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.”
“She is twenty, restless in New Delhi. Her mother has died; her father has left for Singapore. He is a few years older, just back to India from New York.
When they meet in a café one afternoon, she—lonely, hungry for experience, yearning to break free of tradition—casts aside her fears and throws herself headlong into a love affair, one that takes her where she has never been before.
Told in a voice at once gritty and lyrical, mournful and frank, A Bad Character marks the arrival of an astonishingly gifted new writer. It is an unforgettable hymn to a dangerous, exhilarating city, and a portrait of desire and its consequences as timeless as it is universal. ”
“Are you someone who has always been fascinated by the story of Shackleton and The Endurance, but felt that the ending was just too damn happy? If so, I highly recommend reading this book.”
“In the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the northern oceans, although theories abounded. The foremost cartographer in the world, a German named August Petermann, believed that warm currents sustained a verdant island at the top of the world. National glory would fall to whoever could plant his flag upon its shores.
James Gordon Bennett, the eccentric and stupendously wealthy owner of The New York Herald, had recently captured the world’s attention by dispatching Stanley to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone. Now he was keen to re-create that sensation on an even more epic scale. So he funded an official U.S. naval expedition to reach the Pole, choosing as its captain a young officer named George Washington De Long, who had gained fame for a rescue operation off the coast of Greenland. De Long led a team of 32 men deep into uncharted Arctic waters, carrying the aspirations of a young country burning to become a world power. On July 8, 1879, the USS Jeannette set sail from San Francisco to cheering crowds in the grip of “Arctic Fever.”
The ship sailed into uncharted seas, but soon was trapped in pack ice. Two years into the harrowing voyage, the hull was breached. Amid the rush of water and the shrieks of breaking wooden boards, the crew abandoned the ship. Less than an hour later, the Jeannette sank to the bottom,and the men found themselves marooned a thousand miles north of Siberia with only the barest supplies. Thus began their long march across the endless ice-a frozen hell in the most lonesome corner of the world. Facing everything from snow blindness and polar bears to ferocious storms and frosty labyrinths, the expedition battled madness and starvation as they desperately strove for survival.
With twists and turns worthy of a thriller, In The Kingdom of Ice is a spellbinding tale of heroism and determination in the most unforgiving territory on Earth.”
“Fascinating, what a gift she gave us with her writings!” From Goodreads
‘As someone who fell off a chair not long ago trying to hear they what they were saying at the next table in a restaurant, I suppose I am obsessively interested in what some might consider the trivia of other people’s lives’
Maeve Binchy is well-known for her bestselling novels, the most recent of which was A Week In Winter. But for many years Maeve was a journalist, writing for The Irish Times.
From ‘The Student Train’ to ‘Plane Bores’, ‘Bathroom Joggers’ to ‘When Beckett met Binchy’, these articles have all the warmth, wit and humanity of her fiction. Arranged in decades, from the 1960s to the 2000s, and including Maeve’s first and last ever piece of writing for The Irish Times, the columns also give a fascinating insight into the author herself.
With an introduction written by her husband, the writer Gordon Snell, this collection of timeless writing reminds us of why the leading Irish writer was so universally loved.
“A woman writer goes to Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Though her own circumstances remain indistinct, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives, as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives.
Beginning with the neighbouring passenger on the flight out and his tales of fast boats and failed marriages, the storytellers talk of their loves and ambitions and pains, their anxieties, their perceptions and daily lives. In the stifling heat and noise of the city the sequence of voice begins to weave a complex human tapestry. The more they talk the more elliptical their listener becomes, as she shapes and directs their accounts until certain themes begin to emerge: the experience of loss, the nature of family life, the difficulty of intimacy and the mystery of creativity itself.
Outline is a novel about writing and talking, about self-effacement and self-expression, about the desire to create and the human art of self-portraiture in which that desire finds its universal form.” From Goodreads
“From personal loss to phantom diseases, The Empathy Exams is a bold and brilliant collection; winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize.
Beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose, Leslie Jamison’s visceral and revealing essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others: How should we care about each other? How can we feel another’s pain, especially when pain can be assumed, distorted, or performed? Is empathy a tool by which to test or even grade each other? By confronting pain—real and imagined, her own and others’—Jamison uncovers a personal and cultural urgency to feel. She draws from her own experiences of illness and bodily injury to engage in an exploration that extends far beyond her life, spanning wide-ranging territory—from poverty tourism to phantom diseases, street violence to reality television, illness to incarceration—in its search for a kind of sight shaped by humility and grace.” From Goodreads
“A gorgeously unique, fully illustrated exploration into the phenomenology of reading-how we visualize images from reading works of literature, from one of our very best book jacket designers, himself a passionate reader.
What do we see when we read? Did Tolstoy really describe Anna Karenina? Did Melville ever really tell us what, exactly, Ishmael looked like?
The collection of fragmented images on a page – a graceful ear there, a stray curl, a hat positioned just so – and other clues and signifiers helps us to create an image of a character. But in fact our sense that we know a character intimately has little to do with our ability to concretely picture our beloved – or reviled – literary figures.
In this remarkable work of nonfiction, Knopf’s Associate Art Director Peter Mendelsund combines his profession, as an award-winning designer; his first career, as a classically trained pianist; and his first love, literature – he thinks of himself first, and foremost, as a reader – into what is sure to be one of the most provocative and unusual investigations into how we understand the act of reading.” From Goodreads
“This title is on the shortlist for the Maine Readers Choice Award and he’s coming to the Library on July 8th to do a book talk. Liking it a lot!”
“They’re calling it the “Storm of the Century,” so Eric stops at the market for provisions on his way home from work. But when the unkempt and seemingly unstable young woman in front of him in line comes up short on cash, a kind of old-school charity takes hold of his heart—twenty bucks and a ride home is the least he can do, right? Trouble is, Danielle doesn’t really have a home. She’s squatting in a cabin deep in the woods, no electricity, no heat, nothing but the nearby river to sustain her. She’ll need food, water, firewood, and that’s just to get her through the storm: there’s a whole Maine winter ahead.
So he gets her set up, departs with relief, climbs to the road, but his car has been towed with his phone inside, and the snow is coming down with historic speed and violence. There’s no choice but to return to the cabin. Danielle is terrified, then merely hostile—who is this guy with his big idea that it’s she who needs rescuing? As the snow keeps mounting, they’re forced to ride out the storm together. For better and for worse.
The Remedy for Love is a harrowing story about the truths we reveal when there is no time or space for artifice.
“The Remedy for Love is not the remedy for sleep deprivation. You’ll stay up all night . . . It is relentless and brilliant. Leave it to Roorbach to tease out the subtlest nuances in the progress of love while stoking a tale that is as gripping as any Everest expedition—and that is also tender and terrifying and funny and, in the end, so true it seems inevitable. I’m not sure there’s another American writing today who can lay down a love story, or any story, with the depth and appeal and freshness of Bill Roorbach.” -Peter Heller, author of The Dog Stars
“Fantastic – every chapter like a poem – beautifully written.”
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When Marie-Laure is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
“The title says it all. It was a fun read – entertaining.”
Charlie Lovett first delighted readers with his New York Times bestselling debut, The Bookman’s Tale. Now, Lovett weaves another brilliantly imagined mystery featuring one of English literature’s most popular and beloved authors: Jane Austen.
Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.
In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.
“In honor of the Muslim Journeys program I was reading In the Country of Men.The writing is beautiful, very lyrical.”
“Libya, 1979. Nine-year-old Suleiman’s days are circumscribed by the narrow rituals of childhood: outings to the ruins surrounding Tripoli, games with friends played under the burning sun, exotic gifts from his father’s constant business trips abroad. But his nights have come to revolve around his mother’s increasingly disturbing bedside stories full of old family bitterness. And then one day Suleiman sees his father across the square of a busy marketplace, his face wrapped in a pair of dark sunglasses. Wasn’t he supposed to be away on business yet again? Why is he going into that strange building with the green shutters? Why did he lie? Suleiman is soon caught up in a world he cannot hope to understand-where the sound of the telephone ringing becomes a portent of grave danger; where his mother frantically burns his father’s cherished books; where a stranger full of sinister questions sits outside in a parked car all day; where his best friend’s father can disappear overnight, next to be seen publicly interrogated on state television.”
“Hooked on the Vorkosigan Series by Lois Bujold McMaster. Classic space science fiction with intelligent dialogue and intriguingly unpredictable protagonists. Trying to limit myself so I don’t wiz through them and miss out on interacting with family and friends as happens when I get hooked. In attempting to slow myself down on the series, I read 2 of the Curse of Chalion series also by Bujold. Medieval fantasy.”
“In her first trial by fire, Cordelia Naismith captained a throwaway ship of the Betan Expeditionary Force on a mission to destroy an enemy armada. Discovering deception within deception, treachery within treachery, she was forced into a separate peace with her chief opponent, Lord Aral Vorkosigan – he who was called “The Butcher of Komarr” – and would consequently become an outcast on her own planet and the Lady Vorkosigan on his.
Sick of combat and betrayal, she was ready to settle down to a quiet life, interrupted only by the occasional ceremonial appearances required of the Lady Vorkosigan. But when the Emperor died, Aral became guardian of the infant heir to the imperial throne of Barrayar – and the target of high-tech assassins in a dynastic civil war that was reminscent of Earth’s Middle Ages, but fought with up-to-the-minute biowar technology. Neither Aral nor Cordelia guessed the part that their cell-damaged unborn would play in Barrayari’s bloody legacy.”
“A book that should be on the high school reading list. This is about her girlhood in a harem in Morocco in the 40s. Wow. No matter your thoughts on Islam, this is an amazing read for the context of female-female power struggle and political history of French and Spanish tug-of-war over Morocco.”
”I was born in a harem in 1940 in Fez, Morocco…” So begins Fatima Mernissi in this exotic and rich narrative of a childhood behind the iron gates of a domestic harem. In Dreams of Trespass, Mernissi weaves her own memories with the dreams and memories of the women who surrounded her in the courtyard of her youth—women who, deprived of access to the world outside, recreated it from sheer imagination. Dreams of Trespass is the provocative story of a girl confronting the mysteries of time and place, gender and sex in the recent Muslim world.”
I have been involved with a fabulous book group for the past 3 years or so. Our numbers wax and wane but at our recent meeting we had over a dozen members show up. Our theme was “What I Read Over the Summer” where we shared our reading lists, good, bad and ugly! While we weren’t wild about every single book we read, we did compile a great list that I thought I would share with our patrons.
This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It by David Wong
Well, I didn’t quite get to all the books I said I would this summer. I have a tough time focusing on much more than swimming and boating when the weather is nice in Maine, but I did manage to finish a few titles. I asked the Library staff to send me their summer highlights as well.
“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman is one of my favorite authors and I was very excited to see he had published a new adult novella. I enjoyed it but felt like it didn’t quite measure up to my favorites like “American Gods” and “Neverwhere.” Nonetheless I enjoyed immersing myself once again in Gaiman’s mix of reality and mythology. There really is not any author like him writing today!
Candy Emlen & Mary Ann Mead
A Land More Kind Than Home by Wily Cash
“Our Library has supported and promoted the Maine Choice Awards. I have read almost all of them and have loved everyone – for very different reasons. The book I read most recently over the summer was A Land More Kind Than Home by Wily Cash. It is his first novel, which is astonishing. It is beautifully written and the story unfolds at a delightful pace. You can feel the tension bubbling underneath and you hold your breath knowing it is about to burst. It isn’t a thriller in the traditional sense but it was a thrill to read. I was sorry when it was over; I hated to say good bye to the characters.” ~Candy
“My favorite book of the summer was A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash. An
amazing book – and his first. It’s gripping and touching and scary, all at the same
time. The title is kind of misleading as most of the story is not kind at all, but it
works wonderfully and the author does a great job of finishing the book well – something
that doesn’t always happen. I’m looking forward to his next book, This Dark Road to Mercy. ~Mary Anne
Fangirlby Rainbow Rowell
“Just love the sort of book that makes you want to read it in the bath tub, but you love it so much you worry about ruining it. The sort of book that when you accidentally leave it behind during your daughter’s hair appointment, you drive after dark to retrieve it rather than spend the night bereft without it. The sort of book where you forget to eat dinner & your husband rescues you with a grilled cheese sandwich at 10:30 at night so you can keep reading. The sort of book that in the morning on a work day keeps you in your pajamas on the couch forgetting to drink your coffee. A book that gets bonus points for using reading aloud as effective courtship technique. I think I’ll just be late to school today…Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Didn’t think I’d like it at first. Love it when I’m wrong!”
From Amazon.com: “Fangirl is a coming-of-age novel that is smart, funny, and genuine. Fangirl takes place during Cather Avery’s first year of college, learning who she is when stripped down to just Cath–not the twins Cath & Wren and not Magicath, her fan fiction pen name.
Through all the changes, both difficult and thrilling, one part of her old life still makes as much sense in her dorm room as it did in her childhood bedroom–the Emergency Kanye Party. When the going gets tough in this story, the tough crank up Kanye West, sing out loud and dance until they feel better.”
What do you look for in a good summer read? Many folks are so busy they want something fluffy, pithy or intensely engaging. Others want something meatier than their usual fare, and still others take advantage of the lazy long days to read the old classics, or summer published titles, books on a specific ‘summer’ subject, or even to just get caught up on the bestseller list. Here are a few ideas from the library staff and patrons to get you through the chaos, or calm, of summer:
“The Coroner’s Lunch” by Colin Cotterill
1970s Laos, National coroner of Laos, wry, crime drama, and historical context works.
“Laos, 1975. The Communist Pathet Lao has taken over this former French colony. Dr. Siri Paiboun, a 72-year-old Paris-trained doctor, is appointed national coroner. Although he has no training for the job, there is no one else; the rest of the educated class has fled.
He is expected to come up with the answers the party wants. But crafty and charming Dr.Siri is immune to bureaucratic pressure. At his age, he reasons, what can they do to him? And he knows he cannot fail the dead who come into his care without risk of incurring their boundless displeasure. Eternity could be a long time to have the spirits mad at you.”
“Divergent” by Veronica Roth
Future society in which U.S. population divided into 5 factions (Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, Amity, Erudite). 16-year-olds must choose one
(those who do not chose their family faction are “Transfers”) and survive the initiation
into their faction. For those who may have more than one faction trait, they are
considered Divergent, AND to be shunned, factionless, or worse. Beatrice only learns
about Divergents as the realities of her society emerge, and she must choose between
Faction or Family. Good stuff.
Candy Emlen In the summer I like to read books that involve severe weather. It’s so much fun to sit on the porch and read about someone surviving a storm at sea or living through a winter blizzard. I just finished Above All Things by Tanis Rideout – it met my criteria perfectly.
“Above All Things” by Tanis Rideout
The Paris Wifemeets Into Thin Airin this breathtaking debut novel of obsession and divided loyalties, which brilliantly weaves together the harrowing story of George Mallory’s ill-fated 1924 attempt to be the first man to conquer Mount Everest, with that of a single day in the life of his wife as she waits at home in England for news of his return.A captivating blend of historical fact and imaginative fiction, Above All Things moves seamlessly back and forth between the epic story of Mallory’s legendary final expedition and a heartbreaking account of a day in the life of Ruth Mallory. Through George’s perspective, and that of the newest member of the climbing team, Sandy Irvine, we get an astonishing picture of the terrible risks taken by the men on the treacherous terrain of the Himalaya. But it is through Ruth’s eyes that a complex portrait of a marriage emerges, one forged on the eve of the First World War, shadowed by its losses, and haunted by the ever-present possibility that George might not come home.
Drawing on years of research, this powerful and beautifully written novel is a timeless story of desire, redemption, and the lengths we are willing to go for honour, glory, and love.
Lisa Murray I like to use summer as a time to really broaden my sights with my book selection. I tend to read things I wouldn’t normally open during the rest of the year, more experimental writings and YA. I also don’t have a lot of time, so graphic novels and short stories tend to be a mainstay in the warmer months. Here are a few titles that are on my Summer To-Read list.
The Graphic Canon, Vol. 3: From “Heart of Darkness” to Hemingway to “Infinite Jest”
“The classic literary canon meets the comics artists, illustrators, and other artists who have remade reading in Russ Kick’s magisterial, three-volume, full-color The Graphic Canon, volumes 1, 2, and 3.
Volume 3 brings to life the literature of the end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st, including a Sherlock Holmes mystery, an H.G. Wells story, an illustrated guide to the Beat writers, a one-act play from Zora Neale Hurston, a disturbing meditation on Naked Lunch, Rilke’s soul-stirring Letters to a Young Poet, Anaïs Nin’s diaries, the visions of Black Elk, the heroin classic The Man With the Golden Arm (published four years before William Burroughs’ Junky), and the postmodernism of Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, Kathy Acker, Raymond Carver, and Donald Barthelme.
The towering works of modernism are here–T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Waste Land,” Yeats’s “The Second Coming” done as a magazine spread, Heart of Darkness, stories from Kafka, TheVoyage Out by Virginia Woolf, James Joyce’s masterpiece,Ulysses, and his short story “Araby” from Dubliners, rare early work from Faulkner and Hemingway (by artists who have drawn for Marvel), and poems by Gertrude Stein and Edna St. Vincent Millay.
You’ll also find original comic versions of short stories by W. Somerset Maugham, Flannery O’Connor, and Saki (manga style), plus adaptations of Lolita (and everyone said it couldn’t be done!), The Age of Innocence, Siddhartha and Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes, OneFlew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Last Exit to Brooklyn, J.G. Ballard’s Crash, and photo-dioramas forAnimalFarm and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Feast your eyes on new full-page illustrations for 1984, Brave NewWorld, Waiting for Godot,One Hundred Years of Solitude,The Bell Jar, On the Road, Lord of the Flies, TheWind-Up Bird Chronicle, and three Borges stories.
Robert Crumb’s rarely seen adaptation of Nausea captures Sartre’s existential dread. Dame Darcy illustrates Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece, Blood Meridian, universally considered one of the most brutal novels ever written and long regarded as unfilmable by Hollywood. Tara Seibel, the only female artist involved with the Harvey Pekar Project, turns in an exquisite series of illustrations for The Great Gatsby. And then there’s the moment we’ve been waiting for: the first graphic adaptation from Kurt Vonnegut’s masterwork, Slaughterhouse-Five. Among many other gems.”
“Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life” by Ulli Lust
From Publisher’s Weekly
“With the punk phenomenon so often romanticized in popular culture, it can be easy to skew or forget the realities of the time. Not for Lust, though, who chronicles even the most unsavory details of a road trip she and unstable companion Enid took along the fringes of European society in 1984. Originally released almost a decade ago in German to international acclaim, this sprawling bildungsroman follows the duo on their haphazard trek from the streets of Vienna to the Italian sea. Along the way they panhandle, hitch rides, and crash with total strangers, many of whom expect their hospitality to be reciprocated with sexual favors. Rendered with lithe and spontaneous forms washed in appropriately sickly green, Lust surveys issues of personal identity and sexuality through her various encounters with the local demimonde, as well as her frustration with a faceless and indifferent public. Her recollections willfully expose the dark side of an anarchic lifestyle, yet are void of any didactic embellishment, and instead form a genuine and nonjudgmental look at aimless youth and rebellion. And what’s truer to punk than that?”
“Mermaid in Chelsea Creek” by Michelle Tea
“Cult memoirist and adult fiction author Tea (Valencia) makes her YA debut with a gripping, though bleakly imagined fantasy. Sophie Swankowski drifts along in the still and depressing backwater of Chelsea, Mass., numbing her pain by holding her breath by the creek until she passes out, along with her friend Ella. This becomes a dangerous but seductive game. In one such reverie, teetering between death and unconsciousness, Sophie awakens to see a mermaid, “unreal but unmistakable.” After Sophie’s mother learns of her daughter’s habits, she forces Sophie to work for her scary, mean grandmother in the local dump. A mysterious cast of characters leads Sophie on a bizarre and enchanting quest to uncover the truth about her identity. Even through the veil of magical realism, the world of Sophie’s adolescence remains ugly, hopeless, and suffocating, a mood that’s amplified by Polan’s b&w line drawings. Still, readers will be impelled to explore this tangled web of human beings and beasts while awaiting Sophie’s redemption, whatever form it may take.”
“Byzantium” by Ben Stroud.
From Publishers Weekly
“In the title story in this remarkable debut collection, the crippled son of a prominent general living in the eponymous ancient Greek city is called upon by the emperor for a harrowing and bloody task. “The Moor” features an academic who attempts to unravel the final years of a 19-century detective’s life. In “The Traitor of Zion,” an impressionable American cult member, also living in the 19th century, discovers the dark side of his leader and himself. And the death-obsessed middle-schooler of “Eraser” imagines ways to escape his step-father’s fishing trip while gaining the attention of his mother. Stroud writes convincingly in any time or mode, juggling heavily plotted stories of historical fiction that are cinematic in their sense of adventure and more traditional literary stories admirable for their restraint and close examination of intrapersonal conflicts. It can feel as if Stroud is trying to outdo himself, attempting to discover a narrative or time period he can’t conquer, as he places his characters into radically disparate worlds and genres; fortunately, every story is its own success, leaving the impression that Stroud can, indeed, do anything. This is an exciting and essential collection, unlike anything in recent memory, and a decidedly impressive debut.”
Mary Anne Mead
I’ve been reading Jeffrey Archer’s “Clifton Chronicles.” So far there are three in the series – “Only Time Will Tell”, “Sins of the Father”, and “Best Kept Secret”. The first was good, a page turner, and the second, so far is as well. I’ve been told he didn’t finish the third one very well – but there are more to come, so maybe it won’t be too bad. They’re good summer reading! Also “A Land More Kind Than Home” and “The Uncommon Reader”. Both are amazing books, very different from the Archer, which are good but summer fluff. The former is the author’s first and is one of the three finalists for the Maine Readers’ Choice Award! Another really good one I keep recommending is “A Stranger in the Kingdom.”
“Only Time Will Tell (The Clifton Chronicles #1)” by Jeffrey Archer
From the internationally bestselling author of Kane and Abel and A Prisoner of Birth comes Only Time Will Tell, the first in an ambitious new series that tells the story of one family across generations, across oceans, from heartbreak to triumph.
The epic tale of Harry Clifton’s life begins in 1920, with the words “I was told that my father was killed in the war.” A dock worker in Bristol, Harry never knew his father, but he learns about life on the docks from his uncle, who expects Harry to join him at the shipyard once he’s left school. But then an unexpected gift wins him a scholarship to an exclusive boys’ school, and his life will never be the same again.
As he enters into adulthood, Harry finally learns how his father really died, but the awful truth only leads him to question, was he even his father? Is he the son of Arthur Clifton, a stevedore who spent his whole life on the docks, or the firstborn son of a scion of West Country society, whose family owns a shipping line?
This introductory novel in Archer’s ambitious series The Clifton Chronicles includes a cast of colorful characters and takes us from the ravages of the Great War to the outbreak of the Second World War, when Harry must decide whether to take up a place at Oxford or join the navy and go to war with Hitler’s Germany. From the docks of working-class England to the bustling streets of 1940 New York City, Only Time Will Tell takes readers on a journey through to future volumes, which will bring to life one hundred years of recent history to reveal a family story that neither the reader nor Harry Clifton himself could ever have imagined.
“A Land More Kind Than Home”by Wiley Cash
A stunning debut reminiscent of the beloved novels of John Hart and Tom Franklin,A Land More Kind Than Home is a mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small western North Carolina town.For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can’t help sneaking a look at something he’s not supposed to—an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess’s. It’s a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he’s not prepared. While there is much about the world that still confuses him, he now knows that a new understanding can bring not only a growing danger and evil—but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance as well.Told by three resonant and evocative characters—Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and moral conscience; and Clem Barefield, a sheriff with his own painful past—A Land More Kind Than Home is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all. These are masterful portrayals, written with assurance and truth, and they show us the extraordinary promise of this remarkable first novel.”
“The Uncommon Reader” by Alan Bennett
From the author of The History Boys and The Clothes They Stood Up In. A deliciously funny novella that celebrates the pleasure of reading.
When the Queen in pursuit of her wandering corgis stumbles upon a mobile library she feels duty bound to borrow a book. Aided by Norman, a young man from the palace kitchen who frequents the library, Bennett describes the Queen’s transformation as she discovers the liberating pleasures of the written word.With the poignant and mischievous wit of The History Boys, England’s best loved author revels in the power of literature to change even the most uncommon reader’s life.
“A Stranger in the Kingdom” by Howard Frank Mosher
Howard Frank Mosher has earned both critical acclaim and a wide readership for his vivid historical portraits of northern New England residents in his fictional Kingdom County, Vermont. A Stranger in the Kingdom tells the unforgettable story of a brutal murder in a small town and the devastating events that follow. The town’s new preacher, a black man, finds himself on trial more for who he is than for what he might have done in this powerful drama of passion, prejudice, and innocence suddenly lost . . . and perhaps found again
“A great, hilarious new voice in fiction: the poignant, all-too-human recollections of an affable bird researcher in the Indiana backwater as he goes through a disastrous yet heartening love affair with the place and its people.Nathan Lochmueller studies birds, earning just enough money to live on. He drives a glitter-festooned truck, the Gypsy Moth, and he is in love with Lola, a woman so free-spirited and mysterious she can break a man’s heart with a sigh or a shrug. Around them swirls a remarkable cast of characters: the proprietor of Fast Eddie’s Burgers & Beer, the genius behind “Thong Thursdays”; Uncle Dart, a Texan who brings his swagger to Indiana with profound and nearly devastating results; a snapping turtle with a taste for thumbs; a German shepherd who howls backup vocals; and the very charismatic state of Indiana itself. And at the center of it all is Nathan, creeping through the forest to observe the birds he loves and coming to terms with the accidental turns his life has taken.”
THE GIRL WHO WOULDN’T DIE HUNTS THE KILLER WHO SHOULDN’T EXIST. The future is not as loud as war, but it is relentless. It has a terrible fury all its own.” Harper Curtis is a killer who stepped out of the past. Kirby Mazrachi is the girl who was never meant to have a future.Kirby is the last shining girl, one of the bright young women, burning with potential, whose lives Harper is destined to snuff out after he stumbles on a House in Depression-era Chicago that opens on to other times.At the urging of the House, Harper inserts himself into the lives of the shining girls, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He’s the ultimate hunter, vanishing into another time after each murder, untraceable-until one of his victims survives.Determined to bring her would-be killer to justice, Kirby joins theChicago Sun-Times to work with the ex-homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez, who covered her case. Soon Kirby finds herself closing in on the impossible truth . . .
THE SHINING GIRLS is a masterful twist on the serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing heroine in pursuit of a deadly criminal.
“The Valley of Decision” by Marcia Davenport
“On the eve of World War II writer Marcia Davenport, best known for her biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, spent several years in Pittsburgh, her imagination caught by the drama of American industry. In 1942, Charles Scribner’s sons published her Pittsburgh novel, The Valley of Decision. It was an instant success, and its story of four generations of the Scott family – owners and operators of a Pittsburgh iron and steel works – has captured the imagination of three generations of readers.
The story is absorbing and complex, chronicling the family fortunes from the economic panic of 1873 through the dramatic rise of American industry and trade unionism, though waves of immigration, class conflict, natural disaster, World War I, to Pearl Harbor.
The first portion of the narrative covers the period 1873-83, when ironmaster William Scott, founder of the Scott Iron Works, marched with American industrial progress and died at the hands of union agitators. The second section covers 1889-1929 and his son Paul, who inherits the mills and manages them well, embracing technology, the demands of the first World War, and an enlightened view of labor. Part Three (1933-41) is the book of Claire, great-granddaughter of William. Energetic, responsible, and worldy-wise, she fights to save the integrity of the family’s mills as they pass into the hands of corporation lawyers and bored Scott cousins. It is also Claire who expands the story to Eastern Europe, where, as an international journalist, she brings the horrifying events leading to World War II to the attention of an impassive America.
But the central character in the Scott family saga is Mary Rafferty, an Irish maid who, as the novel opens, enters the Scott household at the age of sixteen. Her sixty-eight years of service to the Scotts span the growth of the family’s mills and the vicissitudes of individual family members. Mary is an advisor and trusted equal of the younger generations of Scotts, particularly Paul, for whom she is a driving force and lifelong love. Mary sees beyond her station, perceptive in ways the wealthy Scotts are not. Her unswerving loyalty to them, and her fierce independence from them, make her the core and the conscience of the family and of the book.”
PUBLISHED THIS SUMMER
“Visitation Street” by Ivy Pochoda
From Publisher’s Weekly:
“Exquisitely written, Pochoda’s poignant second novel examines how residents of Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood deal with grief, urban development, loss, and teenage angst. In a fit of boredom, 15-year-old best friends Val Marino and June Giatto take a raft out on the bay one July evening, but only Val returns, her unconscious body washed up on the shore. June’s disappearance and what might have happened on the raft become the linchpin for Fadi, a Lebanese native who wants his bodega to be the pulse of neighborhood news; Jonathan Sprouse, a Julliard dropout with dark secrets; and 18-year-old Cree James, a kid from the projects who longs for a better life but remains stymied by his father’s murder. Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing) couples a raw-edged, lyrical look at characters’ innermost fears with an evocative view of Red Hook, a traditionally working-class area of Brooklyn undergoing gentrification that still struggles with racism and the aftermath of drug violence. By the end, the gap between “the front” of Red Hook with its well-tended streets near the waterfront and “the back” with its housing projects remains wide. Agent: Kim Witherspoon at Inkwell Management.”
“One Thousand and One Nights” by Hanan al-Shaykh.
From Publisher’s Weekly
“For this retelling of the classic Arabic tales, Beirut-born al-Shaykh translated 19 of the originals and, beginning with its traditional frame story, embeds narrative within narrative to create a striking new version. To counter “the cunning and deceit of women,” King Shahrayar beds a new wife each night only to have her killed in the morning. But his vizier’s daughter, Shahrazad, vows to save the kingdom’s girls by marrying the king and then telling him stories that so enthrall him that he can’t kill her. From that opening, the stories build and fold in on themselves until we find ourselves back at the beginning. These stories pulse with sex, magic, and moral ambiguities; while terrible violence underscores moments of pure beauty. Guests are invited into a home only to encounter terrible cruelty; a woman becomes king so she can be a beacon for her lost love; a man plucks his eye for the pain he caused his family. Why retread such well-worn territory? In her foreword al-Shaykh (Women of Sand and Myrrh) speaks of rediscovering her own Arab roots while recognizing the power these ancient women held. Suprising and delightful, al-Shaykh’s masterful work has restored the tale to contemporary relevance.”
“Modern Art Desserts: Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Confections, and Frozen Treats Based on Iconic Works of Art”
Review from NPR
“The children’s author Maurice Sendak said that one of the highest compliments he’s ever received came from the mother of a little boy who had written to Sendak, and received an original drawing in return. The little boy loved it so much that he ate it. “He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.” Sometimes it isn’t enough to just look at a beautiful work of art. From Matisse parfait to Diebenkorn trifle, the desserts in this whimsical cookbook were inspired by the works on the walls of San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art. Caitlin Freeman, the book’s author and the pastry chef in SFMOMA’s cafe, decided to become a baker after seeing the cake paintings of Wayne Thiebaud. Her Mondrian cake, with its perfect De Stijl blocks of yellow, blue, red and white, pieced together with chocolate ganache, is a triumph — the coolest Mondrian interpretation since Yves Saint Laurent’s 1965 Mondrian shift dress. (Actually making the cake involves rulers and wire racks and specialty cake pans and, well, patience, but the batter tasted great.)”