Is this our agency book case or a trophy case? Either way, we’re keeping what’s on it…just in case.
Each year-end the internet fills with gift-guides and roundups, such as the Water & Wall favorite New York Times 100 Notable Books yearly list. Inspired by the best books of 2020, we bring to you today “The Books We Keep,” a handful of books chosen by Water & Wall staff that we’ve enjoyed this year, years past, and will continue to love for years to come.
Let us know if any of these are your favorites too or drop us a comment to tell us your favorite five. And if you’re gifting any books this year, we’d like to recommend shopping at stores like Books are Magic, Rizzoli, Marcus Books, or others at Bookshop to support small business and local bookstores this year.
I tend to only keep books that remind me of specific places, ideas, or people. I usually give books I’ve loved away – I want everyone around me to read them! I kept Where the Crawdads Sing for pluff mud. Delia Owen’s 10-year master-piece brought me home to the Carolinas each time I turned the page; I could smell the marsh. F. Scott Fitzgerald is for my infatuation with stories. His books sparked my love for reading. A Tale of Two Cities for the reminder that you really can’t judge a book by its cover. I dreaded reading Dickens’ classic, but thanks to a required high school reading list, I quickly tore through page after page. Edgar Allan Poe is for my grandma. She has a beautiful collection of his on her bookshelf, so The Complete Tales and Poems is my mini New York City version.
Music, food and soccer are some of my favorite things in the world, and you can’t get much better than Bob Spitz’s The Beatles, Fever Pitch (please read every Nick Hornby book immediately) and Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. I was genuinely upset when I finished each one. The Things They Carried is one of the most powerful and well-written books I’ve ever read, and On the Road is an absolute American classic and this is my father’s old copy.
Toni Morrison’s Beloved I’ve read a handful of times and each time I love it more. With Exhalation, Ted Chiang shares a collection of science fiction short stories with “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” being my favorite piece. Every time I read Murakami I think, “this is the book where I’ll finally understand Murakami.” I never quite do and that is why I cannot get enough. A Wild Sheep Chase was my intro to the author and this copy happens to be a gifted first edition. Stephen Fry’s Mythos is an excellent retelling of Greek myths full of humor and suspense. Finally, David Mitchell is another ‘take me into a new world’ favorite. (He’s said Murakami is a huge influence, so no surprise for me here.) Utopia Avenue takes you through the life and times of a psychedelic British band set in the 60s, complete with scenes from their interactions with greats like Syd Barret and Jimi Hendrix. A must for any lover of rock music and captivating storytelling.
If you pick up anything this winter, I recommend I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, and The Opposite of Loneliness, and also for good measure Trick Mirror if you’re the one person left who hasn’t read it. I’m a sucker for essays and these represent some of the funniest, well-written, thought-provoking ones I’ve read—pieces that punch you in the gut with that feeling of being seen and understood, that make you laugh and tear up and immediately send your friend a quote demanding they read the whole thing. When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities is a must for all my fellow poets, and I’m not just saying that because I share a name with the author. Finally, if you live in New York, and talk about leaving New York, or have friends who have left New York, or you left but dream about coming back, read Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That” and then read the Goodbye to All That essay collection, and perhaps find yourself falling in love with this city all over again.
The Revenge of Analog is film and record players and print magazines… tell me everything David Sax! Saint Marks is far from dead, when you read about its decades of gritty history (Saint Marks is Dead), and thanks to Hank Green for adding aliens to some of my other beloved NYC streets in An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. Kim Gordon (Girl in a Band) is my guitar-wielding Mom Goddess, and when you combine music and time travel you end up with my #1 favorite book of all time, Mo Daviau’s Every Anxious Wave.
First off, I love The Great Gatsby and I’m not afraid to say it! I’m a sucker for gorgeous prose and creative structure, which explains my Nabokov and Nelson picks. Fun fact: the first time I read Pale Fire, I only read the poem, which is (spoiler alert) not where any of the actual story is. I read Bluets in a coffee shop and gasped out loud at every other line. The last two are a bit more personal connections, in addition to being great books. Stephanie Danler (Sweetbitter) graduated from my MFA program and this book was a beacon of inspiration while I was working on my thesis, and Colson Whitehead (The Nickel Boys) was one of my creative writing professors in undergrad. (I try not to think about the fact that this two-time Pulitzer Prize winner has read the one time I decided to attempt sci-fi.)
Wonder Boys was my “I saw the movie first” moment then read the book five times. Casino Royale is the first and best James Bond story. Did you know Bond had a three-inch scar on his face? Where was that in the movies? The World According to Mister Rogers is a daily hug made up of the simplest and most essential thoughts. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry makes me feel like I’ve got the IQ to be an astronaut. The Dictionary. I open it daily, as the distressed binding lets on. If only I retained all of what’s inside. I guess then I’d be an astronaut.
I love to travel. I love to cook. And I love to come home and relive my journeys through local dishes made in my own kitchen.