Jason Gurley

By day, I'm a user experience designer; by evenings/weekends, I write novels from my home in Scappoose, Ore. My newest is Awake in the World, published February 2019 by Roaring Brook Press; my previous novel, Eleanor, was published by Crown in 2016 and has since been translated into German, Portuguese, and Turkish. I’m currently working on a new project.

Reading lists and themes

For the past few years I've been sharing my reading habits on this site. Last year, I intended to read a bit more diversely—but I failed. When I'm hip-deep in my own writing projects, I read things that are familiar and don't demand much of me, and I was deep in projects for the entire year. As a result, in 2017 I read a lot of thrillers and such, and that diluted my efforts to read more diversely. 

So this year, I've got two reading themes. It's mid-July, and I've read just under fifty things—novels, story collections, essay collections, kids books, graphic novels—and I thought it might be nice to look at how I'm reading so far this year. A bit of a check-in with myself.

Theme #1: Fewer straight white male authors

To sharpen that theme a bit, for most of the year, I haven't even allowed myself to pick up a book if it wasn't written by a woman, an author of color, or genderqueer/non-binary authors. Of the 48 titles on my reading list so far, 10 were written by non-POC male authors. Of the remaining thirty-eight, however, I've noticed that a trend of white female authors has developed; for example, I've read several books by Laura Lippman and Hannah Pittard, two writers I discovered this year. I'm not doing a good enough job at reading broadly here. 

Theme #2: Epistolary and/or workplace books

This theme is one I added midway through the year, as I began thinking about a project I hope to begin later in 2018. I've been reading books that revolve around the workplace as a major setting, as well as anything that might qualify as epistolary (e.g. a book written as a series of letters, journal entries, articles, blogs, tweets, etc.). I'm lumping journals into that pile, such as David Sedaris's Theft by Finding or Virginia Woolf's A Writer's Diary

I quickly noticed that the second theme conflicted with the first theme. Epistolary and/or workplace books aren't a broad niche to begin with, and there are a vast number of books in that space written by white men. Douglas Coupland's Microserfs or Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit are fairly well-known titles that fit this space. So I've tried to layer my first theme onto the second, which has led me to epistolary novels like Alice Walker's The Color Purple or Rachel Khong's recent Goodbye, Vitamin, or classic mid-century workplace novels like The Group by Mary McCarthy. Right now I'm reading Rebecca Harrington's Sociable, which drops into both themes.

Favorites so far

I usually look back on the year's reading in December, but there have been so many great reads this year that I had to share some of them here. Generally, when I'm finished with a book, I like to donate it to a library, or swap it at Powell's for something new. But when I really love a book, it remains with me, on my shelves at home, where I'll read it again and again. Here are a few of this year's new additions to my home library:


Americanah  //  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I missed Adichie's novel when it was originally published in 2013, but I wish now that I hadn't. I might have been able to read it twice more since then. This has become one of my favorite reads of the last decade, telling a wonderful, complicated story about Ifemelu and Obinze, their lives beyond their homeland of Nigeria, and what it means to find a place for oneself in a new place. 


Goodbye, Vitamin  //  Rachel Khong

This novel scratched all the right itches for me: It's written in diary format, for one, and for another, though it deals with a difficult topic—the decline of a parent—it does so with grace and humor. I laughed out loud at loud more times than I expected. The book's only flaw: I'd have read two or three hundred more pages of this story. It was wonderful.


Good Morning, Midnight  //  Lily Brooks-Dalton

My wife spotted this book in Powell's one evening as we browsed, and pointed it out to me. "This looks like exactly your kind of book," she said, and a year later, when I finally worked my way down my reading list to it, I realized how right she was. Like Station Eleven, this novel confronts the uncertain future of our humanity through the lens of an old, isolated astronomer and an astronaut trying to get back home. Just a beautiful story.


What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky  //  Lesley Nneka Arimah

Short story collections are usually hit-or-miss for me—I suppose that's probably true of anyone, but I often avoid them as a result—but Lesley Nneka Arimah's debut collection was a front-to-back marvel. My favorite among them is "War Stories," in which a young girl's schoolyard conflict is juxtaposed—intimately, over a game of chess—with her father's tales of being a young soldier. A nearly perfect book.


You & a Bike & a Road  //  Eleanor Davis

I stumbled across Eleanor Davis's work one day in a newsletter, I think, from Austin Kleon. The notion of a book-length comic—I suppose you can call it a comic, though it's almost a diary or sketchbook—about one woman's cross-country bicycle trip intrigued me. The book is a collection of small moments and observations along the way; it's ordinary and beautiful all at once. 

Of course, those aren't the only five memorable books I've read this year. Also being added to my I'm-keeping-this shelves are Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing; Ta-nehisi Coates's We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy; Vera Brosgol's Be Prepared; Hannah Pittard's Listen to Me and Reunion; Michael Chabon's Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces; Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Refugees

There are simply too many terrific books in the world. If I read a hundred this year, I'd still never catch up to all the things I wish to read—and next year more books will add themselves to that pile. 

Squishin' around

Letters From Hill House