Reflections on 2012, Book Recommendations and New Essays

Monday, December 31st, 2012

On this last day of 2012, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the previous year, and to offer my thanks: to the bookstores that stocked me and the bookseIlers that championed me, and most of all to my readers–those of you who took the story of Achilles and Patroclus to heart, who mentioned it to friends, who wrote me lovely notes, who pressed copies of my book on your book groups, and supported me in a thousand other ways.  I can never say enough how grateful I am.

As for reflections, a number of readers have asked how my life is different (or not) since winning the Orange Prize. Here’s a recent essay I wrote for Waterstones on just that topic.

December is the time of the infamous “best books” list, which I generally avoid making, because as soon as I draw one up, I am stricken with the thought of seven other novels I have left out.  But here’s a piece I did for The Millions that includes some favorites from my reading year.  And here, below, are some of the ones I was stricken about missing:

1) Doc, by Mary Doria Russell, a novel about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp that completely enraptured me–so much so that I both listened to it on audiobook AND read it on the page.  It’s wonderful both ways, and I recommend it wholeheartedly, even if you thought you had no interest in  Doc Holliday. Also, a personal bonus for me: Doc Holliday loved Classical literature, and there are a number of references to the Odyssey, and Homer, as well as Vergil.

2) Joan Wickersham’s beautiful book of short stories, The News from Spain.  I had the good fortune of hearing her speak about the book in person at the Boston Book Festival and she’s just as piercingly smart and elegant as her writing.

3) The Ramayana. In preparation for my event at the Mumbai Literary Festival (Our Ram, Their Achilles), I reread this ancient epic in a number of versions, including the abridged R. K. Narayan retelling and the excellent translation by Arshia Sattar.  Reminded me of how much I love epic poetry in general, not just from ancient Greece.  Next up: The Mahabharata.

4) I also loved reading Three Parts Dead which was a debut novel by an author-friend of mine, Max Gladstone.  It’s a ferociously smart fantasy novel which draws trenchant inspiration from the financial crisis–while also featuring gods, gargoyles and wizard-lawyers.  I appreciated Max’s gripping, clean prose and particularly admired his terrific and complex heroines, all-too-scarce in fantasy novels. Bonus: makes a great gift for lawyer friends.

5) After hearing Jess Walter speak, I immediately procured several of his books. The first one I tackled, The Financial Lives of the Poets was wonderful–and has one of the best Good Cop/Bad Cop scenes I’ve ever encountered in literature. I am looking forward to reading his new novel, Beautiful Ruins.

Finally, I had the opportunity to write a piece for the Center for Fiction on five of my favorite novels inspired by classics books.  Sadly, the Aeneid counts as a poem, not a novel, otherwise it would have been first on the list.

I am wishing you all a wonderful 2013, and thank you again, for everything.

Writing at Six Miles an Hour

Recently I wrote an essay for the wonderful Powell’s Book Blog called “Writing at Six Miles an Hour.”  It’s about my various (mis)adventures in figuring out my creative process.

Historical Fiction Round-Up

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

I was so pleased to be asked to do NPR’s Historical Fiction Round-up this year, and had an enormously good time picking and reading the five books.  I hope that you enjoy them as much as I did!

‘Book of a Lifetime: The Iliad’ in The Independent

I first encountered Homer’s Iliad as a young child, when my mother read it to me as a bedtime story.  It was love at first listen.  Here is a short essay I wrote about that, published today in The Independent’s “Book of a Lifetime” series.  In it, I mention one of my favorite similes from the Iliad,  describing Patroclus as he weeps for the dying Greek soldiers.  Here is the simile:

“Patroclus stood by Achilles, shedding warm tears like a darkened spring which pours its black streams down a steep rock.”  Iliad, 16.2-4

Following Achilles’ Heels

Coming soon! A tour through Greece and Turkey in the literary steps of Achilles and Patroclus.