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Author Archive: "Renee P."

To the Lighthouse

Reading Virginia Woolf is like stepping out onto a veranda, where the entire world unfurls before you in dazzling detail. Her unparalleled ability to paint a scene so exquisitely, and to inhabit her characters with such clarity and intensity, makes for an experience that is both awe-inspiring and deeply moving. To the Lighthouse, set in a weathered vacation home on the edge of a Scottish isle, depicts lives shaped by the temperament of the environment and the ancient myths of the sea. People's moods change at whim, perspective passes fluidly from body to body, and the grandeur of the landscape beckons the characters to embark on a journey that proves epic voyages don't always involve great distances. It doesn't get more beautiful than this.


Song of Solomon

If the only book you've read by Toni Morrison is her Pulitzer Prize–winning novel Beloved, you're missing out. Known for her powerfully evocative prose, her grand mystical tales steeped in black history, her haunting (and haunted) characters, Morrison is an author whose body of work demands attention. Her third novel, Song of Solomon — Barack Obama's self-proclaimed favorite book — is a magnificent, epic story following Macon "Milkman" Dead, along with an assortment of characters whose lives touch, and at times endanger, his own. Violence and a palpable fear of injustice pervades the people of this book, set in Michigan in the '30s through the '60s. But moreover, as the many characters emerge in full color for both Milkman and the reader, Song of Solomon is a book of awakenings, and a tale of one man's journey from defiance to action.


Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

It can be hard to pinpoint what makes Lydia Davis's writing so magnetic. Her precise, no-nonsense language combined with her liberal definition of the short story? Her attention to the overlooked, the mundane, the clutter in our lives that holds so much meaning? Her understated sense of humor, so deeply ingrained in her observations about the absurdities of life? Whatever it is, you'll find it in spades in her Collected Stories, which compiles all of Davis's short fiction from her seminal Break It Down (1986) through Varieties of Disturbance (2007). Few writers' work lends itself so well to a compilation. Whether you pick stories at random or start at the beginning and work your way through the collection (highly recommended), this is a book that feels like the best gift: fun, poignant, and endlessly rewarding.


Middlemarch

Eliot is an author most people know from school or because they see her books on lists of "important literature." But reading Middlemarch, her extraordinary monument to early-19th-century provincial England, is far from a stodgy, academic experience. With a touch of satire and an incredible grasp on the intricacies of human nature, Eliot illustrates the patterns — and peculiarities — of the people inhabiting her fictional town of Middlemarch. Flawed and conflicted, her characters stumble along as we all do, navigating mistakes and misfortunes with varying levels of success. This is not a book of classic character arcs or happy endings, but it is a true masterpiece, something to be enjoyed for its intrigue, savored for its razor-sharp prose, and admired for its timelessness.


Go Set a Watchman

Having sat unpublished for over half a century, the release of Harper Lee's first novel, set 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird, is truly a literary event. Go Set a Watchman offers an illuminating look at familiar characters and places (Jean Louise Scout, Atticus, the town of Maycomb) transformed by time. Be among the first to set eyes on this enigmatic, revelatory work.


The Argonauts

A seamless blend of memoir and cultural commentary, Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts is, among many other things, a book about relentless introspection and transformation, about confronting one's own truths and biases and finding meaning in collisions big and small. Nelson explores the course of her relationship with the transgender artist Harry Dodge, along with their attempts to get pregnant, her experiences with academia, and her roles as mother and stepmother. Told in brief, loaded sections and referencing everything from gender theorists to parenting books to philosophers, The Argonauts is a book that is best read slowly; there is much to savor in this urgent, fiercely intelligent work.


A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing

It's no surprise that this striking, emotionally charged novel won countless awards last year. Using fractured language betraying the narrator's mental state, McBride deftly relates the story of a girl growing up in a hostile home where everyone must grapple with a pervading cancer, both literally and metaphorically.


So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

Now more than ever, one moment of bad judgment — say, a poorly conceived tweet — can lead to an online feeding frenzy with life-changing ramifications. In this entertaining yet eye-opening book, Ronson details how we've entered a new age of public shaming and the effects on both the condemned and the condemners (us).


Can’t and Won’t

Something interesting happens while reading Can't and Won't: you'll start to find meaning and nuance in even the most mundane of occurrences. That's the beauty of Davis's deceptively simple, frequently funny stories — they'll teach you to become more observant and to embrace our tendency as humans to overthink things. I guarantee you'll enjoy the experience.


Karate Chop

The first work to be translated into English by Danish author Dorthe Nors is a slim collection of brief, surprising stories exploring everything from a teenager losing her virginity to a retired husband's secret obsession with female murderers. These are slippery tales — just as you're starting to get a grasp on where they're headed, they shift, they swell. Norse's writing is wonderfully unrestrained yet manages to capture our innermost fears and desires and hang-ups at record speed. A pointed, powerful read.


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