Blogs at Amazon

Sara Says

Sara Says: All I Want for Christmas Is...

BlumeAll I want for Christmas, as usual, is a big fat novel I can curl up with, all the better to get some quiet time amid the usual family hubbub.  

But even though I’m going to have to wait a bit to read one of the ones I’m most excited about, at least we got an early look at the jacket for Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event.

Blume might be best known as a children’s author--many’s the woman who can quote verbatim from Are You There, God, It’s Me Margaret--the fact is that her last adult novel, Summer Sisters, was a huge hit a while back. And this one--about a series of plane crashes that changed the lives of a whole town--will surely be one, too.
 
And while we’re talking about the future, let me also mention that I expect to hide out with Jami Attenberg’s Saint Maizie, which is coming next summer. Her The Middlesteins was one of my favorite books of 2012.

What else? Oh, right--there’s that adorable new Funny Girl from Nick Hornby, which so far has me thinking back to the joy of discovering one of my alltime favorites, High Fidelity.

FidelityAll that said, there are plenty of things we all can get our hands on RIGHT NOW--and for once, one of my most wished for books is not fiction. Instead it’s a gorgeous photography book about the making of the movie Boyhood, complete with pictures of the characters from the movie as they aged during the 12 years of filming. I’m never good at predicting movie awards, but as a book-about-a-film, this one is a prizewinner.

And last but not least, I’m going to catch up with the pseudonymous Italian author, Elena Ferrante, whose Days of Abandonment is one of my favorite dark-books-about-love of all time. Ferrante’s popularity is growing, and I’m sorry I missed My Brilliant Friend, which is the third in her Neapolitan trilogy. The holiday  seems the perfect time to right that wrong. I’m clearly going to have a happy reading holiday. Hope you do, too!
 

New York Times Book Review Editor Pamela Paul on "By The Book"

By-the-bookSince taking over the New York Times Book Review, Pamela Paul has revamped the venerable weekly, and brought it some much-needed life. Among her improvements, a weekly interview with a writer (usually) about his or her reading habits and predilections. Want to know what Michael Chabon has on his newsstand? Paul’s new compilation of columns, By the Book (with an introduction by Scott Turow) will tell you. We at Omni can tell you some of the same kind of stuff, too, of course, but we work on the principle that there’s plenty of info to go around, and whatever, whoever connects readers with writers is fine with us. And so, we turned interviewer of the interviewer, just to find out how she does it.

~

Is By the Book “edited”--i.e. do you cut answers, or rewrite questions or run answers together when appropriate?   

By the Book is edited in the sense that the editor (me) chooses who to include in the column each week, which questions to ask each person (the questions vary and rotate), and which answers will appear in print, where space is more limited. That said, we never edit within a given an answer--if we're going to include a question and answer, we run it in its entirety. We also edit for Times style, which has its own idiosyncrasies, and for accuracy. This is not a gotcha column in which we want to highlight someone accidentally referring to Isabella Archer. [p.s. - We didn’t edit Paul’s answers here either.]

Do you print every answer to every question, or do you pick and choose? What’s the difference between the By the Book that’s in the print paper and the one on the Web?

Pamela-paulWe do not have the space to include every question in the print edition, but we do run it in its entirety online--and in this book, which reprints the full Q and A. These are really portraits of a person through their life with books, and rather than abbreviate a long answer about someone's favorite novelist, that we should run it in full.

Why do you think the feature is so popular?  

As the editor of The New York Times Book Review, I like to think that book reviews are of paramount importance, but it would be foolish not to recognize the persuasive power of word-of-mouth. We all like to hear book recommendations from our smartest colleagues, best-read friends, spouses or just people we think are culturally tuned in or expert on a given subject. The idea of By the Book is to provide that word of mouth from the writers we most admire or whose work we most enjoy. Or whose opinion, on say, history books or music biographies we'd be especially keen on knowing. What By the Book does is marry word-of-mouth with informed opinion from our most popular and/or (not always the same) critically acclaimed writers. 

Do you do the interviews by phone, by email or in person?

As a reporter, I only conduct interviews by phone or in person--no exceptions. I'm actually vehemently opposed to email interviews, which I think have become too prevalent in journalism. A written answer is necessarily premeditated, edited, packaged. And it doesn't allow for probing, questioning, follow-up. So it feels odd to insist that this particular feature be done only by email (even when the rare person asks to do it by phone or in person, which has happened). But I think that this is an instance in which you want to get a deeply thought out answer, not an off-the-cuff response to a question like, "What book made you the person you are today?" It doesn't make for a better column if the person gives an answer and later realizes, "How could I have possibly said "Narnia" and forgotten about "Madame Bovary?" or whatever the specifics might be. Readers want to genuinely know what an astrophysicist thinks is THE best book about cosmology, not the first book that comes to mind.

Who has been your favorite By the Book respondent?

Very hard to say, I have many favorites. I think the journalist in me most appreciates the big "gets"--Malala Yousafsai, Hillary Clinton, Donna Tartt, Edward St. Aubyn. I was also incredibly pleased that the first two people I asked when I had nothing on paper to show and had just started the column--David Sedaris and Lena Dunham--both said yes right away.

Who would you most like to get but haven’t yet gotten for By the Book?

Happily, not a lot of people have said no. But I would love to get people who are not necessarily authors but are writers in other formats, or great readers. I'd love to have Mick Jagger or Paul Simon. Or both.

Are BtB respondents always authors?

No. The actor and comedian Bill Hader did one this past summer that I thought was brilliant and unexpected. He's an autodidact, a voracious reader, and he's got excellent taste.

Must you have read the work of the author(s) you choose for BtB?

No, but it helps. At the very least it helps to have a sense of their work, their lives, their experiences. Because the interviews are tailored to each person and you want a mix of both expected an unexpected answers. I really like the question "What's your favorite love story?" which I don't ask all the time, but I do like to ask both of the expected (a romance writer) and the unexpected (a military historian). Same thing goes with asking about self-help. Who knew Hilary Mantel would be such a fan of the genre?

Who chooses the authors and who does the interviews?

I do.

What happens if a BtB respondent has a new book that’s not positively reviewed in your pages?

In a way, By the Book is a nice way to balance our review coverage, and to offer readers another perspective on the author or her work. A reader may find herself disagreeing with the reviewer who pans a book, and very much liking what the author has to say for himself, or find they have literary tastes in common. 

What’s the best answer you ever got from a BtB respondent?

I think the best answers, honestly, are the ones that connect different authors. I realize its sappy, but what I love most is when writers find out they admire each other's work from afar. It was a delight when Donna Tartt said, for example, that she was eagerly awaiting the next Stephen King novel--before she saw Stephen King's rave of The Goldfinch on our cover.

What are you reading right now--and why?

I am reading all (or nearly all) of Dave Eggers's books in anticipation of an event I'm doing with him in San Francisco on October 29th. I had only read What is the What, so I'm going back and reading through his earlier books. I started with The Circle, then went to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and now I'm reading Hologram for a King, which I plan to follow with Zeitoun. He's been incredibly prolific in a relatively short period of time so I have my work cut out for me.

~

> See all of Pamela Paul's books

> Follow her on Twitter

Season of "The Witch": Fairy Tales for the Modern World

The Witch: And Other Tales Re-ToldIn a world that loves to categorize writers – he writes horror, say; she’s a journalist – Jean Thompson is uncategorizable. In fact, the only consistent thing you can say about the author of several award winning novels and collections (my favorite: Who Do You Love?) is that she’s always interesting and good – and, yes, surprising. This month Thompson releases a new collection of tales that seem Halloweenish, The Witch: And Other Tales Re-Told, in that they’re inspired by fairy tales – grim and not so – of her youth. We asked Thompson to complete a specialized version of our Amazon Asks.

The Witch will be available September 25.

What’s the elevator pitch for your book?

I rewrote some classic fairy tales with ordinary people as characters. It's great, really!

What inspired you to do that?

I'm interested in what makes stories compelling, and what gives them staying power. Fairy tales reach so far back into our collective past, and new versions of them constantly evolve and surface. We seem to have a very human need for stories that end with the triumph of the good, the innocent, the brave, the virtuous, with obstacles overcome and the world set to rights. And often enough, only some kind of supernatural intervention can overcome the very long odds of this happening. There's a lot of wish fulfillment you can't get anywhere else.

Your books usually address the everyday experiences of ordinary Americans. Fairy tales almost always have magical elements. Can you talk about the juxtaposition of the extraordinary and the mundane in this book?

I'm a connoisseur of the mundane, in that everything I write comes out of closely observed ordinary life, and is grounded in reality. There are no fairy godmothers in The Witch, no amazing transformations, or rather, anything that might partake of the magical can also be explained by psychology or circumstance. And yet, if this doesn't sound too contradictory, I believe that the world we live in is the only real source of magic: of delight, of unexpected fortune, of second chances, new beginnings, of all that transports us.

These tales, as you’ve rewritten them, are quite subversive, politically and socially. (Cinderella has a drunken encounter; Hansel and Gretel deal with the foster care system) How do these stories reflect your own political views?

Thank you for introducing the word 'subversive', which I shall promptly add to my lexicon of self-description. Subversive sounds so much better than cranky and mistrustful. I guess I'm not inclined to take things at face value, or to believe official party lines. In politics, this probably stems from coming of age during the Vietnam war and later Watergate, when even the paranoid were a little shocked to discover the extent of official lying. In my fiction, I'm fond of characters, especially young characters, who see through cover stories and lectures to real motives. Yes, I suppose I was a difficult child.

What’s the last dream you remember?

I have a lot of fairly detailed anxiety dreams: forgetting appointments, not being able to find keys, and most often, being lost or trapped in some strange landscape or building with doors that won't open, endless staircases leading nowhere, and the like. Always happy to wake up.

What’s your most memorable author moment?

Giving a bookstore reading of a story where a character has a blind date with a man who had an unrequited crush on her many years ago in college, then afterwards, signing a book for a guy who once asked me out many years ago in, etc. Memorable, and not in a good way.

What superpower would you most like to have, not including invisibility or flight?

The superpower I'd choose, if invisibility is off the table: I'd like to be able to win arguments. With anybody, about anything. So there.

Sometimes It’s OK to Say “I Told You So”

RobPeaceAbout three years ago, my friend Rebecca introduced me to her husband, Jeff Hobbs, who had published one novel and was working on another. Like me, Rebecca is a major reader—our relationship started because we both worked in related parts of the book business—and she wanted my opinion on Jeff’s book. I read the partial manuscript—and was unsure. There was a lot about Jeff’s writing that I liked, but the story (about a marriage, as I recall) didn’t quite hold together. When Jeff and Rebecca and I talked, we talked about how to fix it.

But a funny thing happened in the course of that telephone conversation three years ago. Jeff mentioned that he was taking a break from the novel anyway, because he was trying to deal with his grief and sadness over the death of his friend and college roommate, Rob Peace. He was travelling back and forth to the east coast (the Hobbses live in L.A.) to attend the funeral and reconnect with his and Rob’s old friends. I didn’t know Jeff well at all at that point, but even I could tell that this experience—losing his friend in this horrible way—was just about all he was able to think about.

So I honestly don’t remember who said it first—whether it was Jeff or Rebecca or me—but what I do know is from that moment on, we stopped talking about the novel and started talking about how Jeff, a writer whose main way of figuring things out is to write about them, would honor his friend.We talked about Jeff writing a magazine article that might, if it worked, turn into a proposal for a book. I said I’d help him find an agent or editor to help.

A few months, or maybe it was only weeks later, Jeff showed me a 30-something-page proposal that blew me away. It was knowing, it was journalistic, it was beautiful: all that and more. So I sent it along to a friend, David Black, who just happened to be one of the best agents in New York.

Jeffhobbs
Author Jeff Hobbs

The rest, as they say, is history—if you read the footnotes. Which, in this case, means that David worked with Jeff to turn a brilliant 30 page proposal into an even more complete 80-or-something-page proposal. Within weeks, the book was bought by Scribner, which is publishing it with the enthusiasm and passion it deserves.

Why am I telling you all this stuff, which is inside-baseball at its most arcane? Because now, on the eve of the publication of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, I find myself sitting with the book, with pre-pub reviews, with Goodreads commentary, and finding my eyes fill up with tears. Yes, I’m proud to have been a small part of something so great, but this is Jeff’s book all the way—though Jeff, in his characteristically humble way, corrects me by saying “It’s Rob’s book.” But what I’m moved by, as Rob Peace’s story, honored by his friend Jeff Hobbs, goes out into the world, is that an awful lot of people are feeling the way I felt when I first talked to the Hobbses about this years ago: Rob Peace’s life story is not only worth telling, it must be told. So here’s my shameless plug: if you haven’t read this book yet, do it now. You don’t want to be the last one on your block to join the conversation about race and friendship and family in our time.

And, after you do, you can say I told you so.

Runway Roundup: New Releases for Fashion Week

I think I’ve probably used up all the words allotted for praising I’ll Drink to That, the new memoir from the octogenarian style maven, Betty Halbreich. But, love it as I do, there are other brand new books about fashion and their –istas, just out or about to come out. Why does it seem there’s a bounty of such books right now? Fall is big clothes-buying season, for one thing (I bet that fact has to do with our collective memories of back-to-school outfits and shoes) and, also because it’s the week designers show their upcoming stuff at Fashion Week. Here, then, some other books for the adornment-obsessed.

 

Women in Clothes

Women in Clothes

A quirky compendium of essays, photos, interviews and other pieces by and about women and the things they wear. Notable contributors include authors Heidi Julavits, artist Leanne Shapton and (of course) Girls creator and, ahem, creative dresser, Lena Dunham. Anthologies are usually tricky – uneven – and this one can be. But it’s so well done, and so chock full of charm, you can’t help learning (again!) that in books, as in fashion, style and confidence is all.

 
Champagne Supernovas

Champagne Supernovas: Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, and the 90s Renegades Who Remade Fashion by Maureen Callahan

Dish-y! According to New York Post writer, Maureen Callahan, model Kate Moss and designers Marc Jacobs and the late Alexander McQueen are responsible for turning alternative style into the mainstream – and making billions in the process. Callahan posits that these mad geniuses of fashion are major cultural icons, or at least were responsible for major cultural shifts. It’s a provocative argument. As the late Joan Rivers, who also had a few opinions about fashion, would say, “Can we talk?”

 
The Woman I Wanted to Be

The Woman I Wanted to Be by Diane von Furstenberg

Her second memoir, the designer Diane von Furstenberg here inspires women not necessarily to wear her signature wrap dresses, but to believe in themselves. After all, the now-wife of mogul Barry Diller did, through family crises, career setbacks and serious illness. Still, in the end, she says, “I owe everything to that little dress.”

 
TITLE

D.V. and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel by Diana Vreeland

And no book about fashionism [sic] would be complete without a mention of the very best, funniest, oddest books about loving and having style. Those, of course, are Diana Vreeland’s D.V. and The Eye Has to Travel. “Pink is the navy blue of India,” the legendary Vogue editor famously opined. Like the aphorisms attributed to Yogi Berra, hers are, even in the re-reading, irresistible.

 
Elsa Schiaparelli: A Biography

Elsa Schiaparelli: A Biography by Meryle Secrest

And then there’s Elsa Schiaparelli, best known until recently by only the  most serious fashion lovers, but who was, in her day, even more famous than Coco Chanel. Meryle Secrest’s biography makes the case that Schiaparelli (grandmother of actress Marisa Berenson) was not merely a designer, but was, in fact, an artist (she was close to Man Ray, among others) and an eccentric social revolutionary whose medium was apparel.   

Sara’s Sleeper: "We Are Called to Rise" by Laura McBride

SaranelsonWe Are Called to RiseSometimes I crave a simple, straightforward novel--not necessarily light, but straightforward;  one that makes a point about our world-views, our morality, the way we live now. 

We Are Called to Rise, by Laura McBride, is that kind of book. It’s a  series of interlocking vignettes of four characters:  two middle aged women with in-flux family lives, a little Albanian-immigrant boy and a wounded soldier too scared and angry to remember his patriotic platitudes. It’s set in Las Vegas, but if you’re thinking glamorous, you’ll be surprised.  And while there are moments you can’t help but see that this debut author is more fascinated by her ideas than the characters she gives them to, I dare you to come away from this arresting novel unmoved. 

Plus:  how can you resist a book that is both readable in one sitting AND takes its title from a poem by Emily Dickinson? 

Sara Says: All I want for New Year's...

SaranelsonAll I want for New Year's... is a handful of fantastic books.

Let somebody else (or millions of somebodies else) think the new year brings resolutions of weight loss, money saving, better parenting. For me, 2014 means I get another chance to sift through another giant stack of books to pick out the ones that will matter most to me. This is no exact science, to be sure, and there are always surprises none of us can see coming (how did I not know that The Goldfinch was going to change my life in 2013?). But as I look ahead a couple of months, these are the five novels (and one bio) I'm most excited to get my hands on:

The Enchanted

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld


I was skeptical, I admit, because this debut novel involves magic, and magic is usually not my thing. But so far, this tale of life in a prison, narrated by a mute inmate and centered on an unnamed death penalty investigator who makes a particularly monstrous killer as her cause, has me riveted.
Boy, Snow, Bird

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi


A retelling of the Snow White fairy tale, except this time the issue of race is explicit. I'm curious to see how Oyeyemi -- who was, after all, the author of Mr. Fox, which took on the Bluebird legend -- does with this somewhat more mainstream parable.
Frog Music

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue


Sometimes I'm afraid to start a book for fear that I'll be captivated but won't have the block of time necessary to finish it. That's how I felt about Frog Music by Emma Donoghue (but, ok, I cheated. I read the beginning, and I'm taking the rest of the day off from all other pursuits.) You may know Donoghue as the author of Room, but this book seems more akin to her Slammerkin, in that both deal with historical murders of women of questionable repute. Either way, you can count on this one getting lots of attention come spring.
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman


How's this for a first line: "We'd been in America just three months when the horse ran over me"? So begins this luscious-looking novel by the author of Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress. This one's going to the very top of the pile.
You Should Have Known

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz


The author of the much-admired Admission is back with another story of affluent, sophisticated people -- here a therapist and her oncologist husband -- who discover that their privileged life was not quite as wonderful as it seemed. This one has "major motion picture" written all over it.
Updike

Updike by Adam Begley


Ok, so I'm a booknerd. You knew that. But to judge from the outpouring of acclaim both upon Updike's death in 2009 and, of course, well before, I bet there are a lot of us. Critic and biographer Adam Begley's take on the author of the Rabbit books and The Witches of Eastwick (among many others) deserves a look , and not only because the cover photo of the author as a young handsome man is so inviting.

See Seira's YA Books I Can't Wait to Read in 2014
See Robin's Geeking Out: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror in 2014

Sara Says: All I’ve Missed in 2013

Saranelson

I know: you don't pity me. My life is all about reading, so what's to complain? On the other hand, for a reader like me -- and, I suspect, all of the members of our wonderful editorial team, as well as many, many of you booklovers out there -- the one thing we hate most is MISSING a book. Just plain not seeing, not knowing about, or not getting to something you've meant to get to -- something that others have read (or not) and praised (or even not). Herewith, then, are the novels I'm packing in my holiday bag next week. (Stay tuned for my New Year's wish-list, coming soon.)

 

SomeoneI love Alice McDermott, always have and always will. (Charming Billy's a favorite). So how on Earth did I miss Someone, her latest novel and, according to my brilliant sister, who reads way more and better than I do, one of her best. This "deceptively simple" tale of an ordinary woman who has vision problems (literally and figuratively) is first up for the plane ride pre-Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

People in the Trees The People in the Trees has been called "challenging," and while I admit that scares me a little, I'm fascinated by anything called a cross between Norman Rush's Mating, Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, and Peter Matthiessen's At Play in the Fields of the Lord. That, and it has a very weird and compelling cover.

 

 

 

 

 

Good Lord Bird A confession. I predicted that The Good Lord Bird would win the National Book Award for fiction, and to everyone's astonishment (including mine, sort of) I was right. But I hadn't read it. (I was basing my vote on the fact that The Color of Water, the author's memoir, was one of the great, successful but somehow still undersung books of its generation.) So I'm going to deny my usually perverse nature -- I hate to read a book AFTER it is an official award-winner -- and read this by New Year's.

 

 

 

 

The Mole The Mole is Peter Warner's fictional memoir about a modest Canadian spy in Washington, D.C., from the 1950s to the 1980s. They say it's clever, and moves quickly, and, you know, for a Homeland addict now off her third season feed, I need that.

Sara Says: Oprah's New Book Club Pick is Same Old Song, Only Better

Saranelson

When Oprah Winfrey announced today that Sue Monk Kidd's The Invention of Wings would be the newest selection in her Book Club 2.0, you could almost hear a symphony of hands slapping foreheads all over town. "Duh," was a typical first reaction: OF COURSE Oprah would choose this novel about the lifelong relationship between a white Southern girl/woman and the slave she was "gifted" by her mother on her eleventh birthday. It's about race, it's about strong women and it has a strong theme of redemption: all favorites of the media queen. (Not to mention that the author, Sue Monk Kidd, wrote The Secret Life of Bees, a 2002 novel also about Southern women and race, which was a huge best seller, but not an Oprah pick, for some reason.)

Book Club 2.0But I submit that for all its familiarity, The Invention of Wings is as much a new kind of Oprah pick as it is variation on the tried-and-true.

Let me back up here to say that for three years, from 2009 to 2012, I was the Books Editor at O, the Oprah Magazine, and was involved in the launching of the new book club in June 2012. The book was Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and while it had been a very successful memoir before Oprah picked it, it went higher and stayed longer on the best seller lists for months afterwards--O influence or coincidence, you decide. And while it's true that I had a hand in Oprah getting her hands on the book, the fact is that dozens--and I do mean dozens--of people, publishing professionals and not, regularly pitch her with ideas. (Really, I think the guys in the convenience stores near her homes have probably made suggestions as has anyone who has had a significant battle with weight.)

So here's the story: Oprah picks what she reads and what she likes. She doesn't automatically take anybody's word for any book. (Trust me: This much I know is true.) She needs to feel it herself. And so while I don't know how Kidd's book got to her, I have no doubt that she read every word of it and that she alone made the decision to feature it. She's a true book nerd that way, and I bet she wouldn't even mind my calling her that.

But back to Kidd's wonderful book, which I have to admit I approached with trepidation, fearing a sentimental take on this now-much-discussed topic; I don't need to name the books in recent years that addressed black/white relations in a somewhat cartoony fashion. But I was happily surprised. Based loosely on the story of Sarah Grimke, a pre-civil war South Carolina daughter of a slaveholding family who became an ardent abolitionist and all-around champion of women's rights, it doesn't have a cardboard character anywhere in its 300+ pages. Not Sarah Grimke herself, not her given slave Hetty aka Handful, not Denmark Vesey, a revolutionary and charismatic free black man. These are characters that could be stock, straight out of central casting, but in Kidd's hands, they're way more complicated than that.

Oprah, of course, has picked many similarly sophisticated books -- even Jonathan Franzen would have to agree with that, now that two of his novels were chosen!--but what makes this one particularly contemporary is, ironically, that it has a historical basis. This is the mood of the day: it's why Loving Frank (a novel loosely based on Frank Lloyd Wright and one of his lovers), The Women (ditto, but more lovers), The Paris Wife (Hemingway and one wife) and many many others have succeeded so well of late. We don't want just a good yarn anymore, it seems, we want a story that can teach us something, preferably about somebody we have heard of (I knew vaguely of the Grimke sisters before I cracked this book) who also happens to be somebody who can teach us something.

I think this was a great pick that does both what you would expect an Oprah book to do--be socially conscious and accessible--and something more. Sure, it's about a very specific period and very specific people. But it's also, like more and more novels of recent years, a novel that educates you without preaching: about history, about relationships, about life.

This article was first published on Huffington Post

Why I Love "The Goldfinch"

Every once in a while, if you’re really lucky, you come across a book that speaks directly to you, and describes your world while simultaneously introducing it to you as if for the first time. I can count on two hands the books that have done that for me. Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone was one. The World According to Garp—which, it seemed to me, absolutely everybody was reading, in paperback, the summer before my senior year in college—was another. Some people feel this way about A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. And, of course, Harry Potter.

The Goldfinch is that kind of novel to me: a huge, rambling but still somehow tightly plotted, Dickensian tale of a boy and his beloved mother, and how her loss so unmoored him that, fourteen years and myriad misadventures later, he’s still grieving. I fell for it partly because as the mother of a son just off to college, it pulled the requisite heart strings. But The Goldfinch is more than a coming-of-age novel, though it is that, in the largest sense. It’s a rumination on art and truth, comparable in scope and importance (and this was the opinion of many reviewers, not just me) to Great Expectations and other famous bildungsromans. (And yes, one reviewer suggested, not kindly, that it was more JK Rowling than Dickens.)

Here’s what real people I know said about this book:

“I feel like I’ll have a hole in my life when I’m done with this book.”

“I started it thinking it would take so long to read all 750+ pages, and now I’m parceling it out to myself so it won’t end too soon.”

“Over the moon” is the common, old fashioned way some readers are putting it. I’ll just put it this way: I spent one weekend this summer sitting on the porch with an advance copy in my hands, moving my chair a few inches to the right to catch the sun as it rose, travelled across the sky and set, ten glorious Goldfinch pages at a time.

I guess a lot of people are obsessed. The book was in the top 10 on Amazon before it was even published, that’s how great the anticipation and advance word have been. It’s still there after publication, which suggests it doesn’t disappoint.

The Goldfinch is not perfect. It’s long, for sure. (“She writes two sentences for every one she needs to write,” says one woman I know. So did Faulkner, I say. And Tartt’s sentences are funnier, besides) Its last 100 pages flies off a cliff in an operatic stupor. But maybe it had to be that way, the less painful the reader’s separation anxiety to come.

The worst part? Knowing that since a book this moving, this enthralling and enveloping comes along, as I said, only every once in a while, it will be many, many moons until we see its like again.


Boty_rg_cover_thumb This piece comes from our free Best Books of 2013: Reader's Guide, which you can download now for your Kindle. It features interviews, essays, excerpts, and other fun extras about the year’s top 20 titles: Donna Tartt talks about her eating habits while writing The Goldfinch; Khaled Hosseini’s publicist discusses what it’s like to be on a national tour with him; David Finkel discusses the emotional impact following the 2-16 infantry battalion in Thank You for Your Service; and much more.

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

December 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31