November Wrap-Up: My Favorite Reads of the Month
My very favorite books from November!
These are the books I most loved reading during the past month.
The Best of Me, a funny David Sedaris collection with plenty of heart; Beautiful World, Where Are You, Sally Rooney's newest triumph; Isabel Wilkerson's disturbing, fascinating, and important nonfiction work Caste; Five Tuesdays in Winter, Lily King's newest collection of stories; Jessica Anya Blau's 1970s-set story of a young woman figuring out her place in the world, Mary Jane; and Dave Grohl's irresistible music-mania memoir The Storyteller.
I'd love to hear: what are some of your recent favorite reads?
01 The Best of Me by David Sedaris
This collection of previously published Sedaris works is a gold mine of discomforting, edgy, offbeat observations--with more heart than I expected. I loved this audiobook.
I was drawn in by the mix of tones represented here, and by the introspection and vulnerability Sedaris intermingles with the off-kilter, singular, sometimes excruciating moments he draws readers into.
I hadn't read (or listened to) a good number of these selections, and I was repeatedly surprised and delighted with Sedaris's depth...then often cringed at an eccentric, discomforting observation that promptly followed. I enjoyed the roller coaster and was taken with this collection.
Whether Sedaris is reliving specific, offbeat memories and mining them for poignancy and also laughs, or presenting his own distorted versions of morality plays, he does so with dark humor but also, frequently, with heart.
For my full review, check out The Best of Me.
02 Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Rooney's characters engage in extensive self-reflection while struggling to open up emotionally to each other. Their vulnerabilities feel hard-won and powerful.
I wasn't sure if I was ready for another Sally Rooney book after reading Conversations with Friends so recently. But I was taken with Beautiful World, Where Are You.
Although successful young novelist Alice just met Felix, a young man working in a warehouse in the seaside town where she's staying temporarily, she invites Felix to travel to Rome on a book tour with her. Meanwhile, Alice's best friend Eileen is questioning her life path, working at a literary magazine and feeling generally adrift. She's just gone through a breakup and is growing closer to a childhood friend she's always secretly loved.
The best friends and their love interests delve into their complex connections with each of the others, and through an omniscient viewpoint, Beautiful World Where Are You tracks the characters' romantic fits and starts, power shifts, and the roots and growth of their emotional connections.
Click here for my full review of Beautiful World, Where Are You.
03 Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Caste is consistently powerful, profound, disturbing, and absolutely necessary nonfiction reading from the brilliant Isabel Wilkerson.
In Caste, Wilkerson explores the unspoken, entrenched caste system in the United States--a hierarchical system that has dictated the fates of those in our country more powerfully than traditionally considered factors such as race or class.
I read Caste with a group and met every other week to discuss it--and we went months past our original end date because there was so much to consider and reflect upon. I was in danger of using up all my highlighters while endlessly trying to mark small portions of Wilkerson's consistently profound reflections.
Wilkerson is exceptional at laying out absurdities, horrors, disturbing historical events, shocking trends, and problematic tendencies without layering emotion or drama on top of any of it, leaving the reader to bring the appropriate emotion and discomfort to the matters the author presents.
Click here for my full review of Caste.
04 Five Tuesdays in Winter: Stories by Lily King
King builds each story within Five Tuesdays in Winter to be full, rich, and full of pain and poignancy. I loved this collection.
In Lily King's new story collection, she turns her eye for detail and for wonderfully faulted characters on explorations of love, desire, loss, and tragedy.
From a bookseller closed off emotionally from the world who begins to consider letting someone in again to the complicated, tragic reunion of former college roommates; from a mourning elderly man faced with disaster to a writer who has been silenced for too long, King mines uncomfortable or joyful, sometimes tiny moments that shape her characters' lives in profound ways.
With masterful storytelling, King builds a world within each short story that feels immediate, sometimes poignant, and which repeatedly surprised me with the amount of heart involved.
I received a prepublication digital edition of this book courtesy of Grove Atlantic and NetGalley.
For my full review of Five Tuesdays in Winter, click here.
05 Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
In Blau's gleefully 1970s-set novel, Mary Jane doesn't merely shift from emotional innocence to young adulthood, she comes into her own, and it's a joy to watch it all unfold.
In Jessica Anya Blau's novel Mary Jane, we're in 1970s Baltimore (with all of the glorious, immersive details of the era), and straitlaced teen Mary Jane has landed a nanny job in the neighborhood. The Coneses are a "respectable" family, her mother says approvingly, and the father of the family is a psychiatrist.
The doctor has only one current--and secret--patient, a famous rock star with addiction problems. In an unorthodox approach, the musician and his equally famous wife move in with the doctor's family while the star struggles with his issues. Sheltered Mary Jane suddenly has a front-row seat to wild behavior, musical experimentation, group therapy, and all sorts of other eye-opening events.
The details of the ending were fun and so satisfying I delighted in them and didn't mind any implausibility. Blau explores interesting gray areas and provides lots of heart and unexpected elements in Mary Jane.
Because of the music involved in the story, Mary Jane reminded me of the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Rockin' Stories about Bands and Music.
For my full review, check out Mary Jane.
06 The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl
Grohl is funny, self-deprecating, and irresistibly tender-hearted as he recounts his musical influences, the twists and turns of his life, and his enthusiasm for music and musicians.
I listened to Dave Grohl's memoir, in which he tracks his youth in Springfield, Virginia; through his stint in the band Scream; his incredible rise to fame as the drummer for Nirvana; through his grief and various losses; to the incarnation and growth of his band Foo Fighters and beyond.
His funny, self-effacing, thoughtful, sensitive, music-obsessed tone makes for captivating listening, and he recaptures his encounters--many feel to him like lucky flukes--with his musical idols in a way that feels genuine and appealing.
He relates with starry-eyed enthusiasm his brushes with countless musicians he admires and his collaborations with many of them. His excitement is contagious, and his many superlative descriptions of big events, pivotal moments, and people are endearing.
For my full review, check out The Storyteller.