My Best Books of February

My reading schedule, by necessity, tends to be organized around months: around our Best of the Month picks, to be exact. I read around as much as I can, going on first dates as it were, looking for books I might love enough to make our list. Some months the search for love is not as easy as others, but for February I was overwhelmed: it seemed like I found a new crush everywhere I turned. I was able to shoehorn a couple of them into what turned out to be a very crowded Best of the Month lineup, but while we still have just the tiniest bit of February left, I wanted to pass them all along to you here, since I liked the two that didn't make the cut nearly as much as the two that did.

To start with, the two that did make our Best of February list:

Townie by Andre Dubus III
I had never read Andre Dubus III--not even his NBA-nominated, Oprah-picked, Oscar-contending House of Sand and Fog--or, as far as I remember, his father, the Carver-era short story writer Andre Dubus, but something made me hungry to pick up Townie, the younger Dubus's memoir, and it wasn't just the gorgeous, matte cover. And I loved it from the beginning. Dubus is not what I usually think of as my kind of writer--I like funny, and ironic, and even vicious, in a dark and chilly Muriel Spark kind of way, and Andre III, at least as a memoirist (and I'm guessing as a novelist too), is none of those things. He is dead earnest, and full of empathy (which, I'll admit, I like too). The cliche of modern memoir is revenge taken on a miserable childhood; Dubus's story fits the latter (after his father ran off with a young student, he and his three siblings were pretty spectacularly neglected, if not unloved), but not the former. It's a story about anger, but not an angry story, and it's full of compassion even for those who treated him the worst (and for those he treated badly himself). And it's that compassion that led him to writing, which for him grows--in a path whose clarity is actually rare in the memoirs of writers--out of his empathy for the lives of others. His memoir embodies that quality, and now I want to go look for it in his fiction too (and his father's).

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