of the week: on my bookshelf

Years ago, for a time, I worked in book publishing. I got the job because I’d edited and published a mildly-successful literary journal, was relatively well-read, and had a way of marketing my non-traditional experience to make my fit into the large house, to which I was applying, a seamless fit. It was 2006, and many in the industry were reticent to approach social, or even understood the seismic shift in how consumers wanted to connect with content. The definition of influence was securing a Times book review, and much of my work was misunderstood or marginalized. But I’d started to notice people on the subway reading books on mechanical devices; I saw how meaningful conversations between passionate readers online not only sparked interest for a book, but cultivated a community we’d only known in book clubs. Towards the end of my tenure, the tide had shifted and publishers sought out my counsel on how to place books in a reader’s virtual lap, but by then I’d changed. As someone who was part of a committee that decided which books to acquire, I was exposed to the more unseemly bits of the business. Books were bought not because of the beauty of the work, but for the means the author had in promoting it. Words like platform and newsletter subscribers were bandied about, and all this time my friends, brilliant writers, struggled to get their manuscripts sold. Tension mounted to the point where the idea of reading a book for pleasure made me violently ill.

Revered since my childhood, books had morphed into a grotesque creature, a changeling, and I abandoned my shelves for months. It would take me two years to wash off the sludge, two years until I could take pleasure in holding a book in my hand.

I say this because for the past three years I haven’t read as much as I wanted to and it was killing me. After twelve hours in the office, if it was a choice between sleep and thumbing through a hardcover, sleep was always the victor. And my poor beloveds gathered dust on the shelves and I frequently skirted conversations with my writerly friends because I was so far removed from the gems that made their way online and in-store.

Until now. Once an ardent devotee of American literary fiction, I’ve noticed that my affection for genre has changed. From reading Going Clear to Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In to the scores of cookbooks and food memoirs clamoring for coveted space on my bookshelves, my book collection has evolved in step with the woman I’m becoming, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

So this week’s will focus on books. Books I’m taking with me to Europe come April. Books I love. Your book recommendations… so, spill it!


Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life | Caitlin Moran’s How to be Woman | Sam Lipsyte’s The Fun Parts: Stories | Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove | Manuel Gonzales’ The Miniature Wife: Stories | George Bellows | Banana Yoshimoto’s The Lake | Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go

12 thoughts on “ of the week: on my bookshelf

  1. I am working throught the five bookshelves I’ve got at home and the 130ish books on my to read goodreads shelf! It is…to read like it’s work is odd to me. Though, In my travels, I am finding that I might have listened to me and sent out library loan requests for certain items sooner! Currently, I’m reading Unless It Moves the Human Heart by Roger Rosenblatt and The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane. I have read and donated ten more of the books that I own, though I will probably search for used copies of the ones I am reading. There are lots of things in them, that have meaning to me.

    I cannot yet locate an electronic source from which I can read. I can’t see the text. I can’t tell where I am on the page, so I don’t know when I try to move down a page in the same way that I’d read a book, where I am.


  2. I found “without reservations: the travels of an independent woman” by alice steinbach in a bookstore in montreal. I started reading it on the plane back to seattle. Excellent writing by a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist. “Traveling with pomegranates” by sue monk kidd and ann kidd taylor, its one of my go to books when life gets too complicated


  3. I feel silly recommending something to you (you are undoubtedly way more well-read than me), but I really like Tenth of December. I’m not normally a short story kind of person and I haven’t been reading all that much lately, but that’s a recent fav read 🙂


  4. Felicia, don’t laugh at me, but I’m reading I,Rhoda by Valerie Harper. She was a major style icon to me as a child (much cooler than Mary) and since she was diagnosed with cancer, I found that I wanted to know more about her. At least I’m reading, right???


  5. Thank you, all, for your amazing recommendations!! Don’t ever feel silly to share them as good books are discovered by any excited reader, anywhere. I’m thrilled to get the recos. 🙂 Warmly, f.

    And Barbara — I LOVED Valerie Harper.


  6. Two books that I read last year that still haunt my memory, move me deeply, changed me, are two memoirs: “Why be happy when you can be normal?” by Jeanette Winterson The title comes from what her messed up mother said to her when Jeanette finally came out of the closet. Courageous, haunting, darkly funny–this memoir is tremendous in the way she opens a vein and spills it all over the pages and the humor–oh! It’s a tremendous act of honesty and dry wit. And her reflections on how books and discovering the library saved her from her dead-end childhood were inspiring and made me love books even more than I already do. And “Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life” based on the diaries and letters of twentysomething Etty who, in the 1940s, was living on her own for the first time, striving to discover herself ,and then was sent to an internment camp where the Germans sent Jews before they were sent to a concentration camp. Following her diary from light musings about sex, writing, being a young woman, etc. to gradually grappling with the reality of the Holocaust and her own death (and describing the lives of those around her) is harrowing, moving, astounding. I was reading over Christmas and had to put it down until January–it was intense but revelatory–as if Anne Frank was a 20-something young writer.


  7. I am currently reading Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette wore to the Revolution, and while not a lose-yourself-in-it book, it is very well researched and enjoyable to read.


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