5 Book Recommendations for the New Year

A common New Years resolution I hear is “I want to read more”. Lucky for you resident It girl Rachel Hodin is here with five literacy picks that will make your commute on the G-train a little more bearable (and that’s saying alot). Click through the jump for her selections.

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz 

Oscar Wilde once said that “those who are faithful know only the trivial side of love: it is the faithless who know love’s tragedies.” And Yunior, the main character of Junot Diaz’s most recent book This Is How You Lose Her, is no exception.

Chronicling 9 tumultuous relationships—one of which Yunior triumphantly destroyed by cheating on his fiancée with 50 women—Diaz attempts to expound on Yunior’s love life and account for his mistakes. Anyone familiar with Mr. Diaz’s work will certainly recognize this Dominican-Jersey philanderer—he was the narrator of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and the narrator and protagonist of Drown. However, unlike Diaz’s first two books, this Yunior is much older—in his 40s—and is narrating in great hindsight.

This distance allows for some self-reflection on the part of Yunior, and thus doesn’t pigeonhole him as a total douchebag.

In fact, it’s Yunior’s disparate thoughts and behavior that epitomize Diaz’s greatest strength: his ability to depict the human condition. Even the actual from of the book—not quite a collection of short stories, yet not quite a novel—mimics humanity. “There’s no more inexact science than being human,” Diaz told me.

Diaz’s stories are so all encompassing, so easy to get lost in, I couldn’t not put him on this list. Each character and story is so very human. Like all humans, they leave you dissatisfied. And, like Diaz, they always leave you wanting more.

Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith

Typically, when one hears the name Zadie Smith, her works of fiction come to mind, for that is what she’s best known. However, in my opinion, it’s her nonfiction that triumphs, in particular her 2009 book Changing My Mind.

It’s a collection of essays that display Smith’s predilection for the unadorned truth, whether in topics of race, family, the state of the novel, or Audrey Hepburn. A professor at NYU, Smith’s nonfiction seems to give readers a glimpse into what one of her classes might look like. She even discusses her writing process quite candidly in the chapter “That Crafty Feeling.”

“To look back at all past works induces nausea,” Smith writes, “But the first twenty pages in particular bring on heart palpitations. It’s like taking a tour of a cell in which you were once incarcerated.” It’s refreshing and (especially for fellow writers) relieving to know that even Zadie Smith has qualms about her work. In a sense, she’s humanizing the writing process and, in turn, portrays it as an attainable goal.

In our digitized age, worshippers of letters such as Smith are few and far between. A wealth of literary knowledge, she constantly incorporates some of the greatest literary figures into her text, reviving them and exposing their unceasing relevance.

Tommy’s Tale by Alan Cumming

A friend recently asked me for a book recommendation with one piece of criteria: gay sex. Immediately Tommy’s Tale came to mind, a novel about a bisexual London club kid named Tommy, whose British cynicism and sarcasm would fit quite seamlessly in a lower east side loft space.

Written by actor Alan Cumming, Tommy’s Tale traverses Tommy’s inner conflicts—emotional, sexual, and otherwise. It’s a story of a man without a childhood; a reckless, self-indulgent lad, whose self-destruction is at once hideous and intoxicating. By page 6, he’s rolling on ecstasy, and by page 9 he has pronounced his disgust for “lovemaking”. “What, if anything, do we actually make when we are engaged in this activity?” Tommy asks. “I’ll tell you…moany noises, messes on the sheets, stains on our pants. That’s what. So fuck off, you love makers.”

But, perhaps most worthy of all is this novel’s seductive powers. When it comes to porn, I’d choose some beautifully detailed prose over a cum shot to the face any day. And Tommy’s Tale is a case in point. I won’t give anything away, but if you’re feeling lonely on a Friday night, you might want to skip to chapter 6, “The Disabled Loo.”

The Fran Lebowitz Reader by Fran Lebowitz

It’s with immense shame and regret that I confess to not having read a word of Fran Lebowitz up until this year. Shame because I truly believe that in Ms. Lebowitz I’ve found my lettered soul mate, and regret because, had I been privy to her immense wit earlier in life, I’d most likely be a master of zings.

The Fran Lebowitz Reader combines Lebowitz’s first two collections of essays, Social Studies and Metropolitan Life. She is New York City, body and soul, but not just any New York City. She personifies what is, arguably, the peak of New York’s art and culture: the bygone days of Andy Warhol and the Chelsea Hotel.

Ms. Lebowitz seems to defy all rules of conduct and success. I can’t express how much hope she gave me, as a fellow writer and lover of sitting and sleeping as well. Ms. Lebowitz, on her distaste for nature, “Nature is by and large to be found out of doors, a location where, it cannot be argued, there are never enough comfortable chairs.”

A master of nuances, she’s able to articulate those gripes and pangs of frustration you never knew you had. And not only that, but she’ll make you feel proud to have them as well. So next time you’re in a restaurant, annoyed by the loud, doltish conversation transpiring next to you, don’t hold your tongue. Fran certainly wouldn’t.

The Dead by James Joyce 

James Joyce’s The Dead is a timeless work that will be forever unmatched. One of the 15 short stories in his seminal work Dubliners, The Dead marks a turning point in literature—Joyce abandons 19th century realism for 20th century modernism. Beautifully, yet subtly, Joyce employs the fundamentals of modernist tenets through the stream of consciousness narrative and the character Gabriel, a shy and awkward man who takes no risks in life. Without the sugarcoating of the 19th century realism, we come to find that Gabriel’s thoughts are at odds with the objective narration of his sheepish manner and that life is, ultimately, trivial.

It’s a particularly apt time of the year to re-visit The Dead, a story awash in snow. Joyce seems to be warning his readers to not let the beauty of snow shroud life’s truths. For, as Gabriel teaches us, life without passion, spontaneity and, most of all art, will become just a flicker. Joyce writes, “Better to pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”

Written by Rachel Hodin