Town & Country Ten: August 2013

Town & Country, I’ve missed thee. Luckily, you were waiting for me at home when I returned from my summer vacation.

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Without further ado, here are ten things – I am trying not to be too judgmental these days so that’s all I’ll say for now, that they are just things – that I found in this month’s issue of Town & Country:

1. One Will Graves of Winter Park, FL laments the exclusion of his family from the T&C 50 Great Families Who Rule America now in the Inbox (Letters to the Editor). His “famously quiet Phipps family” was on the cover of Time in the 1960s, is related to Winston Churchill, “bailed out Miami repeatedly during the Depression, owned a third of Palm Beach and most of West Palm Beach” and “backed Amelia Earhart”. I’d like to say this was a tacky move, but we all know that there’s nothing tacky in T&C.

2. Suggested fact to drop to brighten up dinner conversation this month: “Did you know you can fly directly to Burning Man in a private helicopter?”

3. According to T&C, “history is filled with tales of those who missed the boat, sold too early, or just didn’t know a good opportunity when they saw one.” For example, Ali Fedotowsky “jumped ship” to be on The Bachelorette, while Mark Zuckerberg “struck it rich” at Facebook. She did lose her shares, but I don’t think this is a fair comparison.

4. “But the recent watch fairs in Switzerland ushered in more minimalist times.”

5. T&C is “Just Asking…”: “Should your mother go to Coachella? #MOMSNIGHTOUT” (You can tweet your answers to @TANDCMAG).

6. In this month’s Manners & Misdemeanors, Bruce McCall writes about entering the New York magazine publishing world as a high school dropout back in the day: “Everybody knew that everybody connected with the ‘smart’ magazines came from old money; went to Harvard, or at least Yale; summered on the Cape; married a deb; recited Horace while playing squash; and mixed with literary royalty at chic parties in Manhattan penthouses.” I haven’t recited Horace or played squash in a while, but I’d happily pick up those hobbies again if doing them simultaneously would get me a job at the New Yorker.

7. The Armie Hammer cover story. It is unbearable. (To be fair, it’s unbearable in the sense that I want everything that he and his wife have: extremely good looks, a lot of money, and an adorable bakery.)

8. In “Money For Nothing”, part of the T&C Inheritance Guide, the editors cover Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps’ winning the Kentucky Derby this year with his horse Orb. (See #1).

9. There’s an actually good piece about creative retreats that has revitalized my dream of one day going to Yaddo.

10. “KATE EXPECTATIONS”, the speculative piece about the Duchess of Cambridge’s new role in the royal family now that she is a mother, muses that “it may take a commoner to sew the royal family back together”. Anyway, they included a lot of little pictures of baby things that are, ya know, fit for a prince and also super adorable.

11. BONUS: Honestly, just purchase this issue for the spread on p. 100-101, picturing two sisters in the ballroom of historic Charleston house “attired for after-school pursuits” of fencing and riding, which I’m framing and hanging in my living room.

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A Few Things to Do When You Have a Stomach Virus

– Begin watching Orange Is The New Black – even though you feel like a tiny, invisible demon is stabbing your abdomen with a tiny, invisible knife over and over again – not because you heard it was good but because you are deeply competitive and see that your roommates have already watched ten episodes while you were on vacation. Then, of course, realize that it’s really good and watch all 13 episodes in a little over 24 hours.

– Lay on the couch all day, sweating, with a fan set on the highest possible level blowing almost but not quite directly on you. Do not wear pants.

– Spend so much time in your closet of a bathroom that you begin to think of it as more than a bathroom. The bathroom is your friend. Your friend who you tolerate in spite of his many flaws – he is at least 20 degrees hotter than the rest of your apartment, he doesn’t have enough floor space for you to dramatically writhe in pain, his window overlooks someone’s little backyard that you wish was yours – because you really, really need him for his toilet.

– Google all of your symptoms. Diagnose yourself with gastroenteritis.

– Drink a lot of water even though you’ve become convinced that it’s poisoning your body.

– Strap an athletic ice pack to your head.

– Google all of your symptoms again. Decide that you’re experiencing the early stages of sepsis and check your body for some type of rash that you’re supposed to get that you are pretty sure signals the early stages of death.

– Mentally write a will but stop yourself before you write it out for real.

– Watch the second half of the first season of New Girl and ask yourself the following questions: How did this show actually pull off a great second season? Am I really sexually attracted to Schmidt? What if I die at the exact moment when Zooey Deschanel sings “It’s Jess!” in the opening?

– Take like seven naps a day because you get tired every time you sit up for more than ten minutes.

– If you are feeling sort of OK, put on a sports bra and some gym clothes so you look normal (like you’re going to the gym) and walk two blocks to the grocery store. Buy the essentials of the BART diet (bananas, applesauce, rice and bread (for toast)) and as much Gatorade as you can carry because you forgot that it’s not actually that great for you when you’ve lost a lot of fluids.

– Discover that Lemonade Gatorade might have unseated Blue Frost as your favorite flavor.

– Read an entire book in a day. (I read The Middlesteins, but you might like to read something else.)

– Watch The Hunger Games for the first time since you saw it, drunk, the night it came out. Realize you remember a lot less about the movie than you thought.

– Read this amazing New Yorker piece on wily British egg collectors.

– Think a lot about the mysterious pain in your elbow. Is it tennis elbow? Is it a blood clot? Is it the pain in your joints you may feel before you die of sepsis? Google it but don’t self-diagnose because you’ve been taking your pulse and your temperature every hour for two days and you’re FINE.

– Watch The Fall on Netflix. Gillian Anderson with a British accent is the only kind of Gillian Anderson you need these days. (Briefly consider watching Bleak House (2005) for the ninth time but don’t because that would be a bit much.)

– Fall asleep every night hoping you’ll feel better the next day. And then, little by little, start to feel better. Also, come to the conclusion that you are not dying of sepsis as you didn’t really have any of the symptoms.

Vacay in the Bay Area, Part Two

Since I wrote the first part of this post, I’ve come down with the worst stomach flu I’ve had in years. I’m finally feeling a bit better this morning, so I thought I would continue! I think I left off on Saturday night…

Sunday morning we woke up, grabbed coffee and drove up to Napa Valley. The day, like the previous two, was beautiful and I was looking forward to it being warmer than in the city. I even wore the only outfit I brought that didn’t involve pants – a dress! Our first stop was the Town of Napa. We walked around a bit, looking for a place that sold hats because I needed one very badly for my sunburned face. We had no luck in that regard so we went to the Visitor’s Center to pick up some maps. A possibly senile woman with a cloud of what I’m certain was naturally black hair showed us a few good spots on our map of the valley. However, once Stephanie had mentioned the Chandon Winery, our aide assumed that we were only interested in sparkling wine and highlighted every sparkling winery on our map. We went straight to our first tasting room after that.

We arrived at Backroom Wines shortly after it opened at noon. We were definitely the first customers of the day. As I sat down for our tasting on some very comfortable couches, I had no idea what to expect. I think I’ve done two wine tastings before and one was the activity at an awkward alumni event and the other one was accidental in the sense that the wine store on my corner does these free tastings on Friday nights and it was empty when I walked in so I felt bad and hurriedly partook. Anyhow, a very friendly man helped us with our “Off-the-Grid” tasting menu. Halfway through the tasting, he told us that this was his third day working in the tasting room and that he had actually been working in Napa Valley as a chef for the last few years. Both Steph and I were very impressed with his knowledge of the wines. (Though, I guess it’s his job to be knowledgable about the wines, even if he’s new.) Our favorite was this Open Range Red from 2009.

 

Lunch at Kitchen Door

Lunch at Kitchen Door

 

Even though we also had a cheese plate at Backroom, we went over to the Oxbow Market after that for lunch. The market was adorable but I just wished that they had had some non-food stalls and maybe a stall that sold hats. Anyway, we ate at Kitchen Door. I had the “Alsatian flatbread”, which didn’t taste a whole lot like tarte flambee but it was truly delicious. Steph had eggs benedict, which I didn’t try, but she said they were also delicious.

After lunch, we drove to Yountville to Domaine Chandon to taste some sparkling wine. Getting a spot at the bar there for a tasting was kind of a hassle, but it ended up being a great place for people watching. First of all, it was Bastille Day, so all of the staff was wearing red, white and blue, “French” clothing. (So basically, berets and neckerchiefs, since that is what French people are known to wear. Oh, and stripes.) Also, we were the youngest people there who weren’t part of a bachelorette party. The plastic surgery I saw there was kind of astounding. Like, no joke, literally every woman behind the bar looked like Janice from the Muppets. Anyway, we did a tasting of four sparkling wines there. I’d say a solid three of them were good.

 

Tasting at Tamber Bey

Tasting at Tamber Bey

We then drove to St. Helena, which was a very cute town. We went to the Tamber Bey tasting room, which was in a kind of tucked-away spot. The wine we tasted there was great and again, we were the only people in the tasting room for a while. Our very chatty host gave me more wine than was really necessary and we also had some delicious shortbread cookies to eat along with the wine. After we left there, I was kind of drunk so we went to Goose & Gander for a “snack” of duck fat fries and scallops. The food was great and their outdoor seating area was very nice, even if there were like one million flies keeping us company.

 

View from the Passenger's Seat, Napa Valley

View from the Passenger’s Seat, Napa Valley

 

We drove back to Berkeley/Oakland – I was actually confused about which city I was in at all times – after that and had a little salad at Steph’s apartment and rested for a while until we went to The Trappist to meet one of Steph’s friends. I obviously forgot that I had been drinking all day because I had three different beers there. (I swear I’m not a glutton, just an Epicurean.) Anyway, I slept pretty soundly after sort of drunkenly trying to figure out what I was going to do in SF the next day.

I got up on Monday morning and was, well, slightly hungover. But I pulled myself together pretty easily and came up with a little game plan for SF. I repeated my little jaunt to the BART and into SF from Friday morning and got off at Embarcadero. This time, I took a streetcar to Castro Street, which had been on my list of places to see since I watched The Times of Harvey Milk for my Gay & Lesbian History class in college. I walked around the Castro for a while, stopping at Hot Cookie for a snack. (The snack was a cookie.) It was pretty chilly out and raining a little bit, but I decided to walk to the Haight for some more sightseeing.

While on my walk to the Haight, I came upon Buena Vista Park, which looked very wooded and beautiful, so I decided to climb up and check it out. However, I rethought that decision once I was in the park and realized it was dark-ish in there and literally no one else was walking around. I don’t know what I thought was going to happen to me, but I’m not exactly fearless when I’m traveling by myself. I exited the park after about a block and continued walking along Haight Street.

 

Haight-Ashbury

Haight-Ashbury

 

Haight-Ashbury kind of felt like a rundown Hippie Disneyland that’s slowly being transformed into a yuppie neighborhood. There were about forty Tibetan gift shops, old neighborhood coffee shops, young transients with dogs and so many music stores I’m surprised that all of them could stay open. (Actually, maybe there were only a few music stores. But still, I’m surprised that all of them could stay open.) But there was also a bunch of sleek-looking boutiques, a Kidrobot store, the most adorable bookshop I have ever entered – it’s called Booksmith and you should go if you’re ever on Haight Street – and an organic grocery store with outdoor seating where I bought a much-needed bottle of water.

 

At 710 Ashbury

At 710 Ashbury

 

One of the three things I wanted to do while in SF – incidentally, the only one of the three things that I actually accomplished – was to go to 710 Ashbury Street, where the Grateful Dead lived for about two years in the 60s. For some reason, I imagined that it was this big landmark. I, like every good Northeastern prep, went through a serious Grateful Dead phase in high school that didn’t quite last into adulthood. But I still listen to them when I’m in the mood, very much appreciate their contributions to the culture of American music and will never write them off like so many other bands I liked when I was younger. (Actually, I’ve had pretty good taste in music since I was 13, that being the year that I stopped listening to Dave Matthews Band and started listening to Bob Dylan.) Anyway, the house was not a landmark. People live in it and it’s beautiful. There are a few tiny pieces of Jerry Garcia street art on the sidewalk, which I photographed. I was there for maybe two minutes and then I walked away.

 

Aquarium

Aquarium

 

I walked straight up Haight and to Golden Gate Park, where I don’t know what I expected to do other than walk around. My original plan had been to go to the deYoung Museum, but of course it was a Monday and it was closed. So, I just kept walking straight in the wind and the drizzling rain hoping that I would find something to do. Eventually, I happened upon the California Academy of Sciences, which seemed better than nothing. It’s geared toward kids, but I bought a ticket anyway thinking that I could at least see some cool stuff. Um, I would skip this one if I could do it over. Their rainforest exhibit was cool and I like aquariums but I could have seen that shit in New York. Also, it’s weird being around so many families with kids when you’re an adult on your own. One of the sadder things I saw that day happened in the museum. This little nerdy kid with round Harry Potter glasses was wailing on a bench outside of the cafe. WAILING. And I didn’t see his parents anywhere. As I was walking by him, I looked to my left and saw that he had thrown up everywhere and I thought about how miserable that must be, to be the kid who has just thrown up in the museum sitting by yourself in front of your own vomit that’s being cleaned up by an elderly janitor.

 

At the Japanese Tea Garden

At the Japanese Tea Garden

 

I knew that the Japanese Tea Garden was close by so I walked over there and paid to walk around. The garden was originally a temporary exhibit at the 1894 World’s Fair. I loved it there. It was like the theme park version of Scarlett Johansson’s day trip to the Buddhist temple in Lost in Translation. I ended my visit by sitting down for  green tea and edamame and writing letters to my grandmothers and my great-aunt.

 

Walking Back to Castro Street

Walking Back to Castro Street

 

I found my way out of the park after that and walked through the Sunset District, back through the Haight and back to Castro Street, where I got on the subway to get back on the BART. It had been a long day of walking but I felt like I saw a lot even if I didn’t actually do much that day. When I got to Steph’s apartment, we had a beer and some baguette and cheese. And then I packed my suitcase so that it was all ready after we got back from dinner.

We had dinner at a cute little Italian place in Berkeley. (I forget the name now and I couldn’t record it in my phone because I was changing it back at the apartment.) My food was great but I was feeling a little weird, which now I think was probably the beginning of my illness. Once we were done, we went back to the apartment, gathered up all of my stuff, and Steph dropped me back off at the BART so I could ride to SFO. I probably won’t see her again until next summer, so I was sad to say goodbye. BUT I was happy that I had made the trip and we’d had so much time to catch up.

Nothing noteworthy happened at the airport. Really, I just waited a little bit, got on the plane and tried to sleep for about five hours, which turned out to be…not that possible for me. And the rest of the story is that I got off the plane and took a $70 cab to work because there was no way I was getting on a subway that exhausted with all of my luggage in 105 degree heat.

This moment, the moment in which I’m writing this, is the first time I’ve really gotten to reflect lucidly (I have been jet lagged and violently ill since Tuesday) on the trip and I have a few things to say. First of all, I’m proud of myself for making this happen. I’m happy that I had someone to visit, of course, but I easily could have put this off another year or whatever. Secondly, I really had no problem with being by myself for two days and I could see taking an actual trip by myself in the future. And lastly, I can’t wait to go back to SF and really see the city, i.e. not do all of the touristy stuff, even though I kind of liked it this time around. Actually, I just can’t wait to go back and eat more food. And I wouldn’t mind going to wine country again.

Vacay in the Bay Area, Part One

It feels like so long since I’ve written anything. But, lucky for you, I returned yesterday from a trip to the SF Bay Area and have a two-part post that’s just about to start, detailing every little thing that I did. I took a red-eye that landed at 7:30 AM and am still recovering 36 hours later, so forgive me if this sounds crazy at all.

Anyway, this was my frist trip to California! And also, the West Coast. For someone who likes to think of themselves as sort of well-traveled, it had always been pretty embarrassing for me to admit that I had never visited the other side of the country. But…now I have! I planned this trip primarily to visit one of my very best friends from college (and like, the whole world), Stephanie, who is at UC Berkeley for graduate school. But I also made sure to get a lot of good sightseeing and activities in there along with quality hangout sessions.

 

Packing for SF. It was strange packing a jacket in the New York heat, but it was definitely worth it!

Packing for SF. It was strange packing a jacket in the New York heat, but it was definitely worth it!

 

I left New York last Thursday afternoon and my flight was delayed for three hours due to the plane crash cleanup at SFO, which left the airport with only one open runway. I didn’t realize my flight was that delayed until I got to the airport. I occupied myself by walking about a mile through my terminal to the JFK Shake Shack and book shopping. Neither of these activities worked out as well as I had hoped they would. I couldn’t find a seat at Shake Shack so I ended up walking back to my gate and eating my Shroom Burger and drinking my Sixpoint tallboy there, next to a group of about 15 teenagers who were on their way to New Zealand for some kind of adventure trip. I did find a book eventually – How To Be A Woman – by Caitlin Moran – but it took forever because there were no bookstores in the terminal. Only about 85 Hudson News locations with the same 20 books.

On the plane, I watched the weird and terrible Beautiful Creatures. It was a dumb but not totally unenjoyable diversion. I’m not quite sure how Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson and Viola Davis were in this movie, but their presence in the cast is what had originally made me want to watch it. Anyway, I had a pretty fine flight and slept a little, landing at SFO around 11 PM. Steph picked me up, which was lovely, and brought me back to her apartment, where I passed out on the couch until the next morning.

 

City Lights Bookstore

City Lights Bookstore

 

I got to sleep in a bit and headed into SF by myself in the late morning. I stopped by Cole Coffee for a delicious Peruvian drip on my way to the BART, which I boarded at Rock Ridge and took into the city, getting off at Embarcadero. From there, I walked to City Lights Bookstore, where I browsed for a long time. It’s famed for its connection with Beat poetry which isn’t something that I’m really into – I guess? – but I wanted to buy something San Francisco-y there. I considered a copy of Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin, but then decided against it because I didn’t want to buy anything I had to bring back in my suitcase that I could just buy in New York. This is a problem I run into on every trip and I usually come back with exactly zero souvenirs.

 

Strolling around Fisherman’s Wharf

 

I walked from City Lights up to Fisherman’s Wharf, the Times Square of San Francisco. I generally get rashy from touristy spots, but I felt that I had to go there and I’m glad I did. (Also, I think that if I were visiting New York for the first time, I would go to Times Square just to see it.) I took some pretty good photos and ate chowder in a sourdough breadbowl. And because I was by myself, I didn’t feel like I stayed any longer or shorter than I should have. This is one of the beautiful things about being a lonely tourist. You can do whatever you want. (After typing the phrase “lonely tourist”, I was reminded of Pushing Daisies‘ “Charlotte Charles, the Lonely Tourist”. You should watch that show if you haven’t!) So, I walked up to Ghiradelli Square and got myself a chocolate cone to eat while I found the streetcar stop.

I met some fellow New Yorkers while waiting for the streetcar. One of them asked me if I thought San Francisco seemed like a different country. I told him that I did, but mostly because I had been marveling at the fact that I could be 3,000 miles away from New York and still in the same country. Also, it just felt too cold for the summer.

 

The Ferry Building

The Ferry Building

 

I got off the streetcar at the Ferry Building, where I walked around the market. I wished that I hadn’t eaten so much right before that because it looked like there were a lot of good treats there. I ended up browsing at Book Passage, which was very cute. Once I realized it was time to meet Stephanie, I headed out to walk down Market Street and to City Hall. This was probably not the best idea because Market Street went from super commercial to, for lack of a better word, seedy in about a block and then all of the sudden I was experiencing SF’s homeless problem firsthand. That was one thing I definitely didn’t anticipate. It did feel like neighborhoods could change very suddenly in SF, which is not really the case in the New York I live in as a priveleged, white female in my 20s.

 

We sat on an old log in Alamo Square

We sat on an old log in Alamo Square

 

Anyway, I met Steph at her office and we went to Alamo Square, which was great. Well, except for that it got really windy and we had to leave because I was getting dirt in my mouth. (I wonder if that happened to the cast of Full House when they filmed that part of the opening sequence there.) From there, we headed over to Zeitgeist, a pretty famous beer garden. We had a couple of beers outside in the sunshine before we headed down to the Mission for dinner. We had a pre-dinner glass of rose at 20 Spot, an adorable wine bar. And then we went to Foreign Cinema for dinner. This place was also adorable and we had a great meal, except for that my dish was a tad too salty. But the decor and appetizer and wine all made up for that.

 

Foreign Cinema

Foreign Cinema

The next morning, I went to the Beanery in Berkeley for coffee and breakfast. After that, Steph took me on a tour of the Berkeley campus. It was obviously beautiful. I literally can’t imagine getting to enjoy a campus for more than two months out of the year, so I’m sure being a student there is a lovely experience since the weather is always tolerable. We walked down Telegraph Avenue and browsed the records at Rasputin. I didn’t see anything that I needed to have, though I discovered that they have a very large collection of Incredible String Band records.

 

Spotted while walking around Lake Merritt

Spotted while walking around Lake Merritt

 

We caught the bus and took it to Oakland, where we walked around Lake Merritt and the farmers market in some very intense sun. (Ugh, guys, my sunburn. It’s so terrible.) I needed water really badly but we couldn’t find a single place that sold bottled water, which was a problem that plagued me for the rest of my trip. We walked from Lake Merritt to Umami Burger, which I was excited to try since it’s coming to New York soon. I got an original burger and some sweet potato fries and I am happy to report that it was delicious. (Though, I don’t think it was better than Shake Shack, for the record.)

 

Umami Burger

Umami Burger

 

Thoroughly stuffed, we headed back to Steph’s apartment for a little rest before going to her friends’ barbecue. I obviously didn’t know anyone at the barbecue, so I pretty much just kept looking around and thinking stuff like, “These people live in Berkeley. Weird.” Not because they didn’t seem like the type of people who lived in Berkeley. (I mean, my only reference before this for what Berkeley is like was the NBC show Parenthood.) I think because it’s hard for me to imagine people living places that seem very different from where I live. I felt the same way when I first went to college and met all of these kids who were from the Chicagoland area, who were just clearly used to things there. Like, it wasn’t weird to them that one of the large grocery store chains was called Jewel-Osco. Anyway, we didn’t stay for very long. We had to head back into SF for dinner.

Steph and I met my friend Kath, who I’ve known since we were kids, at Southern Pacific for a beer. We were joined by Kath’s brother’s girlfriend, Amelia, of whom I’d heard a lot during the past few years but had never met. We went to Local’s Corner in the Mission for dinner. It was awesome. The restaurant is focused on seafood, which I’m now convinced I don’t eat enough of. We shared five dishes and I thought that all of them were great. I was sad to go back to the East Bay after dinner, but I was super tired. We were going to Napa the next day and I had to rest up!

 

Kath & me at Local's Corner. (The lighting wasn't great.)

Kath & me at Local’s Corner. (The lighting wasn’t great.)

 

Come back later this week to read about the rest of my trip!

 

 

Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (and Whether or Not You Should Read Them, Too), Part Two

I wrote some mini-reviews of the books I had read in January, February and March a few months ago. Here’s the second edition of that, covering the months of April, May and June.

Did any of you read anything great this year that I should read and review in the next one? I’m looking for suggestions!

APRIL

Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro (2012)

What’s it about?

There are fourteen stories by Alice Munro in this collection. If you are a Munro-head, then you already know that these stories are usually about people, most often women, whose lives, which are lived almost entirely in Canada, are invaded by some kind of sadness. If you are not a Munro-head, well, now you know what this book is about.

Did I like this book?

I did. There is something about her writing that always satisfies me. I’ve learned so much from her ability to say a lot with a few words, her dialogue and her structure. This isn’t to say that I model my writing on hers, but reading her as a writer has been truly helpful in my development. And reading her as a reader has almost always been enjoyable. I had read a bunch of these stories in The New Yorker during the past few years and liked most of them even more upon second reading.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes, I think so. There are other collections that I like better. (Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage or Runaway are my favorites.) But I think that you can probably read any of her collections and get a sense as to whether or not you’d like her writing, if you’ve never read her before.

Tenth of December by George Saunders (2013)

What’s it about?

There are ten stories in this collection. I guess most of them are satirical in nature.

Did I like this book?

More than I thought I would! I had never been able to finish a George Saunders story before reading this book for my book club. After trying to read one of his stories in Best American Short Stories 2012, I cursed his name and declared him overrated and horrible. Of course, this story ended up becoming one of my favorites in the collection. I still found his particular style grating at times, but reading so many of his stories in a short period of time made me respect and appreciate his work. I think I would read another one of his collections.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

I wouldn’t just like, recommend this to anyone. For example, if you are my mom, who enjoys reading murder mysteries almost exclusively but sometimes enjoys other stuff, I would say, “NO! Don’t read this!” But if you’re someone who likes being challenged by the fiction you read, or has always wanted to read George Saunders, or has liked reading George Saunders in the past, then I would say, “Yeah, go for it.”

MAY

Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker (1962)

What’s it about?

This book is about Cassandra Edwards, who is hyper-intelligent, insecure, paranoid, gay, and trying to ruin her twin sister Judith’s wedding. (I think I’ve read the description of this book so many times, because I had considered reading it for so long, that I originally wrote it out almost verbatim here.)

Did I like this book?

Eh, I feel ambivalent about this book. What I liked about it: the interesting structure, the extreme intelligence of the characters, the exploration of very complicated family dynamics. What I didn’t like about it: Cassandra (almost everything about her). It’s still really difficult for me to like a book when I find the main character unlikable. I wanted to be on her side throughout the novel, but her actions and general way of being made that impossible.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

I struggled though this, but I definitely learned from this novel in terms of structure, mechanics, and writing an interestingly unlikable protagonist. I don’t think I’d recommend it, though.

The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier (1963)

What’s it about?

This is a memoir. A young Swiss journalist and his artist pal set out to travel from Geneva to the Khyber Pass in a really shitty car.

Did I like this book?

Parts of it. I found the details about the Balkans and the Middle East in the 1950s to be fascinating. I found that I didn’t care about Nicolas or his friend Thierry as much as I cared about, say, Patrick Leigh Fermor, who wrote the Introduction to this book, in his travel books.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

I wouldn’t bother. Unless the subject seems terribly interesting to you, but I’m not totally pleased that I spent almost a month reading this.

JUNE

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (2012)

What’s it about?

This Pulitzer Prize winner is about the  journey of Jun Do, a man who grows up an orphan and faces danger, violence and death as he climbs the ranks in totalitarian North Korea.

Did I like this book?

Well, since I didn’t finish it, I’m going to say that I didn’t. The prose was beautiful, but I just couldn’t get into it.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

I mean, you’re going to anyway. So go right ahead. And then please convince me to try it again? I hate not finishing things.

The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford (1947)

What’s it about?

This coming-of-age novel follows a brother and sister duo, Ralph and Molly, through their childhood in California and on their uncle’s Colorado ranch.

Did I like this book?

Oh my gosh, yes! This portrait of two children who exist uneasily within their family and the world at large is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time. There is a lot to love about this book and I’m sad that it seems to be mostly forgotten. It’s the first novel I’ve read by Jean Stafford and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes. I think this novel is unique in its intelligence and unexpected brutality. It is definitely worth reading. Also, it’s not a huge commitment, as it’s pretty short.

The Likeness by Tana French (2009)

What’s it about?

Dublin Detective Cassie Maddox goes undercover as a murdered woman who looks like her twin.

Did I like this book?

Oh, boy, was this ever a page-turner! Yes, I did like this a lot. I thought it was a very smart thriller and a perfect summer read for those who aren’t big fans of “light reading”. Actually, it was perfect read for the rainy weather in June.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Do it! Especially if you’re in book club with me and haven’t started it yet. Our meeting is next week-ish!

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (1954)

What’s it about?

Jim Dixon is an underqualified junior professor at a second-rate English university. During the course of this novel, he must navigate the horrible sea of academia, put up with his on-again off-again girlfriend who is recovering from a suicide attempt and write a lecture on “Merrie England” while trying to remain in the good graces of Professor Welch and steal Welch’s pompous son Bertrand’s girlfriend.

Did I like this book?

This was a re-read for me. I love this book. So, so much. It’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, right up there with The Dud Avocado.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes, yes, yes. I think we can all find something to relate to in Jim.

(All images via newyorkbooks.com)