Her new book is Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian Dog Taught an American Girl about Love.
Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I usually read women writers—my favorites include MFK Fisher, Lorrie Moore, Shirley Hazzard, and Edwidge Danticat. But I looked over at my bedside table, and I saw that at the moment I’m only reading books by men. It must be a phase!Visit Justine van der Leun's website.
Dalva by Jim Harrison
I feel about Jim Harrison the way preteen girls feel about Justin Bieber. In other words: I’m obsessed. I think if I met him, I’d either be struck mute or begin to sob. I’ve read nearly everything of Harrison’s, but Dalva proved to me that he knows women better than any male writer alive today. The title character, Dalva Northridge, is a brilliant, authentic, rebellious woman searching for the son she gave up for adoption when she was only 15. The novel follows several love stories in the past and the present, and it’s set against the stunning Nebraska frontier. Did I mention dogs are sidekicks in nearly every Harrison book? My copy is almost completely underlined.
Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin
A friend gave me this book and I’m now officially a fan of Vlautin, who is, in addition to being a novelist, the lead singer of the alt-country band Richmond Fontaine. I guess my friend knows me well: I’m a sucker for horses, for Big Sky Country, for writers who wear plaid shirts, and for a lovely, deeply human tale—and I get all of that here. The narrator is a 15-year-old named Charley Thompson who finds solace in Lean On Pete, a mistreated racehorse. Charley and Pete set off together for Wyoming, in search of a place they can call home. Vlautin’s prose is spare and powerful, and the story is at once heartbreaking and redemptive.
Life in Year One by Scott Korb
My friend Scott Korb wrote this provocative book and I bought it at a reading he did here in New York several months ago. But I’m a bum so I’m just cracking it open now. Scott talks vividly about, well, life in the first century—about the day-to-day of the folks who lived in Jesus’ time. Who knew that all the grit (sex, hangings, skin diseases, dung) would satisfy my voyeuristic impulses? It’s basically a rigorous, fascinating, accessible travelogue—especially unique in that Scott traveled back, oh, a couple thousand years.