Lisa’s Hot Summer Literary Reads for page immersion, not page turning

As an avid literary fiction reader, I am so thrilled with my options available already in 2015, and very excited about a future publication by one of my favorite authors. I warn you, my taste isn’t for everyone. I love deeply philosophical, often experimental, literary writing. These aren’t books one can read in a weekend. They are meant to be savored. They may make an appearance on the NYT Best Seller list, but don’t stay on long. This isn’t all I read.

I love short stories and a good old fashioned character driven novel.

I am also a fan of graphic novels for adults (and some YA), especially graphic adaptations of very dense nonfiction topics such as History or Biography.

 

I also love Irish fiction (Ireland has a rich modern literary scene that rarely makes it over to the US, aside from the classics.

 

 

 

and literary nonfiction and biography (and nonfiction in general)

I am most passionate about philosophical and experimental literary fiction and 2015 has some wonderful offerings. I thought I’d share a few selections from my “Books I Want To Read” list as well as a link to my Pinterest board of the same name.

 

“The Familiar, One Rainy Day in May” by Mark Z. Danielewski

I can’t seem to read a magazine or paper or turn on the radio without hearing something about Mark Danielewski or “The Familiar.” Fans of his “House of Leaves” and “Only Revolutions” understand what they will be getting into with this 880 page, first volume in an anticipated 27-book series.

From Kirkus Reviews:

“Fabulist and avant-gardist Danielewski (House of Leaves, 2000, etc.) embarks upon a long-promised 27-volume fantasia with this sprawling, continent-hopping potpourri.

On its face, this first installment is the story of a girl. And rain. And a “ridiculous dog bed.” And a cat. And then the whole of human civilization and of the human propensity to do wrong while struggling to do right. The storyline is scarcely describable. Think of it this way: what if a prepubescent Leopold Bloom had fallen down a rabbit hole and wound up in Southeast Asia with a Pomona street gang in tow? Young Xanther, bespectacled, mouth full of metal braces, acne-spattered and left-handed, epileptic, self-doubting and sometimes self-hating, is a mess, just as every 12-year-old is a mess. She is also, her doctor assures her, something more: “If I could grant you one certainty, Xanther, one which you could hold on to without dissolving under all your scrutiny, let it just be how remarkable a young girl you are.” So she is: there’s scarcely a thing in this world she’s not interested in and has theories about, spurred on by a brilliantly eccentric dad who’s always talking about engines and the thought of Hermagoras of Temnos, “whoever he was, a rhetor, whatever a rhetor is.” So what does she have to do with an Armenian cabbie, a pidgin-speaking Singaporean, and a Chicano street gang? Ah, that’s the question, one that the reader will be asking hundreds of pages on, tantalized by the glimmerings of answers that peek through rainy calligrams and sentences endlessly nested like so much computer code. Danielewski’s efforts at street-tough dialect verge into parody (“Like this be plastic shit. All scratched up and chipped”), but most everything about this vast, elusive, sometimes even illusory narrative shouts tour de force. Strangely, it works, though not without studied effort on the reader’s part.

And as for all the loose ends? No worries—there are 26 volumes to come in which to tie them up.”

 

Milan Kundera’s “Festival of Insignificance”

His first novel published in English in 13 years, Kundera infuses his latest novel with  the absurd. Some have called this book the culmination of his life’s work, but its strangeness and unseriousness seem to comment on the lack of humor and joy in our modern times. Lovers of “The Joke” will recognize this twist and irony in this tremendous author’s latest work.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

“After over a decade away from writing novels, Kundera (Ignorance) returns with this slight lark about four laissez-faire Parisians. In the tradition of existential comedies, the drama is in the dialogue. The four characters—Alain, Ramon, Charles, and Caliban—spend their days in Paris’s gardens, museums, and cafes, chatting and philosophizing. During a daytime stroll in Luxembourg Garden, Ramon bumps into a former colleague who, lying about having cancer, asks for Ramon’s help planning his birthday/death party. Similar to Kundera’s previous novels, the book uses levity and humor to comprehend the lasting effects of horrors perpetrated during World War II, though it’s set in the present. Much time is spent debating disparate, seemingly random issues: Stalin’s decision to rename a German town Kaliningrad, a marionette play that Charles imagines, a fake language Caliban invents for dinner parties. Although events converge at the party, nothing much actually happens. The four friends’ conversations are frivolous yet weighty, leaping from idle musings to grandiose declarations—from the sexual worth of a woman’s navel to the nature of motherhood, from Schopenhauer’s relationship to Kant to Stalin’s conquest of Eastern Europe. This novel is a fitting bookend to Kundera’s long career intersecting the absurd and the moral. It is also an argument for more books like it: “We’ve known for a long time that it was no longer possible to overturn this world, nor reshape it, nor head off its dangerous headlong rush. There’s been only one possible resistance: to not take it seriously.”

 

“Landmarks” by Robert Macfarlane

 From The Irish Times

“In his 1883 study Nature Near London Richard Jefferies has a vibrant passage enumerating all the wild flowers he encounters on a single roadside verge. Conspicuous among them are buttercups, cowslips and dandelions. The Jefferies passage is quoted late on by Robert Macfarlane in this compelling new study, Landmarks, and it ties in poignantly with a turn of events he has cited earlier.

These words, he tells us, along with others, such as ash, acorn, bluebell, otter, kingfisher and heron, were deliberately excised from the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary as being no longer relevant to children’s experience. It’s out with willow and heather and in with blog, broadband and chatroom. It isn’t, Macfarlane says, a case of either/or: both sets of nouns and what they signify have a place in the world of today. But life is unquestionably impoverished if you do away with bluebells, conkers, larks and other common words denoting nature and natural forces.

Landmarks is a book about words, among other things, words for features of the landscape, for ice and snow, for dusk, dawn, night and light. Each of its 11 chapters, with one exception, comes with a glossary containing words peculiar to regions of these islands, from Connemara to Carloway, on the Isle of Lewis: intriguing, expressive and eccentric words. (The exception is the final chapter, whose glossary is left blank to accommodate future coinages.)”

 

Thomas Pierce’s Hall of Small Mammals

I don’t know much about this author but his blend of the absurd and the absurdly mundane sounds just up by alley!

From Publisher’s Weekly:

“Pierce’s first short story collection is full of compulsively addictive and delightfully strange fare. Some of the 12 offerings are new, others are culled from the New Yorker, the Oxford American, and elsewhere; each takes a mundane experience and adds an element of the extra weird. In “Shirley Temple Three,” the opening, a mother begrudgingly agrees to hide a cloned prehistoric miniature woolly mammoth in her laundry room as a favor to her son, who is a reality show host. The protagonist of “The Real Alan Gass” becomes jealous when his girlfriend reveals that she’s happily married to another man in her dreams. “Videos of People Falling Down,” which is about just that, is a funny, yet quietly poignant interconnected series of vignettes that showcase characters at their most vulnerable. Echoing an old ghost story, the wicked “Saint Possy” shuttles a couple to their wits end as the skull of a dead possum (maybe) simultaneously haunts and taunts them. In “More Soon,” a dead man, quarantined and shipped around the world on a barge following a highly contagious infection, prompts his brother to contemplate where the soul resides. Pierce’s menagerie of colorful characters equally inspires and amuses. The book is expertly paced (there isn’t a dud in this eclectic bunch) and many of the stories’ endings—some sinister, some melancholic, others heartfelt—prompt momentary reflection, though thankfully not always in ways that are expected.”

 

“Get in Trouble” by Kelly Link

From Publisher’s Weekly

“These nine stories may begin in familiar territory—a birthday party, a theme park, a bar, a spaceship—but they quickly draw readers into an imaginative, disturbingly ominous world of realistic fantasy and unreal reality. Like Kafka hosting Saturday Night Live, Link mixes humor with existential dread. The first story, entitled “The Summer People,” in homage to Shirley Jackson, follows an Appalachian schoolgirl, abandoned by her moonshiner father, as she looks after a summer house occupied by mysterious beings. “I Can See Right Through You” features friends who, in their youth, were movie stars; now in middle age, she is the hostess and he is the guest star of a television show about hunting ghosts at a Florida nudist colony. “Origin Story” takes place in a deserted Land of Oz theme park; “Secret Identity” is set at a hotel where dentists and superheroes attend simultaneous conferences. Only in a Link story would you encounter Mann Man, a superhero with the powers of Thomas Mann, or visit a world with pools overrun by Disney mermaids. Details—a bruise-green sky, a Beretta dotted with Hello Kitty stickers—bring the unimaginable to unnerving life. Each carefully crafted tale forms its own pocket universe, at once ordinary (a teenage girl adores and resents her BFF) and bizarre (…therefore she tries to steal the BFF’s robot vampire boyfriend doll). Link’s characters, driven by yearning and obsession, not only get in trouble but seek trouble out—to spectacular effect.”