As the 2018-19 Season of Literary Masters comes to a close, we’re reading furiously to get ready for the 2019-20 Season! As always, we’ll be posting THE LIST sometime in August, so watch for that! Meanwhile, grab your beach gear and head out with these titles to keep you turning those pages until we meet again!
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
This latest novel from Ian McEwan does not disappoint! As you’re lying on the beach, you’ll be able to ponder what makes a human a human. Are we more machine-like than we realize? And you can also geek out on robot stuff! Just how close are robots to humans? The story is set in 1980’s London but history as we know it has changed a bit. Twenty-something Charlie is at a loss career-wise and in love with his neighbor Miranda. When Charlie inherits some money, he decides to buy a robot, also known as a synthetic human, named Adam. Together Charlie and Miranda ‘program’ Adam and the result is a pretty terrific individual. There’s only one problem: due to artificial intelligence, Adam learns and develops way beyond Charlie and Miranda’s control. The result is…well, you’ll have to read the book! Anyone who has Siri or Alexa in their life needs to read this book!
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
Part mystery, part love story, part immigrant’s tale, part family saga with a little bit of a ghost story thrown in–there’s a lot going on in this novel and it all works! A terrific cast of characters takes turns narrating, and the pages fly by. It starts out with Driss, a Moroccan immigrant who is killed by a hit and run driver. When his daughter Nora returns home to help her family, the story gets…complicated. Secrets are drudged up, grudges are reignited, and loyalties are tested. The varied voices in the story span racial, class, and political divides–a microcosm of today’s world in many ways.
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
If your summer weather disappoints, this gem of a novel will brighten your day! Aviva Grossman is a young, wide-eyed intern working for Congressman Aaron Levin. It doesn’t take long for the two to fall into an affair, and it doesn’t take very much longer for the press to find out. The result is fairly predictable: they treat her like a Monica Lewinsky while the Congressman escapes much like…you know who. So, what does Aviva do? She runs away and takes on a new identity. Ten years later when she runs for mayor of a town in Maine, her daughter Ruby finds out her secret and takes off to find the Congressman. You will laugh out loud reading this novel, but there are also serious issues to ponder. Double standards for one. And if you do read it, let us know what you think happens after the last page!
Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett
This quirky and charming novel has an adorable 12 year old narrator named Elvis–after the singer. When Elvis’ mom dies, her family deals with the loss in various ways. Elvis’ dad takes to wearing his wife’s clothes and loves a parrot who can mimic her voice, and Elvis’ sister takes on a challenge to bake 1000 rabbit cakes in her mom’s baking pans that were always used for family celebrations. Elvis consults her school counselor, who tells the child she should be over her grief in 18 months. As we see Elvis struggle to achieve this, the result is a tender, funny, and poignant tale of grief, love, and resilience.
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
On the surface this fascinating novel is a breezy read, very accessible and entertaining. On a deeper level, though, it will tax your brain and your literary prowess. This book is told in three parts. The first part is a May/December romance between Alice, a young book editor, and much older Ezra Blazer, a famous author. (Evidently this character is based on Philip Roth, with whom the author Lisa Halliday once had a relationship.) There are lots of allusions to Alice in Wonderland as well as other books, so you can ponder that while you read! Part 2 is an abrupt change of pace and mood–we find ourselves with Amar Ala Jaafari, an Iraqi-American economist on his way to Kurdistan. Stopping over in London to visit a friend, Amar is detained by immigration at the airport. Amar has fallen into a different rabbit hole, for sure–this one is more Kafkaesque and nightmarish than Alice’s adventure. Another abrupt change for Part 3: we are back with Ezra Blazer who is being interviewed by BBC about his Desert Island Discs. Highly recommended, and we BET you’ll want to talk about this book with others! If you’re on vacation with friends, have everyone read it–you can do a Beach Book Club!
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
When you’re buying your beach gear, don’t forget running shoes and shorts! You’ll want to lace up and get out there after you read this compelling memoir by the famous and lyrical Japanese writer. Part meditation on running, part meditation on writing, and part almost real-time reporting of racing marathons, this slim book will give you much to contemplate as you cover the miles yourself.
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Yes, The Godfather was a book before it was the classic movie and that book turns 50 this year. With all of the Mafia-based literature, movies and television shows that have followed, it is easy to forget how fresh this violent, action-packed take on New York’s underworld was in 1969. With its dialogue and details that rang so true, many wondered precisely how close Puzo’s connection to his subject matter might actually have been.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Queenie, the titular heroine of this comedic debut novel, is on the verge of a breakdown, struggling at work, and trying to process the after-effects of being abandoned by her mother at age 11. And yet, this book is very, very funny even as it breaks your heart. It has been described as a “black Bridget Jones,” as well as providing an important view of black British life and black womanhood – perspectives from the margins that are all too rare. The audio book is excellent.
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
After Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird in 1961 and became a literary sensation, the world did not hear from her again until 2016 when she died. During the 50-year silence, she helped her good friend, Truman Capote, research and write his true-crime masterpiece, In Cold Blood. She then became intrigued with her own true-crime story: that of Reverend Willie Maxwell, a sharp-dressing Alabama Baptist preacher who made a practice of buying insurance policies on people who frequently turned up dead. Harper Lee spent over a decade working on a book about the case but never finished the manuscript and nothing was ever published. As compelling as the true crime story at the heart of Furious Hours is, Cep’s dive into uncovering why Lee stayed silent for all of those years is even more so.
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
In this cleverly structured book about the true life “disappearing” of Jean McConville in Belfast in 1972 during the height of what came to be known as the Troubles, Keefe conveys much of the history of Northern Ireland. You will feel like you are reading a detective novel, but these characters are real people. Keefe captures the violence and the damage of the period while keeping you on the edge of your seat.
And if Northern Ireland during the Troubles intrigues you, you may want to pick up Milkman, the Man Booker award winning novel from Anna Burns, which inhabits the same locale and time period.
The Bread and the Knife: A Life in 26 Bites by Dawn Drzal
In these 26 brief, evocative gastronomical essays, Drzal, who is a former cookbook editor, provides an unflinching look back at her life. These alphabetized morsels include “F is for Fowl” in which Drzal cooks a freshly shot pheasant for M.F.K. Fisher and nearly kills the legendary chef with the result, as well as the meal in which she realizes her marriage is over. You will want to eat, cry, laugh and keep reading.