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What’s on My Bookshelf

I love books. I worked in an iconic indie bookstore in high school, I majored in English and I carried a book around as a toddler (in lieu of a blanket or a stuffed animal), so I’m pretty picky about my reading list. I even thought about dedicating my blog to reviews — I was going to call it Hemingway and Hammocks. But maybe I’ll save that name for the sandy-floored bookstore I will one day open on a tropical island.
In the meantime, I wanted to share some things you should read. Because recently I’ve discovered two of the most enchanting books of my life. They’ve held me captive, one with the power of the plot, and one with the lyricism of the writing.
A Little LifeFirst, A Little Life. Given to me as a Christmas present, the book didn’t exactly thrill me out of the gate, with its hefty size (700+ pages!) and cover image of a tortured face. But oh. Once I started it, I had no issue lugging it with me on the subway, to coffee shops and on an overnight trip to Chicago. I stayed up until 2 a.m. nightly, and lingered in bed each morning cramming in pages before work. The story focuses on a foursome of male friends who meet in college and settle in New York City. As time passes, their relationships with each other evolve, and we come to learn about the tortured past of one. It’s harrowing, yet absolutely riveting. I could feel my muscles tensing the way they do in horror movies, all due to the power of Hanya Yanagihara’s prose. There are many reviews out there that will more expertly and explicitly spell out the ride a reader is in for with this book, but I recommend entering blind, trusting simply that you will experience intensity, trauma and triumph, and that, once it hooks you, this story will open itself up to you in its own time. I haven’t yet recommended this book to anyone, mostly because it’s felt like a relationship, and I haven’t yet wanted to break that bond.
H Is for HawkSecond, H Is for Hawk. I’m a memoir skeptic. I hate that living a life anywhere remotely outside the realm of “normal” earns you a book deal. Walk a trail? Write a book. Prioritize your own happiness? Write a book. Cook from a cookbook? Write a book about it. So when H Is for Hawk landed, I scoffed, convinced that its conceit was outlandishly indulgent. Is the story of a woman training a hawk really so momentous? My bad! It is. Helen Macdonald’s chronicle of grief after the death of her father is brittle, delicate and written with the same wild, ephemerality of a bird itself. And training a goshawk is no easy feat. I had no idea. This is what a memoir should be. It’s expressive, raw, open and informative. As I read, I started keeping notes on her most beautiful phrases. Daylight “irrigating” a dark box, air becoming “syrupy,” the world turning to “brilliance and fury.” Macdonald’s enthusiasm for the avian world is infectious: hers is a world fluttering with sparrows and set to the soundtrack of birdsong. Since cracking it open, I’ve found myself peering up into the sky to see what’s soaring up there.

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