I came late to ballet, as I have to many things. I don’t have heart-warming stories of my mother taking me to the Nutcracker every year, or anything more than the fuzziest of memories of my few lessons as a five-year-old. In the spring of 2014, though, I picked up Maggie Shipstead’s Astonish Me at a book signing. I hadn’t read her first novel, Seating Arrangements, but I’d heard great things about it, and I was thirsty to learn as much as I could from good writers, especially women. (That summer, for precisely this purpose, I practically lived at Politics and Prose, my fabulous local independent bookstore.) Astonish Me turned out to be my favourite read of the year. The writing is lovely and the structure is rich and complex in a way that adds to the book and that I hope to learn from as I rework a previous novel of my own. It is packed with things I like in books: doomed love, the Cold War, characters who are exactly my age. It won me over.