article

07.21.09

Frank Bruni's Nightstand

The New York Times restaurant critic says Nora Ephron didn’t quite believe him when he told her Heartburn always makes him smile, and shares his favorite reads. His memoir, Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater, is coming out in August.

Heartburn
by Nora Ephron

I repeatedly read Heartburn the way I repeatedly watched Clueless, because it never failed to make me smile.

Through the 1990s, I read this at least once a year, because it's just so wickedly funny, a perfect pick-me-up when you're feeling a little blue. For me it's not really about marriage or infidelity; it's about the way a sense of humor can redeem any setback and the way delicious food can take the edge off of any sadness. I repeatedly read Heartburn the way I repeatedly watched Clueless, because it never failed to make me smile. Years later I got to know Ephron a bit and told her that. I got the feeling she thought I was just being polite.

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The Silence of the Lambs. By Thomas Harris. 352 pages. St. Martin’s Griffin. $13.95. ()

The Silence of the Lambs
by Thomas Harris

I was lucky enough to read this thriller a few years before the movie came out. And it grabbed me like nothing before or since.

I was lucky enough to read this thriller a few years before the movie came out, so I was in the dark. I didn't know where the story was going. And it grabbed me like nothing before or since. I began reading it over coffee on the first full day of a trip to Brazil, where I'd never been and had much to see and do; I didn't leave my room until evening, when I'd finished. The book was a ride too riveting to be interrupted.

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The Sweet Hereafter. By Russell Banks. 272 pages. Harper Perennial. $13.99. ()

The Sweet Hereafter
by Russell Banks

The quick crumbling of seemingly firm conviction—turns out to be a central theme of this book, which is just so gorgeously written.

I first picked up this novel 17 years ago, I think it was, when I lived in Detroit. And I still remember reading the first lines and marveling at the accuracy with which they took you into a person's thought sequence: "A dog—it was a dog I saw for certain. Or thought I saw." That uncertainty—that quick crumbling of seemingly firm conviction—turns out to be a central theme of this book, which is just so gorgeously written.

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American Wife. By Curtis Sittenfeld. 593 pages. Random House Trade Paperbacks. $15. ()

American Wife
by Curtis Sittenfeld

Yes, I know: The book isn't about Laura Bush, it's a novel, yadda yadda. But this is like some deeper, truer, more artful form of biography.

This book is just an amazing act of empathy—and a brave one, too, in that Sittenfeld insists on seeing Laura Bush as a complicated character with ample virtue at a time when most of the country, reeling from the Bush administration's myriad mistakes, probably wasn't in the mood for that take. Yes, I know: The book isn't about Laura Bush, it's a novel, yadda yadda. But if you've studied Laura Bush and know anything about her life, you quickly realize that Sittenfeld has studied her even more closely and gathered even more knowledge. This is like some deeper, truer, more artful form of biography.

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Blue Heaven. By Joe Keenan. 320 pages. Arrow Books Ltd. $11.60. ()

Blue Heaven
by Joe Keenan

For the life of me I don't know why Joe Keenan's trio of books about two New York theater-world friends aren't better known.

For the life of me I don't know why Joe Keenan's trio (at this point) of books about the comic misadventures of Philip and Gilbert, two New York theater-world friends given to big dreams and crazy schemes, aren't better known. They're laugh-out-loud funny. Blue Heaven was followed by Putting on the Ritz and then, most recently, My Lucky Star, and I liked the first two so much that when I stumbled across the third in the bookstore—and realized, only then, that it was out—I bought it instantly and canceled all of my plans for the next six hours. I was that happy.

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Frank Bruni is the restaurant critic for The New York Times. His memoir, Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater, will be published by Penguin Press in August. An adaption of the memoir appeared in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.