ELLE’s essential reading list
All the books you’ll want to curl up with this season
Little Failure (Penguin)
By Gary Shteyngart
Russia-born American author Shteyngart’s memoir is a humorous and affecting account of an immigrant trying to find his place in the world. Born Igor Shteyngart, the Jewish author and his family moved to America in the 1970s. By the age of five he’d written his first novel, Lenin And His Magical Goose, for each page of which his grandmother gave him a slice of cheese. But his parents hoped he’d be one of the suits at Wall Street, if not a lawyer. As the years passed, Igor became Gary (a change that would make him less vulnerable to bullies) but his mother would lovingly call him Failurchka (Little Failure) – half-Russian, half-English. And just like the name he was given, the constant misfit straddled both worlds – and turned it into this hugely entertaining book, of course.
Here’s a peek:
In the previous year I had tried being a paralegal for a civil rights law firm but that did not work out well. The paralegaling involved a lot of detail, way more detail than a nervous young man with a ponytail, a small substance abuse problem, and a hemp pin on his cardboard tie could handle. This was as close as I would ever come to fulfilling my parents’ dreams of becoming a lawyer. Like most Soviet Jews, like most immigrants from communist nations, my parents were deeply conservative and they never thought much of the four years I had spent at my liberal alma mater, Oberlin College, studying Marxist politics and book-writing. On his first visit to Oberlin my father stood on a giant vagina painted in the middle of the quad by the campus Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual organization, oblivious to the rising tide of hissing and camp around him, as he enumerated to me the differences between laser jet and ink jet printers, specifically the price points of the cartridges. If I’m not mistaken, he thought he was standing on a peach.
By Sophia Amoruso
Here’s the thing: Amoruso never went to college. She’s only 30 and runs a $100 million business, as the founder of Nasty Gal – an e-store with a cult following. She distils her journey and offers a whole load of no-nonsense, unadulterated career advice your mom won’t give you in #GIRLBOSS. Sample: ‘Leave your entitled ’tude at the door’ – don’t ask for a promotion till you’ve clocked in a year at your workplace. Also, don’t ever mutter ‘That’s not my job’ – be ready to dig in your heels and pitch in. Word.
Here’s a peek:
In an ideal world, you’d never have to do things that are below your position, but this isn’t an ideal world and it’s never going to be. You have to understand that even a creative job isn’t just about being creative, but about doing the work that needs to get done. The #GIRLBOSS who is willing to do a job that is below her – and above – is the one who stands out. Above, you ask? Yes. Sometimes you’ll find an opportunity to step in when your boss is out, or just swamped, and show your worth. You’re as smart as she is, anyway, so figure it out as you go and make it look like child’s play. It’s that attitude, and behavior, that will get you ahead.
Family Life (Penguin)
By Akhil Sharma
Published across several literary journals like The New Yorker and The Atlantic, the author mines his personal life for a bleakly funny second novel, Family Life. And it’s taken him 13 years to write, carefully turning memories over in his head. He gives us the story of the Mishra family – of eight-year-old Ajay and his bright older brother Birju, who leave Delhi for America. America is all kinds of amazing – doors swing open, hot dogs have mysterious ingredients, plush elevators everywhere – until Birju meets with an accident that leaves him brain-damaged. Ajay must step up to carry the weight of his family’s dreams and ambitions, even as he struggles with survivor’s guilt. He ticks all the right boxes but loses himself to the American dream.
Here’s a peek:
People visited us at the nursing home. Mostly these were couples with children. Often, it appeared, they hoped to teach their children a lesson. Once a man scolded his five-year-old daughter in front of us. “See what we do for you? Would an American do what Auntie and Uncle are doing? An American would say, ‘You have to stand on your own two feet. You live your life, and I will live mine.’ This is what we Indians do. We love our children too much. Go touch Birju brother’s feet.” The girl went slowly, hesitantly, to the hospital bed. Birju was wearing white socks. His feet were lying on a sheepskin, and because their tendons had shrunk, they turned inwards and almost met.