Reading a book is like a love affair: there are the first, coy glances; there’s the breathless excitement; there’s the stage at which you become totally inseparable; there’s the heartache when you part. Some books will be steady, reliable, long-term loves; Pride and Prejudice or Harry Potter will be there for you all your life. But then—there are the whirlwind romances. These are the books you find at exactly the right time in your life. These are the books you fall madly, deeply in love with. These are the books that change you, that hurt you, that inspire you. But when you go back to read them a year later, you’re left cold.
There are few experiences more agonizing for readers than finishing a book in just a few days, only to realize that you have to wait a year for the sequel. And that’s if you’re lucky!
For some, that wait is simply too high a price to pay. Instead, they find themselves drawn to works with shorter installments released more frequently. But the experience of reading a story in chunks differs so vastly from the reward of waiting and waiting for a big book. One is like the calm, sure security of having what you want; the other is like a spontaneous, passionate love affair. Where do you fall on the spectrum, and does that preference change over time?
One of my favorite parts of my childhood (starting around 1996, when I was eight years old) was going grocery shopping with my dad on Saturdays. One Saturday every month, I saved that week’s $5 allowance to visit the B. Dalton or Waldenbooks on our route and buy the latest Animorphs book. Five bucks a pop, maybe two hundred pages, and I was usually finished with it by the time I went to school on Monday morning. The continuous cycle of waiting, buying, and reading became a ritual that would last for the next five years. (This was early days of the Internet, so within two weeks of the next month’s release, Scholastic would have updated their website with the tantalizing jacket copy about the Animorphs’ next adventure.) When the series finally bowed in 2001, I felt like there was a small, aching hole in my reading life.
Contrast that with a very different book ritual occurring around the same time: the release of a new Harry Potter book every few years. As any Millennial will tell you, this was an event: Fans dressed up for midnight release parties, which involved a lot of distracted trivia as you counted down the minutes, then mobbing the poor bookseller for your copy, then immediately plopping down on the ground and tearing into the new book.
“If I have any secret stash of poems, anywhere, it might be about love, not anger,” Mary Oliver once said in an interview. Finally, in her stunning new collection, Felicity, we can immerse ourselves in Oliver’s love poems. Here, great happiness abounds.
Our most delicate chronicler of physical landscape, Oliver has described her work as loving the world. With Felicity she examines what it means to love another person. She opens our eyes again to the territory within our own hearts; to the wild and to the quiet. In these poems, she describes—with joy—the strangeness and wonder of human connection.
As in Blue Horses, Dog Songs, and A Thousand Mornings, with FelicityOliver honors love, life, and beauty.
The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s “late plays.” It tells the story of a king whose jealousy results in the banishment of his baby daughter and the death of his beautiful wife. His daughter is found and brought up by a shepherd on the Bohemian coast, but through a series of extraordinary events, father and daughter, and eventually mother too, are reunited.
In The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson’s cover version of The Winter’s Tale, we move from London, a city reeling after the 2008 financial crisis, to a storm-ravaged American city called New Bohemia. Her story is one of childhood friendship, money, status, technology and the elliptical nature of time. Written with energy and wit, this is a story of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and redemption and the enduring love of a lost child on the other.
The fog crept in from the sea, suffocating the city. It descended like an invading army, consuming landmarks, choking out the moonlight, rendering Southampton a strange and unnerving place.
Empress Road industrial estate was quiet as the grave. The body shops had shut for the day, the mechanics and supermarket workers had departed and the streetwalkers were now making their presence felt. Dressed in short skirts and bra tops, they pulled hard on their cigarettes, gleaning what little warmth they could to ward off the bone-chilling cold. Pacing up and down, they worked hard to sell their sex, but in the gloom they appeared more like skeletal wraiths than objects of desire.
The man drove slowly, his eyes raking the line of half-naked junkies. He sized them up—a sharp snap of recognition occasionally punching through—then dismissed them. They weren’t what he was looking for. Tonight he was looking for something special.
Hope jostled with fear and frustration. He had thought of nothing else for days. He was so close now, but what if it was all a lie? An urban myth? He slammed the steering wheel hard. She had to be here.
Nothing. Nothing. Noth—
There she was. Standing alone, leaning against the graffiti-embossed wall. The man felt a sudden surge of excitement. There was something different about this one. She wasn’t checking her nails or smoking or gossiping. She was simply waiting. Waiting for something to happen.
He pulled his car off the road, parking out of sight by a chain-link fence. He had to be careful, mustn’t leave anything to chance. He scanned the streetscape for signs of life, but the fog had cut them off completely. It was as if they were the only two people left in the world.
He marched across the road toward her, then checked himself, slowing his pace. He mustn’t rush this—this was something to be savored and enjoyed. The anticipation was sometimes more enjoyable than the act—experience had taught him that. He must linger over this one. In the days ahead, he would want to replay these memories as accurately as he could.
When you think of the writer Edith Wharton, “scary” probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind. It may, in fact, be the last. The author of novels such as The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence is known mainly as an observer of high society mores and romantic foibles—not as conjurer of ghosts.
But among Wharton’s publications is a little-known volume of paranormal tales, The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. And, as someone who regularly seeks out frightful entertainment (whether in the form of a film, a book, or TV show), I can say without a doubt, it’s the most chilling work of art I’ve experienced. Every October, I reread it, to put myself in the mood for the Halloween season. And, over the years, my friends and family have become accustomed to my annual evangelizing on its behalf.
The eleven stories contained in the book aren’t scary in the way that, say, The Ring is scary (although I confess that I also love The Ring). On the whole, they eschew gore and “He’s behind you!” suspense, focusing instead on the everyday moral horrors each of us carries out, and that each of us, at some time or another, becomes haunted by.
Any decent book collection houses a variety of species. There may be flocks of paperbacks and herds of hardcovers, a band of coffee table books grazing in the living room, and somewhere out of sight a colony of eBooks swarm. There are first editions and galleys, pulpy re-issues and collectors’ versions. Some are signed, some are out of print. Some have origins in online bookstores, whereas others were bagged at a stoop sale in Park Slope.
The devoted reader knows the provenance and phylum of her collection, and is able to classify them accordingly. But there is a breed of books that confounds me: those books that haunt the shadows, stalking me from apartment to apartment. These are the books I don’t necessarily want or need or never meant to have in the first place. The same books that I haven’t read and probably never will, but for one reason or another I can’t get rid of. Try as I may to cull the herd, there are some books that just won’t be removed from the permanent collection, no matter how frivolous or frayed they may be.
During my last move, I attempted to be ruthless, donating and selling and giving away as many books as I could muster. Reference books were an easy target—I do have the Internet after all. But I’ve often found myself drawn to old, esoteric dictionaries and encyclopedias in some foolhardy attempt to educate myself. And though I have yet to actually open either the English OR Foreign version of the Biographical Dictionary of Literature, they both made the cut and are now skulking the back of a double-stacked shelf.
After You is quintessential Jojo Moyes—a novel that will make you laugh, cry, and rejoice at being back in the world she creates.
Here she does what few novelists can do—revisits beloved characters and takes them to places neither they nor we ever expected. Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.
Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. . . .