November Reading List: Dysfunctional Family Stories

November Cover

November is here! (Which is basically Christmas, right?) Time for family dinners and road trips and looking back on all the idyllic memories you’ve shared. Right. In my family, there have definitely been good times but we’ve also had our fair share of hilariously horrible times. Like the year my dad and I got into a giant fight at the Thanksgiving table about who would get to sit in the chair that had arms (I was an ADULT when this fight happened, you guys). Or how about the, um, creative insults my grandmother comes up with (I shave my forehead, apparently). And of course there’s always the one who brings up politics or makes a ridiculously inappropriate joke (um, that’s me. Every time). Every family has their kettle-callers and pot-stirrers. So this month, lets read about families that make ours look perfectly put together (and not, you know, how we normally are).

A book about families who don’t get along | The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor: This one has it all: custody battles, sordid histories, religious conflicts, and a fair amount of drinking problems. The novel centers on Francis Tarwater, who’d been raised by his uncle to be a religious prophet. When his uncle dies he goes to live with his cousin, Rayber, who tries to teach Tarwater how to be a logical, educated, not-superstitious member of civilization. Of course this doesn’t go well, and each character battles on with himself and everyone else from start to finish. The novel deals with questions of family, religion, community, and  destiny in a way that’s a little too close to home if you grew up in the South.

A book about families who REALLY don’t get along | August: Osage County, Tracy Letts: This is my favorite play. It centers around Beverly and Violet Weston’s family—their three daughters and Violet’s sister. Beverly has gone missing, and the family comes together under one roof in the aftermath of their father’s disappearance. But between sisters and daughters and mothers and husbands, it isn’t a peaceful house. Old tensions run high, new tensions run higher, and every twisted part of everyone’s life is brought to light. And everyone in this play has something twisted in them. But despite all the family’s darkness, there is a lot of humor in this play, too. It’s definitely worth seeing on the stage.

A book about trying to forget your family, and then remembering them instead | Wild, Cheryl Strayed: This is a book about what happens when you try to walk away from your family, literally. After the death of her mother, Cheryl’s life fell apart around her. In her attempt to make sense of it all and put grieving behind her, she took to the Pacific Crest Trail, with absolutely no experience hiking or being in the wilderness. It’s a travel narrative, a nature piece, and a memoir about self-discovery. It’s a family story, too, and Strayed honestly and simply details her relationship with her brother, ex-husband, and friends. It also is a beautiful examination of the mother-daughter relationship, in all its complicated, fraught, tender glory.

A book about finding family in unexpected places | It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Ned Vizzini: This is a YA novel about anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and psychiatric wards. Ned is 15 when he attempts suicide, and his is thereafter admitted into a psychiatric hospital. He at first feels he doesn’t belong there, but eventually accepts and is accepted by the other patients in the hospital. From these other patients, he learns about himself and how to cope with his life in a healthier way. The novel is funny and quick to read, reminiscent a little of John Green and Rainbow Rowell. Some might find the novel’s end a little too happily-ever-after, but I’m okay with a novel about teen suicide ending well.


October Reading List: Ghost Stories

October Reading List: 6 Ghost Stories for Halloween

October is the best month, shall we agree? The air turns cold, it’s finally breezy enough to open your windows at night; it’s the best time of year to snuggle up under a blanket and a bunch of cats to read and sip bourbon-y cocktails. Even better if your book is just a little bit creepy. This October, I’m all about the ghost stories. Here’s 3 I’ve read and recommend to you, and 3 new-to-me titles I’m going to read this month (with said blanket, cats, and bourbon-y cocktail).

What I’m Recommending:

October Reading List Individual Covers

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson: If you have not read this book yet, stop whatever you’re reading right now and read this instead. I finished this book in a weekend and had a hard time wanting to read anything else—it was so good it took up every available space in my brain and stayed there. Constance and Merricat live with their Uncle Julian in a large house on the outskirts of town. They are ostracized, believing that one of the sisters murdered the rest of the family. Their quiet lives are disturbed when a distant cousin comes to stay with them, believing they have money hidden in the house. The ghosts of the sisters’ past are brought out in haunting ways, unfolding into a darkly beautiful story of family, community, the natural world, and history. Merricat is a witchy character, and the novel unfolds in a mystery-meets-magic style. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is beautiful and compelling, dark and creepy.

Anya’s Ghost, Vera Brosgol: I came to this book through Vera Brosgol’s illustrations (one of her prints hangs in my foyer, and she one time posted a sketch on her blog that looks exactly like skinny versions of my husband and I). She writes graphic novels, paints, and has worked on the films Coraline and ParaNorman. Anya’s Ghost is about a normal teenage girl, Anya, self-conscious about her body, her Russian mother, and pretty much everything else in her life. She falls into a deep pit one day and discovers the ghost of a young woman who died nearly 100 years ago. At first it’s all, “Cool, ghost friend!” but of course, Anya’s ghost becomes more and more manipulative and dangerous. The plot sounds a bit cheesy, but the pacing keeps this story fresh and the art is delicious.


The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman: Pretty sure you’ve heard of this one. Another YA title but written in that distinctly-Gaiman voice that is captivating and a little disconcerting. Bod, whose family is dead, is being raised in a graveyard by an assortment of ghosts. Bod grows up learning ghostly skills (how to haunt, be invisible, and enter others’ dreams), and learns that the man who murdered his parents is still out for him. The novel twists and turns a bit before ending in this showdown, but every moment along the way is Gaiman-y fun. If you’re not into YA, try The Ocean at the End of the Lane, one of Gaiman’s most recent novellas, about a man who revisits his childhood home and rediscovers its magical, ghostly past. I love every Neil Gaiman book I’ve ever read, but this one is a particular favorite.

What I’m Reading:

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip vanWinkle,” Washington Irving: America’s first and most well-known short stories. I have read these both before, but hello, when you see a copy at a used bookstore for $2 you pretty much have to reread them. I will be pairing this 80 page read with Tim Burton’s version of Sleepy Hollow.

The Halloween Tree, Ray Bradbury: As much as I love Ray Bradbury, I am seriously under-read in his titles. The Halloween Tree has just been re-released with a fresh batch of illustrations by Gris Grimly, and if you order directly from the author he will personalize your copy with a clever little pumpkin on the title page. (Hat tip to JW Ocker from Odd Things I’ve Seen for an excellently-curated Halloween blog and this edition of the book). I actually don’t have much of a clue as to what this book is about, but I’m excited to read it with that lack of knowledge.

Through the Woods, Emily Carroll: Another graphic novel, but this one is a collection of graphic short stories (is that a thing? It is now.) All the stories are eerie and otherworldly, and I want to paste her illustrations to the inside of my eyelids, they are gorgeous and rich and creepy as hell.



I thought long and hard about putting some Steven King on this list because, confession time, I have never read one of his scary stories. And I’ve heard they’re doozies. What are you reading this October? What spooky stories would you recommend?

Book Club Questions: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A few weeks ago, I got together with the most awesome group of women ever assembled for a long weekend on a lake. You should do this every so often with your friends, it’s great. We cooked good food, made good cocktails, watched The Golden Girls, colored pages from this coloring book, and even had an informal book club. Friends who read are the best friends.


Station Eleven is a good book club book. A flu has ravaged the globe, and most of the population is dead. What remains are small communities of survivors; what links them together is the Traveling Symphony, who puts on Shakespeare and plays music for each town they visit. Of course there’s a deranged cult leader to provide the novel’s drama. There are plenty of flashbacks to provide characters’ back stories, link characters and plotlines together, and of course remind you just how terrible things are if there’s no electricity.

It has broad appeal—both those in the post-apocalyptic Walking Dead camp and those who like more traditional literary fiction reads will enjoy this one. Our discussion of this book was pretty informal, so I don’t want to recap our discussion of it. Instead, I’ll give you some of the questions we asked in case you’re looking for some discussion starters with your own book club.

  • Who was your favorite character and why?
  • Who did you not like?
  • What are the differences between the generation born after the flu and those who lived in the world before it?
  • How does this novel compare to other post-disaster or post-apocalyptic stories you’ve read or watched? How does it differ?
  • Why Shakespeare?
  • Why was the graphic novel, Dr. Eleven, such an integral part of the novel?
  • What do you think of Arthur Leander’s character arc?
  • How are relationships different after the flu?
  • What would you contribute to the Museum of Civilization?
  • Why do you think cults and leaders like The Prophet are so common?
  • How do history and memory work in the novel?
  • What do you think about the new city introduced at the end of the novel?
  • Particular scenes or relationships that might be fun to explore more: Arthur and Clark, Jeevan and Frank, Jeevan realizing for the first time how serious the flu is going to be, the Air Gradia jet, finding the untouched house.

What’s your Book Club reading? Have you read Station Eleven? What are your thoughts on it?