Our Day 19 author divides her time between teaching at Portland State University and writing in Miami. Though her new novel, Birds of Paradise, is based in Miami, everyone in the novel is dreaming about or trying to move to Portland. Birds of Paradise was included on year-end best lists this year in the Washington Post and on NPR and is on the short list for a Pacific Northwest Book Award from the indie booksellers of the Northwest. Diana Abu-Jaber won a PNBA Award in 2006 for her memoir The Language of Baklava.
Listen to Abu-Jaber read an essay about her family’s tradition of hosting guests and feasting during the holidays. She’s also one of 17 contributors to Blue Christmas: Holiday Stories for the Rest of Us: An Anthology with a story called “American Sweater.”
Speaking of sweaters, she sent us this photo while admitting that she thinks it’s “the most embarrassing photograph of me in known existence.” She says she and her husband and a couple of friends were celebrating Christmas in South Florida and she thought everyone was going to wear a Christmas sweater. “Also, that bow is NOT tied in my hair,” she says. “However, I think the photographer was having a good ol’ crack-up at my expense.”
Abu-Jaber says she has many favorite bookstores in the Northwest, but she has a special place in her heart for Annie Bloom’s, which was her neighborhood bookstore when she lived in Multnomah Village. “They put on amazing events and there’s such a special environment,” she says. “It’s a real home-place.”
Here’s her list:
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. There is a wonderful synergistic effect to this novel-in-pieces: a cosmology through which a character is glimpsed in fragments. Olive is lumbering and uncomfortable and captivating, all at once, an unforgettable character in her community.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. A stirring, affecting novel that travels, spans countries, gives off sparks: a series of unlikely love stories wrapped around intertwined lives.
Widow by Michelle Latiolais. There is a still, almost glass-like quality to this writing: exquisitely-told, deeply felt stories on and around the experience of loss. Deeply painful at time, sweet and almost comedic at others, but always powerfully affecting.
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. I’m not sure there’s anything I can say about this dystopian satire that hasn’t already been said: It’s crazy and risky and awful and addictive. The language, the voice, the characters, the scene—this terrifying future scenario is written brilliantly close to the bone.
How I Became A Famous Novelist by Steve Hely. A sharp-eyed send-up of the writing industry that follows a disillusioned young man as he makes his calculating entry into bestsellerdom. It’s the sort of brave yet hilarious book that has a writer laughing through her tears.