I have a book buying problem. I don’t want to say I’m a book hoarder, because most hoarders don’t even use the things they pile on their dressers, beds, tables, and floors. Sometimes they buy items in duplicate, which I have only ever done with books one time, by accident. Sure, I purchase an overflow of books. But I read every single one. Eventually. They each earn a designated spot in my house. Books on writing get placed just outside my office on an old wooden shoe rack I scored from someone’s trash in Brooklyn. Books that have been read get sent to the living room bookshelf. Research or titles similar to something I am currently writing go on my office coffee table. I always keep one in my purse and one in my car for when there are lines to wait in or kids to pick up at school. The rest lie in wait on my nightstand. Here’s the current pile:
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng — I am obsessed with debut novels, as well as all things 1970s-related, which is what first drew me to this title. Not to mention, the cover is terrific. This is a gorgeous novel, set in small town Ohio during the early ’70s, about a Chinese American family dealing with the loss of one of their 3 children (the favorite daughter). Now, before you decide you can’t read this because this subject matter is too upsetting, trust me when I tell you the tone of the piece is not overwrought or dripping with sap. This book is perfection. And it is a master class on point of view. I don’t know how Ng slides from character to character so effortlessly—it’s truly magic. If you haven’t hoarded this one already, go get it and when you’re done, pass it along to a friend immediately. I just did. I can’t wait to get it back and read it again.
Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido — I haven’t cracked this one yet but Maria Semple adored it and that was all the recommendation I needed. Semple called it “breezy, raunchy and unsentimental.” Turns out, it is also a debut novel. I don’t even care what it’s about; I love it already.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel — I’m late to the party on this one but when I heard they were turning it into a musical, I knew I had to spend some time with it. This is a graphic memoir that explores Bechdel’s complicated relationship with her father. It’s dark and hilarious and depressing and gorgeous. We’ve all had moments when we look at our family and wonder how, and even if, we are related. I’ve never read a graphic memoir before but I know that what Bechdel has done here is profound and pioneering. I can’t wait to finish and then go see the play.
The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac by Sharma Shields — I confess I haven’t opened this yet but the cover is divine. I bought this because it seemed bizarre, in the best way. It’s the story of a 9-year-old boy who watches his unhappy mother walk into the woods with someone named Mr. Krantz, who may or may not be a sasquatch. Having been terrified and obsessed by Bigfoot as a child, I am eager to see how this is tackled.
Bad Haircut by Tom Perrotta — I read this book once a year. I don’t remember where or when I bought it, but I cherish this copy and its contents. It’s my first love of books. This is a collection of linked short stories, of a boy’s adolescence during the 1970s. It’s moving and funny and it’s the very book that made me want to be a writer. I never lend out this copy so, if you haven’t read it, I urge to go right now (right now) and buy it. You will not be disappointed.
A close second to this book, for me, is Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You, with which I am also obsessed. When the family patriarch dies, the rest of the family is forced to sit shivah together in a house for seven days. This is the book I wish I’d written or could write.
And last but not least,
Don’t Ask Me How it Happened by Ella Korson. Full disclosure, she is my ten-year-old daughter. She’s still working on the draft so I can’t divulge much but suffice it to say it was inspired by a hero to both of us—Judy Blume—and it is already chock full o’ love and family and humor and heartache. Looks like my mothering work here is done!
Do you share Kim’s love of debuts? If so, how do you go about choosing them?