Virginia is a writer as well as a writing coach.
Virginia's Staff Picks:
So, yes, this book won the Pulitzer, which should maybe be enough, but it also may be my favorite read of the year, so far.
Here's why: it's both funny and profound, and while the funny may be what you notice first, the profound is what sticks with you after you finish reading.
The character of Less and his blue suit, of his decision to work and travel, to get away from it all is utterly captivating. Read it. That is all.
Title: White Houses
If you've loved Bloom's other books (I have), this one is a no-brainer. A novelization of the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and reporter, 'Hick' Hickock, it is one of the greatest love stories I've ever read.
It also details a period in America's history - from Hick's perspective - that, in its specificity, truly feels as though it's happening while you read. Her voice is jaunty and a little flippant, even, or maybe especially, when she's describing the events that hurt her the most.
Hicks's childhood is the perfect set-up for her time with the Roosevelts - she is the ultimate outsider/insider in the White House, and her commentary is both trustworthy and utterly compelling because we know who she was before she was there.
This is historical fiction at its best, its most literary AND its most compelling. We all know how it ends, but it doesn't matter. Bloom guides us through their story with her usual deftness, and the way we feel about Hick is the way we feel about the story, itself. Enchanted. A little dazed. And ultimately, glad to have been able to watch it unfold.
Title: Mothers of Sparta
Heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny, this memoir is one you won't want to put down. Davies is unflinching in her examination of her own life, her parenting, her love life, and figuring - or trying to figure - it all out.
One section, titled Mothers of Sparta, is tough to read -- it's one mother's attempt to raise a child under difficult circumstances. Davies doesn't pull any punches in her telling and acknowledges that it has taken many hours of leaving her computer and coming back to get it on the page.
Her story is a tough one, but it's told with such matter-of-factness that the more we read, the more linked we feel to her. The mix of humor and honesty is irresistible, and I found myself reading when I really should have been doing other things. Sad when I was finished. And wondering what would happen in her life next - wishing for regular updates in her inimitable voice.
Title: An American Marriage
I'm always interested in the books that Oprah chooses - in part because I think she has a good book sense, but also because I want to find that thing that makes her choose one book above another. What is it that makes a book stand out for Oprah? I don't know if I figured out the answer to that question, but I also stopped caring almost immediately. This book is just good. It's not electrifying, but it is a really wonderful story about being in love. About the ways we change and how that affects what we want. And about what happens when good people are asked to make decisions that will affect other people's lives.
I think this story will bounce around in my head for a while. The characters are so well-drawn, the story is immersive, that I just keep remembering pieces of the book and the ways that they reflect life, as it's lived, over time.
I don't know exactly why Oprah chose this book, but I'm glad I read it. I think you will be, too.
Title: Everything Here Is Beautiful
I'm not exactly sure what to say about this book -- it hits every note perfectly? It does.
A story of family and of the ways in which mental illness touches everyone, there is no victim here, there are no bad guys. Instead, we're pulled into a story in which love is complicated by fear, by responsibility, by frustration and exhaustion. Both familiar and compelling.
Lee's writing is extraordinary; her storytelling is, too. We know from the start that it's all going to go bad, somehow, but as we follow these people, our definition of bad resets. We feel each event unfold, feel its reverberations for every character before they regroup and move forward again.
Whatever forward might mean for them.
Title: Little Fires Everywhere
Title:The Perfect Nanny
Winner of the Goncourt, France's biggest literary prize, The Perfect Nanny was bound to be pretty good. But it actually exceeded my expectations - I couldn't put it down.
It's described as 'the French Gone Girl,' which I think is misleading -- it's not a thriller; it's an engrossing examination of the psychology behind the relationships between the people who take care of other peoples' lives and the families they're taking care of.
I don't want to give the story away, but the character development is extraordinary, the prose is spare, and the tension increases exponentially as the story progresses.
Read this one. You won't be sorry.
Title: Bad Kansas: Stories
This is the best short story collection I've read in a very long time. Eleven stories that examine relationships and place and our places within relationships - you get the idea. Mandelbaum's writing is beautifully-wraught but not distracting from the stories. I finished this book and wanted to go back and read it over again. So I did. It was just as good the second time around - maybe better.
If you like your characters human and flawed, sometimes stuck in places they'd rather not be, and trying their hardest to figure out what they want, who they want to be, and how to get there, this collection is for you. Maybe twice.
Title: How to Draw Animals for the Artistically Anxious
Comments: As a lifetime member of the aforementioned anxiety-plagued, I can say that this book works on multiple levels: the adorable drawings will relax you and then give you a reliable example to follow to CREATE YOUR OWN ADORABLE ANIMALS! That, I think, is a win-win. **Added bonus: captions.**
Title: Red Sled
I loved this book! The pictures are so well-done, and the story made me laugh out loud. Plus, the end is ridiculously sweet.