#30: The Imposter’s Daughter by Laurie Sandell
I loved reading Sandell’s wonderfully honest memoir. I’m not normally the graphic novel type, but when I saw Sandell on Stacked Up, I knew I had to check it out. There’s something so fascinating about the vulnerability Sandell illustrates here. No topic is too delicate: she starts by examining the lies her father told her, but focuses on her personal relationships, her often unhealthy work/life balance, and her battle with addiction. The book was too large to carry with me, but it made for an insightful bedtime story. (Side note: if anyone has any graphic novel recommendations — memoirs in particular — throw them my way.)
#31: The Color Master by Aimee Bender
The first few stories of this collection are amazing. “On a Sunday Afternoon” is haunting in its simplicity. And “The Doctor and the Rabbi” is beautiful. I mean, look:
Not that he believed in such things, but he wondered if giving her atheist blood might in fact turn her into an atheist, and he felt guilty at the thought but also pleased — like she could come over to his house and they could browse his bookshelves, shoulder to shoulder, and read Sarte together, or a dash of Camus, and then stand on chairs in old-fashioned hats and drop apples from great heights to the floor.
But when all is said and done, there were more misses than hits in this collection. If you’re looking for a great immersion into Bender’s world, read The Girl in the Flammable Skirt. It’s fantastic.
#32: Last Call in the City of Bridges by Salvatore Pane
This is the first time I’ve reviewed a book by someone I know. Guys, Sal wrote a book! And sure, he wrote a book before I met him, but it’s still a very exciting experience. Sal’s writing is fantastically authentic — his protagonist is someone I could see myself having a beer with, and possibly slapping in the process after listening to some misogynist comment he uttered. I’m excited to see what Sal writes next.
#33: Drama High by Michael Sokolove
I have a theory that no matter how much high school sucked for us creatives, we each had at least one teacher that inspired us to keep doing what we’re doing. For me, it was Ms. Yu. She introduced me to the concept of feminism before I knew what to label it. She showed me that great literature could be subversive.
For many high schoolers, that teacher was Lou Volpe. Sure, Sokolove does make some dramaturgical missteps — Frank Wedekind’s Spring’s Awakening isn’t the obscure text Sokolove makes it out to be. (Most theatre majors still study the text.) But Sokolove’s account of Volpe’s final year of teaching at Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania, and the years leading up to it is insightful and inspiring. A must-read for everyone who hated those teenage years.
#34: Man Repeller by Leandra Medine
A different take on materialism and memoir, Medine’s Man Repeller dedicates each chapter to a piece of clothing she owned, chronicling the item’s sentimental and monetary worth. I’m a woman of few possessions — I give away and abandon items every time I move to a new city, so I often wonder what happened to the clothing I see myself wearing in old photographs. Medine has no such memory lapse. She can tell you exactly where she was when she bought each piece and what momentous occasion she celebrated with each piece. Despite the book’s focus on material goods, I was surprised by how humble and grounded Medine’s voice was.
#35: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
Drop everything. This is the book you need to read. Nate’s voice was so real, I had to keep flipping back to the author photo to remind myself that it was written by a woman. Ordinarily, I’d stab myself in the leg for making a gendered statement like that, but I challenge you to read one chapter of Nathaniel P. and see what I mean. Waldman writes beautifully flawed characters and Nate is the most flawed of all. But I couldn’t help but be charmed by him.
#36: The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
It was such a treat to read two fantastic books back to back. The Disenchantments was one of those can’t-put-it-down books. It was such a joy to watch these teenagers fall in love with music, form their post-high school identities, and take incredibly beautiful risks. This novel is an incredibly earnest account of what happens when we leave home for the first time. Do yourself a favor and read this one.
#26: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.
Levithan, you’ve done it again. I was skeptical about how the action of a record-breaking kiss would drive this novel. I mean, two of the protagonists are lip-locked the entire novel — upwards of 32 hours — and we don’t have an ear on their inner monologue. But incorporating a chorus of gay men lost to AIDS as narrator and panning between three or four teenaged protagonists dealing with varying levels of prejudice, Levithan tells a compelling and truly beautiful story about falling in and out of love.
#27: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick.
I met Matthew Quick at the Library of Congress National Book Festival half-way through reading this book. His signing line was surprisingly short, so Quick was really taking the time to talk to everyone who put a book in front of him. I told him I was a writer myself and that I really related to something that he’d said in his talk earlier that afternoon — he’d mentioned that he’s a voice-oriented writer. He follows where those characters in his head tell him to go.
The trust that Quick puts in his characters really pays off here. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is really fantastic. The entire book takes place over the course of a day and every little bit of this troubled teenager’s thought process is incorporated into the storytelling. I feel like anything I could say about the novel would be giving something away, so all I can say is this: trust me. You need to read this book.
#28: In Praise of Messy Lives by Katie Roiphe.
This book came to me as a recommendation from my friend Gus. He’d read it on a flight from San Francisco to DC (we’re both transplants from California) and said that Roiphe reminded him of me. Like I did, Gus latched onto Roiphe’s commentary on how society views unconventional parenting and the pity so often associated with families of circumstances and women who choose to raise their children without a father.
Others may point out her essay on Mad Men, or one where she talks about how authors write about sex, but the essay that had the most resonance for me was one where she reflects on a joke her then-husband made about what she wrote under “occupation” on her travel visa. “Housewife.” It’s a really great read.
#29: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.
Rowell may be my new favorite YA author. Eleanor and Park is one of the best books I’ve read all year — her writing is observant and her characters’ voices always feel just right. While Fangirl is a much lighter novel, I actually really enjoyed it. Not life-changing, but nuanced. And it’s a pretty quick read. I’d recommend it if you’re looking for something pseudo-light to read.
After looking at my long backlog of book reviews (I mean, I read Suite Scarlett in July for goodness sake), I found that I’m not going to make it to 52 books this year. Of course I’ll keep reading and of course I’ll continue to offer my two cents on the books I’ve read, but this time around I don’t want to rush myself to get to my year-end goal. I want to enjoy every moment of it, not feel like I’m on a deadline. So without further ado…
#21: Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson.
While this wasn’t life-changing YA literature, Suite Scarlett was more engaging and interesting than its gendered cover would leave you to believe. Of course, it required me to suspend my disbelief — who puts their child in charge of a hotel room? But the theatre practitioner in me was excited to see a non-Broadway show at the center of this New York-based book. Antics ensue when a parking garage-set production of Hamlet is shut down, so that’s reason enough to enjoy this light read.
#22: Wide Awake by David Levithan.
While I still think that Every Day is Levithan’s best book, this was an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. It takes place in a not-so-distant election year and centers around the lives of high schoolers gearing up to vote in their first presidential election. For the first openly gay presidential candidate.
#23: F*ck! I’m in my Twenties by Emma Koenig.
Featuring some of the best posts from Koenig’s Tumblr (and more), this book perfectly what it’s like to be a post-grad living in a new city. Koenig has a keen eye for documenting those moments when everything is new and everyone is over-sharing.
#24: The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich.
After months straight of reading nothing but play submissions, I picked up Simon Rich’s new collection The Last Girlfriend on Earth and was re-introduced to the witty clip of Rich’s style. I read “Unprotected” about a year ago when it came out in The New Yorker and I’m very glad that I read it again. (The story starts off this hilarious collection.) Simply put, he’s fecking hilarious.
#25: In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick.
I’m gathering research for a play about the shipwreck that inspired Moby-Dick, so Philbrick’s non-fiction piece (loaned to me by my collaborator on the piece) was my immersion into the subject. In the Heart of the Sea combines the camaraderie of whaling with the tragedy of losing a crew, capturing the sea’s tumultuous nature.