Claire Lombardo thinks she really needs some more interesting things to put in her bio. She is a fiction writer hailing originally from Oak Park, Illinois. She has a BA in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago and is currently working towards her Masters in Social Work from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is a sun worshipper, an eternal misanthrope, and a lover of dogs. To sample some of Claire’s fiction and essays, visit her website.
Save for two, all of the books currently by my bed are books I’ve read before. I am a re-reader. I have a rotation of several books to which I return when I’m feeling lonely or uninspired or underwhelmed or disillusioned because I know (if enough time has passed between readings) that I’m sure to be pulled headlong into a great story that reminds me of all that great literature can do for its reader. I feel about these books—there is a handful (a huge handful; the hands of Goliath)—the way I assume most people feel about old friends: they make me nostalgic; they make me emote; they make me remember earlier times in my life (usually times when I was way more embarrassing than I am now). I reread books when I’m sad, or when I’m creatively stunted, or when I’m forced on a nightly basis to read dull, atrociously-written textbooks about mental disorders and I’m feeling resentful. Now that I’m no longer studying English, I make it my mission to spend at least 30 minutes each night reading something for pleasure. So there has been a lot of rereading happening lately.
This One is Mine by Maria Semple — I’m obsessed. I read Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette? earlier this year, finished it in the middle of my sociology class (because stylishly-disguised Kindles are hands-down the greatest 21st-century invention for a rogue student like myself), and immediately read it again. And then I did the same with her debut novel. This One is Mine is delightful. Semple’s characters are intricately human in a way that writers can’t always achieve, and she has a hilarious mastery of dialogue. Her writing makes me feel like things are going to be okay in the world: probably not in an overt way, and probably not all at once, but things will be fine. We’re all crazy; we’re all lost; and we’re all going to find our way.
Believers by Charles Baxter — Charles Baxter rocks my world. I’m the baby of the family, and my three older sisters (all English majors) are 8, 10, and 11 years my senior. This was primarily a blessing, especially because I was exposed to great books much earlier than I otherwise would have been. The Feast of Love was one of the first adult novels I ever read (and I use that qualifier in a purely literary sense), when I was probably 15, and Baxter has remained since then one of my very favorite writers. I’m rereading Believers both to help me hone my own craft of short-story writing and because duh. Baxter has a great gift for making the Midwest seem interesting. Or, in absentia, making it seem okay that the Midwest is inherently not interesting.
Crossing California by Adam Langer — Unless you have lived in Chicago, worked in Chicago, or read Crossing California, you cannot begin to understand how strange a city Chicago really is. I last read this magnificent homage to my hometown when I was in high school, so I’m very excited to be starting it again. Langer is absolutely spot-on with his depictions of middle-income class warfare, the constantly torturous lives of high schoolers, and the (tragically) hilarious politics of Chicago. He has a head-spinning, meticulous attention to detail and an acute, highly amusing cultural radar. This is a dense book, not very dialogue-heavy, and you don’t want to miss a single word because Adam Langer is so, so smart. Lest you were ever curious what it was like to grow up in West Rogers Park in the late 70s, this book will answer any and all questions.
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman — I’ve got a serious thing for stories of quiet desperation, especially as they pertain to families and motherhood. I’m not completely sure where this comes from, as I’m not a mother myself, but it’s a topic I find myself exploring in my own writing as well. Waldman is a master, one of my very very favorite contemporary writers. I’m rereading this book, too, and it’s just the absolute worst because whenever anyone asks what I’m reading and what it’s about I go completely blank. In this case, I usually end up saying something like, “Well, it’s kind of about SIDS, I guess. But only a little.” And this doesn’t even begin to do it justice; what I really should say is “It’s about love and fate and legacy and family and the way all of those things clash and overlap and let us down and reinforce our faith in humanity and it’s so good, trust me.” I’ll try to remember that for the next time someone asks.
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing — I am the fifth child. This terrifying book is more or less the story of my life. This has been beside me for a few months, because I had to stop reading out of fear. It’s essentially the story of a young couple that falls in love and moves into a giant house with the shared dream of having a bunch of kids—which is essentially my origin story. I won’t spoil the ending for you, because I can’t, because I had to put this down immediately after the fifth child was born (appropriating, as an infant, such troubling adjectives as “muscular” and “yellow”) and have been too afraid to pick it up since.
Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max — Most biographies are anathema to the very core of my spirit, but this one reads almost like a novel. Oh boy, do I wish that David Foster Wallace were still with us. I wish, additionally, that he still lived in Urbana, because I think this place really benefited from his presence.
True Notebooks: A Writer’s Year at Juvenile Hall by Mark Salzman — This is a book that—gasp!—actually bridges the gap between what I love and what I’m studying. I whine a lot about my halcyon days as an English major (it must get pretty annoying), and a friend from my program presented me with this book after I decided to do some research on creative writing therapy. I pretty much had to check my writerly hat at the door when I entered social work school, but this story—of Salzman’s experience teaching a writing workshop in a high-risk juvenile detention facility in LA—highlights the value of art and creativity in the therapeutic process. It’s heartbreaking and delightful and particularly inspiring for my woeful, meandering twentysomething self as I try to figure out what it is I want to do with my life.
Are you a re-reader? How do you decide what’s worthy of a second date?