As the 2021-22 Season comes to close, and as we ready THE LIST for the 2022-23 Season, please enjoy these Summer Reading recommendations!
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
Doerr, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, is back with a celebration of storytelling and a tribute to the important role it plays in the human experience. He weaves together five wildly different main characters in three different historical time periods. Masterfully, Doerr keeps the reader engaged with all these characters across a span of 500 years, eventually braiding the storylines together in a breathtaking finish. You will not want to miss this one!
Fight Night by Miriam Toews
If you like to be moved by the novels you read, this gem will deliver! Three generations of women–well, one is a plucky 9 year old girl–demonstrate what it means to be a family. Both exceedingly sprightly and frail, Grandma Elvira (we should ALL be like her when we’re grandmas!) tries to care for her daughter Mooshie, an unwed, pregnant, and very fragile actress, who in turn tries to care for her daughter Shiv, surely one of the most delightful and precocious children in all of literature. But who really ends up taking care of whom? And how do they do it? By fighting for each other each and every day, of course! Brilliant, hilarious, sad, moving–this is a must-read!
The Anomaly by Herve Le Telliere, a novel in translation
Paris to New York Air France flight 006 takes off as scheduled, hits extreme turbulence just before landing and eventually descends to Earth, but life for everyone on board has changed forever. In a genre mash-up of science fiction, thriller, and crime novel, we meet an array of the flight’s passengers from a closeted Nigerian pop star to a professional assassin who runs vegan restaurants in between assignments and an abused young girl focused on her pet toad. The book, a run-away hit in France, won the Prix Goncourt in 2021. It asks the reader to consider fundamental questions about free will, fate, the nature of time and the span of the universe while poking (mostly) gentle fun at late night TV, Americans – particularly someone resembling a recent U.S. President – the literary scene, and Emmanuel Macron.
Intimacies by Katie Kitamura
When an unnamed interpreter arrives in The Hague after abruptly leaving New York, she is looking for love, friendship, and a place to belong. What follows is a web of drama: her lover is a married man who is separated…but not quite; her work as an interpreter puts her in close contact with former presidents accused of war crimes; she becomes increasingly obsessed with an act of violence her friend is a witness to. There is much to ponder in this thought-provoking novel, especially the concept of intimacy–what it is and how and where one chooses to relate to it. A cerebral page-turner!
Disoriental by Negar Djavadi (translated from Iranian)
At 25 years old, Kimiâ Sadr is sitting in a Parisian fertility clinic, waiting on test results for her IVF treatment. As she waits, she thinks back to her experience of being a 10 year old girl emigrating from Iran to France with her sisters and mother. A modern-day Sheherazade, Kimiâ weaves a sweeping history of Persian and Iranian politics into a deeply personal and moving story of her struggles to find her true self amidst her own disorientation. You know those books that make you sad when they end because you won’t be with the characters anymore? This is one of those!
Hell of a Book by Jason Mott
In alternating narratives, Hell of a Book, winner of the 2022 National Book Award, tells the story of a Black author on his book tour for his recent novel, also titled Hell of a Book, and a young unnamed boy, called Soot on account of his dark skin, who witnesses a violent death in his family. The dual narratives snake around each other and become bound, painting a stark picture of what it is to be Black and male in present-day America, while also eventually meeting the fictional Black author’s stated goal of writing a love story – even if it’s not the kind of love story we readers expect. The story is by turns funny and infuriating, heartbreaking and illuminating.
Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabó (translated from Hungarian)
When her beloved husband of many years dies, Ettie moves from her home in the countryside to her daughter Iza’s place in Budapest, at Iza’s insistence. Touchingly, Ettie thinks she will be the one taking care of Iza; after all, that’s a mother’s role. However, Iza has been an adult for a long time, and the years the two women have spent apart are cavernous; Ettie sees the world through old, pre-communist lenses, while Iza is all about progress and change. The novel explores the question of whether and how they will be able to build a bridge that will reach each other. Magda Szabo’s The Door was a runaway hit in America, but this one certainly deserves to be as well!
Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh
In her timely follow-up to Light and Heat, which Literary Masters members will recall reading together several seasons ago, Jennifer Haigh tackles the hot-button issue of the day: abortion. Haigh introduces readers to a range of characters who illuminate many strands of this central issue: a middle-aged reproduction counselor at Mercy Street (a Boston women’s health clinic that offers, among other vital services, abortions), a pro-life misogynistic white supremacist, and a lonely, slightly brain-damaged Catholic protestor frequently found outside the clinic, among others. Unsurprisingly, the book is serious, given the topic, but it is also unexpectedly entertaining, even funny at times, and very gripping.
A Most Beautiful Thing: The True Story of America’s First All-Black High School Rowing Team by Arshay Cooper
A group of young men growing up on Chicago’s troubled West side during the 1990’s is enticed into joining the first all-Black crew team being assembled at their public high school by an idealistic white entrepreneur hoping to give back to the community. Coming from backgrounds riddled with absent parents, abuse, drug addiction and crime, the teenagers are initially suspicious, showing up at the team’s informational meeting primarily for the free food. The challenges don’t end when they learn to row and move out into the wider world of high school crew – a world which doesn’t quite know what to make of them. Experiencing the team’s journey through the eyes of one its members, author Arshay Cooper, is uplifting, inspiring and a little bit heartbreaking. Added bonus – the book was adapted into a documentary in the summer of 2020 and is available for streaming on Peacock, Amazon Prime and You Tube.
So Much Blue by Percival Everett
56-year-old artist Kevin Pace is working on a secret painting. No one is allowed to see the 12×21 foot canvas completely covered in different shades of blue–so much blue!–that he works on as he thinks back to momentous turning points in his life. There was an affair in Paris, one he still does not fully understand, and a dramatic and life-changing trip to El Salvador with his best friend Richard. In this fascinating book that deals with the intersection of past and present, Kevin aims to understand and reconcile the choices he’s made, the secrets he’s kept, and the life he has lived. And there is so much beautiful blue…
We Don’t Know Ourselves by Fintan O’Toole
Many well-regarded authors of note will churn out a memoir later in life. Irish author Fintan O’Toole deemed his own life “too boring” to do that, as he explains in the afterword of this entertaining mash-up consisting of a history of contemporary Ireland combined with a little bit of memoir and injected with personal musings. O’Toole starts with the year of his birth, providing just enough backstory of his homeland to make the ensuing narration of Ireland’s multiple transformations over the next 60 years readable and fascinating. O’Toole finds the humor throughout and, at times, writes so engagingly, that the history is as gripping as a great novel.
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell
Are books by Maggie O’Farrell going to land on our Summer Reading list every year? Well, there are worse things! Last year Hamnet was the runaway favorite, and this time we’re lauding one of her older books. This Must Be The Place is a story of love, family, forgiveness, and identity. Attempting to escape the wreckage his life has become, Daniel goes to Ireland on a short trip for a personal mission. To his surprise, he stays and marries former movie star Claudette, a mysterious woman many had presumed to be dead. As we learn how the two of them ended up in Donegal in the first place, we meet other characters from their past and learn about events they have tried to forget. A sweeping novel that spans decades and continents, it will stay with you long after you turn the last page!
Groundskeeping by Lee Cole
After five lost years spent drinking and drugging in his early 20’s, Owen, a young first-in-his-family to college Kentuckian, returns home in hopes of igniting his writing career and spending time with his beloved grandfather. He takes a job groundskeeping at a local, highly regarded private university where he can attend graduate level creative writing classes for free. There he meets Alma, the school’s writer-in-residence, who is a first-generation daughter of Bosnian refugees, and who grew up with everything he didn’t. The relationship with Alma, who finds Kentucky quite foreign, forces Owen to see his hometown and family through her liberal, well-educated, upper middle-class eyes. In this debut novel, Cole grapples with issues of class, family ties and what they mean, identity, jealousy, who gets to tell whose story, and the current political divide in America.