A Small Act of Survival

One skill I acquired (nay, fought for) during this unbelievable year was the ability to read in any noise, tv going and radio on too and 3 children almost all the time, talking… when I never really could before. The power to block everything out, even for 5 minutes at a time, has been an amazing change, a gift, a small act of survival.

Here are the books I read (fought for!) in 2020.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

The Financial Diaries by Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider

Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear by Matthew Salesses

First We Have Coffee by Margaret Jensen

Sleepwalking by Meg Wolitzer

A Very Stable Genius by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Come to Me by Amy Bloom

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham

Little Feasts by Jules Archer

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Beautiful Raft by Tina Barry

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Lakewood by Megan Giddings

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Best Microfiction 2020

Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (reread)

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Educated by Tara Westover

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin

*The Magpie’s Return by Curtis Smith (*I forgot to record this one! in the midst of moving, in a pandemic summer, but it is written on my brain, and now here, fixed. Hurrah, hurray! – KN 2/6/21)

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump

What We Say and How We Say It Matter by Mike Anderson

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan

Rage by Bob Woodward

Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward

Hoax by Brian Stelter

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

Compromised by Peter Strzok

Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation by Andrew Weissmann

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

Out of the Spin Cycle by Jen Hatmaker

Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit

Here’s to more survival in the coming months.

“America, My Child”

I have new work featured alongside other writers and artists out of the United States today in Love in the Time of COVID: A Chronicle of a Pandemic. Witi Ihimaera and Michelle Elvy curate this international collection “to offer an unprecedented opportunity for voices all over the world to share, in quality fiction and non-fiction, poetry and dialogue, art and music and more, the collective experiences of the international community during COVID.” In a year when the world is so much, creativity continues everywhere.

Best of the Net 2020 Nomination

Happy to note here that “Carry Along” was nominated by The Ekphrastic Review for Best of the Net 2020. This is my first Best of the Net nomination, and this was a really short, beautiful, inspired piece that I sent in to guest editor Tina Barry and which was selected for publication last October. “Carry Along” is essentially a prose poem written to an art piece by Barbara Danin; I wrote more about it in this post.

I’d like to thank guest editor Tina Barry and artist Barbara Danin, as well as The Ekphrastic Review‘s editor and founder, Lorette C. Luzajic, and the prize nomination committee.

Here is the link to the announcement:


Congrats to everyone nominated.

2020, are you looking up?


Apparel for Authors

I had so much fun talking to Marcelle Heath for her Apparel for Authors series. I really admire how creatively Marcelle uses the Instagram platform to merge lit and books and story with elements of personal style and presentation. Please give her some love by checking out our interview!

View this post on Instagram

✨Kari Nguyen✨ As an adult, I’ve embraced a side of myself I suppressed as a child. Growing up, I viewed dresses, skirts, and jewelry as torture items and avoided them as much as possible. Even as a senior contemplating prom, I borrowed a second-hand dress that I don’t think I tried on until the day of the dance; it was fairly sheer, it was lavender, but it was free and I didn’t have to shop for it! And I put on a full face of makeup that day, by myself, for the first time in my life, with a page of written instructions my younger sister left for me, as she was too busy with her own life to apply the makeup for me, as I was secretly hoping. (It turned out okay and I had a wonderful time. My date even proposed marriage, eventually! And we are married still.) Fast forward many years and I’ve learned that dresses and skirts don’t bite and that accessories can be really interesting and enjoyable and all of these things put together can tell a little bit of a story about someone’s day or life or moment or mood, and that is something I can really get behind. Kari Nguyen lives in New England with her husband, daughter, and twin sons. Her writing appears in seven anthologies, including Best Microfiction 2020, America’s Emerging Literary Fiction Writers: Northeast Region, and Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology. She is the former nonfiction editor for Stymie: A Journal of Sport and Literature. She can be found at karinguyen.wordpress.com and @knguyenwrites. Photo Credits: 1: Lacey Liebert

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Best Microfiction 2020 Selection and a Nomination for Best Small Fictions 2020, too.

Honored to share that “Bloom” was chosen for the Best Microfiction 2020 book. Thank you, judge Michael Martone and series editors Meg Pokrass and Gary Fincke! The book is available for pre-order now from Pelekinesis Press and will be publishing mid-April. Click here for more information: http://www.pelekinesis.com/catalog/best_microfiction-2020.html

Thank you, especially, to Michelle Elvy and editors at Flash Frontier for the story’s initial publication and subsequent nominations. I’ve learned that they have also nominated “Bloom” for Best Small Fictions 2020, in addition to the earlier nominations for Best Microfiction and the Pushcart Prize. Thank you to them for their continued support. Flash Frontier placed three stories in Best Microfiction 2020 which is really wonderful. Congrats to everyone. I look forward to reading it!

If anyone is interested in reviewing the book, advance copies will be available in March. Feel free to email me if interested!


The Lit Scene: Year in Review: 2019

I read 44 books in 2019, which is a lot for me. Not included are the dozens (hundreds?) of children’s books I read with my kiddos. Now that I’m thinking about it, that would be an awesome list to keep!

So here’s my chronological list from the year, with photos (if I have them) and notes. Some of these books were gifted to me (THANK YOU to my friends and family); some of these books I have since loaned out, which is my favorite thing to do after I read them. Many others were library books!

Drum roll…

Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister


Highly recommend! Please read this one before you do any more voting.

Becoming by Michelle Obama


This one exceeds the hype. Seriously. Some of my happiest days this year were spent within these pages, pretending we were back before you-know-who was ever you-know-what.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson


One of the most important books I’ve ever read. If you don’t have issues with the way the criminal justice system in this country sees race, you aren’t trying to understand. Bryan Stevenson blows me away.

The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein


Rothstein does the necessary, excellent, and depressing work of laying out how the government and the courts have systemically punished black Americans through housing and other financial and legal methods. Until a majority of Americans understand this baseline history, in addition to slavery and Jim Crow laws, we can’t make our racial woes right. And these fights are ongoing.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan


Better than the movie! And the movie was super fun.

Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza


A treasured gift from my husband (gifted alongside Becoming last Christmastime) containing standout photographs and descriptions from Obama’s White House photographer. Hefty and amazeballs.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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An engrossing fiction about love, power, and the criminal justice system. I very much admire Tayari Jones.

Imperfect Courage by Jessica Honegger


If you haven’t heard of Noonday Collection, remedy that situation and check out this memoir/motivational/humane business book written by the witty, worldly Jessica Honegger.

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

Was this my favorite book of the trilogy? I think it was.


Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

Third book in the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy. I loved all three and would like more, please.

Away by Amy Bloom


I picked up a used copy of this book and am glad I did. As a writer, this one gave me a lot to think about, and for that I’m very grateful.

The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan


I also picked up this book as a used copy (that sounds so weird, like you could possibly ever “use up” a book)… anyhow this memoir is freaking excellent and now I don’t think I can read anything else by Amy Tan, not even The Joy Luck Club for which she’s best known, because her real life and her telling of it sets the bar way too high. I don’t know how you can top it. I treasure this one very much and am not going to pass it off permanently, no never. (But I’ll let you borrow it.)

The Best American Short Stories 2014 edited by Jennifer Egan


I love short stories and love reading them as collections like these. The best! The best is subjective, obviously, so it’s always fun to see what editors choose, and why. Often they’ll explain their reasoning to you in the foreword or prologue or whatever. Writers often dream of “best” so it’s good to know the competition, if you see what I’m saying. 😉

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan


I was interested to read a book by the author who edited the story collection—the best! of 2014!—that I had just finished reading, since I’ve known of her but not read her work, at least not one of her novels. Well done.

Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer


Ha, such fun, and pretty smart. Biden and Obama are lovable here, and it puts off reality for a short time.

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan


One of my sisters lent this book to me, and I love her for it.

Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins


This story collection is right up there with Salinger’s Nine Stories, which is to say it is one of the best story collections to exist in this world, and I have on my TBR (to be read) list everything under the sun that Claire Vaye Watkins has penned. Show me the way.

Hope from Daffodils by Karen Coulters

Ebenezer Mudgett and the Pine Tree Riot by Connie Evans

For more on both of these books above, see this earlier post. Hurrah!

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck


I thought I’d read this long ago, and I remember my mother telling me to read it when I was a kid, but when I read it this spring I believe I was reading it for the first time, and it is absolutely one of the best novels I’ve ever read, and I’m so glad I was old enough to appreciate what it was like to read it for the first time.

The Best American Traveling Writing 2000 edited by Bill Bryson


Enjoyed this immensely. Some of the entries are quite riveting, and all are transporting, eye opening. I kept thinking while reading that these essays were all, every one of them, written and published shortly before 9/11/01 in the US—and how everything, even travel writing, has changed since.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak


I hadn’t read it before this summer, but I know a lot of people treasure it and so it felt like a good time to give it a go, especially as I found it secondhand while browsing the library book sale. At my daughter’s first ballet class, one of the women waiting outside the studio was holding a copy of this book, at the same time I was reading it at home. I almost mentioned this to her, but I didn’t, and I never saw her again at the studio for the rest of the summer.

America’s Emerging Literary Fiction Writers: Northeast Region edited by Z Publishing House


I’m in this one. 🙂

Here: Poems for the Planet edited by Elizabeth J. Coleman


Save the planet, read a poem: the very, very least we can do.

Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James


A journey you won’t be able to shake.

What Drives Men by Susan Tepper


This is one of many Tepper books on my shelf and I treasure them all.

the everrumble by Michelle Elvy


I’ve long awaited this from Michelle Elvy. Exceedingly gorgeous. Like a prayer and a dream for connection to our collective home and all its life.

What Do We Need Men For? by E. Jean Carroll


Trump raped her. We owe it to her and to the rest of ourselves to read this memoir and travelogue, in which piece-of-shit POTUS figures only minimally.

Tar Baby by Toni Morrison


I got to see Toni Morrison and listen to her while she lived and for that I’m extremely thankful. I went back to the first book of hers I remember reading, in high school, a summer reading choice I’ve never regretted, and which I appreciated all the more this time around. Writers never really die, though. That’s what’s appealing to me. Their words are passed on and on, if they’re wise enough, which means Toni Morrison’s books will outlive us all.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker


This book appeared on a list that caught my eye, and my brother happened to order a signed first edition (!) which he lent me. A reimagining of the story of Achilles and the Trojan War period, as told by Briseis, a queen-turned-prisoner, who details the life of women as slaves and concubines.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen


I appreciate and treasure art and literature that helps me better understand the Vietnam War, a war that took place before my time but which has impacted my life so forcefully. (I’m at the beginning of this journey, tbh.)

This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class by Elizabeth Warren


Elizabeth Warren makes an excellent, undeniable case for the Democrats and democracy—and for her own values and vision— in this book published post-election, in 2017. Please, please check this one out. Warren 2020.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

I sent my kids back to school and allowed myself a “vacation read,” in which I learned that Emma Straub is as talented a writer as Anne Tyler, which is deceptively difficult to be. Going to read more Straub. She’s wonderful. (I regret to say that I was feeling “on vacation” while reading, and didn’t take a photo! Alas!)

The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov edited by his son


Russian literature > Russian interference. Prepare for a lot of blue within these 600 plus pages.

Dancing in Santa Fe and other poems by Beate Sigriddaughter

I love Beate’s spirit and soul: they inform every word of her poems and are urgently needed right now. See this earlier post for so much more.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante


Finally made it to the buzz…

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins


It’s hard to top Battleborn, but Claire Vaye Watkins = solid and exciting as ever.

Seeds of Hope by Jane Goodall


The world would be a better place if every human read this book. We throw “required reading” around a lot, but this is nothing less. Please.

Insurrecto by Gina Apostol


Apostol is brilliant. If you can, read her essay “How Do We Know the Things That Make Us?” along with this book.

The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung


I loved the math, the beautiful writing, the way culture and history play here.

Wild Life: Collected Works by Kathy Fish


A gift, simply put. Many of these pieces shattered me, both in my remembrances of earlier readings of them and again here in this book.

Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth by Rachel Maddow


If you want the full picture, the biggest of big picture, this is a must. Rachel Maddow is as good a storyteller as they come, and this book is like all of her work: insightful, important, often hilarious, and depressingly on the nose. “Climate disaster has put a spotlight on the need for human society to evolve beyond dependence on petroleum, but our very capacity to decide on that­­­–or anything–remains at risk as long as the industry is still ranging like a ravenous predator on the field of democracy.” Ties Trump to Russia in, dare I say, bedrock ways. And provides the forward thinking we urgently, desperately need in 2019.

Birthright: Poems by Erika Dreifus


This was an instant favorite for me.

Boombox Serenade by Joey Nicoletti


A special collection of poems that will linger with me long into the new year.

What will we all read in 2020?

Can’t wait to see.

Wishing everyone peace and light and good stories to share.