We asked everyone in the office to talk about their favorite books from last month. Take a look at our favorite reads from August, and let us know in the comments which books you’ll be adding to your to-read list. From poetry to nonfiction, there’s something for everyone here!
Page count: 339
Publish date: 2006
Once upon a time—for that is how all stories should begin—there was a boy who lost his mother.
My partner purchased The Book of Lost Things on a whim based solely on the cover art, and I cracked open the novel with about as much preparation for what lay within. Though protagonist David’s story is told in somewhat straightforward language, taking inspiration from the fantasy tales David so adores, the story itself is not an easy one. One night, David enters a fantasy realm a few shades darker than the world of the stories he’s loved his whole life.
Connolly’s novel tackles some seriously adult themes in a world disturbed by fear and hatred, and I felt fortunate to bear witness to David (once a spoiled child I very much disliked) as he grows into a selfless and courageous young man. If you’re looking for a touching tale about growing up, look no further—but be wary, because it tackles some very disturbing themes.
— Kate, Marketing Coordinator
Page count: 288
Genre: Classic; fiction
Publish date: 1854
“Now, what I want is, Facts.” Well, here’s one: Hard Times is a fantastic read. For anyone who’s thought about getting into Charles Dickens’s works but is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of his novels, know that this one is not only his shortest but it is also his most poignant take on social justice. (OK, it’s almost 300 pages, but still.) While Dickens always crafts memorable characters, the boisterous, bombastic, and overblown Mr. Bounderby drives the action of the story and much of its humor. For those looking for a satirical take on captains of industry, the flaws of utilitarianism, and a deeply human story, this is one to pick up.
— Wes, Project Manager
Stoner by John Williams
Page count: 278
Publish date: 2006
If works by Virginia Woolf feel thick with time, John Williams’s Stoner is the opposite: a graceful, quiet surface you skim over like ice, but with parts where you break through to the clear, cold depths of the water beneath—to Stoner’s interior. In these spaces, the book is transcendent. Stoner confronts his own legacy, which dissolves and yet is allowed to be redemptive in its impermanence. He lives, and he matters, even if he has no chance at immortality. Stoner is a moral novel, too, in its insistence that attention, self-knowledge, and commitment to love matter more deeply than almost anything else. Love, the novel asserts, is nothing less than “a human act of becoming, a condition that [i]s invented and modified moment by moment and day by day, by the will and the intelligence and the heart.”
— Emma, Associate Editor
Poems of the Sea edited by J. D. McClathy
Page count: 256
Publish date: 2001
I’ve been reading a poem a day from a great collection called Poems of the Sea. The collection includes great classics, from John Masefield‘s Salt-water Ballads to Poe‘s Annabel Lee. You can’t help but catch “Sea-Fever,” as Masefield called it: “I must down to the seas again…”
— Brad, Co-Founder
Page count: 337
Publish date: 1985
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey is an autobiographical account of Abbey’s tenure as a park ranger at Arches National Monument during the 1950s. Often hailed as the “Thoreau of the Southwest,” Abbey lovingly describes the desert landscapes of this region while also waxing philosophical about how modernity and industrialism divorces humankind from their natural surroundings. In some ways, the book reads like an elegy for this wilderness that is slowly being overtaken by motorized tourism and other commercial interests. In the era of climate change, I suppose it’s up to readers to determine whether or not Abbey’s claims were prophetic. Sometimes his outlook can be hard to pin down, at times sounding more Marxist and at others more libertarian. Some of his arguments and language may also come across as problematic for modern audiences (e.g., there are hints of ableism at certain points). But the ways he evokes the tragedy of the commons and other environmental themes will resonate with plenty of readers who also long for whatever natural paradise they envision as the best escape from modern living and all of its woes.
— Shane, Editorial Intern
Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer
Page count: 291
Genre: Nonfiction; reference
Publish date: 2019
Random House copy chief Benjamin Dreyer is not only a mandatory Twitter follow, but he’s also the writer of my favorite book I read in August, Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. Dreyer poured his sometimes-snarky wisdom, sharp insights, and real-world anecdotes into this handy style guide—an utterly readable delight from cover to cover. Dreyer’s English is great for anyone who writes anything (meaning: everyone). Here’s a takeaway you can try today: his first challenge to his readers is to eliminate these words from your writing for one week:
I’ve since listed these on a sticky note on my computer and, if I’m being honest, had to remove one “quite” and two “justs” from this draft. So, three points to Dreyer (four!). If you don’t already, this book will make you fall in love with language, the semicolon and em dash, and, hopefully, Shirley Jackson. He might not love “surely,” but he sure loves Shirley—clearly his biggest writer-crush.
— Sam, Head of Marketing
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Page count: 327
Publish date: 2017
Realizing a bit too late that I had forgotten to pack a book for my flight, I haphazardly grabbed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine from a used bookstore on my way to the airport. I didn’t expect to fall in love with it the way I did—it turned out to be quirky, dark, and surprisingly sentimental.
Eleanor Oliphant is a shamelessly weird character. She cannot for the life of her seem to understand how social interactions are supposed to work, largely because she lives a life of relative isolation. Eleanor is deeply lonely, and she believes she is content with this until her coworker Raymond inadvertently shows her that happiness and human connection—concepts that she had unconsciously given up on long ago—are within her grasp.
Perhaps what I loved most about this book was the message that no one is beyond help. Eleanor seems like a hopeless basket case from the get-go, but by finally coming to terms with her past and mental health, she is finally able to begin the process of growing after so many years of living stagnantly.
— Mary, Editorial Intern
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Page count: 423
Publish date: 2017
This semi-autobiographical novels follows Selin, a young Turkish-American student arriving for her freshman year at Harvard University. Set in the mid-90s, the novel evokes nostalgia for life before social media, where email was complicated and connecting with people took effort. As Selin navigates through the inadequacies of language, the culture shock of college, and a dramatic first love, she realizes that her expectations of life away from home are vastly different from her reality.
I will warn you that this novel is not for everyone. The author crafts this coming-of-age narrative as a sort of diary with choppy, stream-of-consciousness anecdotes. However, there’s something undeniably charming about Selin’s dry wit and innocence that makes her perspective of the world humorous and relatable. Ultimately, The Idiot is an ode to the confusing yet exhilarating years of transitioning into your twenties and trying to not only figure out who you are, but who you want to be.
—Savannah, Social Media Manager
Sea Monsters by Chloe Aridjis
Page count: 205
Publish date: 2019
As summer comes to an end, I’d like to nominate Chloe Aridjis’s Sea Monsters as the ultimate beach-goth beach read. In this dreamlike short novel, Aridjis whisks us away to her own former stomping grounds in 1980s Mexico City and introduces us to her narrator, seventeen-year-old Luisa. Procrastinating on her college interviews, Luisa spends her time reading Baudelaire, contemplating shipwrecks, and hanging out at a goth club with those who, like her, “preferred European moonlight to the Mexican sun.” Her story takes a turn for the truly surreal when she decides to run away with a boy she barely knows and a handful of cassettes to a vacation spot called Zipolite—the Beach of the Dead. There, fantasy and reality begin to blur before becoming disentangled enough to allow for the kind of disillusionment we’ve all experienced with a person, a place, an idea. While I’ve seen some reviews noting that Sea Monsters doesn’t have much of a plot and that Luisa’s introspections don’t seem to go anywhere particularly satisfying, I found the hazy, irresolute quality of the novel satisfying in itself. After all, do teenage musings and misadventures really have to go somewhere? Perhaps it’s enough that they happen at all—and that they have a great soundtrack.
— Jules, Editor