I have a bad habit of destroying my books as I read them, pulling them from limb-to-limb. As a writer—in love with words—I underline my favorite passages, crinkle and dog-ear the pages, and ink the columns with sprawling marginalia. And, though I hate to admit it, I sometimes even tear out my favorite pages in order to tape them up on my wall.
So, when recommending a few of my new favorite books this fall, I reach for a few of the most recently-ragged from my bedside table.
ONE./ Xo, Orpheus: Fifty New Myths, by Kate Berhneimer
In a crazy project, edited by Kate Bernheimer, this Penguin anthology collects those famous myths and retells them in a contemporary light by some of the best (and strangest!) writers of our time. Each story tells the myths and legends according to our modern lives and is followed by a short, mysterious explanation by the authors. XO, Orpheus turns daily life into a new sort of fairy tale—equally difficult and dangerous, but somehow just as beautiful.
TWO./ WONDER, by R.J. Palacio
It is rare to read a book that leaves you crying openly and unapologetically on public transportation, but Wonder is one such book. The novel tracks the experience of a young boy with severe facial deformities attending school for a time, with narratives from his own life as well as the lives of those around him.It is a quick read—but rarely have I read anything so compassionate and brave.
THREE./ THE DUD AVOCADO, by Elaine Dundy
This famous novel from the 1950s tracks the excruciatingly-self aware inner life of Sally Jay Gorce, a young American living abroad in Paris. The book follows this young pink-haired woman as she tries to navigate her surroundings on her own terms. But Sally Jay must figure out what her own terms are in the first place.
FOUR./ The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes
The Sense of an Ending—packed with equal parts compassion and sharp, British wit—left me more attuned to the mysteries of the private lives of those around me. The novel tracks the life of Tony Webster, a man who spent his young adulthood anticipating a poetic life of "passion and danger, ecstasy and despair". Now in his 60s—having made only safe-and-disappointing decisions—Tony finds himself in the throes of a mystery with a woman from his past. As a winner of the Man Booker Prize, it is no surprise it is one of the most stirring books that I have read in years.
FIVE./ Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles
Half Gatsby, half film noir, this book is exquisite. Rules of Civility, a period piece set in the 1930s, captures the upper echelon of 30s nightlife in New York City, the budding magazine industry as we now know it, and the kinds of people who changed their lives to be a part of it. Told from the perspective of a penny-pinching heroine named Katya, this novel is as raucous as it is fateful and will steep you in its storyline—holding you captive until the end.