There’s a connection with books that’s a bit different than other mediums like film or music; you must spend the hours consuming pages in order to finish, and you don’t normally read it with someone right next to you, at the same pace. When you reach the end, you might be looking around, trying to find someone who understands what you’ve just experienced. These are five books that I love deeply, and I wish there were more witnesses to their unique artistry.
Spending by Mary Gordon
When you hear the term ‘artist’s muse’ you often conjure up a woman, don’t you? In Spending, the protagonist is a painter, and she’s toiled most of her life as a wife and mother, and now, in her 50s, she can focus on her art. She encounters a fan of her work, a wealthy man who would like to become her patron. And then he becomes her muse. A meditation on money, art, sex, and power, I loved this novel that made me think deeply about societal roles and the intersection of creativity and relationships.
The Sad Passions by Veronica Gonzalez Peña
I don’t remember how I’d heard of this novel, but I do remember trying to buy it online or find it in a bookstore and coming up empty each time. In 2017 I was wandering around Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, and popped into an independent bookstore called Stories. As I was about to leave, a used-books shelf under the register caught my eye. I recognized the Francesca Woodman cover photograph that I’d been looking for, and I was ecstatic to have found my treasure. And what a treasure! Beautiful and sorrowful, the book is told from the perspective of six Mexican women in one family, and a certain decision that devastated the lives of them all in their youth. Photography and art play a role within the book as well, as one sister charts displacement and abandonment through artists’ photographs included in the book. If this intrigues you, I hope this book finds you, too.
The Sound of My Voice by Ron Butlin
Written in 1987 and clocking in at only 122 pages, The Sound of My Voice is told completely in second-person perspective. I’ve never been so fully captivated by a book. The story concerns a Scottish man named Morris Magellan, a businessman with a wife and two kids. The story concerns you as well, because you’re reading about Morris’ alcoholism as if it’s happening to you. There were swaths of this book I read out loud, just to hear the narration. This novel truly let me inhabit the self-destruction of an alcoholic.
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
I love books about the exploration of female friendship, and this story has the additional plus of being about two women who work together in a creative field. They’re misfits that become best friends in college and decide to dive into the male-dominated world of animation, as a team. It’s funny and warm, at times shocking in its twists, and manages to create two of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered in literature. And their names are brilliant: Mel Vaught and Sharon Kisses. I love them forever.
Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton
You may have already gathered by now that there’s something particularly fascinating to me about the intersection of books and art. This book is in the form of an auction catalog of an auction that took place in New York on Valentine’s Day 2009. It’s a sell-off of all the objects left in the aftermath of a break up. The slim book is a series of photographs and lot descriptions (i.e., “LOT 1027 A handwritten note and envelope. A note on St. Regis stationary, in Doolan’s hand… Please join me in room 1045. x L.”). There are prices affixed to each lot and some of the lots are photographs of the couple themselves over their years-long relationship. Have you ever attempted to figure out the flowering and demise of a relationship through social media? This is a lot like that—an entrance into the objects of love, disappointment, and heartbreak. It’s fascinating. And bonus: writer Sheila Heti portrays Lenore throughout the book.