Susan Coll

There are the rich and there are the very rich, and while the very rich exhibit varied demographic characteristics, the family at the center of Jenny Jackson’s sparkling debut novel, “Pineapple Street,” is of a highly specific sort: the pedigreed, never-touch-the-trust-fund-principal, tennis-playing, old-money-Brooklyn WASP.
Book Review
The Washington Post
‘The Sweet Spot’ finds joy in the chaos.
The sweet spot in the title of Amy Poeppel’s fourth novel refers to a grungy Greenwich Village bar, a beloved neighborhood fixture with battered wood floors, rickety tables and a pungent smell of beer.
Last summer, my husband had gone hiking with our two dogs when one of them — a year-old rescue who weighs in at over 50 pounds, can scale steep inclines like a mountain goat and has the speed and grace of an Olympic athlete — suddenly collapsed.
I had always dreamed of a job that engaged in some aspect of the business of books. Although I was writing novels and taking on freelance work—for a time I became the queen of the 800-word feature story for a couple of international newspapers, accepting any assignment that came along, from writing about children’s birthday parties to the black market economy in India—I had not had a steady paycheck since my twenties.
In an oft-told story from Japanese folklore, an enchanted bird marries a man. There are many variations of the tale, but the one CJ Hauser relates in the title essay of her new collection, “The Crane Wife,” involves a creature who plucks her feathers out each night to preserve her marriage, to trick her husband into believing she is human.
“Let’s Not Do That Again” is a political comedy of manners that reads like the love child of Page Six and a long episode of “Veep.”
The opening scene is perfection. We meet the eponymous heroine of Diane Johnson’s latest novel, “Lorna Mott Comes Home,” as she rides in the back of a taxi, en route to the train station in Lyon.
“Tell me,” Kurt Vonnegut asks Jane Marie Cox, his future wife, “would you enjoy living with me, sleeping with me, leading a carnival life?”
Every movie I watch now is a movie about an entire cast of people who seem to not have cancer, or at least this is, to me, its plot,” Anne Boyer observes in The Undying, her recent Pulitzer Prize-winning inquiry into cancer.
Everything changes for 12-year-old Samantha McGinty in the summer of 1969. Her father, Brick, stops fussing over his Chevy each weekend, no longer spritzing the windows with water and vinegar and wiping them clean with old pages of the Erietown Times.
Washingtonian Magazine
Writing through the Pandemic
We asked Washington writers to share stories, essays, poems, drafts, musings, and other things they’ve been working on during quarantine. Today, a riff by Susan Coll, who is the author of five novels, most recently The Stager.
They sell frocks at F. G. Goode’s, these women in black, and when they arrive for work they don rayon crepe dresses that smell of frequent dry cleaning, cheap talcum powder and sweat.
Don’t think you can skip reading Personal History because you’ve seen the movie The Post or read All the President’s Men. Graham is perhaps best known for presiding over her newsroom during Watergate as well as her courageous decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, but the events that put her at the helm of the Washington Post are just as dramatic.
Language is failing Beryl Dusinbery. She is 99 years old and having trouble retrieving words. “One minute she has a word, then she hasn’t. Where does it go?” Conversely, Shimi Carmelli, 91, can’t forget.
Nina Stibbe’s “Reasons to Be Cheerful” is so dense with amusing detail that I thought about holding the book upside down to see if any extra funny bits might spill from the creases between the page.
Whether Orion ought to be feet- or head-up in the night sky depends on the hemisphere. When Stan, a 23-year-old student from South Australia, rides his bike through the Rocky Mountains, he marvels that the constellation is upside down.
One Shabbat, toward the end of the morning service, Tova Mirvis was stricken by a debilitating headache, in which “the pain concentrated along the line where my hat met my head.”
And then there is the appendix. You have turned the last page of Lucy Ives’s intricate, darkly funny debut, and a curious timeline appears. Have you missed a plot point or two or 10?
Virginia Grohl managed to raise the Foo Fighters founder and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl—a guy who also happens to be kind and stable and who doesn’t hate her. In a new book, she’s asking other music-industry moms how they did the same thing.
Book Review
The New York Times
‘Before the War’ by Fay Weldon
“It seemed to be one of life’s wonders,” observes Sherwyn Sexton, the not wholly unlikable cad at the center of Fay Weldon’s lively if sometimes frustrating new novel, “Before the War,” “that nothing happens and nothing happens and all of a sudden everything happens.”
A photograph on the pamphlet extolling the benefits of emigration features women in red swimsuits, skidding on water skis across Sydney Harbor — a jarring contrast to the bleak circumstances of a British couple named Charlotte and Henry in their mold-afflicted, too-small house in Cambridge.
Book Review
The Washington Post
‘The Unseen World’ by Liz Moore
As David Sibelius boils the lobsters for the annual dinner he hosts for his graduate students at the Boston Institute of Technology, his 12-year-old daughter, Ada, observes him with a sense of foreboding.
Art Inspires Fiction
Shortly after I turned in my new novel, The Stager, my editor sent me a startling black and white photograph of a woman in a chair. The woman is in a state of graceful repose, with long legs extending into strappy black shoes. She is sultry, sexy, and extremely unsettling. She appears to be beautiful even though you cannot see her face because she is wearing a mask. The art director was suggesting updating this image to use as the cover of the book.
The rules of shelving can seem arbitrary, even arcane, but the fundamentals are easy to learn: two hard covers, and no more than three paperbacks of the same title, on each shelf.  The exception is the face-out. If the jacket is displayed horizontally, behind it you can stack as many books as can fit.
Opinion Editorial
The Washington Post
The Last Bookstore
Susan Coll works at Politics & Prose Bookstore and would like to emphasize that this essay should be shelved under fiction. Her novel, "The Stager," will be published in July.
The assignment: Craft a novel from the literary equivalent of found objects. Consider the narrative possibilities contained not just in letters and e-mails, but in school report cards, emergency room bills and police reports filed by night managers at Westin Hotels.
It was nearly 20 years ago that I first read A Good Man in Africa. I lived in India at the time, and aspired to write sweeping literary fiction of the sort that featured memsahibs sipping sweet lime sodas against the backdrop of heat and dust.
Opinion Editorial
The Washington Post
Helicopter Parenting – Spiraling Out of Control
A recent e-mail from made my heart start racing. My order had been shipped, it said, and "Living Abroad in Costa Rica" would arrive any day.

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