1) The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
I braced myself for Signature. Elizabeth Gilbert is basically the Gwyneth Paltrow of the literary set, and people love to hate her. It’s understandable: Her real-life happy ending in Eat Pray Love makes getting over a divorce/life crisis seem as easy as stuffing your face full of Italian food, then sitting in the lotus position, then having sex with hot strangers. Julia Roberts played her onscreen, plus she’s blond, ebullient, and outdoorsy. See? Loathsome. But Gilbert isn’t her image, and Alma, her protagonist, is far from a shiny-happy-serenity-now stereotype. In fact, there’s nothing facile or reductive about — it’s a messy, complicated patchwork of a book, and this story of longing and unrealized ambition is absolutely searing in its honesty. Thank you, Elizabeth, for writing a novel about what happens when life turns out nothing — nothing! — like we ever imagined it would, and how we cope. Alma is a woman who yearns for a man who doesn’t want her back — a subject, as Gilbert herself said, that needs to be written about far more often. She goes there on the page, as she must have in real life too — those dark, dismal places that reflect back an unflattering, yet utterly true, version of ourselves.
Also, she writes about mosses with extraordinary detail.