Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s book column, where authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re looking for a book to console you, move you deeply, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (because you’re here), love books. Maybe one of their favorite titles will also become one of yours.
His third novel (Death in his hands) went out during confinement; now comes the fourth from Ottessa Moshfegh, Lapvone (Penguin Press), written during lockdown.
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, Moshfegh’s first book, Eileen, won the PEN/Hemingway Prize for First Novel. Sales of his second, My year of rest and relaxationabout a young woman who tries to numb her trauma for a year, Pink during the pandemic, as readers faced their own isolation. This too spoke to Proenza Schouler, for whom she wrote a short story for the duo’s fall 2022 collection. She also contributed a story for Gagosian’s Picture Books series.
She adapts her short story, Mcglue, for Vice Films, of which she will be a producer; film rights to Myorar were cast by Margot Robbie’s production company and Atlas Films; and she and her husband, Luke Goebel, adapted the screenplay for Eileenwith Anne Hathaway, and co-wrote Red, white and water.
The Newton, Massachusetts, Pasadena-based author play four instruments at age seven (his Iranian father is a violinist and his Croatian mother is a violist); jumped up 8th grade; earned his MFA at Brown and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford; lives in a 1920s stone house called Casa de Pájaros (Bird House); consults a Vedic astrologer, has a mixed race named Walter; written in a fiction letter to Donald Trump that she uses her middle name Charlotte at Starbucks; taught English and worked in a punk bar in Wuhan, China. Bad at: Paint. Good at: Consuming true crime shows, loneliness.
The book that:
…kept me up way too late:
Communion by Whitley Strieber. It’s “A True Story” about the author’s encounters with extraterrestrials, and I like the way it’s written: candid, intelligent, self-aware, and very descriptive.
…I recommend again and again:
A moving party by Hemingway. There is a bit of everything: the truth, the time, his adventures, his meetings, his fights. The first time I read it I was in Paris on a high school trip. The last time I spent a lot of time in Paris, I read A Life of Picasso I: The Prodigy by John Richardson. I have never recommended it until now. It’s fascinating.
… shaped my view of the world:
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Probably the most important American novel of the last century.
…I swear I will one day finish:
The house of joy by Edith Wharton. I have read the first hundred pages a dozen times. It is so good. I think it’s so good it’s exhausting me, honestly. I’m just like, “Wow!” at the end of each paragraph. Maybe when I grow up I’ll finish it…
…I read in one sitting, it was so good:
Vague by Sonali Deraniyagala. It’s a beautiful memoir about a sudden and incomprehensible loss. It’s also a story of survival, and it inspired me a lot after the loss of my brother.
… currently sits on my bedside table:
Some biographies of Audrey Hepburn. The Barry Paris one is extremely detailed!
… made me laugh out loud:
Women by Charles Bukowski. It completely overturned my conception of what a novel is. It’s so slick and hilarious, and is narrated by the most depraved and brilliant protagonist. It is both a disgusting love letter to women and a grotesque self-portrait of a man who will never understand them.
…has the best opening line:
“I was a child murderer.” This is the opening line of dear people by Joyce Carol Oates. He continues: “I don’t mean a child murderer, even if it’s an idea. I mean a child murderer, meaning a murderer who happens to be a child, or a child who happens to be a murderer. You can take your pick. When Aristotle notes that man is a rational animal, we lean forward, straining our ears, to hear which of these words is stressed: rational animal, rational animal? Who am I ? Child murderer, child murderer? Surprising…
…helped me become a better writer:
The first collection of short stories by Gary Lutz, Stories in the worst way. I discovered Lutz when I was in high school. There is so much precision in the construction of each sentence. It really made me sit down and fall in love with the grammar in a deeper way, to appreciate that it has such a deep and beautiful system of reason behind it.
… is a master class on dialogue:
Kristine McKenna’s interview books with the most interesting artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers of the past 50 years, Talk to him and book of mutations! She is probably one of the best conversationalists on the planet.
…I read the most:
Aghora: On the Left of God by Robert E. Svoboda. I’ve read this book so many times because I know I’ll never fully understand it, but I would love to. It details the stories and teachings of Aghori Vimalananda, which are deeply strange and very difficult for me to remember.
… sealed a friendship:
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. Rachel is a genius with a huge heart. I’m honored to call her a friend.
… fills me with hope:
Drinking: a love story by Caroline Knapp. I read this in my 20s when I first quit drinking. She has written other books that I love, but this one made the biggest impression on me. It was perhaps the first memoir I read.
…I would like signed by the author:
West of Eden by John Stein. I had a signed copy of the book dedicated to me, but lost it during one of my many moves across the country. Stein was a dear friend and I had done some work on the book towards the end of its editing process. Stein passed away in 2017 and I really miss her.
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