So Much to Read
"A man ought to read just as inclination leads him, for what he reads as a task will do him little good."—Samuel Johnson

What I've been reading: Sigrid Nunez, Monica Potts, Monica Heisey, and more

To browse this book of my new and old favorites, hover over the edge of the page and click to turn the pages.

I've always loved a page turner
I've always loved a page-turner

23 June 2024
Challenger: A True Story of Heroism and Disaster on the Edge of Space
Adam Higginbotham

One of the pleasures of aging is that you can read about a time period now studied as part of history that you also experienced firsthand and remember well. Higginbotham's book about the ill-fated space shuttle mission of 1986 is both meticulously researched and narratively compelling. The shuttle held a crew of remarkable people, like Ron McNair, who...more

18 July 2022
Rethinking Sex: A Provocation
Christine Emba

It's the age old question: is it limiting to be required to conform to the dominant culture, or is it limiting to be expected to be different? Should women be free to not have to live by men's rules or should they be free to do what men do? It seems evident that strict policing of female sexual behavior is bad, and also that sexual liberation in the form of hookup culture is bad for women in a different way. Today, it seems...more

18 July 2022
Tell Me Everything: The Story of a Private Investigation
Erika Krouse

Krouse's story collection, Come Up and See Me Sometime, was a critical success (that I enjoyed) in 2001, but we all know that means little in the way of remuneration for an author. After it's published she's still working temp jobs to cover the bills and give herself time to write. A chance encounter with a lawyer in a bookstore, during which, to his surprise, he impulsively confesses to her his personal feelings...more

11 January 2021
We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence
Becky Cooper

Jane Britton, a graduate student in archaeology at Harvard, was murdered in her apartment in January of 1969. The unsolved case became the subject of rumors in the department, focusing especially on one mysteriously sinister professor with whom Jane had been on a dig in Iran. Decades after Jane's death, a writer and recent Harvard Graduate named Becky Cooper becomes obsessed... more

12 December 2020
The Orchard
David Hopen

If you put Lord of the Flies, the Talmud, A Separate Peace, and Then Again, Maybe I Won't in a blender and set it to frappé, then poured the whole thing into a glass labeled The Secret History, you would have this book. A boy who grew up in an insular Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn moves to Florida for his senior year and falls in with the popular, partying crowd at his fancy new yeshiva high school...more

30 December 2019
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Yuval Noah Harari

The best book I read in 2019. It begins before we do, with our prehuman ancestors, and takes us all the way to the present. Humans are astonishingly clever but a threat to our planet, to the other creatures on it, and most of all to ourselves. When we're not destroying the wondrous Australian megafauna we're coming up with the agricultural revolution, a wrong turn that brought us the marvels of the modern world...more

24 October 2018
A Terrible Country
Keith Gessen

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Andrew Kaplan, who was born in Moscow but moved with his family to Boston as a child in 1980, returns to Moscow to stay with his aging grandmother in her Stalin-granted apartment. He makes a little money teaching an online course while he searches for a teaching position, attempts to stave off his grandmother's decline, regains his Russian, and tries to figure out the new Russian economy and navigate a city vastly...more

4 April 2017
Next Year for Sure
Zoey Leigh Peterson

Chris and Kathryn have been together nine years and by their own reckoning are by far the happiest couple they know. But Chris has a history of overlapping serial monogamy, and when he meets Emily he wants to be with her too. Kathryn encourages him to ask her out. Their friends and families disapprove, and Kathryn has many doubts of her own, but her dissatisfaction with her work, among other things, might be dislodged by some exploration on her part...more

15 April 2015
Asali Solomon

Eight-year-old Kenya Curtis is the only black kid in her class who celebrates Kwanzaa. Her mother supports the family as a librarian while her father works on his manifesto of black liberation and runs a consciousness-raising group. Like most kids, Kenya is doing her best to make sense of her world and her parents. When she has to leave her urban Philadelphia neighborhood for a private, mostly white, girls' school, she's got...more

3 October 2013
The Unknowns
Gabriel Roth

It isn't often that I wish a book were less well-edited, but that might be the case with this slim novel. Each scene flows smoothly to the next, connecting the present with the backstory of the past, like a tightly written piece of code. It's billed as the story of a high-school programming whiz trying to crack the "girl problem," but it's really about a young man with misgivings about his life...more

21 October 2011
The Chairs Are Where the People Go: How to Live, Work, and Play in the City
Misha Glouberman with Sheila Heti

Glouberman is a gently opinionated performing arts teacher from Toronto who dictated his musings—in fully-formed paragraphs, we're told—to his friend Sheila as she typed. He focuses on his passions, namely: teaching classes on how to play charades and his campaign to get the bar next door to stop playing its music so loud. He has a lot...more

19 May 2005
Seven Blessings
Ruchama King

What a little gem this novel is! It constantly caught me off guard with its sly observations, unpredictable plot twists, and simultaneously irreverent and holy (that is, quintessentially Israeli) worldview. Jerusalem's matchmakers have their work cut out for them, between an Orthodox American woman in her late thirties, never married and a bit of a loner; an American man, newly Orthodox...more

6 July 2013
The Best Man and others
Kristan Higgins

I've tried several contemporary romance writers, and no one comes close to Kristan Higgins. I've read five of her books so far (I'm pacing myself so I can savor the ten she currently has out) and they all have the same basic plot: a thirtyish woman with modest professional success but romantic failure returns to her pretty little Northeast home town to live near her family. There's a hunky...more

30 May 2010
After the Workshop
John McNally

Our hero, Jack Sheahan, is basically Jim Anchower with an MFA. In the twelve years since he graduated from the famed Iowa Writer's Workshop, he hasn't added a word to his once-promising novel, and he hasn't had a date since his fiancée left him. He works as a media escort—a chauffeur, gofer, and hand-holder for visiting writers—a job that barely covers his bar tab and requires him to dodge...more

21 June 2018
Lionel Shriver

This collection of stories and the novellas bookending them is contemporary literary fiction with a dash of O. Henry. Set mainly in the US and UK, and featuring an early-middle-aged, solitary, usually female, somewhat prickly protagonist, each centers on the issue of property (housing, possessions, or money) and how the attachment to it or the symbolism of it can get in the way of relationships. The center story, "Kigali Creek,"...more

1 December 2010
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Barbara Demick

North Korea, the last holdout of hard-line communism, is so foreign to the Western way of life that it seems to be not only from another time but from another planet. Demick's remarkable book shows us what life is like for six ordinary North Koreans. We meet a communist stalwart, a young woman who never bought the party line, and a pair of teen...more

14 October 2014
The Dud Avocado
Elaine Dundy

I can't believe I had never even heard of, much less read, this book until I stumbled across it on Amazon last month. It was well received on publication in 1958 and apparently has been revived several times, yet I missed it until now. Don't let that happen to you! Sally Jay Gorce is a young college graduate living in Paris on the generosity of her wealthy uncle. She's a self-described ''spectator...more

5 August 2008
Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—and the Journey of a Generation
Sheila Weller

If the thought of knowing which Joni Mitchell songs were written about Jackson Browne makes you salivate, then this is your book. Big and juicy, it's crammed full of trivia and anecdotes about the New York and California folk/rock scene in the 1960s and 70s. Weller's slightly clunky writing style took a little...more

1 August 2016
The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life
Anu Partanen

I was expecting a travelogue like The Almost Nearly Perfect People, but this is not so much a book about the Nordic countries as it is a book about America. Finnish journalist Partanen moves to the US and is overwhelmed by the complicated meanness of modern American life. Enormous amounts of time and energy are spent finding (and paying for) decent education for children..more

30 December 2008
Youngblood Hawke
Herman Wouk

A big book about a big man with big ideas. Like his contemporary Marjorie Morningstar, Hawke is pursuing the artistic life and seeking security. Unlike Marjorie, Hawke is a man, and marrying into money isn't his only option, although he does consider it. All he wants is to pursue his punishing nocturnal writing schedule and churn out big novels with gripping plots and fascinating characters that people love...more

3 November 2009
Still Life With Husband
Lauren Fox

Not that there's anything wrong with "chick lit"—why should books that interest women be dismissed? And since when are love, work, and friends subjects only of interest to women? But I know it when I see it. This book has a breezy tone, a hot pink spine, and a narrator, Emily, with a best girlfriend and the sort of sweetly shy yet sexy love interest that shows up in every romantic comedy but has never been found actually...more

23 September 2012
Norman Rush

This novel about an anthropologist pursuing a development guru across the Kalahari desert is like nothing else I've ever read. Rush's heroine is a steel coil, strong yet jittery, and the object of her crush is her mental and physical match, a man of remarkable accomplishments who talks of life's goal being to reduce the amount of time required to decently maintain oneself so that you can have...more

3 November 1999
The Dangerous Husband
Jane Shapiro

The narrator's romance begins like any other, floating on the blissful high of discovering a soulmate. Then reality hits: her beloved's endearing clumsiness turns worrisome. He makes a mess of the kitchen. Furniture collapses in his wake. The pets are afraid of him. She soon finds herself lusting after any man who can drink a glass of wine without spilling it. Then, attempting a good-morning kiss...more

24 September 2008
The Size of the World
Joan Silber

The six narrators in this book take turns telling their overlapping stories, which span the twentieth century, several wars, and three continents. Mostly Americans, they've all left their homes: An American expatriate living the life of a boss-man in Thailand returns to San Francisco; an American woman leaves her husband and runs away to Mexico; an Italian bride immigrates to New Jersey. This bookl...more

3 February 2005
Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africa's Fragile Edge
William Powers

As an aid worker in Liberia with Catholic Relief Services, Powers comes to see his mission ("Fight poverty and dependency while saving the rainforest") as less of a job description than a riddle. His sharp eye and ear make Africa come alive for the reader: the people of a war-ravaged country making lives from almost nothing, the lurking temptation of corruption...more

18 December 2015
The Awful Mess
Sandra Hutchison

This novel is like a Kristan Higgins romance set in the real world. You've got the spunky, newly single heroine moving to a small New England town, her cute fixer-upper house, the handsome town cop eager to marry her, and the sexy older guy eager to get her into bed. But the heroine is a sarcastic atheist, the cop lives with his father, the older guy is not only married but an Episcopal priest, and someone might have died...more


25 June 2015
Re Jane
Patricia Park

Jane Re's post-college job offer disappeared when the dot-com bubble burst, so now she's back working in her uncle's grocery store in Flushing. Out of desperation she answers an ad for a nanny in Brooklyn, and becomes involved with a pair of academics (sharply satirized without being stereotyped) and their Chinese-born daughter. Getting to know a family so different from her own...more


"There was so much to read, for one thing, and so much fine health to be pulled down out of the young breathgiving air...I was rather literary in college—one year I wrote a series of very solemn and obvious editorials for the Yale News—and now I was going to bring back all such things into my life and become again that most limited of all specialists, the 'well-rounded man.' This isn't just an epigram—life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all."—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby