What Are You Reading? My Top Picks This Month
Supporting women’s writing with these newly released books–
Amy Klein, The Trying Game. I recommend Klein’s book, whether you’re going through fertility treatment or not. Especially in the midst of a pandemic, this book will give you comfort and joy. Klein’s ability to explain medical knowledge, not to mention her curious and unflinching look at the interface between her raw emotions and her medicalized body, is just the medicine we need right now. As her book makes clear, in times of medical emergency, we are all trying our best, even as the crisis is trying us. I adored her prose—funny, ironic, energetic, well-researched. She is one of those writers with perfect pacing, perfect pitch, who delivers information with such punch and verve. The parts where she narrates her own story are the best, for example the part when her doctor tells her, after yet another miscarriage, to “keep trying.” (Her response is perfect!) Twenty-five years ago, I did a stint with a fertility doctor. It was three years after my daughter was born, and–nothing. Nothing happened and I gave up. I had the vague knowledge that fertility was a mystery, and now, after reading Klein’s book, I can see what I was up against back then, which I found endlessly fascinating.
Jenn Hollmeyer, Orders of Protection. Hollmeyer’s book is amazing! What caught my eye is that the book won the prestigious Katherine Anne Porter prize. The stories are brief but they pack in tons of feeling and significance. All of the characters are looking for some kind of protection—how do they go about that? What do they find? One of my favorites is the “The Ice River History Museum, Formerly Saint Catherine’s Convent”—which has such stunning and evocative lines as: “The docent gestured to a headless mannequin modeling a faded habit.” I mean—this is an image out of a dream, dripping with symbolism but also thoroughly concrete in its place in the story. I won’t give away the end of this story, but it is beautiful and startling, as all of them are. This is my kind of book. Highly recommend.
Madeline Dyer, This Vicious Way. As a teacher of creative writing and literature, I’m always looking for suggestions from my students, especially the categories of science fiction, fantasy, and thrillers—not usually my genre. With their promptings, I read Madeline Dyer’s This Vicious Way, and was blown away by the character development. At first I thought I wouldn’t understand the dystopian world, since this is Book Two in a series, and it makes use of the world Dyer built in an earlier series. Happily that wasn’t the case. Far from it. The world of epic struggle between the Untamed Ones and the Enhanced Ones is crystal clear; never once did I lose sight of the main character, Inga. I was hooked from the moment I was introduced to her in the first chapter swimming in an ocean as a young child, and in subsequent chapters when she’s grown and forced to become an assassin, to kill in gruesome ways. She struggles to turn the tables, to assassinate the assassins and reunite with her family (with plenty of heart-wrenching plot twists along the way). What I liked best about the book is how it toggles between past and present, how it even peers into Inga’s dreams and nightmares, which gave me an ever-evolving sense of Inga’s history and her motives. I empathized with her completely. I plan to include this in my syllabus next time I teach the prose fiction class.
Erin Khar, Strung Out. I loved this book. Khar is a companionable narrator, a voice I wanted to spend time with as she navigates the highs and lows of addiction, trauma, need, family, friendship, and parenthood. She’s searingly honest about deep-down parts of herself–she weaves moments of brutal loneliness with those of beautiful tenderness. I happened to read Strung Out during the current pandemic, so it’s no surprise that I was struck by her account of 9/11, the moment when she realizes her father may have been in one of the twin towers. I could relate especially to how she describes the “shock” and “paralysis” she feels during that event even as she goes about her routine tasks – a 12-step meeting and dinner with friends. What I loved about the book overall is how Khar delves into complex issues with an engaging, page-turning narrative style.
Rebecca Winn. One Hundred Daffodils. First, I want to say that this is a book I love holding in my hands. It’s opulantly produced, with a rich, creamy cover, the kind of book I like snuggling up with on my couch, in bed, outside on the porch (now that the weather is nice), and even in the car. It’s filled with beauty–both physically in the author’s garden and spiritually in her internal transformations–even amidst scenes of shattering and uncertainty. The book is a reminder that we can find hope right where you are, that small acts of attention bring peace.
Laura Zam, The Pleasure Plan. Every sentence in this book radiates goodwill, hope, and courage, even when she’s writing about dark topics. This crossover book (memoir, nonfiction, and self-help) moves forward at a lovely pace while it also flashes seamlessly back in time just when the reader needs backstory or insight. To get a sense of her wonderfully crisp and forthright prose, take a look at this passage where she talks about a moment when she reflected on men she’d dated. She felt as if she was “a monstrous creature, in the reptilian family, with cold skin and blood.” Hence, her journey toward self-discovery, intimate love, and sexual healing. I appreciated how Laura confronts her childhood abuse amidst her search for love. The story of meeting her husband (from her New York Times “Modern Love” column) is retold in the book, and it is just as tender and lovely as ever. She goes on to chronicle her recovery, her visits to gynecologists, psychologists, erotic healing practitioners, hypnotists, and other off-beat therapies with humor and a beautiful tenacity, one that also leads to self-awareness. I read this book over two days and I’m sure I’ll return to it again. Pure pleasure! (Please visit Laura Zam’s website where you’ll see all the other incredible activities this woman does.)