As I write this, I am looking out my window at all of the snow piled up on the ground. And the snow covering the rooftops and treetops. And more snow is on its way to Boston.
For those feeling the harsh winds of winter and the stirrings of cabin fever, here are ten books that I promise will take your mind off the weather.
1. A Fortunate Age (2010), Joanna Smith Rakoff
After reading Rakoff’s (wonderful) 2014 memoir, My Salinger Year, I picked up this novel and didn’t put it down until I was done. A nod to Mary McCarthy’s The Group, A Fortunate Age follows a group of college friends in the early years of their post-college lives on the cusp of the 21st century in NYC—as they struggle to establish themselves as adults, professionals, and individuals apart from the group. An engrossing coming-of-age story with strong characters that Rakoff brings to life.
2. We Are Not Ourselves (2014), Matthew Thomas
This was the first book I read this year, and it already has set the bar high. Set in NYC, this is a weighty intergenerational novel that follows Eileen Timulty from childhood through middle age as she chases her version of the American Dream. A story about love, and commitment, and finding peace in one’s choices. Beautiful writing and a narrative that is much more than simple plot movement. Everything here works together to great effect—the post WWII American ideology, the setting of New York City and its suburbs, and most of all, its believable and endearing characters.
3. The Goldfinch (2013), Donna Tartt
Yes, this won a Pulitzer and has been on every bestseller list since it was released in the fall of 2013. But that’s not why you should read it. The Goldfinch is the kind of book that stays with you–it is not simply a plot driven novel, though it has plenty of that (I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to find out what would happen to Boris and Theo toward the end)–rather, it is the story of a life that takes the long view. So, so good.
4. Golden Boy (2013), Abigail Tarttelin
Max Walker is the boy that seems to have it all—good looks, athletic talent, and natural charisma. He also has a secret—he is intersex. His parents (including his father, up for a Parliamentary run and under media scrutiny) try to pretend that nothing is different about their son have kept many details from him. But when Max struggles with his identity, they are forced to reveal and address all that they have been hiding. A well-written novel that explores gender identity and self knowledge.
5. Fin & Lady (2013), Cathleen Schine
Like The Goldfinch‘s Theo, young Fin is also an orphan, but he has his older half sister Lady (more than a decade his senior) to look out for him. But there are lots of life changes for young Fin as he must leave the rural Connecticut town of his origin and orient to life in 1960s Greenwich Village with sister Lady and her many suitors. A story about finding family and finding one’s self.
6. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (2014), Atul Gawande
In his latest book, Gawande suggests the way we manage end-of-life care in the U.S. is flawed. The care interventions that focus on prolonging life may be missing the point. And the questions we don’t always ask may be the more important ones: what are the patient’s likes/dislikes? What are his/her interests? What might inspire him/her to get up in the morning? In short, a longer life doesn’t mean a better life—and Gawande challenges readers to think about life priorities in a different way. I think this book could be more accurately titled Being Human, because that is really what the book is about–not suffering, not dying–but the things we do to make us live. And how we could begin to have these conversations in our own families.
7. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (2013),
I already thought Scientology was a bit curious after reading this piece by Janet Reitman in Rolling Stone but after reading Wright’s book, I was downright shocked at many of the revelations about L. Ron Hubbard and his creation of this religion–not to mention the involvement of some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Thorough and well researched–you will feel like an expert on all things Scientology after reading this book. Next month, HBO is airing a documentary based on Wright’s book—and the Church of Scientology is threatening lawsuits left and right—so this is a timely read.
8. The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web is Changing What We Read and How We Think (2012), Eli Pariser
Pariser describes the filter bubble as the personalized universe of information created for each of us by personalizing filters like Google, Facebook, and the like. This can be a positive (giving us information that we will find most useful or relevant to past searches), but it can also filter out alternate perspectives and points-of-view. Important critical reading for those in the Internet Age.
9. Just Kids (2010), Patti Smith
If you missed this book when it was released, I strongly recommend that you pick it up now. Such an elegant memoir that recalls the author’s long and deep relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late sixties and seventies. A story about two kids that are on their way to becoming great artists. Beautifully written.
10. The Long Goodbye (2011), Meghan O’Rourke
In 2011, while my dear friend was dying of colorectal cancer, just like the author’s mother, I read this book and cried. O’Rourke’s mother was only 55 when she died in her Connecticut home, and this sharply observed memoir offers a glimpse into the stages of grief and final goodbyes. Nothing about this book is overdone–it is real and so raw that it will stay with you for a very long time.
Thank you for reading! For more reading recommendations and commentary on books and culture, please visit my blog Bookminded.