MC Reviews: Books

What should be at the top of the stack on your nightstand? Our list of favorite reads.

What should be at the top of the stack on your nightstand? Our list of favorite reads.
1 of 41
Still Points North by Leigh Newman

Ever stopped to really consider how the woman you’ve become is a result of all the decisions you’ve made, no matter how monumental or insignificant those decisions might have seemed in the moment? That’s the essential message of Still Points North (The Dial Press), Leigh Newman’s memoir about reconciling her childhood in Alaska with her adulthood in New York. “You don’t always know you’re making a choice when you’re making a choice,” Newman says. “Other times, you know you’re making a choice that could determine the rest of your life.” It’s a thought-provoking book, and one you should read with your sneakers nearby: When you’re finished, you’ll feel like you need to go hiking to sort it all out.

"Courtesy of Company"
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
2 of 41
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

BFFs forever: You’ll want to be friends with these characters long after you put down the book. Go ahead and get that best-friend necklace for you, Ash, and Jules right now. Plot notes: Six teens—the self-proclaimed “The Interestings”—form deep bonds during a summer at an artsy camp. As they get older, through lies, loves, and losses, the friends outgrow many of their youthful aspirations, but not one another. Kumbaya: For summer-camp veterans, this story is a must-read. You’ll be Facebook-ing your old cabinmates in no time.

"Courtesy of Company"
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
3 of 41
Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel

Buffet line: It’s as if a Paul Thomas Anderson movie (The Master, There Will Be Blood) married a David Foster Wallace novel and had a baby. Which is to say, this story is weird, thrilling, and inimitable. Plot notes: Thurlow Dan on a disastrous quest to find his estranged ex-wife—who happens to be a covert agent attempting to minimize Thurlow’s damage and protect him from himself. Through the looking glass: Maazel’s fictional depiction of an America saturated with loneliness and a willingness to follow any leader rings eerily true.

"Courtesy of Company"
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
4 of 41
The Hope Factory by Lavanya Sankaran

Upstairs, downstairs: Downton Abbey meets The Help in this exploration of the relationship between a family and the people who work for them—the ways they are different and the things they share. Plot notes: As two closely entangled families in India skirt disaster for very different reasons, they attempt to stay afloat despite seemingly endless hurdles. Reading rainbow: Remember the good old days when you’d find a library chair or beanbag and curl up and read for hours? Sankaran’s storytelling skills will take you back to that place.

"Courtesy of Company"
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
5 of 41
All That Is by James Salter

Americana: Salter is one of the most celebrated living American writers, and after a seven-year hiatus, he returns with possibly his best work yet. Plot notes: A recent World War II vet lands a job as an editor, a profession that opens doors to an elite nightlife where Philip Bowman must make peace with his past in order to create a productive future. Amuse-bouche: New to Salter? Start with his complex, heart-wrenching, and beautiful story “Last Night,” which ran in The New Yorker in 2002.

"Courtesy of Company"
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
6 of 41
The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill

Fun factoid: Hannah, the novel’s heroine, is based on Maria Mitchell, America’s first female astronomer. Plot notes: In a Nantucket whaling town, Hannah, a 24-year-old Quaker with a knack for navigation and an obsession with the night sky, teams up with an unintentionally controversial man who turns her world upside down. When the going gets tough: Are you an alpha woman who manages to excel in the face of adversity? Then you’ll sympathize with the protagonist and relate to this book’s theme.

"Courtesy of Company"
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
7 of 41
Wise Men by Stuart Nadler

The 1 percent: Nadler's brilliant debut novel magnifies the difference between what it's like to be male, white, and rich — or not. Plot notes: In 1952, Hilly Wise's wealthy lawyer father moves his family to a beach house in Cape Cod for the summer. But when Hilly befriends the house's caretaker, family secrets are exposed, which Hilly carries with him for the rest of his life. Read him now: The author was recently selected as one of the National Book Foundation's "5 Under 35" to watch, meaning he'll be on the radar for years to come.

Courtesy of Company
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
8 of 41
The House Girl by Tara Conklin

Crystal ball prediction: This will be the book-club book of 2013. Plot notes: Chapters alternate between the present-day story of Lina, a top-notch law firm associate working on a landmark slavery case, and the 1852 tale of Josephine, a slave to an ailing mistress whose art hobby became celebrated posthumously. It's a look at our legal system, art, slavery, and tenacious women. Timeliness: Not only is February Black History Month, but this year also marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Courtesy of Company
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
9 of 41
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Heart-stopper: Get ready for goose bumps. This haunting and soul-stirring novel about the apocalypse is transformative and unforgettable. Plot notes: When an earthquake causes the world to slowly stop spinning, 11-year-old Julia learns to embrace small, everyday disasters—dysfunctional family members, a first love, adolescence—to find the strength to face a global crisis. In the know: The film rights have already been optioned. Read the book to stay ahead of the curve.

"Richard Majchrzak/Studio D"
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
10 of 41
Franes and Bernard by Carlene Bauer

When Harry met Sally: Can men and women really be friends? Through a series of letters, Frances and Bernard test the famous theory as their relationship unfolds. Plot notes: It's 1957 and two 20-somethings, fresh out of a writers colony, begin a decadelong correspondence that changes them both forever. History lesson lite: The novel was inspired by the lives of writer Flannery O'Connor and poet Robert Lowell.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF US by Aria Beth Sloss (Henry Holt and Co.)

Lost but not forgotten: This book is an homage to friendship, a bond that can never be totally severed, even when two friends have grown apart. Plot notes: Fourteen-year-olds Alex and Rebecca are best friends, even though Alex is a rich diva-in-training and introverted Rebecca is of modest means. They think they're going to be sidekicks always — until an act of betrayal in college changes everything, and the soulmates cut off communication. Reading between the lines: The girls, who were raised and reared in the '60s, provide a window into what it was like to grow up at the dawn of the women's liberation movement.

Courtesy of Company
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
11 of 41
Autobiography of Us by Aria Beth Sloss

Lost but not forgotten: This book is an homage to friendship, a bond that can never be totally severed, even when two friends have grown apart. Plot notes: Fourteen-year-olds Alex and Rebecca are best friends, even though Alex is a rich diva-in-training and introverted Rebecca is of modest means. They think they're going to be sidekicks always — until an act of betrayal in college changes everything, and the soulmates cut off communication. Reading between the lines: The girls, who were raised and reared in the '60s, provide a window into what it was like to grow up at the dawn of the women's liberation movement.

Courtesy of Company
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
12 of 41
Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra

Meet the author: Zambra is hailed as one of Chile's brightest young writers. Plot notes: This book seems to be about an earthquake that affects a 9-year-old living outside of Santiago. However (spoiler alert!), then the story shifts and the reader discovers that the first part of the book is a novel written by the 30-something narrator. Reading between the lines: The novel jumps from past to present to patch together a story about a generation living under Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.

Richard Majchrzak/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
13 of 41
The Antagonist by Lynn Coady

Judging a book by its cover: Coady's novel investigates how stereotypes shape people's self-perceptions — an oversize, hard-hitting hockey player is bound to be a thug, right? Plot notes: After living under the radar for 20 years, Rank discovers that the one person who knows what caused him to go off the grid wrote a tell-all novel about his disappearance. E-prose: In chapters composed of e-mailed rants that set the record straight, Rank writes a dramatic and funny confessional in reverse.

Richard Majchrzak/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
14 of 41
The Miniature Wife by Manuel Gonzales

Like a shiny new toy: Gonzales' voice is so new and different and dazzling that you won't be able to put down his book. Plot notes: Eighteen hilarious and strange vignettes transport the reader to alternate universes where it's normal that dads are transformed into werewolves and wives are shrunk. The effect is like a modern-day Twilight Zone. A second helping: Want more Gonzales? Every week he posts a new short story on whatstheworth.tumblr.com.

Like a shiny new toy: Gonzales' voice is so new and different and dazzling that you won't be able to put down his book. Plot notes: Eighteen hilarious and strange vignettes transport the reader to alternate universes where it's normal that dads are transformed into werewolves and wives are shrunk. The effect is like a modern-day Twilight Zone. A second helping: Want more Gonzales? Every week he posts a new short story on whatstheworth.tumblr.com.

Richard Majchrzak/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
15 of 41
The Best of Youth by Michael Dahlie

Keep an eye on him: In 2010, the author won a Whiting Award, a seriously coveted prize given to emerging authors — a sign that he could become the next big thing. Plot notes: Sweet, naive Henry Lang is 24 and has $15 million to his name, but he's a horrible judge of character, especially when a Hollywood A-lister wants to enlist him in a project. Hipster 101: While Henry at-tempts to blend into the plaid-clad streets of Brooklyn, he accidentally gives an account of how not to be a hipster.

Richard Majchrzak/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
16 of 41
Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey

Don't turn off the lights: You won't be able to put down this exhilarating debut novel by Juliann Garey (an MC contributor), whose chapters dangle impossible-to-resist carrots at every turn. Plot notes: Hollywood studio exec Greyson Todd has a secret he's kept for 20 years: He's bipolar. When he gets tired of hiding his illness, he decides to leave his job and family to travel the globe — for a decade. Beautiful mind: Told over a period of twelve 30-second electric-shock treatments, Garey's exploration of mental illness is brave and touching, and will shake you to the core.

Richard Majchrzak/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
17 of 41
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

Once upon a time: Pullman wrote the best-selling fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials; the first book, The Golden Compass, became a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Plot notes: In assembling and retelling these 50 famous stories for their 200th anniversary, Pullman is true to the originals — but a touch more polished. You're never too old: Revisit classics like Rumpelstiltskin and Snow White, and discover previously passed over gems like Hans My Hedgehog.

Richard Majchrzak/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
18 of 41
Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner

Ha ha ha: You know how sometimes people laugh when they're nervous? This book is that kind of funny. Plot notes: Each of the 10 short stories in this gutsy collection is a self-contained universe depicted in forceful language that punches you right in the face. Cast of characters: Readers probably won't identify with the vast array of subjects — from an Olympic mascot to a woman who speaks in Ikea slang — but will appreciate Gartner's dry wit and microscopic observations about the way we live now.

Richard Majchrzak/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
19 of 41
These Things Happen by Richard Kramer

My so-called novel: The former TV writer for cult shows like My So-Called Life and Thirtysomething brings his eye for human nature to his debut novel. Plot notes: When Wesley, a teenage boy, moves in with his father and his father's partner, the conversation about what being a homosexual means becomes inescapable. Facts of life: The author's first short story was published in The New Yorker — while he was still an undergraduate at Yale.

J Muckle/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
20 of 41
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

New girl: Britain's revered author is back with his first female protagonist since Atonement's Briony Tallis. Plot notes: Fresh out of college and broken by a love affair with an older man, Serena Frome lands a job with MI5, where she's recruited for a mission to perpetuate propaganda through a young writer. Persistence pays off: Readers might become frustrated with the layered structure of stories inside stories, but stick with it. The ending is genius. McEwan is known for his plot twists, and here he doesn't disappoint.

J Muckle/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
21 of 41
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Earth-friendly: From the writer of The Poisonwood Bible comes a beautiful and realistic portrayal of the impact of global warming — on animals, communities, and a family in Tennessee. Plot notes: Dellarobia, a 29-year-old mother of two, has hardly left her husband's family farm, let alone her native Appalachia. Going stir-crazy, she plots an affair until a modern miracle stops her in her tracks and changes her course forever. Head of the class: Within the detail-packed pages, Kingsolver educates readers on everything from catastrophic, underreported mudslides to migratory patterns of monarch butterflies.

J Muckle/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
22 of 41
Prosperous Friends by Christine Schutt

Why you should know her: Schutt is the author of Florida, a National Book Award finalist, and All Souls, a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Plot notes: A young couple's insecure foibles are juxtaposed with the story of an older couple who are steadfast but possibly complacent. The result is an intimate look at what lasts. Prose points: The book's style helps reveal how when you're in a relationship, things unsaid speak volumes.

J Muckle/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
23 of 41
Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr

Downward dog: After a drunken fall resulting in a separated rib, Lorr got fat. His solution: trying Bikram yoga. Plot notes: An in-depth look at competitive yoga and its transformative power for a beginner who became a legit competitor. Ready, set, sweat: Didn't get into barefoot running after reading Christopher McDougall's best-selling Born to Run? You'll be inspired to strip down into your intimates for hot yoga after devouring this read.

J Muckle/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
24 of 41
Both Flesh and Not by David Foster Wallace

The legacy: Many consider Wallace, who took his life in 2008 after battling depression, to be one of the best writers of our time. Plot notes: Fifteen essays all previously published but collected here in book form. If you've never read DFW before, his masterful study of Roger Federer, included in this anthology, is an ideal place to start. The Tupac of books: He just keeps publishing posthumously. The Pale King, DFW's unfinished novel released in 2011, three years after his death, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

J Muckle/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
25 of 41
NW by Zadie Smith

Literary sensation: Smith has been heralded as one of Britain's premier writers since her 2000 breakout novel, White Teeth. Plot notes: Residents from a public-housing building grew up and moved out but all still live in the same neighborhood, which has become the scene for disparate income tax brackets, ethnicities, and ethics. Bridget Jones doesn't live here: It's a tragic yet comedic exploration of Old London, which isn't the glittery New London we know from reading British chick lit.

Richard Majchrzak/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
26 of 41
My Mother Was Nuts by Penny Marshall

A league of her own: Marshall's matter-of-fact memoir is a must-read for one reason — it's hilarious. Plot notes: First acting, then directing, now writing! From the Bronx to Beverly Hills, the beloved Hollywood star dishes on relationships and friendships with household names like John Belushi, Rob Reiner, Art Garfunkel, and more. Insider scoop: This is one of the first major acquisitions by Amazon's new publishing branch.

Richard Majchrzak/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
27 of 41
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The anti — Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: After the saturation of thrillers by Steig Larsson, Jonasson's lighthearted novel shows the softer side of Sweden. It was published in 2009 in Swedish and has just been translated into English for the first time. Plot notes: A hilarious story about centenarian Allan Karlsson, who skips out of the nursing home minutes before his 100th birthday party to go on one last adventure. Get inspired: Already an international best seller, this playful book will remind you to live life to the fullest.

Richard Majchrzak/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
28 of 41
Aftermath By Rachel Cusk

Agent provocateur: Some critics think Cusk is as masterful as Joan Didion; others think her writing never says what she's trying to say. Love her or hate her, she'll make you think. Plot notes: A dissection of Cusk's divorce told mostly through metaphors. Polarizing effect: Her first literary memoir, A Life's Work (2001), revealed Cusk's aversion to motherhood. It garnered both praise and venomous reviews, but it's considered a bold staple about parenting.

J. Muckle/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
29 of 41
The Emily Dickinson Reader By Paul Legault

Back to the future: If Emily Dickinson had a Tumblr, these witty one-liners are what she'd be posting. Anthology notes: If you've never cared about poetry, you will after reading these modern-day renderings of the entire body of Emily Dickinson's work. That's 1,789 poems. Example No. 206 via translator Legault: "I am shy around you because I like you." Or, No. 314: "Hope is kind of like birds. In that I don't have any." Perfect accessory: The publisher, McSweeney's, has a knack for gorgeous books — cover and content. You'll want to not only display this one on your coffee table but also read it from start to finish.

J. Muckle/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
30 of 41
Four New Messages By Joshua Cohen

Literary sensation: Cohen, a key member of the United States' under-40 writers' club (along with Nell Freudenberger and Jonathan Safran Foer), is a rare talent who makes highbrow writing fun and accessible. Plot notes: Four short stories about the perils and pitfalls of living in a digital world, from the downward spiral that occurs when a drug dealer is exposed on a blog, to what happens when a journalist finds himself in a Russian town full of Internet porn stars. Street cred: Just as indie music and movies have come to have a certain cachet, indie books are having their moment. This collection is published by the 38-year-old Graywolf Press, one of the nation's top nonprofit indie presses.

J. Muckle/Studio D
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
More From Culture