A Few of the Books I’ve Read (and Loved) Lately

I’ve had a surprising amount of time to read in the last month, probably due to the all the lengthy airplane rides as I’ve traversed the country lately, and have barreled through some great stuff. I thought I’d recommend a few of the books I’ve had my nose in.

PURE by Julianna Baggott (fiction)

Greg and I are actually both reading this right now. I’ve been a fan of Baggott’s for a long time. She has some truly wonderful work out there and this is her first attempt at young adult fiction. It’s already been highly praised by the New York Times for its beautiful and harrowing depiction of a post-apocalyptic dystopian society, and I can add that the writing and the descriptions are strange and heart-breakingly lovely. I’m eager to get back to this book whenever I have a spare moment.


Wild by Cheryl Strayed (memoir)

Although it doesn’t come out for another ten days, the entire world is already buzzing about this book. I first heard about Strayed’s memoir last fall and wrote to her, asking if she’d like to swap advance copies. She kindly obliged and has even gone on to become somewhat of a friend. In the months since I read her book, along with the rest of the world, I’ve fallen in love with Cheryl and her gorgeous writing. WILD is about her search for self and meaning while on a two month trek through the wilderness after losing her mother at age 22. She has also recently come out as the inspiring and intrepid columnist Dear Sugar over at The Rumpus.

Here we are together the other week at AWP in Chicago:


Portrait of An Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg (memoir)

My memoir-buyer friend at Barnes & Noble recently sent me this book, telling me that I would love it, and I did. However it’s not for everyone. Portrait of an Addict is about literary agent Clegg’s jaw-dropping descent into crack addiction. It reads like an absolute train wreck and is impossible to put down. The writing is fluid and candid and speeds you right along through the destruction, and ultimate redemption. His follow up memoir 90 Days is due out this spring.



Loose Girl by Kerry Cohen (memoir)

Kerry wrote to me a few weeks ago after she read my book, telling me that my writing reminded her of her own. Curious, I downloaded her book and only one chapter in, couldn’t put it down. If you liked the way I wrote about boys and men and relationships in my memoir, then you’ll certainly enjoy Loose Girl about Cohen’s youth and sexuality. If you’re going to write about this kind of stuff I think you have to be brutally honest and brutally brave, and Kerry was, and is, both of these things.


Cures for Hunger by Deni Y. Béchard (memoir)

Have you read the first chapter of my book? Remember the French-Canadian tutor named Michel that I write about? This is his absolutely stunning memoir about his bank-robber father. The blurb I had the privilege of writing for the back cover reads: This powerful and haunting memoir is a must-read for anyone who has struggled to uncover their identity within the shadow of a parent. In exquisitely sharp prose, Béchard renders his attempts to understand his father’s mysterious existence. This book is huge and achingly true. I recommend pre-ordering asap.


Dark Eyes by Will Richter

Yes, I like my fair share of young adult fiction. This was something out of the ordinary though — a young adult crime thriller. Deemed the “Dragon Tattoo for Teens” Greg and I both adored this fast-paced novel about Russian adoptee heroine Wallis Stoneman and her race to uncover her identity before the wrong people find her. Set in the streets of Manhattan, it’s the perfect antidote to your Twilight burnout.


Waiting For Me On My Bedside Table (or in my e-reader):

Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (nonfiction)

Andre Dubus II, Townie (memoir)

Jessica Keener, Night Swim (fiction)

Steinbeck, A Life in Letters (nonfiction)

Pamela Druckerman, Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (nonfiction)

Joanna Smith Rakoff, A Fortunate Age (fiction)

Stewart O’Nan, Emily Alone (fiction)

John Green, The Fault in Our Stars (young adult fiction)

I’m going to be in the Bay area next week, for the last leg of my book tour. I would love, love to see you at one of my readings!

Reading & Signing
Books Inc, Palo Alto, CA
March 20, 2012 7:00pm

Reading & Signing
Books Inc., San Francisco, CA
March 22, 2012 7:00pm

[booksellers] Want to buy my book? Do so at any of the above!



27…er 26 Weeks

I woke up this morning determined to start feeling more positive about getting through the rest of this pregnancy. I also woke up sure that today marked 27 weeks, but alas, waiting in my inbox was my weekly email from BabyCenter with the headline 26 Weeks. All thoughts of bucking up and trying to focus on being excited about my remaining time being pregnant dissipated immediately. The email read: You’ve only got 14 more weeks to go! And the cheery little exclamation point punctuating that sentence seemed to mock me on this dreary Monday morning.

I really do hate to complain about being pregnant. It’s such an incredibly privileged thing to be able to do — to carry a baby inside my body. I know that, I really do. And the first time I experienced this, I was in a lot more awe of the process. However, this time around, pregnancy seems long and uncomfortable and burdensome. I’m eager for the baby to just be here already, eager to start trying to restore my body, and especially eager to start slogging through those first sleepless months.

I just can’t believe that I have three more months to go! But okay, here I am clearing my throat, squaring my shoulders, and trying, trying, to get excited about this. Only 14 more weeks to go! Yay!

Things like this help — here’s Vera this morning reading a photo book to the baby in my tummy, and telling her about our family:

And just her sweet face helps too. Knowing that there’s another face like this one on its way makes things just a bit more bearable. A bit.



Excerpts from the Ether: Beautiful Sorrows

Welcome to Excerpts from the Ether. Every Saturday I’m going to be excerpting a letter from a reader (with their permission, of course) and featuring them here on my blog.

Something that has always stood out to me about grief is how lonely it is. When you’re going through the loss of a loved one, it can be a very isolating experience. No one around you quite understands what you’re feeling. My main intention behind writing and publishing The Rules of Inheritance was to put my experience out into the world so that others would feel a little less alone in their own journeys. Over the last several weeks since the book was published, I’ve received some incredible letters from readers and I’m so humbled to share some of them here.

February 26, 2012

Dear Claire,

I experienced my own parental loss at the same age as you did, losing my 43 year old mother when I was 18 and a half years old. At age forty today, I am a middle school guidance counselor with a strong interest in grief and bereavement.

Back in November I was chosen to be a juror in a double homicide trial and attempted murder on a third victim. Over the course of this trial, I found myself revisiting my own grief  as I sat and listened to the victim in the case speak of her trauma and the impossible feat of trying to put her life back together. On the day of sentencing (after we found the defendant guilty on all counts) I went and spoke to the young victim because I felt this strong connection to her. Looking back now, I realize that ‘connection’ that I saw and felt was my own 20 year journey in grief that she herself was right in the middle of experiencing (she watched both her grandmother and mother being murdered in front of her while she ran for her life).

Following the trial, I had a bit of a breakdown when I returned to work. I looked at the piles of paper on my desk and the multitude of emails that I had to reply to and realized what is really important. My life was speaking to me…I needed to make a change…I needed to feel that what I do is important work. I started exploring death education, bereavement and grief counseling. I have connected with another school counselor about starting up grief support groups in our schools and I have signed up with our local Bereaved Families chapter to start some grief support training. Then, this weekend,  I read your brilliant memoir of your own grief journey. And now, I am sending my first ever email to an author I can’t stop thinking about. In your book, you said many, many things that rang so true to me and my life. But, how you so eloquently described grief in a way that has never been expressed before will stay with me forever.

 –Gina, Toronto, Canada

This letter strikes me in so many ways. The first is how we see ourselves in others’ stories. I’m always amazed by the conundrum of how unique all of us are as people, yet how we all walk such universal paths, and feel universal pain and love. Gina was allowed a glimpse into her own experience of loss as she listened to the victim of the court case recount her own journey. Even though both women likely feel incredibly alone in their grief, there is something beautiful, I think, about the connection they share.

The other thing that strikes me about Gina’s letter is how she reacted to the experience of revisiting her grief. Rather than let it spin her into depression or more feelings of sadness, she returned to her life more determined than ever to change it, and to create something valuable out of her loss. That was also the big turning point in my life — choosing to stop wallowing in my pain, to stop dragging it around with me everywhere, and to create something meaningful from my experience. I think that’s all we can ever do with pain and sorrow, really. Make something beautiful out of it.

I’m so thankful to Gina for reminding me of these heartbreakingly lovely truths.