1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng I pegged this book as being somewhere on the Gone Girl and Girl on The Train spectrum, hardly being able to scroll through Instagram without seeing a copy. Intrigued, and a reluctant fan of both the titles, I was excited to start when Ruby presented me with a copy. Setting is commonly lost in fast paced, character-driven mega hits of late. In a story, it's essential to my enjoyment. Thinking of my favorite books and films, it's clear to see where the story unfolds becomes almost more important than what's unfolding. Shaker Heights, the cookie cutter, manicured suburb where this novel takes place was exactly that. The story tracks with multiple characters, lots of age differences, and even some flashbacks. I found it less gripping than I expected, but an overall more thought-provoking reading experience.
2. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner Considered a modern classic, this book is the story of two couples, their lives between Vermont and Wisconsin, and the losses that draw them together. I found this book totally sweeping, from the characters' early days of marriage to their last days on Earth. This book feels like a safe recommendation for really any reader-it has plot, incredibly memorable characters, and a strong sense of place. Mostly I'm confused how I made it this far without reading it.
3. Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro Warning: I think I have a new favorite novel. 2018 has been, already, a year of really powerful literature. Of course, it came recommended from Ruby, who knows what I love in a novel better than anyone else-religion, an epistolian twist, and romance. This is Quarto's first novel, after a collection of stories I'm dying to start. Longing and lust weave their way through this tale of Maggie's devotion-to God, to her husband, and to the poet, James. It's an intense book, with little room for excess language or the space to beat around the bush. My favorite part were the emails exchanged between Maggie and James; how they slipped into intimacy and built context simply by the omission of details. References to Aristotle, C.S. Lewis, Saint Augustine, and L'Engle helped to ground this novel in a language I'm familiar with, that of spirituality, desire, and doubt.
4. Democracy by Joan Didion Aligning with my ongoing pursuit of reading all of Joan Didion's library, I've found myself drawn to her fiction recently. Luckily, for a non fiction devotee like me, it reads much like her essays, believable and captivating from the start. With over thirty books to make my way through, Democracy ranked fairly low on my list, but I picked it up on a whim. The picture is big-an entire society, a whole political climate. But Didion does what she does so marvelously and encapsulates it entirely in this one story. The narrator of the book is unreliable, offering commentary, insight, and providing a sense of almost humor to 1975 South Vietnam. It's about society, coming of age, and the power of the press. And a great reminder that with Joan Didion, even the international arms market and the shift of political power can be poetic.
5. Neon in Daylight by Hermione Hoby Like many readers, I'm game for any coming of age story in New York. Sweetbitter, one of my favorite novels, was adapted for TV and comes out this Spring, so I've been itching for a read alike. While this book was different, focusing on the main character's limited stint in the city and complex relationships both romantically and with the city itself, it was charming. The ending was dark but oddly reminded me at a Halloween party I ended up at in the West Village this year. Reading about New York is an experience in itself.
6. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard My love for Annie DIllard is no secret. She, Anne Lamott, and Madeleine L'Engle make up my trifecta of female authors who write on spirituality/Christianity. I started this book over a year ago, right before I moved back to Iowa. Reading about nature, isolation, and Dillard's place in it all feels even more magical in the city. It's not a book to rush through. It moves seasonally, similarly to The Irrational Season, reading like a liturgical calendar of sorts. For someone who doesn't gravitate towards narratives driven by nature, I found the observations on life convicting and didn't even mind a long bit on insects. The Maytrees is my favorite of her novels, if you're in the mood for something different by this iconic author.