Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.
Everyman’s Library published Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore in 2020, but Moore’s latest, I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home (Knopf) is her first novel since 2009. The author of four story collections, three other novels, a collection of non-fiction pieces, and a children’s book, she is the recipient of a Lannan Foundation Fellowship, National Endowment of the Arts Award, Rome Prize, and the Rea Award for the Short Story, among others. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she was the Mary Ellen von der Heyden Fellow in Fiction at the American Academy in Berlin in spring 2023 and currently teaches English at Vanderbilt University.
The upstate New York-raised, Nashville-based author won Seventeen’s fiction contest, spending her $500 winnings on books and a stereo; worked as a paralegal in Manhattan; sold her first collection of stories at 28 while teaching creative writing at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Among her students over her decades-long career: Lauren Groff, Emma Straub, Lydia Conklin, and Sidik Fofana.
She wanted to be a singer or painter, plays the piano (and owns two) but gave up music when pursuing her MFA at Cornell, and once turned down a 60 Minutes camera crew that wanted her to pose as a welfare couple when she eloped at a county courthouse. Likes: Alphabetizing, theater, Brahms intermezzi op. 118-119, Prince, and The Great British Baking Show. Dislikes: social media.
The book that…
…helped me through a breakup/loss:
Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree. Can’t explain how it works therapeutically, but it does.
…kept me up way too late:
Rachel Aviv’s Strangers to Ourselves. Fascinating, absorbing, hard to put down.
…made me weep uncontrollably:
Well, not uncontrollably, but Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys are two heartbreaking novels that will make anyone cry. Also the title story in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth. All of the above have moments of grief that come in stealthily for the undefended parts of the reader.
…I recommend over and over again:
Everything by Alice Munro.
…shaped my worldview:
…I read in one sitting, it was that good:
Don Quixote. In the original Spanish. Just kidding.
…made me laugh out loud:
The Sellout by Paul Beatty. The laughs are sometimes complicated, not all of them politically correct, and many are community-centric. But that’s how comedy works.
…I’d like turned into a TV show:
I Hold a Wolf by the Ears by Laura van den Berg. Any of the stories would work, but they could also be combined in a kind of Hitchcockian anthology series. Also Susan Minot’s novel Thirty Girls should be a film, I think. Alice Munro’s “The Albanian Virgin.”
…has the best title:
Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca. I would love to put that title on every single book of mine and all books really.
…has the greatest ending:
Alice Munro’s “Friend of My Youth.” The ending comes blitzing in from a slightly sideways place and is both historical and violent and ecstatic. Takes one’s breath away, really.
…has a sex scene that will make you blush:
The Godfather, p. 27.
…is a master class on dialogue:
The diner scene with James Caan and Tuesday Weld in Michael Mann’s Thief — it’s not a book, but that scene is terrifically written.
…I never returned to the library (mea culpa):
Oops: a Larousse French-English Dictionary from my high school library. Apologies!
…features the most beautiful book jacket:
Dutch edition of Lauren Groff’s Matrix. I also love the witty (and beautiful) American cover of Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, and I’m always coveting Charles Baxter’s covers, which are usually windows, doors, and rooms in haunting shades of blue and brown.
…everyone should read:
Anything they want to. No shoulds.