1. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett When Ruby recommended this book, a story of friendship and writing, I was immediately intrigued. Yes and yes. I started it one night before hopping on the F and was surprised when a middle aged man told me what a "lovely" book it was and that he had attended Iowa Writers Workshop with Ann. It reads like a memoir in the most personal way. Included are letters back and forth between Ann and her best friend, stories of their early writing careers, and the ending will have you in tears. The book could be for almost anyone, but I really loved reading it with my best friend.
2. The Complete Poems by Elizabeth Bishop After reading Devotions by Mary Oliver, I thought my ideas on poetry collections had changed. In the past, I thought of them sort of like greatest hits albums, an easy access to all the best without the in betweens that make the art. She curated her collection herself, separating it by books, which helped created a more coherent experience. Not in the case of this book. I'd been familiar with Elizabeth Bishop from high school classes, but was excited to read her work now. I found myself wishing I had read her poetry separately instead of in one volume.
3. Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger I recently posted on Instagram about how all I ever want to reread is Franny and Zooey. I mean, it's a good problem to have but when I'm attempting to broaden my Salinger reading, I picked up this book. It's organized into nine short stories, making it ideal train reading. Each is really a wonderful look at the magic of Salinger, how he can craft worlds and characters in a few pages that stay with you long after. The dialogue is clever, fast, and really a delight.
4. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell When Ruby handed me this at our favorite bookstore in DC over break, I rolled my eyes and reminded her we don't share her obsession with books about animals. She insisted and I tucked it into my carry on for the bus ride home. About sixty pages in, one afternoon of nonstop reading, and a train ride to and from an appointment and I was finished. If getting lost in a story is all you want in the dead of winter, start here. The plot is centered on a family, with a strong sense of place and a deep feeling of something beyond the physical world. I was a skeptic, too but have been recommending this to everyone.
5. The Irrational Season by Madeleine L'Engle The impending release of the new A Wrinkle In Time film had me craving some L'Engle. Her book, Walking On Water, is one of my favorites on writing/faith. I'm more partial to her nonfiction in general, so jumping into this book felt like a conversation with a beloved friend. She chronicles her life and lessons based on the seasons of the Liturgical year. The parts on Advent were perfectly timed and really speical to carry this season. Reading the book over the course of the year would be a fantastic practice, but I couldn't wait. Her poems morph into prayers that morph into her real life in a seamless fashion that is classic L'Engle.