We readers like to brag that we don’t need friends; books keep us company, and besides, they’re better than people. But the truth is, reading is a solitary activity, and without the proper outlets, it’s easy to get lonely.
Author and bookstore owner Ann Patchett likes to say that “no matter how much we love a book, the experience of reading it isn’t complete until we can give it to someone who will love it as much as we do.” Speaking as a woman who recommends books constantly but receives little reward (you try convincing someone to read Annie Dillard), I agree with Ann: a book is most enjoyable when I can share it with another person.
So, over the next few days I’m going to discuss the year’s best reads. I’ve limited myself to first-time encounters and tried to keep my synopses brief; a longer post will feature my thoughts on the top seven, but for now, enjoy the runners-up.
And please (please!) message me if you read any of these, especially if you live nearby. I’m a lonely post-grad who would love to talk.
Caucasia by Danzy Senna — Both a coming-of-age story and a haunting portrayal of what it’s like to pass as white in 1970s America, Caucasia is one of the best books I’ve read this year — or ever. Fiction. 413 pp.
Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok — Rich with themes of religion and politics, this Jewish Bildungsroman doesn’t cohere until the last seventy pages, but once it does, it’s exquisite. Fiction. 371 pp.
Domestic Work by Natasha Trethewey — Best read in conjunction with Senna’s Caucasia, this collection made Trethewey the first poet I’ve loved since Lucille Clifton. Poetry. 70 pp.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi — Beginning with two half-sisters and spanning three centuries and two continents, this debut novel by Ghanaian-American Yaa Gyasi will open your eyes to stories that beg to be told. Fiction. 305 pp.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews — YA novels and cancer stories are two things I avoid, but this one was pitched to me so frequently and well that I gave it a shot. Witty, endearing, and achingly honest, it reads like a better Fault in Our Stars. Fiction. 295 pp.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky — Another exception to my YA rule, Chbosky’s novel gutted me in the best of ways. Reading it is like listening to Joe Pera talk: you won’t know whether to laugh or to cry, but you’ll feel strangely at peace with both. Fiction. 213 pp.
Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett — It will break your heart and redden your eyes, but Ann’s story about her friendship with poet Lucy Grealy is worth every second of your time. (And when you’ve finished, be sure to read the rest of Lucy’s story in her memoir Autobiography of a Face.) Nonfiction. 272 pp.
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri — She’s the kind of author you encounter once and walk away enchanted, desperate to read all that she’s written. The only word I can think to describe her is “exquisite,” and that’s stayed the same through every book that I’ve read. Short fiction. 352 pp.
You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein — Similar to Fey’s Bossypants in humor but with sharper insights and cleaner style, Klein’s memoir managed to make me think even as I laughed (often until I cried). 10/10 would recommend and 10/10 will read again. Nonfiction. 291 pp.