The Daily Show correspondent and author of I Know I Am, but What Are You? goes for recent memoirs, classic fiction—and one big dilemma.
The Year of Magical Thinking
By Joan Didion
In this memoir about the year following her husband's death, Didion explains that she felt as if he might come back at any second, so she had to leave his shoes right where they were. I wept from beginning to end. The book reminded me of when my grandmother died. I was working, getting stuff done—but it was as if a little shroud were over my head. One day I thought, "Oh, the sky is blue." And I realized I hadn't lifted my eyes off the ground for a year.
This is the story of a former child soldier in Sierra Leone who now lives in the States. He's gone through these incredibly harrowing experiences, but he's also inflicted terrible suffering on others. I think that he will probably spend the rest of his life atoning for what he did. We're so protected in our little bubble, and we get to be concerned about the cast of Dancing with the Stars. I feel as if the universe has been sending me messages, including a book like this, to help me get perspective and make me feel grateful for the life I have.
In the last book in Updike's series about the life of Rabbit Angstrom, the character is in the most comfortable phase of his life financially and socially, but he's mired in nostalgia. I'm a little obsessed with stories about middle-aged men who can't grow up. I'm interested because I don't want to be blindsided by aging. I don't want to wake up one day and say, "Wait a second! Who is this person looking back at me?"
Here's a reassessment of feminism, a sort of "Where are things at, ladies? Are we all on the same page?" I think the answer is no. At some points in this book, I thought, "Yes, I agree with that." In other parts, "Oh God, no!" Her approach to transgender people and her overall characterizations of men can be most unsettling. It's not an easy read, but I think Greer is fascinating—smart and controversial. Her book provokes you and makes you answer questions that you never knew you wanted to be asked. Note: Not a good beach read—unless you prefer to suntan angrily.
There was a resurgence of Cheever-itis after a new biography came out last year. I had never heard of him—I grew up in Canada, so he was not on our syllabus—but the stories are haunting. I remember one in particular: "O City of Broken Dreams." It's about a family who comes to New York City from Indiana. I really felt for those characters—they're trying to move in sophisticated circles, but the reality is, they're going to get eaten alive. That could so easily have been me. I felt as if I were wearing hip waders and smoking a corncob pipe for two or three years when I first came to New York.
This book—a look at the megafood industrial complex—completely changed the way I eat. It shattered me! I'm not going to say that it made my life easier—it made my life tremendously more difficult—but it's been worth it.