One Day in December by Josie Silver - Like those Hallmark Christmas movies we all secretly love (or love to hate) this time of year, but in novel form, this fun read hits all the highlights: love at first sight, a classic love triangle, a holiday party or two, and years of missed opportunities that keep the pages turning.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann - New York City in the 1970s, a man dazzles and delights for a brief moment in time as he walks on a wire strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center, becoming the stunning center of strands of layered stories and characters throughout this beautiful book.
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey - With snippets about writers like Jane Austen and Thomas Wolfe, visual artists such as Picasso or Warhol, and even musicians like Beethoven and the Gershwin brothers, we learn the unique (and sometimes absurd or scarily rigid) processes by which these creative individuals produced their work. I found it fun to skip around and read 3-4 each day for inspiration (or what NOT to do to generate an idea) and insight.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer - I couldn't help but be charmed by the main character - so human, so likable, so prone to the ways in which we sometimes see ourselves in distorted perspective when we're actually pretty wonderful - I was cheering for him all along.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles - Maybe my new favorite book ever, I am in love with Towles's writing, and this sweeping story had me hooked from the start. As an audiobook, I was delighted by the rich characters, wonderful dialogue, and doorway into Russian history that brought depth and beauty to the plot. I can't wait to read it (or listen to it!) again. It's that fantastic.
The Nix by Nathan Hill - Sometimes painful to absorb, other times incredibly funny, yet always deeply insightful and provocative, the various threads and storylines (including settings as varied as the 1968 Democratic Convention and a present-day video game chat room) show time and again how the events and experiences of the past play a rich and significant role in our present.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles - I started this one as an audiobook on a road trip with a friend and tried to be patient in listening again, waiting until my travel buddy and I were together, but I finally had to ask if I could proceed on my own because I couldn't wait to find out how Katherine Kontent makes her way through 1930s Manhattan with style, wit, intellect, fun, and integrity. (And...the writing is phenomenal - I relished nearly every line.)
Ask Again, Yes: A Novel by Mary Beth Keane - Another one through which I plowed quickly as I worked away in the studio, this is a story of young love that tests loyalty in one another and the families that surround the couple, bringing up challenging themes of forgiveness, understanding, compassion, and trust.
Invincible Summer by Alice Adams - Maybe because I graduated not long after this quartet of friends did and have experienced some of the same highs and lows along the way as post-college life unfolded in my 20s, and then the unexpected twists and turns in my 30s and now 40s, I wanted to know how it all played out for these four. Though it provided plenty of predictable love triangles and losses, I enjoyed the lack of saccharine happy endings and the emphasis on the idea that life rarely turns out the way we think or hope it will, but that there is beauty, still, in what shows up.
Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams - I snagged this from the library not knowing it was part of a larger series, though it stands alone and is a page-turning story-within-a-story that needs no background or introduction. Truly, I was in it from the start and happily along for the ride between 1930s Europe and 1960s South Florida and coastal Georgia, learning delightful and captivating details about the lives of two dazzling women brought together by a remarkable vintage Mercedes roadster.
The Surrender Experiment by Michael A. Singer - I'm not overstating it by saying that this book changed my perspective on life and my frequent desire to orchestrate, plan, and control it. While I may not move to the middle of the woods (or start a multi-million dollar company, for that matter) I was deeply inspired by Singer's story of simply letting life unfold.
The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg - An uplifting story of love and second chances that elicits a "we're-all-in-this-together" kind of hopeful feeling and a cheering-on of characters one can't help but want to hug.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett - A plot as twisting and interesting as the vines in the jungle in which the story is set, I was fascinated by the dynamics of grief, choice, and loyalty in this beautiful book.
Southernmost by Silas House - House writes with such love and compassion and beauty that I'd read practically any sentence he writes, but this story of a husband, father, and brother who comes to terms with choices made and judgments expressed is at once hopeful and heartbreaking. A flood, a road trip, amends, opening, redemption, and revelation, all from Kentucky to Key West, and I was deeply disappointed to turn the last page. (Good news for Kentucky peeps, though, Silas House will be making an appearance at my favorite Louisville bookstore, Carmichael's, in June!)
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver - I love old houses, especially because of the wonderful tales they can tell, and this is a tale of just such a house and two different generations inhabiting it. Provocative and metaphorical, Kingsolver always makes me think deeply about life, while also weaving a story with characters both relatable and thoughtful, and this was no exception.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens - Part love story, part murder-mystery, part stunning, sweeping praise for those untouched places in the South, this one stirred a longing in me for time spent outdoors and the beautiful simplicity of first loves, and a reverence for quiet human strength.
Landline by Rainbow Rowell - Clever and fun and sweet and laugh-out-loud heartwarming, I loved championing the main character all through her ups, downs, and relatable life-living.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin - Following the lives of the four Gold siblings, this engrossing and captivating read explores how learning the date of each of their deaths during a childhood visit to a nomadic psychic informs their choices and paths. (And had me questioning how I might live differently, too, with such knowledge.)
Yes Please by Amy Poehler - I knew her work from SNL and film, but listening to Amy Poehler on audiobook made me want her to be my new best friend. She is (obviously) hilarious, but equally aware in a "let's cut to the chase and get to what really matters in life" kind of way, open and honest about her shortcomings and challenges, and so passionate about her craft that it seems like she maybe could be my new best friend. Yes, please.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - Every single character in this novel is so beautifully and intimately captured that their presence is felt beyond each page. None more so than the title character, Olive. She fumbles, she offends, she is sometimes unbearable, and sometimes so wonderfully loving and vulnerable that I couldn't help but to love her back. (No wonder this was a Pulitzer Prize winner. It's stunningly written.)
The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle - I think I read this in late September, early October when I was trying to hold on to summer and its carefree pleasures. What a joy to be transported to the south of France for breathtaking scenery, wine-filled sunny lunches on a terrace, and a bit of mystery for entertainment. A delight.
Calypso by David Sedaris - I heard one of the stories from this collection, read by Sedaris, on The Paris Review podcast and then had the incredible fortune of snagging a highly-in-demand copy of the book from my local library branch not long after to read the rest. With sardonic wit and self-deprecating humor, mixed with razor-sharp assessments and observations (often specific to family and its unique dynamics) the stories are at once laugh-out-loud hilarious and heartbreaking, walking a beautiful balance between the two and reminding me to just love people where they are. (But perhaps spare no detail in writing about them!)
The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro - This story of a captivating young woman who unexpectedly heads to Paris in the 50s after a mysterious request appears in the mail for her had me interested from the start. Her experiences intertwine with those of a young woman in Paris in the 20s and 30s, and the historical richness, beautiful descriptions, and intriguing unfolding kept me hooked every step of the way.
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman - I'll never look at lighthouses the same way again after this story of a lighthouse keeper off the coast of Australia and his young wife, who, in the mid-1920s, make a decision that changes everything in ways they never meant or anticipated. Grappling with overlapping and juxtaposed perceptions of right, wrong, duty, obligation, choice, and love, the characters and their interconnectedness are beautifully written and wholeheartedly compelling.
Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen - I've never read something by Quindlen that I didn't love or that wasn't incredibly insightful or wise, and this is no exception. I'm not sure what I enjoyed most: the New York City neighborhood setting, the main character's humor and strength, or the honest look at privilege that left me thinking long after I returned this one, reluctantly, to the library.