Sally Koslow is the author of four novels: The Widow Waltz, which Viking will publish June 17; With Friends Like These, chosen by Target for its Emerging Writers category; The Late, Lamented Molly Marx, a Target Book Pick and a bestseller in German, and her debut, Little Pink Slips, inspired by being editor-in-chief of McCall’s Magazine, which was taken over by a TV celebrity. Sally is also the author of a recent non-fiction book, Slouching Toward Adulthood: How to Let Go So Your Kids Can Grow Up, which NBC has optioned for sit-com development. Her books have been published in a dozen other languages—Chinese is her favorite—and her essays appear in the anthologies DIRT: The Quirks, Habits and Passions of Keeping House and Wedding Cake for Breakfast, as well as in magazines such as More, Real Simple and O, the Oprah magazine, and on many websites. She hopes you will follow her on Twitter, and join her Author Page on Facebook.
I like to write, but more than that, I like to read.
There are so many books next to my bed I can barely find my glasses and Vitamin D. I constantly reshuffle my queue, depending on what needs to be finished for my book club, what’s due at the library, what I can’t wait to read because a friend is the author, and what jumped to the front of the line because it’s shrieking “Read me first!” My favorite books are those so rich in language, ideas, imagination and complex characters that they send me running to my Mac, inspired to write. A great book is a pollinating bee.
If I weren’t writing this blog, I’d be finishing The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. This recently released novel deserves all its praise. Nora Eldridge, a Boston teacher, breaks your heart as she succumbs to the charms of a couple and child who irrevocably change her life over the course of one year. Nora is smart, insightful and funny, a perfect protagonist.
Messud is the wife of New Yorker royalty, book critic James Wood, whose essay about The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn convinced my book club to read the first of five connected novels. Once I finished Never Mind, I could not stop from gobbling up the next wickedly funny four. The series dissects a dysfunctional upper-class English dynasty. My favorite is about a weekend bender that Patrick, the books’ anti-hero, goes on when he visits New York City for his father’s funeral. “I think my mother’s death is the best thing to happen to me since,” Patrick eventually says, “…since my father’s death.”
My book club has committed to reading challenging books that have stood the test of time. Some of my favorites have been Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark and The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch. None have been breezy, but all are worth the investment of time. I’ve chided our group, however, about the fact that we read too many Brits and too many men. We’ll fix that.
Frequently, I have a book on my table that relates to the Holocaust. A recent discovery was The Life of Objects by Susanna Moore, which was spare, haunting and elegant. The story is told from the viewpoint of a naïve young Irish woman who joins a household of German art collectors, ostensibly to make fine lace. Maeve Palmer is free to leave her employers as the war progresses, yet as Maeve’s awareness of Nazi hypocrisy and atrocity grows, so does her loyalty to these proud yet surprisingly sympathetic aristocrats. Over the last few years I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed City of Women by David Gillham, Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum, The Zookeepers’ Wife by Diane Ackerman, Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada, and the classic, The Book Thief by Markus Zusack.
I love a book that gives insights into another culture, especially contemporary Israel. Two of the most fascinating in the last few years have been To the End of the Land by David Grossman, about love and loyalty between a triangle of friends during the years 1967 to 2000, and Second Person Singular by Sayed Kashua, which allowed me to see the country from an Arab perspective.
A pet category is books written by writers who’ve become friends or friends who’ve become writers. At the top of pile now is Swann Dives In by Charles Salzberg, the second in his quirky series about Henry Swann, skip tracer. This noirish mystery is set in the appealing world of rare books. The action is fast and the dialogue, crisp. I’m not surprised, because Charles is a terrific creative writing teacher–I’ve been in workshops that he’s led. I also soon hope to get to Jenny Milchman’s Cover of Snow; Too Bright to Hear, Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey, and The View from Penthouse B, which I ordered after meeting the author, Elinor Lipman.
In addition to writing, I teach at Sarah Lawrence College’s Writing Institute or through the New York Writers Workshop. The number of would-be memoirists amazes me. I often point them to a superb memoir I enjoyed years ago—Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family by Patricia Volk. Now the author has written Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me. Its shocking pink cover is calling me.
I couldn’t complete this list without mentioning Time and Again, Jack Finney’s tale of magical realism, because it was published the year I moved to Manhattan, and forever changed the way I see New York City. That’s what good books do, change the way you see the world.
What vision changers have you read lately?