PAW Asked Six Alumni Authors for Their Holiday-Reading Suggestions

Boris Fishman ’01 (Rob Liguori)
Boris Fishman ’01
Rob Liguori

Boris Fishman ’01

One book held me so hard I barely went outside for three days: Peter Godwin’s When A Crocodile Eats the Sun, a heartbreaking account of his father’s decline alongside the decline of their beloved and native Zimbabwe. Godwin is that rarest of writers: A master craftsman whose work is also profoundly moving. He’s also a former Princeton professor. I recently read Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child, about a bad egg in an otherwise decent family, and am still rattling.

Fishman is the author of the novel A Replacement Life. His new novel, Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo, comes out in March.


Dan-el Padilla Peralta ’06

Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies is an engrossing depiction of a marriage from two perspectives. It is masterful in the craft of its sentences, the architecture of its plot, the dexterity of its classical allusions.

Shea Serrano’s The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed is a gorgeously illustrated, witty, and often pointed dissection of the genre.

Padilla is the author of  Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League.


Alice Eve Cohen ’76 (Janet Charles Photography)
Alice Eve Cohen ’76 (Janet Charles Photography)

Alice Eve Cohen ’76

As a memoirist, I’m fascinated by fiction that reads like memoir and memoir that reads like fiction. Two years after first reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, I still dip into it on a regular basis, savoring the language and trying to unravel its mysteries. A woman named Ruth (like the author) finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox on a beach in the Pacific Northwest, probably washed up by the 2011 tsunami. Inside the lunchbox is the diary of a 16-year-old Japanese girl with a fabulous imagination, sardonic wit, and suicidal fantasies.

I was already a fan of the new musical Fun Home, based on Alison Bechdel’s book, when I read her graphic novel-memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. With lush language and beautifully detailed cartoon panels, Bechdel draws the reader into her story of a lesbian cartoonist looking back at her childhood to try to understand her complicated, closeted gay father. Heartbreaking, funny, and profound.

Cohen’s most recent book is the memoir The Year My Mother Came Back.


Naomi Williams ’87

Set in Brooklyn in the latter half of the 20th century, Alice McDermott’s Someone is nothing more or less than a novel about an ordinary woman’s life. Yet that life is related with such dignified empathy and in such limpid, gorgeous prose that I found myself caring passionately about what happened.

I love books that do something unexpected and that teach me something, and Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk accomplishes both. It’s a memoir about healing from grief, but also something of a primer on falconry — and a meditation on literary history. Absorbing and surprising from beginning to end, it’s quite unlike anything I’ve ever read.

Williams is the author of the novel Landfalls.


Mohsin Hamid ’93 (Jillian Edelstein)
Mohsin Hamid ’93 (Jillian Edelstein)

Mohsin Hamid ’93

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud: For all those who read The Stranger by Albert Camus at Princeton, as I did, and were mesmerized, this novel is a fascinating rejoinder, from the point of view of the brother of the nameless Arab murdered by Camus’ protagonist. And even if you’ve never read Camus, Daoud provides vital insights into tensions that plague our world today.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill: A marvel of elliptical compression and a fascinating new take on the form of the novel, Dept. of Speculation is about an imploding romantic relationship driven by two powerful forces: of its story, and of its mode of telling.

Hamid’s latest book is Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London.


Christopher Beha ’02

I have been reading last year’s Nobel Prize winner, the French novelist Patrick Modiano, whose many short, atmospheric books are built around their author’s obsessions and seem perfectly designed to elicit a similar obsession from their readers. I recommend starting with Missing Person, a kind of detective story in which the private eye/narrator goes in search of himself.

I never had the chance to study with longtime Princeton professor C.K. Williams, who died this fall, but I have been a devoted reader of his poems since my undergraduate days. His Selected Later Poems, published the week of his death, are a great introduction to his work, which has a moral seriousness rare in contemporary poetry.

Beha’s latest novel is Arts and Entertainments.