Thursday, May 30, 2024

Shelf Life: Michael Cunningham

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Welcome to Shelf Life,’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.

For his first novel in nearly a decade, Michael Cunningham takes readers back to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Day (Penguin Random House), out on November 14, follows a family on the same day over three years: April 5 in 2019, 2020, and 2021. In the midst of the ever-changing familial dynamic, Cunningham tenderly explores love and loss in the age of isolation.

The Ohio-born writer attended Standford University and studied English literature. He’s best known for his novel The Hours which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1999. The book was later turned into a film starring Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep. Find your next holiday read with his book recommendations below.

The book that…

…made me miss a train stop:

Most recently, Jayne Anne Phillips’ Night Watch took me all the way to the 7th Avenue stop, which is two subway stations past mine.

…shaped my worldview:

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dallowaytaught me that there are no inconsequential lives being lived by anyone; there are only inadequate writerly attempts to do them the full justice to which every human being is entitled.

…I’d give to a new graduate:

Make Troubleby John Waters, a published version of the brilliant commencement speech he delivered at the Rhode Island School of Design.

…made me laugh out loud:

The First Bad Manby Miranda July.

…has the greatest ending:

It’s a tie between the final passage of James Joyce’s The Dead and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

…broke my heart:

Although most good novels break my heart in some way or another, Paul Harding’s This Other Edenreally shattered it.

…has a sex scene that will make you blush:

It’s hard to top Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolitafor blush-able sex scenes, though a close runner-up is The Guestby Emma Cline, neither of which is particularly graphic.

…features a character I love to hate:

Most immediately on my mind, Lily in Lorrie Moore’s I Am Homeless If This is Not My Home.

…I’ve re-read the most:

I’m going a little heavy on Virginia Woolf, but no contest—Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

…features the coolest book jacket:

The cover of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, which was shocking when it came out in 1992 and, as far as I can tell, revolutionized our collective sense of how a dust jacket is supposed to look.

…I could only have discovered at Three Lives in Manhattan:

Asymmetryby Lisa Halliday, one of many suggested by the fabulously well-informed staff.

…taught me this Jeopardy!-worthy bit of trivia:

Philip Roth’s American Pastoralegave me to understand that the glove-making business is fascinating–if I’m ever on Jeopardy! I can only hope there’ll be a category about the manufacture of gloves.

The literary organization/charity I support:

PEN America, which is devoted to protecting free literary expression in the United States and worldwide and has never been more needed than it is now.

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Juliana Ukiomogbe

Juliana Ukiomogbe is the Assistant Editor at ELLE. Her work has previously appeared in Interview, i-D, Teen Vogue, Nylon, and more.  

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