January's Books - 2012

All of the excerpts and links are from Powell's Books, save for Magnificent Mistakes from Ravenna Press.

Currently Reading:
The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers - Betsy Lerner
Quickly established as an essential and enduring companion for aspiring writers when it was first published, Lerner's sharp, funny, and insightful guide has been meticulously updated and revised to address the dramatic changes that have reshaped the publishing industry in the decade since. From blank page to first glowing (or gutting) review, Lerner is a knowing and sympathetic coach who helps writers discover how they can be more productive in the creative process and how they can better their odds of not only getting published, but getting published well. This is an indispensable user's manual to both the inner life of writers and the increasingly anxious place where art and commerce meet: the boardrooms and cubicles of the publishing house.

Making a Literary Life - Carolyn See
Carolyn See distills a lifetime of experience as novelist, memoirist, critic, and creative-writing professor into this marvelously engaging how-to book. Partly the nuts and bolts of writing (plot, point of view, character, voice) and partly an inspirational guide to living the life you dream of, Making a Literary Life takes you from the decision to “become” a writer to three months after the publication of your first book. A combination of writing and life strategies (do not tell everyone around you how you yearn to be a writer; send a “charming note” to someone you admire in the industry five days a week, every week, for the rest of your life; find the perfect characters right in front of you), Making a Literary Life is for people not usually considered part of the literary loop: the non–East Coasters, the secret scribblers.

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story - Diane Ackerman
When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw--and the city's zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen "guests" hid inside the Zabinskis' villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants--otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes.

On the Nightstand:
The Book of Dead Birds - Gayle Brandeis
With great beauty and lyricism, The Book of Dead Birds captures a young woman's struggle to come to terms with her mother's terrible past while she searches for her own place in the world. This moving mother-daughter story of migration, survival, and reconciliation resonates across cultures and through generations.

Self Storage - Gayle Brandeis
Set during the year following the September 11 attacks, Self Storage explores the raw insecurities of a changed society. With lush writing, great humor, and a genuine heart, Gayle Brandeis takes a peek into the souls of a woman and a community — and reveals that it is not our differences that drive us apart but our willful concealment of the qualities that connect us.

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement-Jane Ziegelman

No One Is Here Except All of Us - Ramona Ausubel
It's 1939, and a remote Jewish village in Romania feels the war closing in from every direction. Yet, the territory of imagination and belief is limitless. At the suggestion of an 11-year-old girl and a mysterious stranger who has washed up on the riverbank, the villagers decide to reinvent the world. Time and history are forgotten. Jobs, husbands, and children are reassigned. For years, there is boundless hope. But the real world continues to unfold alongside the imagined one. This beguiling story explores how we use storytelling to survive and shape our own truths.

Backwards in High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female - Tania Kindersley & Sarah Vine
This smart and frank collection distills the trials and triumphs of being a woman, all in a gifty volume filled with whimsical fullcolor illustrations. In 15 subject-driven chapters relevant to women of all ages, authors Tania Kindersley and Sarah Vines essays cover topics ranging from feminism to face cream, motherhood to money, and politics to perfection. Titles like “The Danger of Romantic Love,” “Why There is No Such Thing as a Guilt-Free Working Mother,” “How Not to Go Mad,” parts 1 and 2, and “Why There is No Excuse for Bad Sex” develop into a tuned and sophisticated voice that is at once a mother, best friend, and shrink, revising expectations, bashing stereotypes, and illuminating the experience of life.

Magnificent Mistakes - Eric Bosse
The world we think we know shifts and turns otherworldly in the short stories and flash fictions that make up Eric Bosse's Magnificent Mistakes. In smooth, subtle prose, Bosse moves through the lives of a menagerie of misfits, crackpots, and odd ones out. A bookstore clerk can’t shake the feeling of being watched. A son uses a camcorder to cajole his mother into assessing his life. A kinky, submissive inventor struggles to let go when his girlfriend dumps him. A widow pleads for a rabbi’s advice as her houseplants grow wild. A Zen master takes drastic measures to teach a young monk about impermanence. And a guy with a cold befriends a duck. Lit through from start to finish with an oblique sense of the darker side of life, this imaginative collection of stories evokes tenderness even as it refuses to forgive.


  1. Thank you so much for including my novels in this wonderful list--I am touched and grateful. :)

  2. You are welcome. Fruitflesh was such an inspiring book when I first started writing - the strawberry & the root cellar exercises, especially. I keep Fruitflesh on my writing desk and refer to it often.