On Annie's Nightstand: March 2015.

We’re almost a quarter of the way through 2015, and I’ve got to say: I have read some absolutely excellent books this year. I don’t know if I’m choosing what I read more carefully and purposefully, or if 2015 has just been a great year for books, but this month, I’ve got seven more worthy recommendations for your nightstands. 

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy. I started Ghettoside in February, but finished it early March. The book, written by award-winning journalist Jill Leovy, is a New York Times bestseller, and it takes a while to get through, but not due to any flaw on Leovy’s part. The subject matter, frankly, is heavy; Ghettoside covers the urban crime epidemic in Los Angeles County, where nearly every day, someone is killed in an act of violence. Instead of offering up statistic after statistic, Leovy gives faces to the names of the victims and their families, and her look at urban violence reminds readers “black lives matter.” Michael Connelly is quoted on the front of Ghettoside, saying, “Everyone needs to read this book.” I think so, too. 

Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny. This collection of short stories was the perfect follow-up to Ghettoside. Short stories can often be hit or miss for me, but I loved this book. It’s ideal for spring and summertime beach reading, but it’s intelligent and funny and sad. The stories aren’t uplifting – they’re often raw looks at love and marriage and infidelity and growing-up – but if you’re like me, you’ll find them compulsively readable. For fans, I think, of Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling. 

Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford. And this is where you’re going to be upset with me. Everybody Rise might be one of my favorite books I’ve read this year, but – bookseller perk! – it doesn’t actually release until August. Go ahead and put it on your list for later this summer, though, because this debut novel will be worth the wait. Everybody Rise takes place in New York in 2006, a few years before the crash, and 26-year-old Evelyn Beegan is struggling to find her way in the world of the Manhattan elite, where she’s convinced she belongs. The book tracks Evelyn’s rise (and of course, the inevitable fall); I became so enmeshed in her story, I found myself trying to talk Evelyn in and out of her various decisions. So, so good. 

In a Dark Wood by Joseph Luzzi. I traveled to Italy the summer after my freshman year in college, and one of the requirements of my mini-semester in Florence was to read Dante’s The Divine Comedy. (We also memorized the first several stanzas in Italian, and if I think really hard, I can still quote the first few lines.) In a Dark Wood is inspired by Dante, but the story is an original one: Author and Italian professor Joseph Luzzi lost his pregnant wife in a horrific car accident, but not before she gave birth to their first child. He spent the next few years coping with her loss, and he turned to Dante for comfort. Surprisingly, my favorite parts of the memoir weren’t the details of Luzzi’s personal life; instead, I found the history of Dante and The Divine Comedy a bit more compelling, perhaps because of my own history with the story. If you’re a fan of Dante at all, I think you’ll enjoy parts of this new book particularly well. (In a Dark Wood releases in May.)  

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. Customers and critics both have raved about this YA novel, so I thought I’d give it a try for my YA book of the month. I’ll Give You the Sun is reminiscent of other young adult books by Rainbow Rowell, John Green, or even E. Lockhart; Nelson tells the fictional story of two twins, once inseparable, but now, three years after the novel’s beginning, barely speaking to one another. The story is compelling, and the book’s pacing was on point – I never wanted to put it down. My small beef with the book was its perhaps unrealistic portrayal of teen sexuality, but that might be because I'm a bit of a prude? Maybe read it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Dietland by Sarai Walker. The author herself compares Dietland to a sort-of “Fight Club for feminists,” and that’s a pretty spot-on description. Dietland releases in May, and I guarantee it’s going to make headlines. The book is snarky and explicit and dark and hilarious and weird, and at the end of it, I wanted to know what other people thought – an indication of future book club success, I’m sure. Protagonist Plum Kettle (yes, really) is trying to remain invisible until her upcoming weight-loss surgery, which she thinks will turn her world upside down and allow her to live the life she’s imagined for herself. Unfortunately for Plum, the world instead begins to turn upside down when “Jennifer,” a guerrilla feminist group, starts highlighting the mistreatment of women, and Plum has to make big decisions about what she believes about herself and women in general. If feminist manifestos are your thing, put this one on your list. 

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. If you talk to me in the next few weeks, we probably won’t be able to make it through a conversation before I start referencing Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before. Here’s the thing: I love Gretchen Rubin. She’s one of my spirit animals. The Happiness Project? Genius. Her new book about habits? Even better. This is the kind of nonfiction I love. For a girl obsessed with personality types and self-improvement, Better Than Before is gold. In it, Gretchen identifies the four tendencies of habit makers, and she spends the rest of the book identifying how habit forming has to be adjusted to our individual tendencies. It’s incredibly eye-opening and potentially life-changing, and I can’t wait for everyone to be talking about it with me. Stay tuned for a Bookshelf podcast episode devoted entirely to Better Than Before.

Hey Natalie Jean by Natalie Holbrook. Last Friday, the store was slow, and I thought I'd just read this one in between customers. Blogger-turned-author and all that jazz. Instead, I found myself mesmerized, and I finished the whole thing. Look: I like Natalie. I've read her blog for a long time, but since I don't read very many blogs regularly anymore, I couldn't tell you if the material was re-hashed from her blog or not. (A complaint of several reviewers, it seems.) But really? Who cares? Unlike a lot of bloggers, Natalie can actually write. Her essay on her grandmother and Alzheimer's had me in tears. I thought the chapters on style and fashion were just fine, but the essays about homemaking and marriage and motherhood were excellent, well done and compelling. I said it on Instagram, and I'll repeat it here: This one's going to the top of my "baby shower/Mother's Day gifts that aren't lame" list.  

Annie JonesComment