the avalanche of books (this month’s recommended reads)


Over the past two years I’ve managed to whittle down my life to that which is essential. I have what I need and nothing more. I no longer care about investing in exceedingly overpriced designer clothing, rather I buy sensible clothes for work, home and working out. It took some time, and frequent trips to other countries, particularly Southeast Asia, to make me aware of my excessive materialism. Now, my home is relatively sparse with the exception of books.

I have a problem with books. I like them. A LOT. So much so that I bring home books I’ve found on the street. Every week I’m greeted by a cardboard box from Amazon. When friends move, I stand aside patiently waiting for the moment when I’m allowed trespass to their leftover book collection. At my height, I stored over 3,000 books in my apartment–now I think I have 1,000. No matter how hard I try to refine my collection, there’s always a new book, always something to learn, always a need to discover what I don’t know.

Don’t you dare talk to me about e-readers or books that don’t have paper (Pft!). You are likely speaking a language I do not understand. I spend most of my days in front of a computer screen. I equate computers with work or getting things done, and no, no, I don’t want to relegate books to that lot. Books are pleasure. Books must be accompanied by popcorn and feet tucked under blankets. Books are better than work.

But truth be told, I’m getting a little anxious when I see the towers looming, and I’ve decided to do a mini clean-out this weekend of books I haven’t read in over a year. Pray for my strength amidst all the hardcovers.

This month’s lot is an exciting one, a combination of street finds, recommendations from friends, and books I’ve discovered through my Twitter feed. Right now I’m thick in Marilynne Robinson’s prequel to Gilead, Lila, and it’s nothing short of remarkable. I only dream that my writing will one day have Robinson’s quiet strength, that steadfast precision.

Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me might be the first true crime book I’ve owned and I’m SO EXCITED to read it. My hairstylist, Sarah, and I always talk about books; we’re always trading recommendations. Sarah’s one of the few who agree with my belief that Zadie Smith is a far better essayist than novelist (I did order NW, as that’s the only Smith novel I haven’t read), so there’s trust there. Last week I was telling her about my novel, how I’ve become fixated with the dual nature of sociopaths, and she immediately recommended Rule’s book. Rule spent two years working with Ted Bundy at a suicide crisis hotline, and she would correspond with him until his execution for having murdered 40 women. I’d no idea that Bundy, a man who was described by Rule as “sensitive,” counseled people into not taking their own life (the irony!). This striking dichotomy of self got me excited so I ordered the book immediately. I’m actually making myself move through Lila so I can get to this.

The Rule book promises to be a swift read, so I’ll tackle NW next. The same day I got the Rule recommendation, I scanned Twitter to discover that Sheila Heti (!!!) and Heidi Julavits collaborated on an edited collection of essays, Women in Clothes. Candidly, I was trepidatious, especially after having read Worn Stories, short essays that stood beautifully on their own but grew tiresome in a collection that could have used a heavier editorial hand (as well as a narrative arc). However, I have much admiration for Heti (an extraordinary writer) and Julavits (author + Believer editor), so I’m excited to dive in.

Finally, I found two books on the street and immediately I scooped them up: Sherman Alexi’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (so hilarious, witty and well-written) and Teresa Carpenter’s New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009. Part of me wishes I could keep a diary (I guess this blog is one of sorts, albeit edited for television), so I was intrigued by this exhaustively-researched tome filled with diary entries from Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, and other literary heavyweights on being in, or traveling through, New York.

Suffice it to say, I’ve got a BUSY month ahead of me. What are you reading?

14 thoughts on “the avalanche of books (this month’s recommended reads)

  1. I so agree with you about “real” books, I absolutely love the feel of a book & couldn’t bear to read online or on a Kindle, ugh!

    I love acquiring books too, I take some to the charity (secondhand) book store quite regularly but always end up buying some to bring home. We have recently moved & much of our furniture is in storage, I have finally set up a bookcase full of books though & it makes me so happy 🙂


    1. Simone! The first thing I did last year when I moved into my new apartment last year was set up my bookcase. I had boxes all around me but I felt OKAY once my books were catalogued and shelved.

      I plan on taking NY Diaries with me when I go to Thailand next month. Can’t wait!


  2. I’m in a bit of a reading rut at the moment, so I’ll have to give Rule’s book a try. It sounds right up my alley.

    Best reads of 2014 so far have included Andy Weir’s The Martian and Terry Hayes’ I Am Pilgrim. I also love Stephen King’s 11/22/63; even if you’re not normally into his books, 11/22/63 is richly layered, has nothing to do with horror, and has the most incredible plot.


    1. HAHAHA. I actually love HORROR. Although King hated the adaption of The Shining, I’ve watched the movie easily more than 1000 times. Thanks for the King reco. Another reader mentioned it as well and I definitely will check it out.


  3. 1000 books!!! So dreamy! Whenever I walk into a bookstore or library, my brain always gets these weird tingles/tickles, and I get this weird giddy, elated, dizzy thing. I’ve always thought it must be a huge surge of dopamine or something. I’m sure your house would give me those tingles!

    I’m reading Dreams and Shadows right now. I’m not usually a fantasty/sci-fi person, but I’ve heard a lot about this book (as well as a lot about Neil Gaiman and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians), so I wanted to give it a try. And so far, I am loving it!

    I go so back-and-forth on the Kindle thing. I have one, and I do feel like the ease of ordering books and samples has made me read a lot more. But on the other hand, I do love physical books, and I like to support local independent bookstores.


    1. Funny, I had lunch today with a bookish friend (he works in book publishing and reads as much as I do), and he was talking to me about reading on a Kindle. He’s about my age and he can’t read physical books anymore and he loves the idea of sampling a book before he commits to buying it. I absolutely GET the convenience of readers, but in a world so digital I need something tactile, you know?


  4. Oh i have heard about Women in Clothes recently and now that you’ve mentioned again in your post, i’m certainly going to get it too. Really curious about this collection of conversations.


  5. I was hesitant to switch to an e-reader, but after spending a month in Paris last year and reading over 40 books (yes, I did other things while I was there as well!) I am a convert. Saved my back, and excess baggage charges!

    I’m currently reading Lena Dunham’s book and enjoying it a lot. Next I’m going back to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, which I read almost every year. It’s the story of Camelot, told from the points of view of the women in the story.


  6. I buy hard copy of books but I often get eBook versions, too, when I want to study a book to analyze the craft or study a book for research. My iPad allows me to highlight sections and make notations that might disfigure or deface my hard copies in ways I wouldn’t like. With fiction (especially short fiction) I use different colors to highlight present story, backstory, flashback, and interior thought. It gives me useful visual of a story’s structure and I can play with the highlights, changing colors, adding notes as I see fit which is something hard to do with hard copy. Although when it comes to hard copy, I do keep individual composition books with written notes on books I’m reading and loving.


  7. Oh! I used to read a lot of true crime, mostly Ann Rule because her books were much more serious and less “slasher/tabloid.” The Stranger Beside Me is the only one I still have because I found it so fascinating. You’re in for a good read! Also to the e-reader. I bought one a few years ago for traveling purposes because I read pretty fast and never have the space to to lug multiple books in my travel bag. I still read real paper books 90% of the time, but I can say I’ve gotten more used to the Kindle than I ever imagined and lately have been “renting” books from the library on it when I can’t get out of the house. Too bad it doesn’t have the paper book smell.


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