Shelby is a typical teen living a typical small town life. Mom is the librarian at the elementary school, Dad runs a small shop on Main Street. Her future is magnificently displayed before her; plans in the making, NYC!, college approaching, life could not be more wonderful. On one icy night Shelby’s life is literally turned upside down in a tragic accident. All she wants now is to disappear, dissolve, cease to exist. The guilt and burden she carries is too much to show her face in daylight. After a breakdown, all plans out the window and a two year stint hiding in her parents basement, Shelby’s shell starts to crack and the truth and pain and future begin to shine through her darkness. With the help of an old friend, Ben Mink takes Shelby by the hand and slowly returns her to the world. It is difficult to navigate and without self love or self worth Shelby takes painfully small baby steps on the road to recovery. The title says it all, it is a story about faith. Faith in yourself, in those you love and of the world itself. Highly recommend this beautifully written novel by bestselling author Alice Hoffman. I was mesmerized by this young woman, moved by her mother’s endless love and inspired by the unlikeliest friendships. Shelby learns it can be as simple or as complicated as the paper wrapped inside of a fortune cookie, but either way it is up to you. And only you.
Saturday, September 24, 2016
Sometimes I read too many reviews before I dive in. I picked up Loner by Teddy Wayne completely by chance. It was a one dayer and my head is still spinning. David Federman is an awkward freshman at Harvard. Hailing from nowhereville New Jersey, an average looking guy from an average (actually above average but not in his eyes) family. David who was mostly a loner in highschool shocks his entire grade by getting into the most prestigious college. He wants to reinvent himself and LIVE a true young person’s life. He wants to experience things and ditch his virgin status. Starting out with the best of intentions he makes a strong effort in class, easily melds into the nerdy clan of the dining hall and meets Veronica Morgan Wells. She is just as her name sounds and looks like she jumped off the pages of Town & Country. From an elite NYC high school and of course - very beautiful. David begins a mission to befriend her, gain her trust and dreamily imagines them becoming a couple. Veronica barely acknowledges his existence until she needs him. Filled with surprising twists and turns and an original narration as David is telling Veronica the story. I was sucked into this novel with surprising speed. Suspenseful enough that it was unpredictable and twisted enough that the reader cannot easily decide whether to love or hate the characters. This incredibly original twist on a coming of age story debates the merit of higher education, whether you can honestly remake yourself and the most pressing ethical dilemma: can ones seemingly innocent manipulation destroy someone’s life. Highly recommend!
Friday, September 23, 2016
#30Authors is an event started by The Book Wheel that connects readers, bloggers, and authors. In it, 30 authors review their favorite recent reads on 30 blogs in 30 days. It takes place annually during the month of September and has been met with incredible support from and success in the literary community. It has also been turned into an anthology, which is currently available on Amazon and all author proceeds go to charity. Previous #30Authors contributors include Celeste Ng, Cynthia Bond, Brian Panowich, and M.O. Walsh. To see this year’s full line-up, thebookwheelblog.com/30authors or follow along on Twitter @30Authors.
Review of Sleepless Nights
I bought Sleepless Nights on my first trip to Paris. I was twenty years old, it was February, the sky leaden, and I was passing hours in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore.
It was the title that sold me - I was suffering from a bit of sleeplessness myself. I consumed the book in two days like it was poetry. Who is the narrator, from what point in time are they speaking? Who are these women she shows us, the maids, neighbors, wives, and mistresses? What to make of this kaleidoscope of landscapes and allegiances? What do these fragments add up to? I had absolutely no idea what it was about.
I read it twice more in the decade that followed, the last time – before research for my critical thesis on Hardwick plunged me fully into her biography - just before my thirtieth birthday. I thought I could read it quickly in an afternoon, use it to freshen up my own prose. But it was a different book. I had to put it down every few pages, occasionally setting it aside for days. Reading some passages felt like walking on broken glass. In a decade of casual re-reading, I had never understood how sad it was.
I knew nothing about Hardwick – not her intellectual reputation (formidable), not her volatile marriage to Robert Lowell (infamous), not that she co-founded the New York Review of Books, not her friendships with Mary McCarthy, Hannah Arendt, and virtually every literary celebrity of the mid-twentieth century. Hardwick didn’t make it into the women’s canon, maybe because she wasn’t writing about politics or gender during a politically charged time. She was known for her unflinching book reviews; her fellow writers came to fear them. She put out Sleepless Nights, a slim hybrid masterpiece, in 1979, two years after Lowell died. It is part memoir, part collection of anecdotes, part letters to a friend. It is mostly an extended examination of the process of turning our lives into art. What I felt when reading was the sensation of falling.
That vertigo is what happens when we remember. The form of the book mimics a sleepless night, where scenes are elliptically and unconsciously connected, where we flutter between what we actually remember and what we pretend to. The book is connected only by the force of Elizabeth’s voice.
I picked it up again recently. Somehow the narrator Elizabeth is still removed from Hardwick, despite my knowledge of her life. It stands as near to an author-less autobiography as one can get, reading like a collage of women suffering and triumphant. My own readings, the way that the book has changed in my hands as I have suffered and triumphed, is further proof of how successful it is as a novel, whatever that word may mean.
About Stephanie (author of Sweetbitter)
Stephanie Danler is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the New School.
About Sleepless Nights
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Tess’s arrival in New York is somewhat of a rebirth. As she crosses the bridge into Brooklyn in her beat up car she can feel her life beginning. Renting a room in Williamsburg is less glamorous than it sounds. She accidentally (as only the young and innocent can do) finds the coolest job in the best restaurant in New York. It is filled with characters that are at once completely imaginable and out of this world. Each one teaches her a lesson and fills another void in her cache of loneliness. Her heart is bursting with excitement as she strives to be in the moment at all times, treasuring the experience for exactly what it is. Tess’s pulse (and the readers as well) goes into overdrive when the unattainable Jake; gorgeous, sexy, bad boy bartender decides to actually give her the time of day and there’s more where that came from. The story of Tess, call it one year of growing up from child to adult is the perfect post college tale. Nothing really bad happens and the excitement and learning from newfound freedom is intoxicating. In addition, the restaurant and food commentary is delicious. Think Kitchen Confidential meets Tender at the Bone. Tess’s discovery of her palette and the workings of a big time restaurant leave the reader hungry for more (and thirsty too!) I cannot stop thinking about this incredible novel by author Stephanie Danler. Well written, entertaining and heartfelt. It is shocking that this is her first novel. Highly recommend reader friends!