Joan Didion’s new book What I Mean is a collection of old essays, and besides the pleasure of a trip down memory lane (profiles of Nancy Reagan and early Martha Stewart are particularly pleasurable), the slim volume includes a pithy introduction by The New Yorker‘s Hilton Als. To round out your Joan Didion knowledge, check out Caitlin Flanagan’s excellent 2012 Atlantic article about her own obsession with the author.
If you’re already a George Saunders fan, you know of his teaching prowess and will easily step into his new venture, an exploration of the great Russian short stories that he teaches to his fiction students at Syracuse University. In this book, Saunders takes readers through a page by page exploration of Chekov, Tolstoy, Gogol and Turgenev, alternating the stories and his own thoughts on the work. It’s definitely like being in class, which is why I’m listening to it on Audible, where Saunders lectures on the pages that are read by actors. A Swim in the Pond in the Rain is a unique read (or listen), treating readers like writers, and exposing the brilliance of the best short stories ever written.
Next on my list is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun. Ishiguro never disappoints, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017. This novel tackles AI and explores the nature of knowledge and human connection. Isn’t that what we need right now?
Finally, and this is off the beaten track, I picked up I Saw Ramallah, the celebrated memoir by poet Mourid Barghouti who died this year. If you’ve been to the Middle East or are intrigued by the struggles of the Palestinian people, or just love beautiful prose, this is a treat. Edward Said, in the book’s forward said the account is “one of the finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement that we now have.”