If you’ve ever wanted dirt on me, here’s the place to find it because I’m about to air some seriously dirty laundry — of the literary variety.

If you are a reader, you have felt the crushing feeling of “how haven’t I read that yet?” In Pamela Paul’s book,¬†My Life with Bob, which is essentially a love letter to reading and books, she articulates the idea behind “How Haven’t You Read That Yet?”:

This is every reader’s catch-22: the more you read, the more you realize you haven’t read; the more you yearn to read more, the more you understand that you have, in fact, read nothing. There is no way to finish, and perhaps that shouldn’t be the goal.

(Can I just mention how I am absolutely in love with¬†My Life with Bob? I find myself nodding enthusiastically and “mhmmm’ing” nearly every passage. It is the ultimate book for bibliophiles.)

Lately, I’ve been wondering less about unread books than I have about unread authors. Despite studying English in college and reading 30ish books each year, there are some authors that I just have not read yet. I wanted to list the big ones – the ones I see as the biggest blind spots in the literary life – and I came up with four. There are many more, but these feel the biggest, and most “How Haven’t I Read That Yet?” worthy.

George Saunders

I think a big reason why I haven’t read George Saunders yet is that I used to not love short stories. I just never, ever read short story collections thus I never encountered Mr. Saunders. However, my tastes have changed in the past year or so, and I’ve read 3 short story collections in that time. When¬†Lincoln in the Bardo¬†came out earlier this year, I knew I wanted to read it. Not only did it get wonderful reviews, but the synopsis pulled me in immediately. I received a copy of¬†Lincoln in the Bardo¬†in April (thanks, Mom!) so I’m hoping to remove George Saunders from my “How Haven’t You Read That Yet?” list very, very soon.

Zadie Smith

This one hurts because so many of my absolute favorite authors read, love, and recommend Zadie Smith on a regular basis. She is a beacon in the literary community that I subscribe to so it feels wrong to have not read her yet. I own a copy of¬†White Teeth¬†and tried to read it once, and only got through a couple of pages. It just wasn’t the right time for me to read it, which happens even with the best of books. I know without a doubt that I will eventually get to Smith’s books and I will love them. I’ve read her work on The New Yorker and I adore it — but I still consider having not read her because I’ve never read any of her books. I’m going to try to change that this year by either reading On Beauty,¬†Swing Time, or¬†White Teeth. We shall see which one (or three) make it on my Read list.

Dave Eggers

I first heard of Dave Eggers in college when my creative non-fiction professor recommended¬†Zeitoun.¬†From then on, I started hearing his name everywhere. And, if you hadn’t before, you will now that his novel,¬†The Circle, is being made into a movie. Eggers is one of those authors that I’ve meaning to read for years but I never remember to buy his books or take them out from the library. In the summer after my college graduation, when I was thick in an existential crisis, I began hoarding books – especially eBooks. I was constantly searching the daily deals for eBooks and trying to find something worth downloading. One day I saw¬†A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius¬†on sale for $2.99 and I snapped it up…but did not read it. My obsession with eBooks was short lived so the book is still sitting on my dead Kindle. One day I’ll fire it up and acquaint myself with Dave Eggers. After all, it’s been a long time in a making.

Ann Patchett

This one feels especially embarrassing because Ann Patchett is such a prolific and respected writer. I confess, I started and stopped reading Bel Canto a few years ago.¬†It was not because it wasn’t well-written – I was actually enjoying it quite a bit – but I was also juggling quite a few other books at the time and it fell by the wayside. It doesn’t feel right to count her as “read” when I haven’t finished any of her works. As far as some of other works,¬†Truth and Beauty¬†was another recommendation by the same professor and it’s been on my To-Read list ever since, and I spent the past year reading rave reviews of¬†Commonwealth (which I recently bought at a wonderful bookshop). Don’t judge me. I promise to fix my Ann Patchett problem in 2017.

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What is your biggest and most embarrassing “How Haven’t You Read That Yet?”¬†Have you read (or all) of these authors? If so, who?¬†

Photo by Flickr User Germ√°n Poo-Caama√Īo¬†licensed under¬†Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).


IWD2017: 5 Books About Women by Women

Happy International Women’s Day!¬†

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I try to celebrate women every single day but it’s nice to have a specific day where the focus is on us.¬†Today I’m going to make a conscious choice to consume art by women and amplify the voices of the marginalized even more so than usual. I want to use my platform (however small it may be) to laud some of my favorite books by women and about women.

RoxaneGayDifficult Women by Roxane Gay

This¬†book of short stories truly gutted me; everything that Roxane Gay tends to have that affect. I’m not a huge lover of short stories but Gay is . Like any great intersectional feminist,¬†Difficult Women is not just about gender – it’s about race, class, family dynamics, friendship, death, sexuality, etc. There is very little that Gay shies away from including rape, abuse, and trauma¬†(one story in particular,¬†‚ÄúLa Negra Blanca,” was extremely difficult to read). Many of these stories also focus on the often fraught relationships between women and men, as well as the deep bonds of female friendships. There is something to be said about difficult women loving each other even when it seems no one else will. Though, after reading this collection, it would be hard to not find the beauty in the broken bits.

AnnFesslerThe Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler

This was one of the best books I read last year. It was a truly remarkable, heartbreaking, and agonizing attempt to elevate voices that were shut out of the historical narrative. Whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice,¬†The Girls Who Went Away¬†will leave you wondering who was hurt the most in the years before Roe v. Wade was passed – and what may happen if it is overturned one day. Fessler gathered stories from women of all cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, and their stories truly haunted me for weeks.¬†Their silence was broken and we are lucky enough to hear their stories. I cannot recommend this book enough – today and everyday.

imagesUnrequited: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Romantic Obsession¬†by Lisa A. Phillips*

*Disclaimer: Lisa is a former professor of mine. Despite adoring her personally, that doesn’t have any bearing on my opinion of this book.

Mixing elements of memoir, journalism, history, literature and psychology, the book explores the often misunderstood yet universal experience of unrequited love. It is with a caring, compassionate hand that Phillips gives shape and explains all of the elements of what often feels like an unexplainable phenomenon. Exploring both high-brow and low-brow examples of unrequited love gives the book an authenticity and broad appeal Рevery woman has experienced this at one time or another. While exploring the sometimes dangerous ways unrequited feelings can manifest, the book also allows for hope Рthe hope that sometimes you find yourself when you stop chasing after somebody else. Unrequited is of universal relevance and importance but I know women, especially, would benefit from reading this book.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret AtwoodMargaretAtwood

Aside from the Harry Potter series, Margaret Atwood’s¬†The Handmaid’s Tale is the book that I have reread the most in my life. Despite being written in 1985, the dystopian, speculative fiction¬†is still relevant today. Set in a future where the¬†most important (and in some cases sole) purpose of women is to reproduce. It’s a horrifying tale of what happens¬†when we base a woman’s¬†worth on biology rather than humanity. The book explores gender dynamics, politics, economics, and religion while maintaining a plot that is both devastating and empowering (there is a moment involving butter that has stuck with me for years). More than almost any other book I’ve read this novel feels like a call to action. It¬†almost goes without saying that at the very least this is a cautionary tale – cautioning us to fight for the full autonomy of women. It is a canary in the coal mine.

Bonus: read it before Hulu releases their television series this April.

RebeccaSklootThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Another shout out to Lisa Phillips as she was the one who assigned¬†The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in our feature writing class. I may not have read it if not for her, and boy would I have missed out. This book is both fascinating and infuriating.¬†Skloot weaves memoir, anecdotes, entries from Henrietta Lack’s journal, and medical history to reveal the story of HeLa, the immortal cell line that came from Lack’s cervical cancer cells in the early 1950s. This book explores Lacks’ personal life, ethics in science, and the medical exploitation of African Americans. Even though I don’t typically read books about medicine, this book is always one of my go-to recommendations.¬†The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks¬†is the definition of giving voice to the voiceless, and we are so lucky to have heard the Lacks’ family story.

And that’s all folks! I could have listen dozens of more books but I think five¬†will do for now. Do your part today and celebrate the women in your life! Or maybe just read a book (or article) by a woman about women. Reading is fundamental to empathy and I think we can use more of that in the world – regardless of the day.

Have you read any of the above books? If so, which is your favorite? Are you reading any women authors today? Who and what?

Sunday Shorts: Father’s Day

Father’s day can be a complicated day for people so sometimes it’s easier to leave the personal and find solace in books. Below I compiled a few books that either touch upon the idea of fathers and fatherhood, or delves deep into the father-daughter / father-son relationship. Sometimes words are easier than relationships and here are a few that seem¬†to get it right, flaws and all.

The Night of the Gun.jpgThe Night of the Gun by David Carr

David Carr meant a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, he was a recovered drug addict and cancer survivor. For others, he was the well-known, well-respected New York Times columnist. For still others, he transcended all of this. Carr was intelligent, blunt, skeptical, and honest. His memoir, published in 2008, is an excavation of past transgressions, the memories lost of drugs and alcohol, and the blooming of his unstoppable love for his daughters.¬†The Night of the Gun is tough to read at points (Carr shamefully admits to hitting his fair share of women) and he is not excused from his mistakes (which were often taken out onto others). However, it is an honest, frank portrayal of flawed fatherhood. Sometimes you don’t want syrupy tributes, you want the truth.

Fun Home.jpgFun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Allison Bechdel

Allison Bechdel’s graphic memoir outlines the tenuous, distant relationship with her father. For her entire life, her father – the town funeral director and high-school English teacher – had also been a closeted homosexual. Shortly after Bechdel discovered this, her father died and left her with so many unanswered questions about the man who had always been an enigma. The book, which is littered with literary allusions, explores gender roles, sexual orientation, and the way our parents inform our lives even as they remain mysteries to us.¬†Fun Home¬†is smart and upsetting and deeply personal. There’s an unflinching honesty that makes me want to look away, but asks that I don’t. So I don’t.

All the LightAll The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I have a feeling not many people would classify Doerr’s Pultizer Prize-winning novel as a novel about fathers because it’s not. It’s a book about war and hate and fear and love and hopelessness and justice and healing and fathers. It’s about all of those things. Fathers who create worlds for their children; fathers who are absent; fathers who are dead; fathers who disappear; fathers who return; men who become fathers in times of war. Simultaneously set in Germany and Nazi-occupied France, the novel shows us¬†all the ways fathers can illuminate our lives but especially in times of darkness.

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What would you recommend for father’s day themed books? What’s your favorite father’s-centric book? Have you read any of the above?