The author and poet shares her favorite books.
Leigh Stein’s debut novel, The Fallback Plan, revitalizes the post-college coming-of-age narrative, as a young woman finds herself adrift after graduation and only begins to confront the real world through the experiences of a family she babysits for. When we asked her to recommend three favorites, Stein replied, “It seems like every year, I read a book and think, ‘This is my favorite book ever! I will never have another favorite book! THIS IS IT!’ This happens five or six times a year. It’s like falling in love, but without the fallout of boyfriends. So it was difficult to choose a top three, but not impossible, once I narrowed the list down to the books I keep re-reading.”
By Margaret Atwood
“When I was 19, I moved to New York to go to acting conservatory, and in between scene study and voice and speech classes, I read every single Atwood novel I could get my hands on. (Most I bought used, in hardcover from Housing Works thrift shops.) It was sometime during that year that I decided to skip the hard life of an actress and go straight to the easy life of a novelist (ha ha). The Blind Assassin is a compelling story of sisterhood, with an intricate novel-within-a-novel plot that dazzled me. A prolific talent, Atwood is never a show-off. Even with complex structures (in this novel, as in others), it all seems so effortless. I think I can blame her for leading me to believe that writing is easy.”
By Lorrie Moore
“This ‘novel’ by another of my favorite writers is really four short stories and one novella. The characters’ names are the same, but their configurations shift. Gerard loves Benna, who doesn’t love him back. Benna loves Gerard, but he’s going to California. And so on. The variations on a theme are one reason to read this book, and the dark humor is another (‘In the dictionary lumpy jaw comes just before lunacy, but in life there are no such clues’). Moore writes about the profound sadness of ordinary people in a way I find unparalleled. ‘Life is sad, I thought. Here is someone,’ is the refrain of the final novella, and it’s a line that has haunted me like poetry ever since I first read it.”
By Maggie Nelson
“This book is my newest beloved on the list. I first read it last spring on vacation in Santa Fe. The back cover offers no description, no clues to its contents, but I would describe it as part memoir/part meditation/part poem. It is ‘about’ blue. ‘Why blue? People ask me this question often. I never know how to respond. We don’t get to choose what or whom we love, I want to say. We just don’t get to choose.’ Written in 240 tiny sections, Nelson’s instinct for what to put in this book is just as keen as her instinct for what to leave out. In pencil, I underlined and starred: ‘I have been trying to place myself in a land of great sunshine, and abandon my will therewith.’ That seemed to explain everything I’ve ever felt about New Mexico but couldn’t say. I think there must be a line in this book for everyone, to explain something you haven’t got the words for.”