Browsing Tag



2020: My year in books

Lament for live events

In January I began a new volunteer gig writing a weekly roundup of literary events in the Bay Area, “Notable San Francisco,” for The Rumpus. It was more research than actual writing, but I happily engaged in this act of literary citizenship with the city where I had been living for only a year. What an ideal way to get better acquainted.

Despite San Francisco’s reputation as a bookish city, every weekend as I researched the column I was astounded at the depth and breadth of literary life in the area—from drag-queen story time at the library to lecture-hall events with marquee names to tiny bookstore author-tour stops, complete with warm white wine in paper cups. I wrote up and attended as many as I could before the pandemic brought a halt to in-person events and the column went on hiatus. One of the more memorable was seeing poet Robert Hass read from his new collection of poems, Summer Snow, as part of the Cal Berkeley lunch poems series. Hass was avuncular, the setting—the wood-paneled, couch-filled Morrison Library—seemed custom made for the occasion, and Rebecca Solnit was in the seat next to mine.

In conversation

Live events may have gone, but we still had books. Early on in the first shutdown I placed an online order to help support a favorite San Francisco bookstore, the food-themed Omnivore Books, which is how I ended up with food matriarch Ruth Reichl’s latest memoir, Save Me the Plums, about her editorship at the now defunct Gourmet magazine. I had just read Anna Weiner’s excellent memoir, Uncanny Valley, about her transition from the east coast publishing industry to the west coast tech industry, and it was one of those serendipitous moments where you read two books that seem to be in unwitting but useful conversation with each other. Reichl captured the end of an era in publishing while Wiener picks up with a logical, if depressing, progression of what happened to a smart Millennial woman in publishing (hint: she falls for the lure of tech only to get disillusioned and, thankfully for us readers, then write about it beautifully).

The pandemic also took me to artist Jenny Odell’s nonfiction manifesto How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. Odell is the same generation as Wiener and lives, like Wiener, in the Bay Area, which may be part of the reason I saw Odell’s book as being in conversation with Wiener’s. Her Uncanny Valley ends on the bleak eve of the 2016 election, and Odell’s picks up with a guide to how breaking free from tech and paying attention to your local natural environment (something we all had a lot more time to do during lockdown) is a radically political act. I immediately downloaded a plant identification app and became very annoying to take a walk with, stopping every five feet to try and identify every blooming weed on the side of the road. I’m still working on the activism side of things, but I can spot a Peruvian pepper tree from a mile away.

Shelf life

Sometime in the spring I also read Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. You don’t need to hear it’s good from me seeing as it won the Pulitzer Prize and all (and the famous PowerPoint chapter really is *chef’s kiss*), but I mention it here solely as evidence that I will get around to reading things eventually. I am sure I’ve had the book since at least 2012 because I remember it being on the bedside table of the house I lived in that year.

In other words, there is hope for all those books I bought to help support bookstores in the pandemic but have no hope in hell of finishing this year. I’m looking at you Elisa Gabbert’s The Unreality of Memory, Miranda Popkey’s Topics of Conversation, Maria Gainza’s Optic Nerve, Sigrid Nunez’s What Are You Going Through, Olivia Laing’s Funny Weather, Catherine Lacey’s Pew, Ashleigh Bryant Phillips’s Sleepovers, Claire-Louise Bennett’s Fish Out of Water, Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, and Ben Fergusson’s An Honest Man. For now, talk amongst yourselves on my shelves.

Year of the series

In my end-of-year blog post for 2019, I declared 2020 the year of the series and my intention to finish reading Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s five-book Cazalet Chronicle, and Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy, among others. 2020 may feel like a lost year, but this was one commitment I pulled off with pleasure.

I had started reading the Neapolitan Novels and Cazalet Chronicle in 2019 and had three books to go in each, which I alternated between as I progressed. You won’t be surprised to hear that I found these books worked well in conversation with one another, offering alternate views of the lives of their subjects—the Cazalet family in southern England and two Italian women, Elena and Lila—over overlapping spans of the twentieth century. I even found a thread between book three of the Neapolitan Novels, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and Wiener’s Uncanny Valley, when Lila transitions from a grim life working in a sausage factory to being an assistant at IBM, the start of what will be her lucrative entrepreneurial career in tech. Turns out women moving into tech for economic reasons isn’t just a twenty-first century Silicon Valley story.

I am not the first person to wax lyrical about the Cazalet Chronicle (see also Gayle Lazda and Sarah Miller on the subject), but allow me to say that when you read these books you will tear your hair out that you ever wasted your time reading a Julian Fellowes novel and wonder why this hasn’t been made into a TV series. Then you will Google and find out it was made into a TV series that aired in 2001 starring none other than—wait for it—Hugh Bonneville (of Julian Fellowes’s Downton Abbey) as one of the lead characters. Then you will tear out what’s left of your hair wondering why the BBC won’t have mercy on us all and make it available on Netflix. Maybe Britain’s Channel 5, who rebooted All Creatures Great and Small to great success in this pandemic year, can have a go at the Cazalets, too.

I’m still about a hundred pages from the end of the last book, Friends and Heroes, of Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy, and so far it’s served as a counterpoint to the experiences of a moneyed English family (the world’s favored import of British culture) in the Cazalet Chronicle. Set during World War II and revolving around the life of a newly British married couple as they live in Bucharest and Athens as part of the husband, Guy’s, work for the British legation (a diplomatic arm lower level than the embassy), the Balkan Trilogy novels paint a picture of life during the war for an educated but unmoneyed class of Brits. Its protagonist, Harriet, is smart and frustrated and relatable and reminds me that what links all three of these series of books is that they excel at telling women’s stories of the twentieth century.

Book tech

No, I’m not going to talk more about Uncanny Valley or the Neapolitan Novels unlikely plot point involving IBM, but rather my three favorite book-related app/site discoveries of the year. First up is The Storygraph, which even in beta is everything I ever hoped for (but long ago gave up on) for Goodreads. I’ve moved all my reading tracking into their mobile app—you can import all your books from Goodreads—and am really enjoying watching the founder and CEO, Nadia Odunayo, develop and grow the site (her engagement with the site’s audience on social media is like a masterclass in product management). Highly recommend.

Next up is libro.fm, a site and companion app for audio books (à la carte and monthly memberships). The beauty is that when you buy books here, you choose your favorite bookstore to benefit from your purchase. It’s a great way to support our lovely local bookstores that are suffering so much during this pandemic.

I downloaded my first book from libro.fm over the summer when I had to take a long car journey, and I’ve since gotten a monthly membership for one book per month. I’ve found I choose things I probably wouldn’t buy in print, so it’s opened up my reading in a bunch of different directions. By far my favorite listen of the year was Kevin Wilson’s hilarious novel about children who catch on fire spontaneously, Nothing to See Here. If children who catch on fire spontaneously (don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt them) doesn’t sound like a rip-roaring read to you, please go and read Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s review of it, which itself is a thing of beauty.

Other books I enjoyed listening to were:

  • Tayari Jones’s lauded An American Marriage, much of which is epistolary, a format that’s well suited to an audio book.
  • Lady Glenconner’s Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown which, yes, I know, falls into that category of Americans lapping up British posh toss, but my god this lady really did have an extraordinary life and her friendship with Princess Margaret is the least of it.
  • Eimear McBride’s Strange Hotel which truth be told I think my brain might be better suited to reading on the page than listening to, but I was happy nonetheless to have finally put a toe into her oeuvre, which also includes A Girl is a Half-formed Thing and The Lesser Bohemians.
  • Chef and restauranteur (Momofuko, etc.) David Chang’s memoir, Eat a Peach, which is currently my companion to the jogging habit I’ve revived in 2020 as way to stave off the pandemic pounds. If I can’t eat the food he describes, listening to it is a nice alternative.

Finally, I heartily recommend buying books online from the launched-in-2020 Bookshop.org. Like libro.fm, you can select which real-life bookshop you want to support with each purchase. While it’s still best to order online direct from your favorite bookshop when you can, Bookshop.org is the next best thing.

Hooray for Hollywood

All year long I’ve been dipping in and out of I Used to be Charming, a collection of mostly previously published articles spanning the career of journalist and novelist Eve Babitz. She is smart and hilarious and excellent at skewering the bold and beautiful of music and movies while also being their best friends. To wit: one article lays out her theory of Jim Morrison as fundamentally a fat kid while at the same time explaining how she bedded him. Many of the pieces are set in Los Angeles, where I lived for my young adulthood, and San Francisco, where I’ve been living of late, and even though there’s not too much overlap in the time period (the most recent of the articles were published in the nineties) it’s been a joy experiencing those cities through her eyes.

Babitz has had a revival in recent years, rightly being recognized as the more fun peer of Joan Didion who somehow never got quite the same acclaim. She suffered a terrible accident in 1997 that left the lower half of her body badly burned, and she now reportedly lives a reclusive life that includes being a MAGA supporter, a piece of information I find hard to square with the whip-smart woman that’s on every page of this collection.

On that note, I’ll look with optimism to 2021 and having a president back in the White House who reads books and brings culture back to political life. May your 2021 be full of both!


2020 Reading Resolutions: year of the series

For a long time, I’ve resisted the idea of reading books that are part of a series. With so many good books out there, it seemed risky to devote too much of my precious reading time to a single author, much less a single series by a single author. I was suffering from the reader’s version of FOMO.

It hasn’t always been this way. As a child I had no problem devoting myself to the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Ramona Quimby; to chronicles of both Narnia and Sweet Valley High. But not until Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy, the first of which came out in 2014, was my impasse with reading a series of books broken for me as an adult. The thing is, there was so much else going on with Cusk’s books—ripping up the conventions of fiction and such—I almost didn’t notice I had become a serial book reader again. It took another author, Elizabeth Jane Howard, to make me fall in love with the multi-volume form again. (Hat tip to Sarah Miller, whose essay about Howard and The Cazalet Chronicle is what got me started on them.)

As I write this, I am lingering in the last pages of the second volume, Marking Time, of Howards’ Cazalet Chronicle, an English family saga that starts on the brink of the Second World War and excels in its depiction of women and children. The third, Confusion, was purchased in a secondhand bookstore in Chicago earlier this year before I had even started on the second—that’s how sure I was I wanted to continue reading these books. My enjoyment of the Cazalet Chronicle has prompted me to plan a year of reading books in series for 2020. This means starting a few new ones as well as returning to some I’ve already begun, often in the middle. Here’s what’s on my list.

First up is returning to Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. I read and loved the first, My Brilliant Friend, which has in common with Howard the strength of its depiction of girls and women in the early-to-mid-twentieth century. The Story of a New Name’s patient wait on my bookshelf is over.

Next I plan to tackle Olivia Manning’s The Balkan Trilogy, which a friend recommended during a random conversation in which I professed my adoration of Alan Bennett, who starred in a 1980’s television adaptation. This led me to pick up Manning’s bewitching The Rain Forest, which I read and loved this year. A foreword from a reissue of The Balkan Trilogy that appeared in Rachel Cusk’s 2019 essay collection, Coventry, pushed the series near the top of my 2020 reading list.

Also featured in Coventry is an essay about D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow and its sequel Women in Love. I’ve read neither, and if I get an itch for expanding my repertoire of classics, I will turn to these.

I will seek mirth from Nina Stibbe’s Reasons to Be Cheerful, the third in a series I started in the middle in 2018 with the sweet, funny Paradise Lodge. Featuring the adventures of teenager-into-young-adult Lizzie Vogel (I’m sensing a theme here in my tastes), it’s nice to have someone to cheer for. Continuing my theme of six degrees of separation from Alan Bennett, Stibbe also wrote a book, Love, Nina, about the time she spent as the nanny for the editor of the London Review of Books, who happened to be Bennett’s close friend, sometimes publisher, and neighbor.

The podcast of Bennett’s 2019 diary reminded me that Scottish used-bookstore-owner Shaun Bythell has a sequel to his curmudgeonly delightful Diary of a Bookseller. The follow-up, Confessions of a Bookseller is something I’ll save up for when I need some comic relief in 2020 (I’m guessing around election time in November).

Sticking with memoir, I also want to read the first in a planned trio by Deborah Levy, Things I Don’t Want to Know: On Writing, which is a response to George Orwell’s Why I Write. The second book of this series, The Cost of Living, was one of my favorite books of 2018. Here’s hoping the third of the series comes to fruition in 2020, although if not, I’m also keen to read her 2019 novel, The Man Who Saw Everything, not least because it’s partially set in Berlin.

Back to fiction, I finally plan to take the plunge with Ben Lerner and his 2019 The Topeka School. In the last month Lerner has been interviewed on most the culture podcasts I enjoy, so I guess the marketing has worked. It’s the third of a series, but a prequel of sorts to the first two, so I don’t feel too bad about starting at the end.

Finally, I’m bad at sticking to plans and there are a few things on my horizon that don’t fall into the category of a book that’s part of a series, including Nell Zink’s 2019 novel, Doxology, Ottessa Moshfegh’s forthcoming novel Death in Her Hands, and Lucy Ellmann’s 2019 Booker Prize nominated Ducks, Newburyport, which at over 1,000 pages may as well be a multi-volume series, albeit written largely as a single sentence.

It’s the time of year for resolutions, but before I go, here’s a quick look back at my favorite books read in 2019 and published in the last decade. Happy new year, and may your 2020 year in reading be filled with new favorites!

Favorite books read in 2019

Favorite books published in the 2010s

Best of the Best-Books-of-2018 lists

Are these the best books of 2018?


Earlier this year I had the idea for Booketlist, an app to help avid readers create and manage a lifetime reading plan—because so many books, so little time. To determine what classics should be included, I’m turning to books like Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major’s The New Lifetime Reading Plan and Michael Dirda’s Reading Classics for Pleasure for inspiration. But when it comes to contemporary literature, the task gets harder. Has enough time passed to know what the classics of the twenty-first century are? How best to keep the app up-to-date each year as more and more books are published?

To examine that question, I took a look at three of the recently published 2018 end-of-year lists from prominent English language (two American, one British) media organizations:

  1. NPR’s Book Concierge for 2018 (319 books)
  2. The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018 (as you might expect, this list encompasses the NYT’s 10 Best Books of 2018)
  3. The Financial Times Books of the Year 2018 (195 books)

Each list is a different beast that I’ll talk about in a separate post dedicated to making sense of these lists. For now, I’ll jump straight to the results of which books show up on all three lists. In alphabetical order by title, grouped by non-fiction and fiction, the nine books that are common between these three best-of lists are:


  1. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup – John Carreyrou
  2. Educated – Tara Westover (This title made this list thanks to a reader nomination on the FT list. The FT is the only list of the three that includes a readers’ best books section.)
  3. How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence – Michael Pollan
  4. Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World – Anand Giridharadas


  1. Asymmetry – Lisa Halliday
  2. Lake Success – Gary Shteyngart
  3. The Female Persuasion – Meg Wolitzer
  4. The Friend – Sigrid Nunez
  5. Washington Black – Esi Edugyan

What does this list of nine books tell us about 2018? Perhaps it’s the wrong question since they would have been written in the years before their publication. But do they contribute to some kind of thematically linked contemporary portrait? In non-fiction, we find a tale of misdeeds in Silicon Valley, a memoir of a woman who grew up with a survivalist father, a re-examination of LSD in an age of increasing legalization of drugs from the man who taught us about the ethics of food, and a critique of the elites’ ability to change the world for good—a nice link straight back to Bad Blood and the misdeeds of Silicon Valley.

In fiction, we find a novel comprised of two novellas, one about an affair between a younger and older person, the other about the detention of an Iraqi-American; a Wall Street bro on a road trip; a novel about feminism and women’s mentoring relationships; another about suicide and womanizing and power imbalance; and finally, one about slavery and adventure. A line from the synopsis of Halliday’s Asymmetry seems a neat summary of the group of all nine books as well, each of which in some way “explores the imbalances that spark and sustain many of our most dramatic human relations: inequities in age, power, talent, wealth, fame, geography, and justice.” While these imbalances are timeless themes, they have particularly contemporary resonance in our age of #metoo, BLM, refugee crises, wealth inequality, political strongmen, and the Kardashians, to name a few.


I started this process by comparing The New York Times’s 100 to NPR’s list of 319 books. I assumed I’d find almost all the NYT books on the NPR list, but there were less than half—45 to be exact—in common. Here’s that list, also in alphabetical order by title, grouped by non-fiction and fiction.


  1. American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey Into the Business of Punishment – Shane Bauer
  2. Arthur Ashe: A Life – Raymond Arsenault
  3. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup – John Carreyrou
  4. Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis – Sam Anderson
  5. Calypso – David Sedaris
  6. Educated – Tara Westover
  7. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress– Steven Pinker
  8. Feel Free – Zadie Smith
  9. God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State – Lawrence Wright
  10. Heavy: An American Memoir – Kiese Laymon
  11. How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence – Michael Pollan
  12. In Pieces – Sally Field
  13. Into the Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro – Rachel Slade
  14. Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret – Craig Brown
  15. Small Fry – Lisa Brennan-Jobs
  16. The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War – Joanne B. Freeman
  17. The Fifth Risk – Michael Lewis
  18. The Library Book – Susan Orlean
  19. There Will Be No Miracles Here – Casey Gerald
  20. These Truths: A History of the United States – Jill Lepore
  21. Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World – Anand Giridharadas

Fiction – Here I noted if the book had been nominated for a National Book Award or the Man Booker Prize, as well as genre where the book is something other than a novel of literary fiction. The inclusion of four Man Booker nominees on the list highlights the omission of the winner, Northern Irish writer Anna Burns’s Milkman, and the folly of publishing best-of lists at the end of November: the novel’s US release date is December 4, 2018, and it was included in the British FT’s best-of list.

  1. An American Marriage – Tayari Jones (National Book Award finalist)
  2. Asymmetry – Lisa Halliday
  3. Crudo – Olivia Laing
  4. Freshwater – Akwaeke Emezi
  5. Lake Success – Gary Shteyngart
  6. My Year of Rest and Relaxation – Ottessa Moshfegh
  7. Only to Sleep: A Philip Marlowe Novel – Lawrence Osborne (thriller)
  8. Sabrina – Nick Drnaso (graphic novel)
  9. Severance – Ling Ma
  10. Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik
  11. The Female Persuasion – Meg Wolitzer
  12. The Friend – Sigrid Nunez (National Book Award winner)
  13. The Great Believers – Rebecca Makkai (National Book Award finalist)
  14. The House of Broken Angels – Luis Alberto Urrea
  15. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden – Denis Johnson
  16. The Mars Room – Rachel Kushner (Man Booker Prize shortlist)
  17. The Overstory – Richard Powers (Man Booker Prize shortlist)
  18. The Perfect Nanny – Leila Slimani
  19. The Sparsholt Affair – Alan Hollinghurst
  20. The Witch Elm – Tana French (thriller)
  21. There There – Tommy Orange (National Book Award finalist)
  22. Warlight – Michael Ondaatje (Man Booker Prize longlist)
  23. Washington Black – Esi Edugyan (Man Booker Prize shortlist)
  24. Your Duck Is My Duck – Deborah Eisenberg (stories)

A final note: I built these lists mostly with Excel and eyeballing titles rather than by dumping the data into a database and systematically querying it, ie there may be mistakes. Please let me know if you notice any.

Books California Christmas Letters

2017: My Year in Books

I’m not sure if I’ll muster the will to write a Christmas letter this year, mostly because my will has been sapped by much of 2017 on both the personal and political fronts. As the saying goes, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it at all.

There is, however, one thing about which I have only nice things to say, and that’s all the lovely books I’ve read this year. Sure, I’ve read far less in 2017 than 2016, a fact I attribute directly to the draining of my attention and energy by the personage currently occupying our White House. But I’m grateful to my bones for the knowledge and enjoyment provided by every single one of those I did manage to get through, so I’ll turn my festive cheer their way.

Let’s keep up the positive vibe with a shout out for Nina Stibbe’s Paradise Lodge. I first read Stibbe’s charming collection of letters, Love, Nina, about her time as nanny to the editor of the London Review of Books, and it turns out she’s a terrific novelist too. Paradise Lodge is the second novel in a series about the Vogel family, but you needn’t have read the first—I didn’t—to enjoy this one. The protagonist, teenager Lizzie Vogel, who works at a decaying but somehow still charming nursing home while trying to finish school, is so deftly drawn that I loved every minute I spent with her. Also, I don’t think it spoils things to say it has a happy ending. I suspect people might need one of those just about now. (I’m not sure why the cheery yellow cover of Paradise Lodge doesn’t appear in the photo above, but I hope it’s because I gave my copy to someone else to enjoy.)

Now that I’ve sweetened you up, I’m going to go ahead and hit you with Claire Vaye Watkins’s Gold Fame Citrus, a post-apocalyptic—by which I mean a totally believable, especially after this year’s fire season, twenty-first century version of the dust bowl—novel about a couple fleeing California with a neglected baby they’ve kidnapped, who ends up an unlikely messiah figure. The writing is stunning and cinematic, and someone better make a film out of it so I can bluster about how the book was better.

Two other novels I enjoyed this year were Rachel Cusk’s Transit, mostly because I’m deeply drawn to her detached protagonist Faye, and Robin Sloan’s Sourdough, which has a much more conventional (read: likable) protagonist in the form of Lois. If you work in tech and like food, I think you’ll like Sloan’s story, which includes gentle send-ups of both those cultures. I also got to see him read at Mrs. Dalloway’s  (more on this special store below) after I read the book, and it was fun to hear him talk about writing it. I like that he’s a developer and a writer.

My favorite novel of the year was Carson McCullers’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I bought this a few years back at a literature festival in England (not sure why it was there since McCullers is long dead), and randomly picked it up to read earlier this year. I subsequently gathered she’s famous in some corners of the literary world, but why McCullers is not as well-known as Harper Lee is beyond me. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is the nihilist version of To Kill a Mockingbird, and it’s brilliant. The novel is populated by an ensemble cast, but the young female character of Mick Kelly slayed me. I once worked with a guy who had named his daughter Scout after Atticus Finch’s daughter in To Kill a Mockingbird. I don’t have kids, which means the highest honor I can bestow a character in a book is to name a pet after him or her. Let’s just say there’s a cat called Mick Kelly in my future and leave it at that.

Now for the non-fiction portion of my reading list, starting with three books of author’s diaries: Alan Bennett’s Keeping On Keeping On, David Sedaris’s Theft By Finding, and Joan Didion’s South and West. I wrote an essay about them here, so I won’t say more except that if you like these authors I also think you’ll like these books. Robert Moor’s On Trails: An Exploration is a terrific book that reminded me I like science and is a great example of how to riff on a theme in non-fiction. This book is so much more than a story about someone who hiked the Appalachian Trail. Finally, Will Schwalbe’s Books for Living is a lovely book for anyone who adores books, with the bonus that each essay is the perfect length for a bath. If you’re still looking for a gift for someone, you could do worse than this book packaged up with a nice bottle of bubble bath.

A few of the books I read this year don’t show up in the pictures in this post because I checked them out from the library. I’ve spent much of 2017 in Berkeley, and one of the benefits has been access to two remarkable libraries—the downtown Deco and Craftsman extravaganza just a block from my office and the mock-Tudor Claremont branch, complete with a gas fireplace and comfortable chairs. Three cheers for libraries and all their card-carrying members.

The other delight of Berkeley is its terrific independent bookstores, including Moe’s Books on Telegraph; Revolution Books, where I made a point of shopping after alt-right bullies decided to intimidate the staff; Pegasus Books, from whom I buy the Weekend FT (mostly for its terrific Books section) each Saturday, plus whatever else they tempt me with, whether a cute greeting card or a little tin of “impeachmints”; Issues on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, quite possibly the most wonderful newsstand left in America; and best of all, the gem of my neighborhood, Mrs. Dalloway’s. This is a beautiful bookstore with a helpful staff and a sparkling roster of author events, and I thank them for making the neighborhood feel, well, like a neighborhood.

For all my trepidation and uncertainty about 2018, one consolation remains: it will come with more great books. Happy reading!

Bought but not read in 2017. Something to look forward to in the year ahead!


Top 10 Books of 2015

Better English language bookstores in Berlin than my California hometown mean I actually read a few real live paper books in 2015

Weekend newspapers and the literary internet have been brimming with best books of 2015 lists, which got me thinking about my favorite reads of the year. I’m not one of those people (who are those people?) who can keep up with the flood of good stuff being written so not all of these were published in 2015, even if that’s the year I got around to reading them.

1. The First Bad Man by Miranda July was my favorite book of the year: fresh, startling, gross, and very very funny. I didn’t think I’d find a more original female protagonist than Tiffany in Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper, then I made the acquaintance of Cheryl, star of The First Bad Man. Goodreads review here.

2. The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink is a lightning-paced whirl of a flawed but addictive novel from a writer championed into prominence by the much-maligned Jonathan Franzen. Just read it. Or, if you must know more, read my longer Goodreads review here.

3. Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys by Viv Albertine is a memoir by the first lady of punk you’ve never heard of. She hung with Sid Vicious and received fashion advice from Vivienne Westwood, but if that’s not enough to get you interested it turns out this is a rather moving tome on living a creative life. I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic right after I read this—which I also enjoyed—and was struck by how much Albertine’s memoir is a gritty, real-life demonstration of the principles Gilbert espouses. Goodreads review here.

4. Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life by Nina Stibbe is admittedly a niche read, but if you happen to be an Anglophile who’s a fan of Alan Bennett and London Review of Books (nevermind that the one time you actually read LRB a piece by Will Self made you want to stab your eyes out with pencils) and generally impressed by some vague concept of north London intellectuals, you won’t be able to resist Nina’s Stibbe’s real-life letters to her sister during her time as a nanny for LRB editor Mary-Kay Wilmers. A Nick Hornby-penned adaptation is coming to BBC One TV screens in 2016.

Books 5., 6., and 7. are The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks, A Place In My Country by Ian Walthew, and The Snow Geese by William Fiennes, which I guess means I have a thing for British male writers waxing lyrical about nature and the concept of home. Rebanks and Walthew also offer local insight into two iconic British landscapes, the Lake District and the Cotswolds, respectively, that most of us only know as visitors. Goodreads reviews here and here.

8. Outline by Rachel Cusk proves I also have a thing for solitary woman protagonists. Evocative of Joan Didion’s best fiction. Goodreads review here.

9. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit is a book of feminist essays described by a Twitter friend as a gateway drug for Solnit. She must have been right because I’m now reading Wanderlust.

10. Redeployment by Phil Klay, the lauded book of short stories by an Iraq war veteran and required reading for Americans. Goodreads review here.

Since it’s a Top 10 list I’ll stop here with a quick mention of two other books I enjoyed: Sarah Hepola’s drinking memoir, Blackout, and a collection of essays by writers without children, Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed, edited by Meghan Daum. Oh and We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, who also happens to have an essay in the previously mentioned collection from Meghan Daum.

Here’s to a 2016 full of good books— may your nightstand runneth over.