lessons about what we carry as we go on living. Inspired by old photographs of women literally holding things—baskets, melons, babies—Kalman extends the act of holding to include our stories, our losses, our devotion, and just holding on in an overwhelming world.

cover Christine CoulsonKick the Latch: A Novel, 2022
Kathryn Scanlan (b. 1980)
Mud, grit, and motion on paper

Scanlan drops us into the culture of stable hands and horseracing with a fractured perspective not unlike Impressionist painter Edgar Degas. The subject is almost irrelevant in Scanlan’s hands; you are carried by the sheer force and economy of the writing as it gallops, thunders, and ultimately lays bare a world we never thought we cared about.

cover Christine CoulsonTerrace Story: A Novel, 2023
Hilary Leichter (b. 1985)
Gentle heartbreak on paper

Leichter simply erases the line between what we know and what we can only imagine. In this modern fable, space itself has the presence of an Alexander Calder mobile—mutable and constantly shifting. Leichter slowly reveals to us what we quietly feel, a growing discomfort that our own fortitude, tenderness, and longing may not be quite enough.

coverPortrait as Othello: Poems, 2023
Jason Allen-Paissant (b. 1980)
Pure magic on paper

Allen-Paissant is a painter as much as a poet. His fluency with language—both its sound and meaning—recalls Picasso’s mastery of gesture and form. Like Picasso, Allen-Paissant explains nothing while telling us everything he wants us to know. The effect is breathtaking.

coverSisters: A Novel, 2017
Lily Tuck (b. 1938)
Clarity, tension, and a twist on paper

A tight, sharp family portrait rendered with the blunt lines of a Sharpie. The sisters are not sisters, but the current and former wife of the same man. The blank space on the pages is almost as important as the text itself as we feel time pass within those empty areas—in its wake, the propulsive sentences almost stir a breeze.

More from A Year in Reading 2023

A Year in Reading Archives: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005   

is the author of One Woman Show (2023), a novel written almost entirely in museum wall labels. Her debut novel, Metropolitan Stories, was a national bestseller.