Staff Picks: What Book World editors and writers have been reading


I was lucky enough this summer to have a longtime librarian as a house guest. Who better to offer a book recommendation (other than the contributors to this column)? So, I asked my friend: What’s the best book you have read this year? Without skipping a beat, he answered: “Properties of Thirst,” by Marianne Wiggins, which came out in paperback in May. Conveniently, this book was already on my TBR pile. In fact, I had wanted to write a feature about it because of its amazing backstory. Wiggins was nearly finished writing the book when, in 2016, she had a massive stroke. The Pulitzer finalist (and ex-wife of Salman Rushdie), now 75, not only lost the ability to write but forgot what she had already written. She enlisted the help of her daughter, Lara Porzak, to help her complete the 517-page novel. In the afterword, Lara describes the experience in poignant detail: Over the course of several years, she read the book aloud to her mother multiple times, until the characters came to feel like Lara and Marianne’s family. Mother and daughter chatted “about their daily shenanigans and potential adventures, anything to bring them back into the fabric of Mom’s memory.” Through this “powerful alchemy,” Lara writes, “art happened: the process of finishing the novel shifted from being an impossible burden to the very life-affirming thing that helped us to heal.” I am only about 50 pages into this sweeping, poetic novel — about a California rancher and his family fighting, among other enemies, Los Angeles over water rights — and I am already hooked.


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