This past month, after countless days of bone-chilling cold and snow, I've finally found myself giving into winter completely. I've been winding my day down around the same time as my kids, crawling under the covers with a book by 8pm most nights. I know this impulse towards nesting and hibernation is short – the days will soon brighten and warm – and so, it feels all the more sweet to fully settle into the long, lazy darkness while it lasts. Here's a glimpse of what I'm reading in these cozy moments before spring arrives...
1. Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
The first word that pops into my head when describing this book (and now movie) is "lush." Lushness drips off every page – in the central relationship between the main characters, the Italian landscapes, the lunches, the morning apricot juice. It's a sensory delight to read, and the settings and emotions conjure memories of one of my favorite movies from the 90s, Stealing Beauty, which I loved for its similarly lush mood.
Call Me By Your Name centers on the relationship between Elio, a teenager, and Oliver, a man who is staying at Elio's family villa for the summer. Aciman writes of Elio's feelings with such immediacy and breathlessness, such spinning desire, that he perfectly distills the all-consuming peaks and valleys of new emotions that we all experience in our own ways during adolescence. He captures that love, sensuality and reciprocated infatuation that, at that age, can feel like penultimate moments before life becomes wholly unrecognizable. This sense of a precipice carries the story forward, and yet when it's reached, it's a tender, kind love with which we are met – such a rarity in stories lately, and so very welcome.
2. The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
I received a copy of The Perfect Nanny at a book conference in September, and there was tremendous buzz around it. I assumed it would be a fairly predictable psychological thriller, the kind of book that keeps you turning the page, requiring little effort – a sort that I usually save for audio on my runs. So, I sat on the book for a while before I opened it and read the first sentence: "The baby is dead." The dread seeped in, as I realized what kind of intense reading experience awaited me.
This understanding is necessary from the start, to harden and prepare for what's coming – the fact that the nanny kills the children. I say this not to ruin the premise for you, but to encourage you to steel yourself for what's in store. I read about one third of the book before I put it down for a bit, once again filled with dread – dread regarding the crime, the eventual ending, and the feelings it stirred up for me as the mother of two young children. The scenario is so horrific that I was scared to visit it in my imagination.
Yet, curiosity nibbled at me, and so during a snow storm, I dove back in. Slimani writes with a dynamic and sparse style that suits this novel perfectly – there's little embellishment or histrionics, and the tone remains pragmatic, enhancing the book's terror, reminding us that this kind of thing could happen, and it could happen close to home. The characters are recognizable, the scenarios and reactions familiar – in fact, it's all based on a true story from 2012 in New York. (I have no memory of hearing about it in the news, and so I'm fairly certain that I blocked it out, as my children would have been two and three years old at the time.)
The Perfect Nanny is an exquisitely written page-turner, and yet, there remains a niggling part of me that wishes I could remove the images from my mind. Consider yourself warned, and read at your own risk.
3. The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
At first glance, this book might give you pause – it's the size of a doorstop. I rarely judge a book by its cover, but I always do by its size, and it takes a mental leap of faith and a bit of back-and-forth to dive into a 600-plus-page book as the commitment is not small – not a night or two spent reading, but rather a relationship with characters that could easily last weeks.
A friend recommended The Heart's Invisible Furies to me, with her first words being that she simply couldn't put this book down. Neither could I, once I accepted the challenge. Boyne's story is engaging from the first sentence; it introduces us to a cast of characters we won't easily forget, one of whom is Ireland itself. It's a sweeping tale that spans from the post-war 1940s to today, following protagonist Cyril Avery through the years as he grapples with finding both a sense of self and place. Beautiful, funny, heartbreaking and incandescent, The Heart's Invisible Furies is one of my favorite picks for 2018.
4. The Winnie the Pooh Series by A.A. Milne
This last suggestion may seem like an outlier, but I had to share. With Winnie the Pooh, I have kicked off a new personal tradition – here's the backstory.
A few days ago, a larger-than-expected snow storm hit our town. The kids still had school and my husband still had work, and so did I, or so I thought. On my way to my bookstore job, I received a gift: a text that we were closing for the day. After turning around en route (and getting stuck and then towed out), I arrived home for a perfect afternoon of simple pleasures, enjoyed in rare solitude.
I grabbed a fresh cup of coffee and a blanket, and I settled into the movie, Goodbye, Christopher Robin. I loved everything about it, and it perfectly suited my cozy mood. Afterward, I curled up and read the entirety of A.A. Milne children's set. I had read the books before with my girls – to them and then with them, alternating pages. Yet, returning to them as an adult, just for myself, was magical. In this context, the tales carried a joy and lightness of experience that is hard to express – one I wish for everyone and that I'm now eager to return to. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes – as C.S. Lewis said to his goddaughter for whom he wrote The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, "Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again."