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WHAT WE'RE READING

Photo of Caitlin in black and white. Sitting in a chair at the store.

Caitlin’s Picks

Caitlin likes to read literary fiction (whatever that means), speculative fiction, and essay collections. She collects ghost stories, and would love to hear yours.

The Buried Giant

Kazuo Ishiguro
Hardcover/March 3, 2015
Alfred A. Knopf

Caitlin says: I love all the Ishiguro I’ve read, but his take on an Arthurian Legend manages to be relevant, sweet, and faithful to the magic of older tales. 

“You’ve long set your heart against it, Axl, I know. But it’s time now to think on it anew. There’s a journey we must go on, and no more delay…”

The Buried Giant begins as a couple set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen in years.

Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in nearly a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge, and war.

Included on TIME Magazine’s “THE 100 BEST FANTASY BOOKS OF ALL TIME”

Loitering with Intent

Muriel Spark
Paperback/October 16, 2001
New Directions

Caitlin says: The protagonist is weird and funny in a way that had me thinking about her long after I finished the book.

“How wonderful to be an artist and a woman in the twentieth century,” Fleur Talbot rejoices. Happily loitering about London, c. 1949, with intent to gather material for her writing, Fleur finds a job “on the grubby edge of the literary world,” as secretary to the peculiar Autobiographical Association. Mad egomaniacs, hilariously writing their memoirs in advance—or poor fools ensnared by a blackmailer? Rich material, in any case. But when its pompous director, Sir Quentin Oliver, steals the manuscript of Fleur’s new novel, fiction begins to appropriate life. The association’s members begin to act out scenes exactly as Fleur herself has already written them in her missing manuscript. And as they meet darkly funny, pre-visioned fates, where does art start or reality end? “A delicious conundrum,” The New Statesman called Loitering with Intent.

Where the Wild Ladies Are

Aoko Matsuda
Paperback/October 20, 2020
Soft Skull Press

Caitlin says: Maybe it’s odd to describe retellings of Japanese Folktales as subtle stories, but Matsuda manages to create parables and conclusions in a way that feels understated and inevitable.  

A busybody aunt who disapproves of hair removal; a pair of door-to-door saleswomen hawking portable lanterns; a cheerful lover who visits every night to take a luxurious bath; a silent house-caller who babysits and cleans while a single mother is out working. Where the Wild Ladies Are is populated by these and many other spirited women—who also happen to be ghosts. This is a realm in which jealousy, stubbornness, and other excessive “feminine” passions are not to be feared or suppressed, but rather cultivated; and, chances are, a man named Mr. Tei will notice your talents and recruit you, dead or alive (preferably dead), to join his mysterious company.

In this witty and exuberant collection of linked stories, Aoko Matsuda takes the rich, millennia-old tradition of Japanese folktales—shapeshifting wives and foxes, magical trees and wells—and wholly reinvents them, presenting a world in which humans are consoled, guided, challenged, and transformed by the only sometimes visible forces that surround them.

The Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood; Youth; Dependency

Tove Ditlevsen
Hardcover/January 26, 2021
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Caitlin says: I don’t know what I can say about this astounding memoir that hasn’t already been said. Her sentences are arrows that never miss the target. It’s a book that’s worth the heartache. 

Tove Ditlevsen is today celebrated as one of the most important and unique voices in twentieth-century Danish literature, and The Copenhagen Trilogy (1969-71) is her acknowledged masterpiece. Childhood tells the story of a misfit child’s single-minded determination to become a poet; Youth describes her early experiences of sex, work, and independence. Dependency picks up the story as the narrator embarks on the first of her four marriages and goes on to describe her horrible descent into drug addiction, enabled by her sinister, gaslighting doctor-husband.

Throughout, the narrator grapples with the tension between her vocation as a writer and her competing roles as daughter, wife, mother, and drug addict, and she writes about female experience and identity in a way that feels very fresh and pertinent to today’s discussions around feminism. Ditlevsen’s trilogy is remarkable for its intensity and its immersive depiction of a world of complex female friendships, family and growing up–in this sense, it’s Copenhagen’s answer to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. She can also be seen as a spiritual forerunner of confessional writers like Karl Ove Knausgaard, Annie Ernaux, Rachel Cusk and Deborah Levy. Her trilogy is drawn from her own experiences but reads like the most compelling kind of fiction.

Born in a working-class neighborhood in Copenhagen in 1917, Ditlevsen became famous for her poetry while still a teenager, and went on to write novels, stories and memoirs before committing suicide in 1976. Having been dismissed by the critical establishment in her lifetime as a working-class, female writer, she is now being rediscovered and championed as one of Denmark’s most important modern authors, with Tove fever gripping readers.