Home, Marilynne Robinson: I loved Gilead, and it is a pleasure and feels like a gift to spend time with this prose. Reading Robinson, for me, takes a lot of focus, and I find myself rereading lines often, but the reward for this pace is a calmness lifting up off the pages, and a careful generous dipping into a deep and beautiful well. She is the opposite and maybe even an antidote to fast-paced technology.
Big Machine, Victor LaValle: A wonderfully interesting and resonant read. Two scenes in this book in particular are still so vivid to me that I could probably tell you about them in detail without glancing at the pages; they are etched on the brain.
About a Mountain, John D’Agata: The momentum he builds, by the end! The layering, the surprises, the way he does not use the double space break… somehow this book feels like he’s thinking/dreaming up facts on the spot; they are that available to the prose, that effortlessly flowing along.
Dearest Creature, Amy Gerstler: There’s an amazing poem about a dog’s view on shit that is full of dignity and depth. But I kept rereading the first poem– it took awhile to move past it, I found it so moving.
The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway: I’d never read this one before– still am thinking about what a simple, deep story he tells. The story has the classic mythic feel of a long-lasting fable or tale, in how it’s hard to imagine it didn’t exist before– like he plucked it off a tree, or dug it from the ground. But it’s also a complicated study of regret and disappointment and aging, so even though the plot movement is direct and unfussy, there’s real nuance in what lingers with a reader.
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Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist (there are passages in this book that I love as much as anything Baker has ever written–which is saying something)
Grégoire Bouillier, The Mystery Guest (I reread this book seemingly monthly, attempting–futilely–to figure out how he managed this brief, perfect magic trick.)
Joe Brainard, I Remember (I’m very late to the party on this book, but it’s an extraordinary assemblage of seemingly unconnected–in fact, profoundly interconnected–sentences)
Albert Camus, The Fall (see The Mystery Guest)
Robert Clark, The Angel of Doubt (an as yet unpublished manuscript; a gorgeously written, deeply felt, and relentlessly smart sequence of intereconnected essays about religion, art, and sex, not necessarily in that order)
Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave (see The Mystery Guest)
John D’Agata, About a Mountain (a beautiful embodiment of what is to me a
central principle of great nonfiction: it’s not remotely about what it purports to be about)
Amy Fusselman, The Pharmacist’s Mate (see The Mystery Guest)
Simon Gray, The Smoking Diaries (4 volumes of diaries; read together, they dwarf his plays and are commensurate, I swear to god, with Proust)
Spalding Gray, Morning, Noon, and Night (see The Mystery Guest)
David Kirby, The House on Boulevard Street (very late to the party on Kirby, too; I love his work; “poetry as well-written as prose,” as good ole Ez said)
Phillip Lopate, Notes on Sontag (I disagree with Lopate’s assessment–in my view, too generous–but I love the book)
Sarah Manguso, The Two Kinds of Decay (one of the least sentimental and most deeply emotional books I’ve ever read)
Alphonse Daudet, In the Land of Pain (see above)
Maggie Nelson, Bluets (utterly brilliant)
Marguerite Duras, Hiroshima Mon Amour (the screenplay; the best book she ever wrote)
Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (where it all started and ended)