Casey Blue James is a publishing assistant in the president’s office at Penguin. She’s a native Chicagoan and a proud resident of Jackson Heights, Queens. When her nose isn’t buried in a book on the subway, chances are you can find her in the park, on the beach, or somewhere else where the vitamin D is plentiful. (If you’re reading this bio in the winter, she’s probably eating pasta somewhere or snuggled in bed watching RuPaul’s Drag Race with a puppy named Pickles.)
The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
Half a decade before Mary McCarthy published The Group, and fifty years before Peggy and Joan became the past-tense idols of twenty-something women working in corporate offices everywhere, Rona Jaffe wrote the original portrayal of mid-century office life that didn’t entirely relegate women to the reception desk and the coffee cart. I’ll admit it’s hard to find a true heroine in this woefully outdated storyline, but even a thoroughly 21st-century lady may find herself sympathetically nodding along with a young editorial assistant’s travails in the big office and the bigger city. In fact, I think The Best of Everything makes a fun read for anyone who works in publishing. Remember when the whole company used to take the Jitney out to the publisher’s Hamptons house for summer soirees? Man, those were the days!
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
Isadora Wing travels with her psychoanalyst husband to a conference of psychoanalysts in Vienna and hilarious trouble ensues. If you haven’t read this one yet, you’re depriving yourself. With a narrator who is witty and candid and utterly unabashed re: sex, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying is frequently alluded to as a precursor to Sex and the City. Behind the veneer of sarcasm and snides, there’s a whipsmart woman who isn’t sure what she wants from love or sex or art or work. You don’t have to be Carrie Bradshaw, or a woman, to relate to that kind of honest vulnerability. Also, this scandalous new cover art makes for a fun subway ride. After one too many questionable glances from strangers, I may or may not have made myself one of those brown paper bag book-covers kids make for textbooks in grade school. (Don’t worry; the brilliant design is displayed in all its glory on my bookshelf at home!)
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Boll
Heinrich Boll, the Nobel Prize-winning German author famous for flaunting his liberal views in his fiction, delivers a fun and thinly-veiled allegory about yellow journalism in The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. This sharp little novel turns the thriller/police-procedural genre on its head, telling us on page three what crime has been committed, and by whom. The rest of the story is a nimble account of why the crime took place. An admirable economy of language, the ruthlessness of Boll’s wit, and a swoon-worthy use of lists (nerd alert!) have endeared this book to me forever. Also, at 103 pages, it’s a dream-read: the kind you can finish in one sitting (or two or three short subway rides).
The Bar on the Seine by Georges Simenon
Ever wonder what the solemn and stony-faced literary heroes of yore read for sheer, escapist pleasure? William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, T. S. Eliot, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez all agreed on one author: Georges Simenon. I think that group is recommendation plenty, but since I’m meant to give you mine: This book is a treat for those who enjoy a good old-fashioned whodunit. The plot is no-frills and the writing is elegant and deadpan (you really will be able to see why Hemingway in particular appreciated Simenon). In this new-fangled age of psychological thrillers and unreliable narrators, it’s refreshing to go back and read a pared-down, unfussy classic. Plus, this is set on the banks of the Seine in summertime, and the cast of characters are fashionable artists, moneyed elite, and deplorable philanderers—fun! This is another short read (did I mention I love pithy books more than anything?) in a petite trim size. Perfect for tucking in your pocket and reading on the banks of the Hudson during your lunch break. Bonne lecture!
Civic Classics, Vol. 1: The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, edited by Richard Beeman
I won’t belabor this recommendation: SCOTUS has had a productive 2015, and we should all brush up on our constitutional knowledge. Plus, this is yet another gorgeous edition from our friends at Penguin Classics.
Find more books on the Penguin Classics page!
See Staff Picks for all our categories!