Well ding-dong, I went back five years to cull a list of books I loved that still deserve your attention. Straight from 2011...
Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex by Erica Jong
First, let's just get this right out of the way -- it's not sensational, it's not grodey (much), it's thoughtful, provocative essays, short stories, and there's even an illustrated comic and dramatic dialogey thing thrown in (waves at Eve Ensler). If sex makes you uncomfortable, you may squirm a little (lot) reading it, and if you're not uncomfortable, it might still make you squirm from time to time. But it'll also make you think, ponder, and take a minute to reflect on your own experiences, attitudes, and how they came to be what they are.Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy
Set in Athens, Henry is a genius, drunkard, American, in love with Rebecca. Rebecca is a French ex-flight attendant, artist, in love with Henry. Henry is a British archaeologist, hottie, tortured soul. They're all tortured souls in some way-- haunted by death, betrayal, and crappy family. They find each other in a twisted love triangle heightened by the unlikely friendship that grows between George and Henry. Going into this novel, and from reading the blurbs, I really thought it would be about the love triangle. And that's not new! But it really isn't so much. A REALLY BIG EVENT changes the trajectory of this novel in a big, big way. All of a sudden it was no longer about a triangle, and it morphed into more of a story of triumph and overcoming grief and insurmountable psychological trauma.
You Know When the Men Are Gone: Stories by Siobhan Fallon
You Know When the Men Are Gone is a collection of interrelated short stories about military families and the struggles that come along with service and deployment. Set in Killeen, TX (a few hours from where I live in Texas), the stories explore multiple facets of the military life. Some of the stories deal with the soldiers' feelings in combat, their longing for a normal life at home, and the struggles their wives and families experience stateside, waiting. Other stories tackle the problems soldiers encounter accepting a civilian life and a return to "normal." There's fidelity and infidelity, heartbreak, disappointment, triumph -- and inevitably -- death.
Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory
The stories are short. Some are less than a page long while others max out between five and ten pages. The characters are vague with names like "A boy" or "A girl." While the characters are Everyman and Everywoman, the stories are anything but bland or nondescript. They're crazy, odd, gross, troubling, affecting, sad, joyful, stunning. Given the average length of the story, I would venture to guess there are nearly 50 stories in this book. I don't have it with me or I'd start counting. It's a huge number, though, in comparison to run-of-the-mill story collections.The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
This is the story of the Ayres family and their formerly palatial estate, Hundreds Hall. England is changing as the middle class is no longer interested in being servants, tracks of homes are popping up everywhere, and the Gentry can't afford their way of lives any longer. Told by family friend, Dr. Faraday, it's really a novel about the Ayres family's undoing. Are they haunted by the disintegration of the upper crust or is the book's "little stranger" a real ghost?Sherry and Narcotics by Nina-Marie Gardner
Gardner's strength is in writing the addict's life and conveying it as perfectly normal. At first, as I was reading through Mary's adventures with wine, I thought she was probably drinking a bit much, but she seemed to keep it indoors and function pretty well. But by the end of this book, she's a sad sack. She wears rose-colored (wine-colored?) glasses throughout her relationship with the poet and leaves the reader wondering how in heckfire she ever thought THIS and THAT were good ideas! I'll say it again -- train wreck!
Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt
Keep in mind that the tales aren't really overtly scary so much as twisty, and some of them are delightful, and one or two are a gruesome in parts. It's a mixed bag, and every story truly kept me guessing. Byatt has some wily tricks up her sleeve, and I was never, ever bored. I was never unfulfilled. Each one of these short story gems was perfectly formed on its own -- none of this wishing for a novel business!Atonement by Ian McEwan
What I love most about McEwan's writing, this novel and On Chesil Beach, is his grasp of the intangible. He manages to put thoughts, emotions, and nuance into words in such a way that it takes my breath away. There were times reading Atonement that I literally caught myself holding my breath because the words on the page were so effortlessly effective. So evocative of the characters' internal lives. The atmosphere and expectations in this book just soar!
My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
A favorite passage from this book about Conroy's life as a reader: "Here is what I want from a book, what I demand, what I pray for when I take up a novel and begin to read the first sentence: I want everything and nothing less, the full measure of a writer's heart. I want a novel so poetic that I do not have to turn to the standby anthologies of poetry to satisfy that itch for music, for perfection and economy of phrasing, for exactness of tone. Then, too, I want a book so filled with story and character that I read page after page without thinking of food and drink, because a writer has possessed me, crazed me with an unappeasable thirst to know what happens next. Again, I know that story is suspect in the high precincts of American fiction, but only because it brings entertainment and pleasure, the same responses that have always driven puritanical spirits at the dinner table wild when the talk turns to sexual intercourse and incontinence."The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna
The Birth of Love is a good book because the time periods are varied but cohesive, the experiences seem honest, and the writing is fabulous. There's something for the historical fiction lovers, the sf crowd, and those who just love a great book. Everything seemed nicely integrated and expertly planned. All the pieces fit, and letting them unfold was a joyous reading experience.
What are some of your favorite books from years ago? It's way too easy for these gems to fall off the map!