Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

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“Are you there, Satan, it’s me, Madison.” 13 year old Madison dies over Christmas break at her Swiss boarding school and inexplicably finds herself in Hell. Her cellmates, in a perfect echo of John Hughes’ classic film The Breakfast Club, are a cheerleader, a jock, a nerd, and a punk rocker. Palahniuk’s version of Hell is all sorts of clever including the job Madison has, as a telemarketer in a sweltering call center. A fun, strange, quirky novel. Highly recommended.

For more books that explore themes of hell and death in a clever manner, check these out:

The Gates by John Connolly

The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

The Paris Review Interviews

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If you are an aspiring writer you must read The Paris Review, especially the interviews. Learn about the process of writing from luminaries like Dorothy Parker, Kurt Vonnegut, T.S. Eliot, and Ernest Hemingway. In the words of Salman Rushdie, “taken together, they form perhaps the finest available inquiry into the ‘how’ of literature, in many ways a more interesting question than the ‘why.'”

For more reading about writing, check these out:

On Writing by Stephen King

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr and E.B. White

The Speed Queen by Stewart O’Nan

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“Why did I kill them? I didn’t kill them. I was there, but I didn’t kill anyone. I know exactly what happened, though. It’s pretty boring, actually. It’s pretty normal. I don’t think people will be that interested. But if anyone can make it interesting, you can. You’ll make it funny, too, which is right. Sometimes it was really funny. Even now some of it’s funny.”

Marjorie Standiford is the Speed Queen, one of Oklahoma’s Sonic Killers, and as she sits on death row, hours away from execution, she speaks into a taperecorder to relate her life story to the famed horror novelist who bought the rights.

For more examples of a story told in inventive ways, check these out:

Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King (a novel told as a confession to police)

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan (a playful novel told in a dictionary format)

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher (a novel told in hilarious letters of recommendation)

 

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

 

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“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” One of the most memorable first lines in literature followed by a haunting, beautifully written novel that the author has referred to as his love letter to the English language.

For more stunning fiction by Russian authors, check these out:

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

*PS–The audiobook of Lolita (read by Jeremy Irons) is phenomenal. FYI.😉

Bootlegger’s Daughter by Margaret Maron

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“This smart, sassy series introduces Deborah Knott, candidate for district judge–and daughter of an infamous bootlegger. Deborah’s campaigning is interrupted when disturbing new evidence surrounding a murder that has never been solved surfaces and she is implored to investigate.” —from the publisher

I love the Deborah Knott series. Like most series fiction there is a wonderful familiarity between the main character and the reader, but unlike many series the protagonist grows and changes from book to book. Good mysteries, great characters, and lots of southern charm–these titles are a treat.

For more mystery series, check these out:

M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series

Rhys Bowen’s The Royal Spyness series

Diana Mott Davidson’s Goldy Schultz series

 

Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang

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Eddie Huang is the notorious executive chef of Baohaus, an East Village restaurant that specializes in Taiwanese street food. In this memoir he shares what life was like growing up in Orlando raised by a family of FOB (fresh off the boat) “hustlers and hysterics.” Rebelling against every “model minority” stereotype Eddie loved football and hip-hop, fought bullies and sold drugs–and throughout it all his anchor was food.

For more foodie memoirs, check these out:

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

My Life in France by Julia Child

Garlic & Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

 

Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott

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Blue Shoe is a story of love–love gone wrong, new love, painful love, and restorative love. Mattie Ryder is neurotic, religious, funny, and angry. Her marriage, mother, and grip on her kids are all failing. Then she finds a small blue shoe in her deceased father’s car and with her brother in tow she follows the blue shoe to uncover the secrets of her past.

Simply put, I adore Anne Lamott, both this novel and all her other books as well.

If you’d like to explore more books written by this brilliant author, check these out:

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos

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Sing Them Home is a novel about three siblings who have never overcome the grief they experienced after their mother’s disappearance during a tornado when they were children. Now well into adulthood, they must return home after the death of their father and finally face head-on the childhood tragedy that defined their lives.

For additional novels about the complexities of the sibling relationship in the face of grief, check these out:

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Past by Tessa Hadley

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

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Born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation, Lilith possesses a dark power that the women around her can sense even at her birth. The Night Women have been plotting a slave revolt for ages and initially they believe Lilith will be the key to their plan, however when she begins to understand her own feelings and destiny she pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable for a slave woman, and may become the revolution’s weakest link.

Beautiful, daring, and unforgettable this novel by Marlon James is a must-read.

For more novels that explore themes of slavery, identity, and revolution, check these out:

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found by John Maloof

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During her life, Vivian Maier was a secretive nanny who shot hundreds of thousands of photographs, 2 years before her death Chicago preservationist John Maloof discovered a trove of negatives, and roll upon roll of undeveloped film in a storage locker he bought at auction. They revealed a gifted artist with a stunning body of work.

For more fascinating information about and photographs by Vivian Maier, check these out:

Finding Vivian Maier DVD DOC FIN

Eye to Eye: Photographs by Vivian Maier 779.092 MAI