1. You Are Not a Stranger Here: Stories by Adam Haslett And so continues by recent short story obsession. Adam Haslett’s collection focuses on the lives left behind, the space that grief opens up and what eventually fills it. Each story opens on a new kind of sadness—some quiet, others deafening. I read this on the subway, the way I usually read most short story collections. Each ride/story felt new, but connected.
2. White Houses: A Novel by Amy Bloom There is a certain kind of novel: The Paris Wife, The Nightingale, for example, that reimagine a historical happening for the sake of story. I find this kind of book so relaxing—the worldbuilding familiar and the characters flawed but with a clear trajectory. I had the same experience reading White Houses, a telling of the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok from the White House to later life. It was a touching, quiet portrait of romance. Exactly the sort of novel I love to cuddle up with when winter evenings feel endless.
3. Five Plots by Erica Trabold There’s something magic about books that just find you. I get so many of my recommendations from my best friend, from magazines, and local bookstores. It’s a delight to end up with a book with no real sense of how it got there. Trabold’s debut collection is seeped in space—a study in the ways the land we come from shapes us as we shape it in return. Her portrait of Nebraska is loving, poetic, and honest. I can’t wait to read whatever she write next.
4. Blue Dusk by Madeline DeFrees A former nun turned poet, Madeline DeFrees is an acclaimed teacher and writer. This book, a collection of her work over the span of decades, balances in contradiction. Whatever identity was lost in her 36 year stint as a sister is ruefully reclaimed in later work. Her understanding of the spiritual realm colors her observations, no matter how commonplace. This would be a perfect place tos tart after re-reading all of Mary Oliver’s work.
5. Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash I picked up this book from Beaverdale Books over a year ago, based on enthusiastic recommendation. A novel set in North Dakota, centered on a college wrestler was a tough sell, but I love Coffeehouse Press and trust Hunter’s picks. A coming-of-age story of sorts, the book follows said wrestler in his senior season. Physiological, fast paced, and totally original, the main character’s thoughts morph from outlandish to disturbingly understandable. The book seems to move with a force of its own—all set to the static of the American West.
6. Up, Up Down, Down, Down: Essays by Cheston Knapp A blurb by Leslie Jamison and a prominent placement at Greenlight are basically all I need to be convinced to pick up a book. This collection of essays is strange, unexpectedly insightful, and easy to read. That’s not to say Knapp’s style of writing is simple, actually the opposite. His stories feel huge, massively important but are grounded in the bizarre reality of life. His history as a frat brother and white Christian male color the collection in a refreshing light.