It's the Winter Solstice.
And that means . . . it's time for me to share my Top Five reads of fall with you. Each quarter, right around the solstice or equinox, I think back on the books I read during the previous 3 months, and I choose my top five.
Here goes: My Top Five from this fall (the link listed for each book will take you to a published review of the book):
I'm starting out here with a bang . . . I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins. It's . . . kinda weird. But really, really good. It's autofiction (y'know . . . fiction, but with a heavy dose of autobiography/memoir), and reading autofiction can be a real mindf*ck, for me at least. I think, down deep, I prefer my fiction to be fictional, and my memoir to be autobiographical. I like either genre, but when the lines blur between the two, my head kind of explodes a little bit. So this book caused me a bit of consternation at first. I was much better off when I stopped trying to analyze what was real/not real in this book . . . and just allowed myself to enjoy the ride. Because how much of this book is Claire Vaye Watkins' actual life (a lot of it) and how much is “fiction” she conjures (who knows) really doesn’t matter. And it IS quite a ride. The book is brilliant. It’s uncomfortable, for sure. It’s witty and funny and tender and painful. It’s Art with a Capital A . . . and it won’t be for everyone. Bottom line, this is a sharply written story about grief and family and figuring out how to BE. (But also a mindf*ck, so be warned.)
Next up, I've got Louise Erdrich's newest novel, The Sentence. Now . . . I've read pretty much every book Louise Erdrich has ever written, and I've loved every single one. It's really hard to go wrong with a Louise Erdrich novel. This one, though? Might be my favorite. When I first heard about it - that it was a "pandemic story" set in 2020 -- I was a little worried. Was it too soon, maybe? Would it date itself right out of the gates? I needn't have worried! Louise Erdrich is a master, and The Sentence is brilliant -- clever and well-written and . . . tight. It’s fresh and current and absolutely engaging. Who but Louise Erdrich could pull together ghosts, love, Indigenous identity, incarceration, relationships, and a celebration of books and reading . . . all playing out against the backdrop of 2020 . . . and have it work?! Because, seriously. It works. (There is a lot of talk about books in this book, with book recommendations to last for years. At first, I was keeping a list - but then I figured out there is a reference list at the end of the book. Bonus.) (And if you read the audio version, there is a downloadable PDF file with the reference list included, so be sure to look for that in your audio download.)
I've already blogged about this one - Still Life by Sarah Winman - so I'm sure it's no surprise that it made my Top Five list for fall. As I explained in my earlier post, Still Life is a wonder. It’s engaging and fresh and a little bit magical. The characters are delightful - and almost without exception, they feel like . . . friends, like the best kind of family. It's a talk-y book, and the dialog is clever, snappy, sometimes funny and sometimes deep. And it's mainly set in picture-perfect Florence, which provides a stunning backdrop. There is art and poetry, love and loyalty, kindness and hope -- with just enough introspection to make you sigh now and then. It's a book that makes you feel like you've got a spot at the table . . . with people you love most. It's a book that made me feel good about everything, and it gave me hope. (And who doesn't need some of that right now?) (I refer to this one as the Ted Lasso of books. . . )
Next, I've got Elif Shafak's gorgeous new novel The Island of Missing Trees. Elif Shafak is a brilliant storyteller, and she effortlessly folds her readers into a multi-layered tale of love, loss, identity, and healing. It's both a gentle love story set against the tumultuous backdrop of Cyprus in the mid-1970s AND a modern tale of identity and a longing for roots. Bridging both storylines (the "secret sauce" that binds it all together) is the voice of a wise, all-knowing fig tree. And when that fig tree speaks? Magic happens! Creative, imaginative, lyrical, beautifully written . . . this is one of the best books I’ve read all year.
Then . . . coming in just under the wire . . . I've got Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen. I have so recently finished this book (just yesterday!) that I really haven't processed it enough to write a review yet. Let me just say . . . it is good in the same way Franzen's The Corrections was good (I'm a big fan of The Corrections). Set in 1971, Crossroads is an epic deep dive into a middle class family struggling with spirituality and faith, relationships, morality and "goodness," white saviorism, and community-building. Talk about a book where the author really sticks the landing . . . this one is IT. (Oh -- and did I mention it's Part 1 of a 3-part trilogy? I can't wait to read the next installment.)
How about you?
What books would make it to your Top Five list of fall reading?
If you want to see what I'm reading now, or check out my recent reviews on Goodreads, just check out the sidebar here on my blog. You can find me here on Goodreads. And you can read my past Top Five lists by clicking the links below: