Now that the cool weather has started rolling in for fall, I’ve been flying through books. There really is no better feeling than spending a cozy day on the couch with a blanket and a good read. And this batch was full of them—there was a book with a little thriller action, a book with some family drama and books filled with a whole lot of wisdom from smart women. Let’s get down to it:
This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper You may have seen preview trailers for the movie version of this book, starring Jason Bateman and Tina Fey—I’ve been dying to see it since it came out but haven’t gotten around to it. The timing of my reading this book was actually just a happy coincidence. While I always make a point to read the book before seeing the movie, I didn’t actually know this was coming out as a movie until I was almost done with the book. I’m kind of glad, too—there’s something special about forming your own idea about characters before seeing how Hollywood has type-cast them to life.
Tropper’s novel centers on a family gathered together to practice shiva in honor of their recently deceased father. The Foxmann family is a fun bag of tricks—there’s Judd, the narrator of the novel, who just discovered his wife is cheating on him, along with his siblings Wendy, Paul and Phillip, the youngest brother Judd describes as “the Paul McCartney of our family: better-looking than the rest of us, always facing a different direction in pictures, and occasionally rumored to be dead.” (<< I’m a huge McCartney/Beatles fan, so this cracked me up). And let me tell you…you think your family has issues? Wait until you meet these guys—let’s just say a week in the same house poses an interesting challenge for all of them. The whole book had me cracking up, feeling strangely sad and sympathetic at times and even missing my own crazy family. Tropper wrote the novel with a thread of biting, sharp humor woven throughout, but took care not to discount the individual struggles that each character was experiencing—his prose was so engaging to read that there were occasions I almost rode past my subway stop, I was so engrossed. This Is Where I Leave You is an incandescent, brilliantly written book about loss, love, forgiveness and the experiences that bind us together. It was above and away one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. What are you waiting for? GET IT! Rating: 10 out of 10
Obsessed, by T.R. Ragan I truly don’t know what it is with me and stalkers, you guys—I promise this isn’t a sign of a larger issue. You don’t need to report me. Seriously…
Unbeknownst to me, Obsessed is actually book four in the “Lizzy Gardner” series, created by T.R. Ragan, that follows—you guessed it—a detective named Lizzy Gardner. I didn’t find it totally off-putting that I hadn’t read the other three books before reading this one…I was able to get a pretty firm grasp on the characters anyways. There were a few moments where I was like, “Huh? What’s her back story?” but for the most part, if you want to dive right in here, you can. A word to the wise, though: this book does not have a happy ending (I mean, with a title like Obsessed, did you think it would?). It follows the story of radio psychologist Madeline Blair who, in fear of dipping ratings on her show, tells her listeners she has a stalker. Um, in case any of you were considering this—DON’T BE STUPID AND DO THIS. Especially if, like Madeline, there is a real-life man obsessed with you and your scary faux-stalker story sets him off to “protect” (aka stalk) you. And once he finds out that you were lying? Well, things are going to end pretty bad for you, friend.
Naturally Madeline hires Detective Gardner to help protect her and trace down the unhinged man now wreaking havoc in her professional and personal life. The manhunt that ensues will risk the lives of Lizzy, Madeline and several others close to them (sorry to be so cagey, but I don’t want to give it away!). For me, Obsessed was one of those “love the book, hate the ending” moments—I didn’t want my experience with the book to be colored by what I deemed a really awful (albeit intriguing for the next installment) ending. I think you’ll see when you get there—there’s definitely more of Lizzy’s story to come. Rating: 8.2 out of 10
The Opposite of Loneliness, by Marina Keegan You’ve probably heard of this collection of essays—whether you read Keegan’s viral essay just days after her death or read the startling number of accolades from some of the biggest names in the literary world. Keegan’s whole book—a collection of essays on love, death and growing up—was published posthumously, after she tragically passed away in a car accident just five days after graduating from Yale.
And sure, there’s a good part of me that read out of a bit of sad, morbid intrigue initially. But I stayed for Keegan’s gutting, blisteringly honest writing. She may not have led a long life, but the one she did lead was full of kindness, growing pains and an introspective outlook that’s rarely present in the most self-aware 50-year-old, let alone a 22-year-old. Within the first pages, you learn the title of the book stems from one of the more beautiful quotes in Keegan’s essay, “We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.” My first thought was, well—me too. And that’s kind of how I experienced Keegan’s essays. There were lots of “me too’s” along with a few “She totally said what I was thinking-s.”
I just thought every word in the book was so beautiful, partially due to Keegan’s sheer talent as a wordsmith, and partially because of what the book stood for as a whole. A moment preserved in time of a young women who hasn’t had the chance to become jaded yet—hasn’t had the chance to write down her words and then go back years later, embolden by age and the wisdom imparted by her years and change them. The circumstances surrounding her book, the fact that it was published as-is, with minimal editing, made it all the more raw, fresh and realistic. As she says in the book, there is something romantic in preservation at a moment of static bliss. Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty Oh hiiiiiiii, it’s just me!! The Liane Moriarty groupie, back at it again!! I refuse to apologize for soaking up as much as I can from Moriarty, especially given her latest (and newest) read is her best yet.
Like most of her novels, this is more of an ensemble drama than a story about a single person. That’s what I like best about Moriarty’s writing—you can somehow care about half a dozen characters and the outcome of their trials and tribulations equally. It really is a true gift. Anyways, Big Little Lies centers around a group of Australian “Kinder” parents, whose kids are all starting at the local prestegious school at the same time—sort of Gossip Girl style, only with the parents instead of teens. You start the story knowing someone has been killed—but not knowing how it happened or who is to blame. Moriarty focuses on the intersecting stories of three women—Madeline (the town fireball), Celeste (the trophy wife who has it all) and Jane (the reserved outsider)—and how their friendship, self-preserving lies and greatest mistakes influence the lives of everyone around them. I wanted to have Madeline on my team, I wanted to befriend poor Jane and I wanted to shake some sense into Celeste—I just wanted to know them all! Big Little Lies was juicy and scandalous and sublimely entertaining—I loved it, of course. And trust me when I tell you—you won’t see the ending coming at all. Rating: 10 out of 10
I Feel Bad About My Neck, by Nora Ephron As a writer (both on this here blog and in real life), I’ve long worshiped at the alter of Nora Ephron. I like to think I could be even 5 percent like her when I grow up. I read her work every few years, finding I can relate to it different now, as a writer and New Yorker, than I could when I was a freshman in college, just trying to make it to class on time.
I Feel Bad About My Neck has long been one of my favorite Ephron collections—it’s full of her signature quick wit and dry sense of humor that became a hallmark of her classic films like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. True, most of it centers on her experience with aging (something I guess I can’t complain too much about yet since I’m only 25), but there are still nuggets of wisdom to take away as a reader, no matter what your age. One of my favorite quotes from the book? Well I have two: “What failure of imagination had caused me to forget that life was full of other possibilities, including the possibility that eventually I would fall in love again?” (discussing her divorce and meeting her new husband) and “I now believe that what my mother meant when she said “Everythign is copy” is this: When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you; but when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh. So you become the hero rather than the victim of the joke.” Rating: 9 out of 10