Best Books

Here’s a party trick: If you ask someone what their favorite book is, they’ll probably blank. It’s a paralyzing question, right? But if you ask people what a few of their top ten books are, they’ll start rattling off a list. So! On that note, here are three great books I’ve read recently (and I’d love to hear yours)…

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
I finished this book a few days ago, and now I’m craving someone to discuss it with. (It makes me want to start a book club.) Lucy, a married mother of two, is recovering from surgery complications in the hospital, when her own mother comes to sit at the foot of her bed and keep her company. Her mother tells lively, gossipy stories about neighbors in her hometown of Amgash, Illinois, and everything seems to be ticking along well, until Lucy reveals to us in small ways the extreme poverty of her upbringing, her hunger for her mother’s love and their difficult relationship. Strout’s writing is so spare and restrained, it sneaks up on you. You’re reading, not expecting anything major from this or that chapter, when BOOM, Lucy tells a quick story as an aside, and your heart breaks into a million pieces. It took my breath away.

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola
“Be kind to drunk people, for every one of them is fighting an enormous battle,” writes Hepola, who would drink at bars or parties until she blacked out. Meaning: She could still tell stories and dance and sing karaoke, but in the morning, she wouldn’t remember a thing. She’d use clues (a cab receipt in her pocket, a casual joke from a friend, a corn dog in her bed) to piece together what had happened. “Close your eyes and open them again. That’s what a blackout feels like,” she writes. Although her journalism career blossomed (and the overall tone of the book is frank, funny and warm), she worried more and more about her extreme drinking — and waking up next to strange men. “I drank myself to a place where I didn’t care,” she says, “but I woke up a person who cared enormously. Many yeses on Friday nights would have been noes on Saturday morning. My consent battle was in me.” Hepola’s fascinating memoir is a wild ride until she hits rock bottom — more than once.

Epilogue: A Memoir by Anne Roiphe
This may be the only book I’ve ever re-read, I loved it so much. When her husband of nearly 40 years dies unexpectedly, 70-year-old Anne Roiphe strives to figure out a new day-to-day routine in her Upper West Side apartment. “Grief is in two parts,” she writes. “The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.” Her adult daughter places a personal ad for her in a literary journal, and when Roiphe meets men for coffee and lunches, the results are both poignant and hilarious. The funny thing is, when I read this memoir years ago — while Alex and I were first dating — I found it heartbreaking and terrifying, while now I find it resilient and strong and full of hope. Funny how much a book can change when your own life changes.

Disclaimer: These books sound depressing written out, but they are so, so wonderful.

Are you reading anything good right now? What are a few of your favorite books? Do you have a book “type”? While writing this, I realized that I must be drawn to first-person books about women. (I also loved Dept. of Speculation and Persepolis.)

P.S. The scariest book, and five big fall books.

(Photo by Romain Pivétal, via Sycamore Street.)

Cup of Jo has been running for 13 years (!) so we’ve decided that every week, we’ll be highlighting one of the most popular posts from the past. Here’s one of our favorites, originally published on April 6, 2016.

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