Elizabeth Strout is the Pulitzer-winning author of Olive Kitteridge. Like that 2008 work, her new book, Anything Is Possible, is a collection of interconnected stories, these set in the hometown of the title character of 2016’s My Name Is Lucy Barton.
Best books... chosen by Elizabeth Strout
No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai (New Directions, $14). This book just blew me away because of its voice. It’s an account, written in three notebooks, of a man in Japan whose sense of alienation is so profound that he attempts suicide. Others might consider the book relentlessly grim, but I love it because that voice is so strong and so pure.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (Mariner, $14). I have re-read this book every few years from the time I was in my 20s, and I am always so interested how different it seems each time. Clarissa Dalloway—deciding to get the flowers herself, as the book opens—seemed in my youth to be a lovely woman. As I grew older, I saw more and more the sadness that beats in her heart. And Septimus Smith and his wife provide such a wonderful, and tragic, juxtaposition to her life of luxury.
Another Country by James Baldwin (Vintage, $16). Many years ago, when I first read Baldwin’s 1962 novel about a doomed Greenwich Village jazz drummer, I thought, “Wow, I can’t believe it. The narrator is so fierce and strong, and the book pulsates with such honesty. The language—!”
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, $18). I have loved Hemingway’s Spanish Civil War epic since I was 17, and each time I come back to it, it always surprises me. I’m also interested in the fact that many of his sentences are actually much longer than we tend to remember. They go many places in this book.
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro (Vintage, $16). Munro brings such great authority to the page that I will follow her anywhere. And she takes me many places; I am never disappointed. In the title story, for example, she moves the point of view with such ease all around a small Canadian prairie town.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (Dial, $16). I came to this book later in life. I think it is, amon g other things, the loveliest, most delicate account of post-traumatic stress I’ve ever read—like the water that simply runs from the eyes of Billy Pilgrim.