3 Great Books by Brown Alumnae

Claire Handscombe

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If you’re heading to Brown this fall, you might want to get in the mood by reading some great books by alumni of the school. You probably already know about The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides, the opening section of which is set there, and other notable alumni like Nathanael West, Edwige Danicat, and Marilynne Robinson. But here are three more options.

Come to the Edge, by Christina Haag

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Christina Haag’s moving and beautiful memoir of love and loss, Come to the Edge, is one of my all-time favourites. In it, she tells the story of her friendship and subsequent love affair with John F Kennedy Jr, including the year they shared a house at Brown. Whether she’s writing about New York, Big Sur, or Brown, she’s skilled at vividly evoking a sense of place, and you’ll be able to travel with her to Brown as you read about her time on campus, the friendships she forms, the house she lived in with John Kennedy and Christiane Amanpour, and more.

Here’s what the Los Angeles Times says about the memoir: “[A] wistful story of love and ultimate loss . . . The life of a Kennedy is one of great privilege [and Christina] Haag’s memoir allows us intimate access. . . . She doesn’t bow to tabloid sensationalism; instead, she gently dusts off her tender, aching memories and bravely holds them to the light.”

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, by Adelle Waldman

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Like Christina Haag, Adelle Waldman is a graduated of Brown. In this novel about a privileged white aspiring writer (perhaps reminiscent of a certain kind of Brown student), it seems to me that she nailed the interiority of the commitment phobic young man, and I’ve yet to find a guy who has disagreed with me.

Here's what The Economist says about the novel: “Incisive and very funny...This is an impressive book, full of sharp and amusing observations about urban life, liberal pieties and modern dating....Though Nate has an archetypal quality...Ms. Waldman has skillfully rendered him both fascinating and sympathetic. He is a man of his age, though his strengths and weaknesses are timeless.”

Dear Mr You, by Mary-Louise Parker

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Okay, fine: Mary-Louise Parker is not a Brown grad, but she did play one on TV: West Wing fans will recognise her as Amy Gardner, the divisive character still being fought about in various fandom groups.

Dear Mr You is a gorgeous memoir written as a collection of letters to various men in her life, whether they've played a pivotal role in her life, like her father, or taught her something valuable about acting, like her Movement Teacher, or simply been there for her at an important moment, like the taxi driver who picked her up when she was heavily pregnant, alone, and at her wits' end. It's beautifully written, quirky, insightful, smart, and slightly trippy at times -- just as I imagine Mary-Louise Parker herself to be.

Colum McCann, himself a very accomplished and admired writer -- he's the author of Let the Great World Spin -- had this to say about it: "This book will shake your soul out. Funny, surprising, angry, intimate, political, saucy, profound, and very very tender indeed, this is a book that will pass from mother to daughter to father to son and back to mother again. A wonderful literary achievement." --

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

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