Better Than Running at Night by Hilary Frank

Better Than Running at NightEllie is a savvy, street-smart native New Yorker, and as she starts her freshman year at a art college in New England, she’s pretty sure she will find herself at the top of her painting class. After all, she’s been creating dark, brooding canvases for years, full of blood, gore and despair. Her stuff is deep, man. Which is why it comes as a surprise to discover that just because she CAN paint doesn’t mean she does it WELL. Ellie learns some tough life lessons as she navigates her way through her first year, and not only those that come by way of brush and canvas. She finds out a serious secret about her parents, discovers that her hip, hot artist b-friend is actually a cheating asshole, and hardest of all, that painting is about craft and creating, not just emoting. NPR writer, now novelist Frank has written a brilliant send-up of the art school world with a very real, very sincere heroine at its center. IMHO, the best debut novel of 2002.

Shopgirl by Steve Martin

ShopgirlMirabella is just standing around at the fine glove counter at Neiman’s waiting for her life to begin. Ray Porter is a wealthy, world-weary businessman who is clueless about women. How these two meet and navigate their somewhat odd relationship is the basis for funnyman Steve Martin’s first stab at fiction. Full of wicked truth about male/female relationships, Shopgirl is short enough to finish over a latte at Starbucks while you’re waiting for your blind date to show up.

Myrtle of Willendorf by Rebecca O’Connell

Myrtle of WillendorfI haven’t read such a GOOD first book in a long time. A short novel, every word is precisely right and ideally placed–a small, perfect gem. Myrtle is a college sophomore who adores art and junk food in equal measure. Left to her own devices, she’d probably be okay with her bigger than average body image, if it wasn’t for her Calista Flockhart-skinny roommate Jada, who reminds her of her extra poundage on a daily basis. Jada’s constant offers to give her a make-over just make Myrtle feel worse, so she keeps feeding her face with lovely smooth whole milk and muffins dripping with real butter and strawberry jam.(By the way, the food descriptions in this book are absolutely mouth-watering!) Anyhoo, after a fairly humiliating experience where Jada and her boyfriend make Myrtle the butt of a very not-funny joke, Myrt takes back the power by using her big bod to inspire her artistically, and fully embraces her chubbiness. What a pleasure to read a book about weight that doesn’t end in a diet or anorexia. Myrtle just becomes happy with who she is and how she looks, and I say two thumbs up to that!!

Are You Experienced? by William Sutcliffe

Are You Experienced?At nineteen, David has decided he needs to have a big, life-altering experience that will change him forever. So, after very little research, he hooks up with Liz, a hottie he hopes to have a carnal knowledge of, and takes off for a three month backpacking trip across India. There, he discovers that India is extremely hot, crowded, and smelly, not the cool green paradise he imagined. He gets sick from the food, fights constantly with Liz (did I mention that she also happens to be his best friend’s girlfriend?) and almost loses his mind on a thirteen hour bus trip. But the real test comes when Liz ditches Dave after falling for a tantric yoga teacher, and he has to make it across the sub-continent alone. Can Dave deal with the “real” India experience? This book was so funny and so dead-on right about the lofty, P.C. attitude that western culture holds toward third world countries that my stomach hurt from laughing so hard. Talk about the selfishness and pretension of the X, Y, or whatever generation–this book is SO it.

Slab Rat by Ted Heller

Zachary Post is a bit of an a–hole. He’s a middling, middle-twenties article author at a glossy new York magazine who’s very ambitious, but not very talented. He lives in terminal paranoia of (3) things: that his famously forged resume is going to be found out and he’ll be out on his ear, that his two office girlfriends will discover he’s dating both of them, and that the new guy, Mark Larkin, will become Zack’s boss even though he’s even faker and smarmier than Zack (if that’s possible). So, Zack decides to kill him. Just kidding!–at first. Suddenly, it becomes shockingly easy to imagine ways that Mark Larkin could make his final exit. Zack quickly discovers that it’s not hard to be motivated when you’re planning the perfect crime! Quirky and mean-spirited, Slab Rat is the perfect twenty-something-office-drone-slacker novel, kind of like a really nasty Dilbert comic. Great reading for those days when your first-job boss is on the rampage and the copy machine has broken down for the gazillionth time.

In The Drink by Kate Christensen

In The DrinkClaudia’s job sucks. Instead of being a cool, edgy, famous writer, she’s an assistant to an old, fussy, famous writer (think Danielle Steel at 105) who makes her dig through trash when she loses stuff. Claudia also tends to drink too much, think too much, and mis-manage her over-drawn bank account on a regular basis. Her only solace is hanging out with her best friend William, but even that is beginning to go sour since Claudia thinks she may be in love with him. How much longer will Claudia be able to put off her landlord, lie to her boss and hide her attraction to William? This late 20’s chick is full of slacker angst and that makes gooooood readin’.

Stripping and other stories by Pagan Kennedy

Stripping...This author was suggested to me by very cool Young Adult book editor Sharyn November and I’m oh-so-glad she did because Stripping is super slacker fiction. In these short, short stories, you’ll meet Spike, a punker princess who’s obsessed with seeing Elvis’s bathroom, and Helen, a college freshman who falls hard in her philosophy class for a guy named Nietzsche. Too bad he’s too dead to appreciate it…all in all, this is an eclectic collection of strange stories, each one more weird and wonderful than the last.

The Wishbones by Tom Perrotta

wishbonesDave is yet another thirty-something guy who’s not ready to turn in his badge of boyhood for the dreaded threads of adult-dom. He’s a member of the Wishbones, a wedding band that rocks the greater New Jersey area. But Dave can’t rock and roll all night anymore since his long-time girlfriend Julie starts making noises that sound suspiciously like wedding bells. Suddenly Dave’s either got to go with the music and follow his dream of being a REAL rock star or marry Julie–neither of which sounds too appealing. So, he puts off his decision by having a steamy affair with this hip NYC poet Gretchen. Heads are gonna roll and guitar strings and hearts are gonna break before the end of this modern slacker classic. Don’t miss a rock-n-roll minute of it! Also, please note Perrotta is the man behind the steamy movie and novel Little Children, and the book/movie combo Election starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon.

Exile by Blake Nelson

At 31, it’s time for Mark, a poet performance artist, to grow-up, but he’s kicking and screaming all the way to adulthood. There’s always someone bigger and better and Mark’s tired of trying to stay on the top of the heap. So he takes a teaching sabbatical to a quiet Oregon college, only to realize that he hasn’t left his bad habits behind, but that they have hopped on the plane and come with him. If you liked the Gen-X reads of Douglas Coupland, you’ll love Exile.

Bongwater by Michael Hornburg

David, Courtney, Jennifer and Mary all just want to get a life. But something always gets in the way, whether its a burned-out apartment or a car-trunk full of the best weed that can be grown north of Portland. Shuttling between Portland and New York, Bongwater examines the slacker lifestyle with a microscope and finds more than you’d expect.