Greetings from Three Lives & Company!
As this eventful, unpredictable year draws to a close, there is one thing you can count on: Three LivesÕs roundup of our favorite books of the year. See below for our selections, as well as the latest edition of TroyÕs Cookbook Corner. As always, we would love to hear your favorites as well! Come by our temporary new location at 238 West 10th Street, and tell us what wowed you most in 2020.
First, a little housekeeping. Due to a convergence of factors – the pandemic, printing shortages, and the usual crush of shipping as the holidays approach – we are anticipating delays in ordering and sending books. While we will always do our utmost to get your books to you in a timely manner, we urge you to start ordering as early in December as possible to ensure that you receive everything on time.
Please also remember that we are limiting the number of customers in the shop to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That means we will likely have lines on the sidewalk later in the month. We are happy to process orders over email or phone and have them available for curbside pickup if you would like. We can also process your order on the sidewalk if you are in line but know exactly what you want – please tell one of our booksellers what you are looking for, and we can retrieve it from the shop for you.
This year will, of course, feel a little different, but this is always a special time at Three Lives: we all look forward to the bustling December weeks, to wrapping up your gifts in our red paper, and to discussing the last twelve months with customers who love books as much as we do. We hope to see you soon!
~ Staff Favorites in 2020 ~
If I can be thankful for 2020 in any capacity, it is that such a chaotic and overwhelming year inspired me to shift my focus, prompting me to read older books I had always meant to get to and had continuously put off. Highlights include Anita BrooknerÕs Hotel du Lac (Vintage), a simple and sweet story of a lonely womanÕs stint in a hotel in Switzerland during the off-season, and Willa CatherÕs My Antonia, which brought me to the rolling Great Plains of Nebraska.
In Love (Viking), one of my favorite new novels of the year, Roddy Doyle tells a propulsive and unique story of friendship over the course of one night of Dublin bar-hopping. The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld (Pantheon) explores violence against women in a time-leaping story of one maybe-haunted house and the families who inhabit it on the Scottish coast. Nearly every page surprised me, and, while the story is dark and all too familiar, it is ultimately one of strength and resilience. And I am grateful for books that urged me to look ahead, like Cynan JonesÕs Stillicide (Catapult), which affirms the resilience of love and compassion even as it showcases the costs of climate change through the eyes of those most vulnerable.
On the nonfiction front, Helen MacDonaldÕs transcendent essay collection, Vesper Flights (Grove), simultaneously traces the loss of the natural world and our own rapid extinction – as well as the possibility of salvation – in moving pieces ranging in topic from vehicular accidents involving deer to a rare migration event seen from the top of the Empire State Building. But itÕs Natasha TretheweyÕs beautiful, perfectly written Memorial Drive (Ecco), her memoir of life in Georgia and the murder of her mother by her then-stepfather, that earns my coveted Top Nonfiction Read of the Year. – Nora
Adi—s, 2020! Not sorry to see you go. There are two redeemable features of this year: the outcome of a certain presidential election and a fair share of very good books. My reading peaked pre-pandemic when, in January, I chanced upon the Norwegian knockout The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (Biblioasis, translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw), and in February, I spent an entire plane ride (remember those?) immersed in Writers & Lovers (Grove), Lily KingÕs gripping and beautifully rendered coming-of-age tale. July had the kindness to drop in my lap Hamnet by Maggie OÕFarrell (Knopf), a historical novel about ShakespeareÕs wife and children that shows all other entrants in the genre how itÕs done.
But in some ways, my true literary highlights of 2020 were older books that I had the good fortune to discover this year of all years. Top marks go to Under the Net by Iris Murdoch (Penguin) and Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker (New York Review Books). Both were sheer fun to read (who doesnÕt want that?!), and I have been recommending them far and wide (and plan to read these authorsÕ other works immediately). Notable mentions for Land Breakers by John Ehle (New York Review Books), the perfect escape to a frontier Appalachian landscape, and Excellent Women by Barbara Pym (Penguin), my idea of comfort reading when IÕve no more episode of The Crown or Grantchester to watch. – Miriam
2020 has been quite a strange year for reading: I bounced from sudden surges of motivation to finding myself unable to get hooked by any word written on any page. That being said, there still have been titles that stuck out to me this year, ones IÕll continue championing into 2021. Mieko KawakamiÕs Breasts and Eggs (Europa, translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd) exemplifies all the entangled emotions, nuances, standards, responsibilities, befuddlements, liberties, and fears of being a woman in contemporary society, further enriched by the cultural landscape of KawakamiÕs home, Japan.
It was also a year of debuts for me. These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever (Harper) is the perfect blend of The Secret History and Call Me by Your Name but with more twisted and violent psychological love affairs and human quandaries. WhatÕs Left of Me Is Yours by Stephanie Scott (Doubleday) tells a heartbreaking – though empowering – story (inspired by true events, no less!) of a young woman in modern-day Tokyo who, after learning the truth behind her motherÕs death and her countryÕs sordid industries, reckons with her unraveling worldview and finds her identity transformed.
Honorable mentions include the intoxicating and powerful Caste by Isabel Wilkerson (Random House); the heartwarming, fun, and surprising Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (St. MartinÕs); and Olivia LaingÕs sharp, curious, and inspiring Funny Weather (Norton). Taking me into this holiday season are Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (Penguin) and none other than the extraordinary memoir itself by the extraordinary man himself, A Promised Land by Barack Obama (Crown). – Tatiana
This year I set my sights on reading one hundred books. Little did I know back in January just how much time I would have to sit at home and chip away at my goal. The time I spent with these books has been a silver lining of the pandemic and reminded me what a comfort reading can be. A lifetime ago – back in January – I read Uncanny Valley (MCD), Anna WienerÕs well-observed and quietly scathing memoir about her time in Silicon Valley start-ups. I still think of it often. I loved Stray (Knopf), Stephanie DanlerÕs memoir about her turbulent childhood and the mark addiction can leave on a family. The Shame by Makenna Goodman (Milkweed), Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami, and Want by Lynn Steger Strong (Henry Holt) all explore the complexities of motherhood, economic anxiety, and family obligation in totally original ways. I stayed up late to finish Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (Ecco), a novel about a family vacation that goes awry (to put it mildly) and Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg (Bloomsbury), which reads like a gothic Olive Kitteridge. And on a lighter note, Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe (Back Bay) is a charming collection of letters from a young nanny in London to her sister at home. – Ruby
Postcard from Park Slope. This is so absurd, yet here we sit nine months into pandemic quarantine and our world turned upside down! How are you coping? Depending on personal experience, general temperament, and private worries, I guess weÕd all agree some days are better than others. Are you reading? For me itÕs been difficult to quietly settle in with a book – monkey brain, you know? But when IÕve been able to crack a spine this year, it turns out that the strongest voices in my library, the ones most remembered, have all been female. Hmm...? These include Caste, Isabel WilkersonÕs ever so brilliant book about power – which groups have it and which do not; Laila LalamiÕs Conditional Citizens (Pantheon), an impassioned look at what it means to belong in America; Liz MooreÕs beautiful suspense novel of sisters growing up poor in urban America, Long Bright River (Riverhead); Not a Novel (New Directions, translated by Kurt Beals), Jenny ErpenbeckÕs memoir, brimming with warm intelligence; and the late Eavan BolandÕs poetry, which knocks me out.
And just an aside because we havenÕt had a proper conversation in forever: isnÕt our new temporary Three Lives space rather gorgeous? Also, can we ever be reminded enough that the workers of the world are all living saints?! And lastly, will our capacity for kindness be enough? Be well, all you lovely, greatly missed people! Next year there will be holidays! – Joyce
These are the books that have brought me pleasure and joy during the year. No small achievement!
The way I see it, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein with illustrations by Maira Kalman (Penguin Press) was written in the stars, and now here it is for us to treasure. I missed out on seeing David ByrneÕs Ņtheatrical concertÓ on Broadway, but Byrne has collaborated with Kalman to create a book by the same name, American Utopia (Bloomsbury), to capture the spirit of the show – a call for kindness, jubilation, and a reminder to sing, dance, and waste not a moment.
In February of this year the exhibition David Hockney: Drawing from Life opened at the National Portrait Gallery in London and remained open for nearly a month before closing due to COVID-19. Remarkably, the exhibition has opened this fall here in New York City at the Morgan Library & Museum and I am happy to report that the NPG has published an accompanying catalog, David Hockney: Drawing from Life, with essays, interviews and 150 works beautifully reproduced. The show and the book certainly lifted my spirits. Finally, an interior design book that nearly caused me to go home and immediately lock the doors and lower the blinds: British Designers At Home by Jenny Rose-Innes (Hardie Grant). This gorgeous, eccentric, eye-popping book allows us to step inside the homes of top British designers, find out how they honed their skills in interiors, and read their responses to questions like ŅIf there was a fire, what would you grab?Ó It is FAB! – Troy
My reading plummeted in 2020, from fifty books the year before to somewhat fewer than one-third of that sum so far – but in a year beset by calamity and change (the pandemic, the shutdown, the crushing anxiety of the presidential election and, in a very different category, the birth of my son on the second day of the year), I canÕt be ashamed of the decline. Besides, my 2020 reads were on average quite good: Aravind AdigaÕs Amnesty (Scribner), Anna WienerÕs Uncanny Valley and James McBrideÕs Deacon King Kong (Riverhead) got me up to the plague months, and new books by Three Lives favorites Barbara Demick (Eat the Buddha, Random House) and Lawrence Osborne (The Glass Kingdom, Hogarth) helped the awful summer pass. More recently, I was absorbed and moved by Yu MiriÕs novel Tokyo Ueno Station (Riverhead, translated by Morgan Giles), narrated by a dead man explaining how he came to be homeless in the post-bubble bleakness of JapanÕs sprawling metropolis, and Natasha TretheweyÕs Memorial Drive, a memoir of the authorÕs singular mother, murdered by a jealous and unhinged man after years of threats. It hardly seems like the grace note on which to end the year, but TretheweyÕs book is as much a celebration of her motherÕs life as an account of her harrowing death - full of sadness and longing but bereft of despair. – Ryan
In this year of uncertainty and upheaval, my reading has certainly been disrupted as well. Through a harrowing and horrifying pandemic spring in New York City, the shift to an online ordering system for Three Lives during the COVID shutdown, the glorious moments of a great racial justice movement here in the city and across the world, the catastrophic illness and death of my mother-in-law while in our care at home over the summer, the slow but steady reopening of the bookshop in June, and, finally, our temporary relocation in November, there was much to impact my reading time and, quite simply, my desire to stop, step into, and escape with a book. A glance at my Book of Books, the log I started in 1993 noting the books I read, and the impact of 2020 is clear: I read far fewer books than in any other year of my record-keeping.
Nevertheless, I did get some reading in, and there were a few books from the year that stood out. From seemingly opposite ends of the reading spectrum, one grand and epic and one a slim jewel: Lucky Per by Henrik Pontoppidan (EverymanÕs Library, translated by Naomi Lebowitz) and Box Hill by Adam Mars-Jones (New Directions) are probably my reads of the year. For nonfiction it was such a joy to meander with Philip Hoare in RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR (University of Chicago Press) as he explores his joy of open water swimming, in all seasons and all seas, through the places he visits and in appreciations of fellow writer-swimmers. Other highlights include Jean MaloofÕs lovely nature essays Teaching the Trees (University of Georgia Press; found on a Staff Favorites table at MalapropÕs Bookstore in Asheville, NC) and Want, a novel from Lynn Steger Strong.
Finally, I have to tip my beanie to and sound a pre-pub trumpet for Chang-Rae LeeÕs next novel, My Year Abroad (Riverhead, on sale February 2). This wild and riotous picaresque novel about a college dropoutÕs crazy year shook me out of my reading funk: I blew through it, once again captured by an enthralling book.
So long 2020, hereÕs your hat, thank you very much. On to 2021! – Toby
~ TroyÕs Cookbook Corner ~
Welcome to our new cookbook shelves at 238 W. 10th, where youÕll find cookbooks for a myriad of needs, tastes, and desires. ItÕs an outstanding season for cookbooks, and what perfect timing for them to arrive when we need them most for guidance, inspiration, escape, and a tasty meal.
HereÕs a sampling of this seasonÕs cookbook offerings: simple, classic, frugal advice from master chef Jacques Pˇpin; a cookbook for kids – the luckiest kids EVER – from Melissa Clark; stories and recipes from grandmothers of eight East African nations (a cookbook and much more); cookbooks from some of our favorite chefs in the Village; a ravishing cookbook from Italy; OttolenghiÕs new next-level approach to vegetables; a wave of cookbooks devoted to technique and flavor; Ina at her very best; and dessert cookbooks that will instruct and inspire you to actually bake. These are all new since September, and many more await.
į Big Love Cooking: 75 Recipes for Satisfying, Shareable Comfort Food by Joey Campanaro of Little Owl (Chronicle)
į Kid in the Kitchen: 100 Recipes and Tips for Young Home Cooks by Melissa Clark (Clarkson Potter)
į Modern Comfort Food: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter)
į In BibiÕs Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean by Hawa Hassan with Julia Turshen (Ten Speed)
į Ottolenghi Flavor: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage (Ten Speed)
į Jacques Pˇpin Quick & Simple by Jacques Pˇpin (Houghton Mifflin)
į Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence by Claire Saffitz (Clarkson Potter)
į The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained in More Than 100 Essential Recipes by Nik Sharma (Chronicle)
į Greenfeast: Autumn, Winter by Nigel Slater (Ten Speed)
į East: 120 Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Beijing by Meera Sodha (Flatiron)
į Old World Italian: Recipes and Secrets from Our Travels in Italy by Mimi Thorisson (Clarkson Potter)
į The Barbuto Cookbook: California-Italian Cooking from the Beloved West Village Restaurant by Jonathan Waxman (Abrams)
į A Good Bake: The Art and Science of Making Perfect Pastries, Cakes, Cookies, Pies, and Breads at Home by Melissa Weller (Knopf)
Notable food writing: Always Home: A DaughterÕs Recipes & Stories by Fanny Singer (Knopf); Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking by Bill Buford (Knopf); The Best American Food Writing 2020 edited by J. Kenji L—pez-Alt (Houghton Mifflin); An Onion In My Pocket: My Life with Vegetables by Deborah Madison (Knopf).
~ The Three Lives & Company Bestseller List ~
1. Promised Land by Barack Obama (Crown)
2. Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Grove)
3. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Riverhead)
4. The Best of Me by David Sedaris (Little, Brown)
5. American Utopia by David Byrne, illustrated by Maira Kalman (Bloomsbury)
6. Modern Comfort Food by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter)
7. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson (Random House)
8. Box Hill by Adam Mars-Jones (New Directions)
9. Greenfeast by Nigel Slater (Ten Speed)
10. What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez (Riverhead)