Joe Moran: First You Write a Sentence

Less of a style guide and more of a love letter, Moran’s book explores the craft of composing sentence by sentence. “A good trick, when drafting a piece, is to press enter after every sentence, as if you were writing a poem and each full stop marked a line break.” He advises, “This renders the varied (or unvaried) lengths of your sentences instantly visible.” Through his thoughtful observation of Frank Sinatra’s singing and Bill Evans’s playing, Moran illustrates how rhythm, cadence, phrasing, and flow bring your sentences to life. He offers helpful tips such as using plain words, setting type that makes your writing visible to yourself, and keeping a sentence succinct even a long one. I dig his beautiful, poetic prose even though his florid style gets tedious at times. This book is enjoyable. I’ll definitely read it again at a slower pace to fully absorb his advice.

Nguyễn Ngọc Thạch: Lòng dạ đàn bà

Quyển tiểu thuyết bi thảm, hồi hộp, và rùng rợn được dàn dựng khéo léo của tác giả Nguyễn Ngọc Thạch. Thường thì câu chuyện được kể qua một nhân vật chính nhưng những nhân vật trong truyện của Thạch đều được kể riêng. Người đọc sẽ thấy được những khía cạnh khác nhau. Cùng sống chung trong một căn nhà bề ngoài thì rất giàu sang nhưng tình người bên trong thì rất tệ hại. Cách viết của Thạch đơn giản và ngắn gọn nhưng đặc sắc. Thạch cho đọc giả nếm được mùi ác độc của đàn bà: “Con ong độc nhất ở đuôi, đàn bà độc nhất ở nơi tấm lòng.” Sao khi đọc mấy quyển sách tiếng Anh liên tiếp, tôi khao khát được đọc tiếng Việt. Tuy đọc sách này như uống ly nước độc nhưng thật đã khát.

Pamela Paul & Maria Russo: How to Raise a Reader

Pamela Paul and Maria Russo, editors of The New York Times Book Review, have put together a pleasurable, approachable guide to nurture kids into the life of reading. The authors’ goals are to show reading at home is for pure joy and not burden. The kids are free to read whatever they want, not what expected of them. I find the concept of family library simple, effortless, and yet effective. We just need to have books anywhere around the house within their reach—including in the bathrooms. I appreciate the authors’ relaxed, unpressured ways to instill reading into the kids’ life. In addition, the book is filled with recommendations for different ages. If you want to raise a reader, pick up this book.

Jia Tolentino: Trick Mirror

I have been following Tolentino’s writing in The New Yorker for a few years. She brings a young, Asian-American voice to the publication. Her first book, Trick Mirror, consists of personal essay combined with journalism. Her writing is honest, even handed, and fierce. As someone who grows up and makes a living on the web, I can relate to her essay on how the internet has transformed from an online space for people sharing their own passion on sites like GeoCities into “unlimited channels, all constantly reloading with new information: births, deaths, boasts, bombings, jokes, job announcements, ads, warnings, complaints, confessions, and political disasters blitzing our frayed neurons in huge waves of information that pummel us and then are instantly replaced.” Tolentino is a feminist and her perspective on sexism is refreshing. I must confess. I learned about queefing from reading this book. So yes, Trick Mirror is an informing, enlightening, fascinating read.

Vivian Gornick: Fierce Attachment

I wanted to read this book because it ranked number one on The New York Time’s “The Best 50 Memoirs of the Past 50 Years.” It is a well-deserved recognition. In a concise, two-hundred-page memoir, Gornick recounts her fierce, unflinching relationship with her forceful mother: “We are locked into a narrow channel of acquaintance, intense and binding.” In writing about her childhood, Gornick gives readers a sense of what it was like living in the Bronx building where noise, music, food, and sex always occurred. From her expose to and experience with sex to her rocky relationship with her husband to her open affair with a married man after her marriage had ended, Gornick writes with feeling, freedom, and fearlessness. In addition to the emotional, blunt honesty, I love Gornick’s impeccable prose.

Jim DeRogatis: Soulless

Jim DeRogatis began writing about R. Kelly as a music critic until he received an anonymous fax about the Pied Piper of R&B’s predatory behavior. DeRogatis and his partner Abdon Pallasch took on the role of investigative reporters to unveil the open secret of R. Kelly’s “sex cult” with young girls. Using his voice, sex appeal, and music talent, Kelly manipulated, abused, controlled, and even urinated on them. In his latest book, DeRogatis builds the case against R. Kelly that he has worked on for almost two decades. Before reading this book, I was on the camp of separating the art from the artist. After finishing it, however, I am done with this teenage-fucker. It is an eye-opening, heart-breaking, and soul-crushing read.

Patricia Lockwood: Priestdaddy

Patricia Lockwood wanted to be a poet. Instead of going to college, she stayed home to write. She got married at 19. With not much financial support, she moved back to her parents’ rectory with her husband. In her debut memoir, Lockwood invites us into her the house of God where her dad is a priest, a Republican, a gun nut, and a Demo-cat hater. Lockwood shares, “My father despises cats. He believes them to be Democrats. He considers them to be little mean hillary clintons covered all over with feminist legfur. Cats would have abortions, if given half a chance. Cats would have abortions for fun.” A Republican, a preacher’s wife, and a mother of five, her mother is no less a character herself. Her mother reveals her father’s secret, “Like the time he shot the German shepherd that bit his bare legs in their little jogging shorts, or the time I got so mad at that priest who insulted my interior decorating that I told him I was going to come down so hard on his dick.” Almost every sentence in the book is witty and funny. Underneath those bright moments, however, Lockwood sheds lights on the darker truth about rape, suicidal attempt, and men’s power over her. It’s a poignant, poetic, hilarious, and insightful book on religion I have read.

Leslie Morgan: The Naked Truth

At forty-nine, Ms. Morgan went through an ugly, nasty divorce after twenty years of being married to a man who didn’t appreciate her sensuality. What kind of husband refused his wife trying to wake him up in the morning with her mouth? In her postdivorce, Ms. Morgan set out to court five new lovers. As the title suggested, Ms. Morgan spent most of the book naked and having wild, passionate sex with guys twenty years younger than her as well as her high-school sweetheart. In writing about sex, Ms. Morgan doesn’t beat around the bush. She goes straight to the anus. From body to soul, Ms. Morgan bares everything on the page. It’s an emotional, intimate, and erotic memoir that will make you cry and come reading it.

Joan Wheelis: The Known, The Secret, The Forgotten

In her poignant, delightful memoir, Wheelis shares stories about her parents and their wonderful relationships. From memories of her childhood to their dying days, Wheelis illumines her father and mother with poetic prose. It’s a fast, page-turning read. I wish I can write like her.

Nguyễn Ngọc Thạch: Người cũ còn thương

Trong lời tựa, tác giả cảnh cáo rằng những ai mới chia tay hoặc đã chia tay nhưng vẫn vương vấn không nên đọc vì những bài viết tuy ngắn và đơn giản nhưng sẽ gợi lại những ký ức của người cũ. Từ mùi hương đến thói quen đến những điểm hẹn đến những bài nhạc sẽ lắng đọng lại bóng dáng người cũ. Tôi đọc vì thích cách viết mộc mạc của Thạch còn những người cũ của tôi đã đem hết đi bỏ xó không còn lại cảm giác gì cả.