I recently rediscovered this gem of a novel by the great Nora Ephron who wrote this soon after the dissolution of her marriage to Carl Bernstein because of his serial cheating. Rachel is a young mother pregnant with her second child who leaves her husband Mark, a prolific Washington journalist, when she discovers he is in love with another woman. Because Rachel is a food writer, she shares favorite recipes and uses food for comfort just as Ephron uses her insightful wit throughout her story. It is a great read for anyone who's had a bad breakup -- who hasn't? -- and it ends with supposedly the perfect vinaigrette recipe.
This is one of the most engaging, intelligent and thoughtful film books I have read but that really shouldn't be a surprise coming from Quentin Tarantino. Cinema Speculation is not merely a film criticism book but a collection of essays on what Tarantino argues are some of the best and most important films of the New Hollywood era. His writings are rich with facts and he includes criticism from the period to bounce some of his arguments off of but what really makes his book stand out are the personal stories he shares throughout making this part-memoir too. This book is like sitting down with Tarantino himself and getting his rundown as to why these particular movies matter and the power of the cinematic experience. I cannot recommend this book enough!
I did not know who Jennette McCurdy was nor was I familiar with her child acting career when I picked up her memoir I'm Glad My Mom Died. This is so much more than a celebrity tell-all -- McCurdy is a really gifted writer and I was struck by how skilled she was at packing a punch in the simplest of sentences. While my childhood and relationship with my mother was nothing like McCurdy's, I found that I related emotionally to her throughout because the themes she is touching on are so universal (I think it's worth noting that she doesn't hold back when writing about her eating disorder and alcohol dependency -- in no way does she glamorize it but it could be triggering). It's also such a revealing account of the child acting system in Hollywood that it's no surprise so many child actors grow up to be dysfunctional and destructive and it makes me so relieved that my own mom allowed me to just enjoy being a theater geek in school.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a modern romance of-sorts about Sadie and Sam who formed a friendship over their love of video games as children then fortunately reconnect at college to form their own company and become pioneers of video games from the mid-90s to the early 00s. Zevin is a gamer herself and the text is rich with this knowledge - I am very inexpert when it comes to gaming but I was totally pulled in by Zevin's descriptions of the games they created and the efforts it took to make them. This is a great decades-long spanning novel of a world and characters that you won't want to leave.
Motherthing is a darkly comedic and horrific novel about Abby who is stuck living in her mother-in-law's house with her ghost and the troubling effects this is having on her husband and their future. This is a twisted feminist tale that is both hysterically funny and poignant as it touches on mothers and daughters and the haunting effects these relationships can have on women. If you love the idea of a meet-cute reference to the John Travolta-Nicolas Cage '90s classic Face/Off then this book is for you!
Often considered the best English language novel written (especially in England), George Eliot's Middlemarch is a perfect encapsulation of small town life and the characters that inhabit it (as its subtitle "A Study of Provincial Life" speaks to). Do not let its almost eight hundred page length keep you from picking up Eliot's masterpiece - by its conclusion, all thirty main characters will feel like old neighbors and its incisive, psychologically perceptive narrator your wisest and dearest friend
The old adage for good writing is to show and not tell, and in that regard, The Age of Innocence is an absolute masterpiece. Wharton's characters almost never speak of their emotions yet on every page you feel the ache of their longing and the heartbreak of their decisions. Despite this controlled writing throughout, the final chapter is such a gut shot that you may need to be sitting down to read it. (Also, I strongly suggest Martin Scorsese's underrecognized film adaptation starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and featuring Joanne Woodward reading Wharton's prose as the narrator.)
I can't think of a better way to recommend Emily Brontë's Gothic masterpiece than quoting Kate Bush's great song "Wuthering Heights" where she sings as its character Cathy: "Out on the wily, windy moors/We'd roll and fall in green/You had a temper like my jealousy/Too hot, too greedy/How could you leave me/When I needed to possess you?/ I hated you, I loved you too. Bad dreams in the night/They told me I was going to lose the fight/Leave behind my wuthering, wuthering, Wuthering Heights." (Definitely add this song to your playlist if you have just discovered Bush because of Stranger Things.)
I cannot recommend more highly this Gothic masterpiece, considered the greatest of the genre by many.
If you have read Jane Eyre and were left wanting to know more about Bertha then you must read Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea. However, Rhys' novel is so much more than a prequel to Brontë's Gothic classic. Rhys (a Dominican-British author) sets the first part of her story in Jamaica after Britain has abolished slavery allowing her to weave postcolonialism and slavery into her feminist take on how Antoinette became Bertha. Rhys' story will cause you to totally rethink the actions of Bertha in Brontë's and make you see Rochester (and his relationship with Jane Eyre) in a completely different light. I hope that Wide Sargasso Sea is just an introduction to Rhys' work and encourage you to read more of her work like her four Paris novels.
Kazuo Ishiguro is the master of the slow burn and Never Let Me Go may have the most shocking revelation of any of his novels - it is so well crafted that you almost cannot tell exactly when he first revealed it. You will live so completely in Ishiguro's characters' world and voice that you, just as they, will fully accept the reality before you.
Quickly working its way up through the literary canon and into conversations about not just the great American novels but the greatest is John Williams' Stoner. William Stoner is a quiet and unassuming professor but his prosaic ups-and-downs, minor regrets and Quixotic battles with his dean are all rendered in a way that feels both universal and deeply American. Considered a perfect novel by some, in its couple hundred pages, you will feel like you have lived a full but unfulfilled lifetime.
Everyone's Awake is the perfect anti-bedtime book to add to your family's bedtime reading. In this Wes Anderson-esque lighthouse-mansion on its own island, the young narrator is restless due to his large family's nighttime shenanigans - personal faves include "My brother's staged a coup d'etat and overthrown the state while my sister's joined the resistance (they never got on great)" and "The cat is giving poke tattoos while prank calling the cops." Meloy, of the band The Decemberists, has written musical text that builds in action and absurdity and it is one of those books (like a great Pixar movie) that is just as fun for the parents as it is for the kids.
This Maurice Sendak classic is one of my other favorite bedtime books to end an evening of family reading on.
Bathe the Cat is another one of those perfectly silly children's books that my kids love to read then re-read while laughing throughout. Grandma is on her way to visit and there is lots to get done with chores designated to each family member using magnetic letters on the fridge. These chores include bathing the cat who slyly evades the bath by scrambling up the letters sending the family rushing around doing zany, mixed-up tasks. The illustrations are fantastic and my kiddos enjoy adding sound effects while "helping" the cat scramble up the letters on the corresponding pages.
This Story is Not About a Kitten is a really sweet tale about a stray kitten discovered hiding under a car in a neighborhood. Using the nursery rhyme "The House That Jack Built," it is first spotted by a leashed dog followed by its owners then other neighbors start to enter the story offering something that helps in rescuing the kitten. At the story's end, the kitten not only finds a home but has also brought the neighborhood together. This has been a welcome edition to my family's bedtime reading plus Carson Ellis' illustrations are wonderful.
Jasper Rabbit's Creepy Tales: Creepy Carrots! Creepy Pair of Underwear! and Creepy Crayon! are like silly Twilight Zone tales for kiddos. All three star Jasper Rabbit, a young kiddo who is haunted by creepy carrots in the first, picks up a pair of glowing neon green underwear in the second and discovers a too-helpful purple crayon in the most recent story. These books are such a huge hit in my household that my son keeps asking me to find him his own "creepy pair of underwear."