Miriam Toews has managed to do the seemingly impossible: Write a novel about depression and suicide that is funny, loving, witty, heartbreaking, clever, and insightful, all while contributing to the public debate over an individual’s right to die with dignity. Toews has long been a best-selling, award-winning author in her native Canada, but readers south of the border have been slow to discover her. All My Puny Sorrows, her sixth and arguably best novel, should change that.Read More
Ali Smith—Scottish, 55, fearless—has already made a reputation as one of most ambitious, offbeat, and mesmerizing novelists of our time. Now she’s pushing it a step further with an unusual “seasonal” quartet. The first two volumes, Autumn and Winter, are already out, and you better hurry up and read them because you want to be ready when Spring arrives. And it won’t be long.Read More
I don’t normally use this space to review twenty-year-old books, but for Richard Russo, I’ll make an exception. Regular readers know I’m a huge Russo fan. He’s been a big influence on my own writing, and I thought I’d read everything he wrote. But last month a friend recommended one of his novels that I’d missed: Straight Man, published in 1997. It’s the funniest serious novel I’ve ever read.Read More
Let’s face it. For struggling authors, marketing and selling a published novel is at best a necessary evil—about as much fun as reading the Congressional Record (which, thankfully, I no longer have to do for work). We all tackle the marketing chores in whatever way we can because we know we have to, all the while hoping we’re not badgering and offending those on the receiving end of our too-frequent pitches.
But there’s one part of the process that is wonderful: Being a guest at a book club.Read More
This is a strange time for journalism—confusing both for the people who practice it and those who consume it. The Trump administration has cast a lifeline to mainstream media like The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have seen circulation surge as old-time investigative reporting kicks into high gear. At the same time, rumors, lies, and complete fabrications get almost equal treatment in certain less reputable media sources, with a huge impact in unfortunate ways. For journalists of the old school (including me) it’s a time of head scratching.Read More
So you devoured Elene Ferrante’s tetralogy and now you’re wondering what other international gems are out there—books so good you can’t believe you never heard of them. Well, look no further than Magda Szabó’s The Door. If you like Ferrante, I guarantee you’ll like Szabó.
Magda Szabó, who died in 2007 at age 90, was one of Hungary’s most important 20th century writers, widely read and admired at home but only recently getting the love and attention she deserves worldwide. The Door was published in 1987 but not translated into English until 2005, when it appeared in Britain. Last year, the New York Review Books classics offered it up to American audiences in a new, widely praised translation by Len Rix. We should all be thankful.Read More
Writing fiction will change the way you read it. I often make a point of reading like a writer (to borrow Francine Prose’s book title), examining what the author is trying to do and how she’s doing it, determining what works and what doesn’t (and why), and looking for how this can help improve my own writing. It doesn’t stop me from reading as a reader—enjoying good literature and losing myself in fictional worlds—but I rarely lose sight of what the author is doing to and for me.Read More
For too long, Joan Silber has labored in the shadows, her work overlooked, underappreciated and read by too few. I’m here to correct that. Or at least give it my best shot.
I just completed her latest novel, Improvement, and it is a stunning work, full of subtlety and insight, conveying an understanding of how ordinary people struggle to make something of their lives. Politicians who want to connect with “real” Americans would have a better chance of doing so if they studied Silber’s work, beginning with Improvement.Read More
hen I was in graduate school and working on an early version of my first novel, Hawke’s Point, my thesis advisor asked me if I’d read Richard Russo. I hadn’t, but when he said my writing reminded him of Russo’s, I rushed out to get everything I could lay my hands on. The advisor’s comment was reinforced when a reviewer of Hawke’s Point also cited a similarity to Russo.
At first, I didn’t really see it.Read More
As a writer I love to read—first, for the joy of devouring a good book and, second, because as a writer I always learn something I can use. And as an aging baby boomer, I love to watch and try to mentor the youngest generation as it finds its footing in the world. That’s why I look forward each week to the 90 minutes I spend leading a teen writing club. It combines the best of both my worlds, and invariably I learn a lot—about life and about writing.Read More
I should have seen it coming. There were hints, but I made light of them, and took just a few tentative steps to deflect them. It wasn’t enough, and my problem persists: Readers of my first novel, Hawke’s Point, wanted to know a lot more about Mary Louise. Or more specifically, they want to know how I knew so much about Mary Louise. The men even want her phone number, as though I have it on speed dial.Read More
When I was having trouble with the first chapter of a novel I was writing, a good friend and writing mentor suggested I take another look at Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. Its first chapter is a classic; it not only draws you into the story but it also lays the groundwork and foreshadows everything that is to follow.
In fact, the opening was so good I couldn’t stop and quickly reread Wharton’s wonderful classic.Read More
A while back, the New Yorker reviewed Stoner under the headline, “The Greatest American Novel You’ve Never Heard Of.” It was a clever line, but after Britain’s Waterstones named it the Book of the Year for 2013—and with U.S. sales finally topping 100,000—it may no longer be true. Admittedly, it’s taken 48 years to get to this point and the novel is still far from a popular favorite, but it’s clearly beginning to get the attention it deserves.Read More
I’ve been to a lot of book club meetings in my day, but never one quite like this, never one where the stakes were so high. This wasn’t going to be a casual conversation about books with a group of friends; this was going to be a conversation with eight strangers about a book that meant everything to me: Hawke’s Point, my debut novel published in 2014. Was I nervous? You bet.Read More
When I told my wife and some friends that I was finally going to take their advice and read one of Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache novels, they all told me the same thing: You must read them in order! So of course I started with No 2, A Fatal Grace, and then turned to The Beautiful Mystery, which is No. 9. Well, I’m here to tell you that despite what everyone tells you, you can read Penny’s novels out of order and still live to sing their praises.
But unless you’re also the ornery type like me, why would you? You’ll be doing yourself a favor to follow directions and start at the beginning with Still Life.Read More
So, I’ve been reading Frederick Douglass’s autobiography. I like to keep up with the latest fads and, as President Trump pointed out not too long ago, Douglass “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job that is being recognized more and more.”
Douglass is probably the most famous abolitionist of all time, and his work was widely recognized in the years before, during, and long after the Civil War, including by President Abraham Lincoln, whose response to Douglass’s criticism was to invite him to the White House to talk about their differences. Over time they developed a strong friendship and at least a partial reconciliation of their views. Lincoln listened, changed, and came to appreciate Douglass, and the feeling was mutual.Read More
Next time you feel overwhelmed by the number of books on your to-read list, think of Ron Charles, the fiction editor at the Washington Post. Charles and his colleagues at the newspaper get 200 books a day to choose from, with a lot careers depending on their decisions. I chatted with Ron for the premier issue of Late Last Night Books a few years back. Here is a shortened version of that conversation.Read More