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The Hairpin’s Spring Reading List
Welcome to spring! It starts today. Are you going to stand an egg up on its end? You should at least try. Supposedly this works any day of the year, but we’re about having fun and not raining on everyone’s egg parade. Speaking of fun: we asked some friends “What’s the last great book you read?” and they answered us. There should be enough here to keep you busy until our Summer Reading List comes out.
I’m going to go old school and say Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. What’s that you say? That’s so sophomore year of college? That’s so Intro to Ethnic Studies? True, but it’s also the best. When I introduced this book to my class of ten sophomore boys, I told them about how the bigwigs of The Harlem Renaissance essentially told Hurston that her work didn’t belong because it was a romance and lacking in political verve. Then I told them not to continue the cycle of generalized misogyny, and to think about the ways in which the personal is political, and how the story of a black woman seeking, losing, finding, and losing love in the South in the 1920s was and remains important. ‘Pinners, these boys f-ing loved it. And they’re right: this book is exquisitely wrought, there’s that sweet orgasmic scene with the pear tree (just trust me), and it’s clear that Teacake was a stone-cold fox. You’ve probably read it before, but read it again, revel in it, and remember what it feels like to read something beautiful and strong. —Anne Helen Petersen
Patti Smith, Woolgathering. I got this reissued mini-book of Smith’s because I had already re-read Just Kids and wanted more.Woolgathering is much closer to Smith’s poetry than prose; it’s a rambling discourse on inspiration, becoming an artist, the whole tangle of mortality and obsession and real life coming knocking. It’s perfect to read now at the top of the spring, when the world feels especially new and possible. This book could be your creative talisman for an especially creative and fancy-free summer. —Jessica Hopper
Okay, besides The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games!!!!) I recently read The Poisoners Handbook. It’s all about the office of the medical examiner in New York around prohibition, and all the ways you could get poisoned! Did you know they used to put radium in face cream to make you “glow”? Not for hypochondriacs. —Jaya Saxena
I became a little obsessed with Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, by Pamela Druckerman, and probably freaked out my new boyfriend by talking about it all the time. As more of my friends start having kids, I guess I was looking for reassurance that when you become a parent your life doesn’t have to be consumed by children who never sleep and disobey you all the time. This isn’t a how-to book, but anecdotal observations on the cultural patterns and methods Druckerman saw parents in Paris using to teach their kids to sleep through the night (by four months old!), be patient, have self control, eat all kinds of foods, and let their parents have some time to themselves. I even used some of the methods to teach myself to have better self control, so even if I never have kids of my own, it’s still a win. —Julie Whitaker
I pretty much exclusively read medieval smut, so if that doesn’t speak to your needs you should probably move on to the next blurb. On a (somewhat) recent vacation I chewed my way through the newest Philippa Gregory novel, The Lady of the Rivers, which is the third in her series on the Plantagenets and the War of the Roses. To my mind it has everything: Joan of Arc, an insane king who may or may not have been bewitched into a years-long slumber, tarot cards, and a charm bracelet that tells the future. After I managed to blow through that book in two days before handing it over to my mother, she turned me onto the Shardlake Series by C.J. Sansom, which follows the exploits of a hunchback lawyer practicing law and serving the kingdom during the time of Henry VIII. If you like mysteries and the Tudor period and, um, hunchback lawyers, give ’em a whirl. —Jolie Kerr
I have two! Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life is Steve Martin’s autobiography. I am obsessed with comedians AND autobiographies, and this one is fucking great (the book and the comedian). And Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. Who doesn’t want to learn about the death’s of former US presidents and the men who killed them — as well as how many times the author puked on her way to the prison where the Lincoln conspirators were brought? Or how many of her fellow B&B guests she scared with her enthusiasm for the subject matter? Seriously, who? —Emily Panic
I’ve been in the mood for ghosts and fake murders lately so have been re-reading Sarah Caudwell’s four perfect mysteries. If you haven’t read them, they’re fantastic, like P.G. Wodehouse with fewer aunts and more loucheness — the first in the series is Thus Was Adonis Murdered. Also read recently: Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black, which was satisfyingly filled with ghosts and “hedge rows and gloppy English bogs.” —Carrie Frye
People hate Jonathan Franzen! I don’t really understand why. But I do understand that finding something I actually want to read isn’t easy, and finding the resolve to actually sit and read it (increasingly difficult in my dumb laptop-as-limb, commute-free life) is, for me, teetering on the precipice of impossible lately. I read Freedom last year, but I have not forgotten how every page was a complete pleasure, the story never lagged, every character was delicious, and I never wanted it to end. I’m still always amazed when anybody just makes up an amazing story. The process of good fiction blows my mind. I heard Franzen on Fresh Air, and he said something about the central marriage in the story being loosely based on his parents’, and how he basically had to wait for them to die before he could write the book, so. (PS: This “blah blah blah, so.” affectation is, embarrassingly, one which I now realize I absolutely stole from a character in Freedom. Now I write it all the time. What does this mean??? That I’m a nerd, yes, but maybe also that Freedom’s voice never didn’t feel cutting, current, smart and well, cool?, and I guess I probably and slightly desperately just wanted a bit of that in my life. A keepsake, if you will.) Good book! —Esther C. Werdiger
Get ready to make fun of me: the last good book I read was a picture book. 100 Dresses is from The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and it’s just what it sounds like: a book about 100 historically significant and certifiably fabulous dresses in the collection, and each has a little story. —Jane Marie
Pulphead, by John Jeremiah Sullivan. Nonfiction essays. It is as good as everyone says. —Edith Zimmerman
I am obsessed with books about the financial crisis. HAPPY SPRING. I like Fool’s Gold, because it begins with bros pushing each other in a pool and you know that can’t end well. (You literally know it can’t because it’s the future now, and it didn’t.) PS: Jeez that is a terrible cover. I read it on my Kindle, I HAD NO IDEA. —Carrie Hill Wilner
Elizabeth: The Life of Elizabeth Taylor, by Alexander Walker. With seven marriages and six ex-husbands under her impossibly cinched belt, it’s easy to label Elizabeth Taylor a femme fatale. But this book tells another tale, and one of a woman far more relatable. Underneath the perfect exterior, Liz struggled with vulnerability, insecurity, romantic desperation, and a frightening list of health problems. It’s an entertaining read, adding complexity to a woman famous long before TMZ was around to shatter the image. —MacKenzie Lewis
Gryphon, by Charles Baxter. People (including myself) are always saying that Baxter is a writer’s writer, which is actually kind of a dismissive comment, in retrospect. Baxter is a writer for everyone, and this new collection of his exquisite short stories (seven new ones, Baxterites!) is a great place to start. It’s missing my favourite, “Saul and Patsy are Pregnant,” so you should buy A Relative Stranger to fill in the gaps. Don’t buy the novel Saul and Patsy, it’s not as good. —Nicole Cliffe