1. The Boys in the Boat - Daniel James Brown. (nonfiction) Damn, this guy can write! I'm mad at myself for shying off of this book for several months. This is the true story of the scrappy University of Washington rowing crew that made it to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Another example of specimens from The Greatest Generation. Even better: Hugh Laurie's father makes a cameo as part of the British team! Such a great read. Damn, this Daniel James Brown can write. Okay, I already said that. Can't wait to read his next book.
2. Mess - Barry Yourgrau. (nonfiction) Barry, a writer and artist living in New York City, was a hoarder. Or was he? His apartment was messy, and when he wouldn't let his longtime girlfriend in, things got a bit tense. He decided to make a Project of his cleanup, which involved research. His writing style is sly, hip, witty -- I loved all of that. What annoyed me was his constant refrain that he took pictures of his mess. The book has no pictures! [Edited to add: Correction -- there is ONE picture. While duly doing his research about hoarders, Barry found out that he has an unfortunate?A hilarious? resemblance to the King of all Hoarders, Langley Collyer.] Also the bit about his girlfriend's pseudonym got a bit grating. I actually cringed whenever she appeared in the book. Use your real name or go park yourself somewhere less messy, girl.
3. Lucky - Alice Sebold. (memoir) When Sebold was a freshman in college, she was brutally beaten and raped one night when she was coming home from a party. This was only the beginning of her ordeal, as she has to deal with the police and her family and friend's reactions. I felt profoundly upset, especially at an unforgivable question her father asks her, right to her bruised and bloodied face, and I wasn't sure I could continue reading. Glad I hung in there, because her calm and cool testimony at the trial when the defense attorney is trying to make her look bad, was inspiring. Maybe that's the wrong word. I'm thinking of something like that, but much, much fiercer.
4. Chocolates for Breakfast - Pamela Moore. (novel) Published in 1956 when the author was just 18 years old, this novel has aged very well. The book follows two years in the life of Courtney Farrell, ages 15-17 while she negotiates life on two coasts, disinterested parents and a cast of seedy and/or pathetic characters. It's brilliant in its frankness and tackles subjects that one assumes were off-limits in the mid-50s. Because of Moore's tragic and early end, it was tempting to read Chocolates for Breakfast as a sad road map. Happily, I got caught up in the story and didn't do that very often. This is a lost classic and it's good that it's been rediscovered. Now I want to know if Sylvia Plath read it when it came out. I have a strong sense that she did.
5. Ten Thousand Streets Under the Sky - Patrick Hamilton. (3 novellas, published as one novel) I'm still puzzled how Hamilton could be such a lush but still so observant. I suppose alcohol heightened his powers. Of course, this trilogy was written early on and published in 1935. This overlapping narrative of three young people who work at or frequent a pub called "The Midnight Bell" reminded me of both Dickens and Zola, except with Hamilton, there is no padding, no wasted words. He chronicles what he sees and gets right to the point. His other career as a playwright stood him in good stead. Highly recommended.
6. The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea - Yukio Mishima. I'll be honest; I didn't know what I was getting into. I only knew that I have loved the very title of this book for years and was fascinated and repelled by the author. And now? The novel reminded me of Lord of the Flies and The Stranger. The translation is impeccable, one of the best I've ever read. Although the story is off-putting, I couldn't stop reading and it's whetted my appetite for more Japanese literature. Not Murakami, though. I must explore and take suggestions.