Every December, I file away the list of books I read over the year and look forward to sharing favorite books with friends in order to clear the cache for a new year. As we head into the final days of 2015, our staff share some of their current picks to kick off a new year of reading.
Literary Reflections Editor Andrea Lani writes, “With the holidays bearing down, I find myself staying up late each night making gnomes. Gnomes to tuck in my children’s shoes on St. Nicholas Day, gnomes for the ornament exchange my sisters, mother, and aunts hold, a gnome to add to the collection of winter elves and tomten that I’ve placed in my husband’s stocking over the years. The gnomes I’m making are based on those in The Gnome Project: One Woman's Wild and Woolly Adventure by fiber artist Jessica Peill-Meininghaus. The book is a fun and heartfelt memoir of the author’s effort to needle-felt one gnome per day for one year to combat unfinished-project syndrome and to find focus and grounding in a life thrown into chaos by moving her family of six from one coast to the other and making an old farmhouse livable. The Gnome Project has inspired me to think about what kind of daily practice I could take on in the new year. It won’t be gnomes; after this Christmas, I won’t ever want to see a gnome again. But if I could write every day—a page, or even a paragraph—wonderful things might happen.”
Managing Editor and Senior Editor Karna Converse recommends, “Whatever you call it—literary journalism, narrative nonfiction, or creative nonfiction—Michael Paterniti has been doing it for twenty years and for some of the biggest names in the magazine world (GQ, Esquire, Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine). In Love and Other Ways of Dying, he introduces readers to 17 people and the places and events that made these interview subjects who they are. A collection of work like this can sometimes be monotonous to read, but I found the book riveting from page 1 to page 433 because of the variety—in subject matter and in structure (some essays written in first person, some in second person, and some in third person). Through his keen eye, I was transported from Ukraine to Nova Scotia to Haiti, China, and Dodge City, Kansas (and more) and into the lives of ordinary people living in, and through, extraordinary circumstances. In an interview with his GQ editor about the book, he says, ‘I’m always looking off to the side to see what’s happening in the margin or to see what’s happening behind somebody.’ It’s this looking-off-to-the-side reportage that captivated me, and it’s a writing tip I’ll keep in mind when working on my own projects. Paterniti has been nominated eight times for the National Magazine Award; this book was longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award.”
Creative Nonfiction Editor Dawn Haines adds, “A year or two after she started to write her memoir Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me from Myself, Julie Barton attended a fancy one-day workshop with a noted memoirist who told her this: ‘Your story has too many pieces in it. It can’t all be in one book.’ Yes, Ms. Barton was devastated at this flat-out rejection of her story, and she wrote on anyway. We can all be grateful for that. And what a story it is, all of it, written in beautiful, evocative, and accessible emotional language reaching out from the bound pages and encircling the hearts of everyone who reads it. Every once in a while, you come across a book that seems to have been written only for you. That assumes the warm comfort of a knowing, dear friend. Julie Barton is that voice and friend, real, familiar, as she sometimes whispers in your ear, sometimes shouts from across the room this story she must tell.
“Julie Barton was 22 when she fell to the floor of her Manhattan apartment walk-up. She lay on that floor for two days in what she now can only describe as some kind of mental break. Her mother drove straight through from Ohio to bring her daughter home where rest, good food, doctors, and medications did little to ease Barton’s crippling depression. Always a dog owner and lover, Barton’s mother buys her a Golden Retriever puppy she names Bunker, and thus as she learns to care for this little soul, she learns to care for herself, to live again. The book introduces possible origins of Barton’s debilitating depression: love gone wrong, living in the big city, the scars, both physical and emotional, from the abuse she suffered as a girl at the hands of her brother. Sibling abuse is the last bastion of domestic abuse in this country, the final thread. We haven’t yet done enough to understand this problem, but don’t misunderstand me (or Barton): this book is not about a victim or retribution or plain old sensationalism; no, Barton heals herself through looking at the hard, straight on, because of the constant companionship of her beloved Bunker. She makes us look too, but we don’t see horror; we see forgiveness, understanding, and ultimately love. I wept when I finished this book, and I knew the story going in. Yes, it’s about depression, sibling abuse, falling in and out of love, family, home, hurt, and growing up, but really, it’s about love. How to love in the face of trauma, pain, fear, and loss. How to love again. How to love everyone who matters to you, and how to love yourself.”