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Summer 2014 Reading List

THE HOTTEST BOOK CLUB BOOKS OF THE YEAR

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

Just as her father makes the wrenching decision to send her away for a chance at a better life, Claire Limyè Lanmè — Claire of the Sea Light — suddenly disappears. As the people of the Haitian seaside community of Ville Rose search for her, painful secrets, haunting memories, and startling truths are unearthed. In this stunning novel about intertwined lives, Edwidge Danticat crafts a tightly woven, breathtaking tapestry that explores the mysterious bonds we share — with the natural world and with one another.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Nao is a 16-year-old girl who had only known life in America, until her father’s layoff from a Silicon Valley dotcom failure forces the family back to their native Japan. Ruth is a blocked writer reluctantly living on a small island in British Columbia where her husband’s illness is more manageable. The two worlds clash when Ruth finds Nao’s diary — several years after the events in it have taken place — preserved in a plastic bag and a Hello Kitty lunchbox and washed up alongside detritus from the 2011 Japanese tsunami.

We follow along with Ruth as she reads Nao’s diary, experiencing her depression and angst, her shame at being bullied, fear for her parents’ financial and emotional well being. Most importantly, we discover Nao’s love and respect for her grandmother Jiko, a Buddhist nun whose wisdom and balance serve as a guide not only for Nao, but for Ruth and even for us, as readers. Nao decides she won’t kill herself until she writes down the whole of Jiko’s story. As she reads, Ruth becomes determined to find out whether Nao actually went through with the suicide, or ended up as a victim of the tsunami, or is still alive and well somewhere in Tokyo. Ruth’s search takes readers on a journey through time, weaving together the historical threads of one fascinating Tokyo family. She also manages to discover some things about herself, which is especially interesting considering the author (also Ruth, remember) calls her character “semi-autobiographical.”

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

In a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night and then set fire to her home. When their lifelong neighbor Akhmed finds Havaa hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded. 

For Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.
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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she explains. “I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion … she was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half and I loved her as a sister.” As a child, Rosemary never stopped talking. Then, something happened, and Rosemary wrapped herself in silence.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowland is an engrossing family saga steeped in history: the story of two very different brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn apart by revolution, and a love that endures long past death. Moving from the 1960s to the present, and from India to America and across generations, this dazzling novel is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers.

Transatlantic by Colum McCann

Newfoundland, 1919. Two aviators — Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown — set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, placing their trust in a modified bomber to heal the wounds of the Great War.

Dublin, 1845 and ’46. On an international lecture tour in support of his subversive autobiography, Frederick Douglass finds the Irish people sympathetic to the abolitionist cause — despite the fact that, as famine ravages the countryside, the poor suffer from hardships that are astonishing even to an American slave.

New York, 1998. Leaving behind a young wife and newborn child, Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, where it has fallen to him, the son of an Irish-American father and a Lebanese mother, to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion.

These three iconic crossings are connected by a series of remarkable women whose personal stories are caught up in the swells of history. Beginning with Irish housemaid Lily Duggan, who crosses paths with Frederick Douglass, the novel follows her daughter and granddaughter, Emily and Lottie, and culminates in the present-day story of Hannah Carson, in whom all the hopes and failures of previous generations live on. From the loughs of Ireland to the flatlands of Missouri and the windswept coast of Newfoundland, their journeys mirror the progress and shape of history. They each learn that even the most unassuming moments of grace have a way of rippling through time, space, and memory.

The most mature work yet from an incomparable storyteller, TransAtlantic is a profound meditation on identity and history in a wide world that grows somehow smaller and more wondrous with each passing year.

CURRENT FICTION

The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham’s luminous novel begins with a vision. It’s November 2004. Barrett Meeks, having lost love yet again, is walking through Central Park when he is inspired to look up at the sky; there he sees a pale, translucent light that seems to regard him in a distinctly godlike way. Barrett doesn’t believe in visions — or in God — but he can’t deny what he’s seen.

At the same time, in the not-quite-gentrified Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, Tyler, Barrett’s older brother, a struggling musician, is trying — and failing — to write a wedding song for Beth, his wife-to-be, who is seriously ill. Tyler is determined to write a song that will be not merely a sentimental ballad but an enduring expression of love.

Barrett, haunted by the light, turns unexpectedly to religion. Tyler grows increasingly convinced that only drugs can release his creative powers. Beth tries to face mortality with as much courage as she can summon.

Cunningham follows the Meeks brothers as each travels down a different path in his search for transcendence. In subtle, lucid prose, he demonstrates a profound empathy for his conflicted characters and a singular understanding of what lies at the core of the human soul.

High as the Horses’ Bridles by Scott Cheshire

It’s 1980 at a crowded amphitheater in Queens, New York and a nervous Josiah Laudermilk, age 12, is about to step to the stage while thousands of believers wait to hear him, the boy preaching prodigy, pour forth. Suddenly, as if a switch had been flipped, Josiah’s nerves shake away and his words come rushing out, his whole body fills to the brim with the certainty of a strange apocalyptic vision. But is it true prophecy or just a young believer’s imagination running wild? Decades later when Josiah (now Josie) is grown and has long since left the church, he returns to Queens to care for his father who, day by day, is losing his grip on reality. Barreling through the old neighborhood, memories of the past — of his childhood friend Issy, of his first love, of the mother he has yet to properly mourn — overwhelm him at every turn. When he arrives at his family’s old house, he’s completely unprepared for what he finds. How far back must one man journey to heal a broken bond between father and son?

In rhapsodic language steeped in the oral tradition of American evangelism, Scott Cheshire brings us under his spell. Remarkable in scale — moving from 1980 Queens, to sunny present-day California, to a tent revival in nineteenth century rural Kentucky — and shot-through with the power and danger of belief and the love that binds generations, High as the Horses’ Bridles is a bold, heartbreaking debut from a big new American voice.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

In the beginning, it was easy to imagine their future. They were young and giddy, sure of themselves and of their love for each other. “Dept. of Speculation” was their code name for all the thrilling uncertainties that lay ahead. Then they got married, had a child and navigated the familiar calamities of family life — a colicky baby, a faltering relationship, stalled ambitions.

When their marriage reaches a sudden breaking point, the wife tries to retrace the steps that have led them to this place, invoking everything from Kafka to the Stoics to doomed Russian cosmonauts as she analyzes what is lost and what remains. In language that shimmers with rage and longing and wit, Offill has created a brilliantly suspenseful love story — a novel to read in one sitting, even as its piercing meditations linger long after the last page.

Euphoria by Lily King

Euphoria is Lily King’s nationally bestselling breakout novel of three young, gifted anthropologists of the ‘30’s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives. Inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead, Euphoria is “dazzling … suspenseful … brilliant…an exhilarating novel.”— Boston Globe.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she 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, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok

From the bestselling author of Girl in Translation, an inspiring novel about a young woman torn between her family duties in Chinatown and her escape into a more Western world…

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (American-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire life has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works — miserably — as a dishwasher.

But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed — something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds — Eastern and Western, old world and new — to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen

One week in late autumn of 1996, a group gathers at the site of a former death camp. They offer prayer at the crematoria and meditate in all weathers on the selection platform. They eat and sleep in the sparse quarters of the Nazi officers who, half a century before, sent more than a million Jews in this camp to their deaths. Clements Olin has joined them, in order to complete his research on the strange suicide of a survivor. As the days pass, tensions both political and personal surface among the participants, stripping away any easy pretense to resolution or healing. Caught in the grip of emotions and impulses of bewildering intensity, Olin is forced to abandon his observer’s role and to bear witness, not only to his family’s ambiguous history but to his own.

Profoundly thought-provoking, In Paradise is a fitting coda to the luminous career of a writer who was “for all readers. He was for the world” (National Geographic).

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

From the prizewinning author of What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, coming February 2016, the Snow White fairy tale brilliantly recast as a story of family secrets, race, beauty, and vanity.

In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries Arturo Whitman, a local widower, and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow.

A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African-Americans passing for white. And even as Boy, Snow, and Bird are divided, their estrangement is complicated by an insistent curiosity about one another. In seeking an understanding that is separate from the image each presents to the world, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.

Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Helen Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time.

A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman

A singularly talented writer makes his literary debut with this provocative, soulful, and sometimes hilarious story of a failed journalist asked to do the unthinkable: Forge Holocaust-restitution claims for old Russian Jews in Brooklyn, New York.

Yevgeny Gelman, grandfather of Slava Gelman, “didn’t suffer in the exact way” he needs to have suffered to qualify for the restitution the German government has been paying out to Holocaust survivors. But suffer he has — as a Jew in the war; as a second-class citizen in the USSR; as an immigrant to America. So? Isn’t his grandson a “writer”?

High-minded Slava wants to put all this immigrant scraping behind him. Only the American Dream is not panning out for him — Century, the legendary magazine where he works as a researcher, wants nothing greater from him. Slava wants to be a correct, blameless American — but he wants to be a lionized writer even more.

Slava’s turn as the Forger of South Brooklyn teaches him that not every fact is the truth, and not every lie a falsehood. It takes more than law-abiding to become an American; it takes the same self-reinvention in which his people excel. Intoxicated and unmoored by his inventions, Slava risks exposure. Cornered, he commits an irrevocable act that finally grants him a sense of home in America, but not before collecting a price from his family.

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose

A richly imagined and stunningly inventive literary masterpiece of love, art, and betrayal, exploring the genesis of evil, the unforeseen consequences of love, and the ultimate unreliability of storytelling itself.

Paris in the 1920s shimmers with excitement, dissipation, and freedom. It is a place of intoxicating ambition, passion, art, and discontent, where louche jazz venues like the Chameleon Club draw expats, artists, libertines, and parvenus looking to indulge their true selves. It is at the Chameleon where the striking Lou Villars, an extraordinary athlete and scandalous cross-dressing lesbian, finds refuge among the club’s loyal denizens, including the rising Hungarian photographer Gabor Tsenyi, the socialite and art patron Baroness Lily de Rossignol; and the caustic American writer Lionel Maine.

As the years pass, their fortunes — and the world itself — evolve. Lou falls desperately in love and finds success as a race car driver. Gabor builds his reputation with startlingly vivid and imaginative photographs, including a haunting portrait of Lou and her lover, which will resonate through all their lives. As the exuberant twenties give way to darker times, Lou experiences another metamorphosis — sparked by tumultuous events — that will warp her earnest desire for love and approval into something far more.

The Patron Saint of Ugly by Marie Manilla

Born in Sweetwater, West Virginia, with a mop of flaming red hair and a map of the world rendered in port-wine stains on every surface of her body, Garnet Ferrari is used to being an outcast. With her sharp tongue, she has always known how to defend herself against bullies and aggressors, but she finds she is less adept at fending off the pilgrims who have set up a veritable tent city outside her hilltop home, convinced that she is Saint Garnet, healer of skin ailments and maker of miracles.

Her grandmother, the indelible Nonna Diamante, believes that Garnet’s mystical gift can be traced back to the family’s origins in the Nebrodi Mountains of Sicily, and now the Vatican has sent an emissary to Sweetwater to investigate. Garnet, wanting nothing more than to debunk this “gift” and send these desperate souls packing, reaches back into her family’s tangled past and unspools for the Church a tale of love triangles on the shores of the Messina Strait; a sad, beautiful maiden’s gilded-cage childhood in blueblood Virginia; and the angelic, doomed boy Garnet could not protect.

Saint or not, Garnet learns that the line between reality and myth is always blurred, and that the aspects of ourselves we are most ashamed of can prove to be the source of our greatest strength, and even our salvation.

BOOKS FOR THE BEACH

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

A.J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over — and see everything anew.

Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn

The judges on the panel of the Elysian Prize for Literature must get through hundreds of submissions to find the best book of the year. Meanwhile, a host of writers are desperate for Elysian attention: the brilliant writer and serial heartbreaker Katherine Burns; the lovelorn debut novelist Sam Black; and Sonny, convinced that his magnum opus, The Mulberry Elephant, will take the literary world by storm. Things go terribly wrong when Katherine’s publisher accidentally submits a cookery book in place of her novel; one of the judges finds himself in the middle of a scandal; and Sonny, aghast to learn his book isn’t on the short list, seeks revenge.

Lost for Words is a witty, fabulously entertaining satire that cuts to the quick of some of the deepest questions about the place of art in our celebrity-obsessed culture, and asks how we can ever hope to recognize real talent when everyone has an agenda.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

An irresistible, deftly observed novel from the New York Times-bestselling author of Modern Lovers, about the secrets, joys, and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca.

For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole.

I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50 by Annabelle Gurwitch

Actor and humorist Annabelle Gurwitch returns with a wickedly funny book of essays about the indignities faced by femmes d’un certain âge. Whether she is falling in lust at the Genius Bar, coping with her best friend’s assisted suicide, or navigating the extensive — and treacherously expensive — anti-aging offerings at the beauty counter, Gurwitch confronts middle age with candor, wit, and a healthy dose of self-deprecation. Scorchingly honest, surreally and riotously funny, I See You Made an Effort is the ultimate coming-of-middle-age story and according to Bill Maher, “it should be required reading for anyone between the ages of 40 and death. Scratch that—even after death, it’s a must read.”

China Dolls by Lisa See

The author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and Shanghai Girls has garnered international acclaim for her great skill at rendering the intricate relationships of women and the complex meeting of history and fate. Now comes Lisa See’s highly anticipated new novel, China Dolls.

It’s 1938 in San Francisco: a world’s fair is preparing to open on Treasure Island, a war is brewing overseas, and the city is alive with possibilities. Grace, Helen, and Ruby, three young women from very different backgrounds, meet by chance at the exclusive and glamorous Forbidden City nightclub. Grace Lee, an American-born Chinese girl, has fled the Midwest with nothing but heartache, talent, and a pair of dancing shoes. Helen Fong lives with her extended family in Chinatown, where her traditional parents insist that she guard her reputation like a piece of jade. The stunning Ruby Tom challenges the boundaries of convention at every turn with her defiant attitude and no-holds-barred ambition.

The girls become fast friends, relying on one another through unexpected challenges and shifting fortunes. When their dark secrets are exposed and the invisible thread of fate binds them even tighter, they find the strength and resilience to reach for their dreams. But after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, paranoia and suspicion threaten to destroy their lives, and a shocking act of betrayal changes everything.

Solsbury Hill by Susan M. Wyler

The windswept moors of England, a grand rustic estate, and a love story of one woman caught between two men who love her powerfully — all inspired by Emily Bronte’s beloved classic, Wuthering HeightsSolsbury Hill brings the legend of Catherine and Heathcliff, and that of their mysterious creator herself, into a contemporary love story that unlocks the past.

When a surprise call from a dying aunt brings twenty-something New Yorker Eleanor Abbott to the Yorkshire moors, and the family estate she is about to inherit, she finds a world beyond anything she might have expected. Having left behind an American fiance, here Eleanor meets Meadowscarp MacLeod — a young man who challenges and changes her. Here too she encounters the presence of Bronte herself and discovers a family legacy they may share.

With winds powerful enough to carve stone and bend trees, the moors are another world where time and space work differently. Remanants of the past are just around a craggy, windswept corner. For Eleanor, this means ancestors and a devastating romantic history that bears on her own life, on the history of the novel Wuthering Heights, and on the destinies of all who live in its shadow.

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Hermann Koch

When a medical procedure goes horribly wrong and famous actor Ralph Meier winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser needs to come up with some answers. After all, reputation is everything in this business. Personally, he’s not exactly upset that Ralph is gone, but as a high profile doctor to the stars, Marc can’t hide from the truth forever.

It all started the previous summer. Marc, his wife, and their two beautiful teenage daughters agreed to spend a week at the Meier’s extravagant summer home on the Mediterranean. Joined by Ralph and his striking wife Judith, her mother, and film director Stanley Forbes and his much younger girlfriend, the large group settles in for days of sunshine, wine tasting, and trips to the beach. But when a violent incident disrupts the idyll, darker motivations are revealed, and suddenly no one can be trusted. As the ultimate holiday soon turns into a nightmare, the circumstances surrounding Ralph’s later death begin to reveal the disturbing reality behind that summer’s tragedy.

Featuring the razor-sharp humor and acute psychological insight that made The Dinner an international phenomenon, Summer House with Swimming Pool is a controversial, thought-provoking novel that showcases Herman Koch at his finest.

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her home in California to take a job at Delicious!, New York’s most iconic food magazine. Away from her family, particularly her older sister, Genie, Billie feels like a fish out of water — until she is welcomed by the magazine’s colorful staff. She is also seduced by the vibrant downtown food scene, especially by Fontanari’s, the famous Italian food shop where she works on weekends. Then Delicious! is abruptly shut down, but Billie agrees to stay on in the empty office, maintaining the hotline for reader complaints in order to pay her bills.

To Billie’s surprise, the lonely job becomes the portal to a miraculous discovery. In a hidden room in the magazine’s library, Billie finds a cache of letters written during World War II by Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, to the legendary chef James Beard. Lulu’s letters provide Billie with a richer understanding of history, and a feeling of deep connection to the young writer whose courage in the face of hardship inspires Billie to comes to terms with her fears, her big sister and her ability to open her heart to love.

The Late Starters Orchestra by Ari L. Goldman

In a cluttered room in an abandoned coat factory in lower Manhattan, a group of musicians comes together each week to make music. Some are old, some are young, all have come late to music or come back to it after a long absence. This is the Late Starters Orchestra — the bona fide amateur string orchestra where Ari Goldman pursues his lifelong dream of playing the cello. 

Goldman hadn’t seriously picked up his cello in twenty-five years, but the Late Starters (its motto, If you think you can play, you can) seemed just the right orchestra for this music lover whose busy life had always gotten in the way of its pursuit.

In The Late Starters Orchestra, Goldman takes us along to LSO rehearsals and lets us sit in on his son’s Suzuki lessons, where we find out that children do indeed learn differently from adults. He explores history’s greatest cellists and also attempts to understand what motivates his fellow late starters, amateurs all, whose quest is for joy, not greatness. And when Goldman commits to playing at his upcoming birthday party we wonder with him whether he’ll be good enough to perform in public. To the rescue comes the ghost of Goldman’s first cello teacher, the wise and eccentric Mr. J, who continues to inspire and guide him — about music and more — through this well-tuned journey.

With enchanting illustrations by Eric Hanson, The Late Starters Orchestra is about teachers and students, fathers and sons, courage and creativity, individual perseverance and the power of community. And Ari Goldman has a message for anyone who has ever had a dream deferred: it’s never too late to find happiness on one’s own terms.

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum

In this reverse love story set in Paris and London, which The Wall Street Journal hailed as “funny and soulful…immediately appealing,” a failed monogamist attempts to woo his wife back and to answer the question: Is it really possible to fall back in love with your spouse?

Despite the success of his first solo show in Paris and the support of his brilliant French wife and young daughter, thirty-four-year-old British artist Richard Haddon is too busy mourning the loss of his American mistress to a famous cutlery designer to appreciate his fortune.

But after Richard discovers that a painting he originally made for his wife, Anne — when they were first married and deeply in love — has sold, it shocks him back to reality and he resolves to reinvest wholeheartedly in his family life…just in time for his wife to learn the extent of his affair. Rudderless and remorseful, Richard embarks on a series of misguided attempts to win Anne back while focusing his creative energy on a provocative art piece to prove that he’s still the man she once loved.

Skillfully balancing biting wit with a deep emotional undercurrent, this “charming and engrossing portrait of one man’s midlife crisis” (Elle) creates the perfect picture of an imperfect family — and a heartfelt exploration of marriage, love, and fidelity.

Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America by John Waters

Carsick is the New York Times bestselling chronicle of a cross-country hitchhiking journey with America’s most beloved weirdo…

John Waters is putting his life on the line. Armed with wit, a pencil-thin mustache, and a cardboard sign that reads “I’m Not Psycho,” he hitchhikes across America from Baltimore to San Francisco, braving lonely roads and treacherous drivers. But who should we be more worried about, the delicate film director with genteel manners or the unsuspecting travelers transporting the Pope of Trash?

Before he leaves for this bizarre adventure, Waters fantasizes about the best and worst possible scenarios: a friendly drug dealer hands over piles of cash to finance films with no questions asked, a demolition-derby driver makes a filthy sexual request in the middle of a race, a gun-toting drunk terrorizes and holds him hostage, and a Kansas vice squad entraps and throws him in jail. So what really happens when this cult legend sticks out his thumb and faces the open road? His real-life rides include a gentle eighty-one-year-old farmer who is convinced Waters is a hobo, an indie band on tour, and the perverse filmmaker’s unexpected hero: a young, sandy-haired Republican in a Corvette.

Laced with subversive humor and warm intelligence, Carsick is an unforgettable vacation with a wickedly funny companion ― and a celebration of America’s weird, astonishing, and generous citizenry.

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

“My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”

So begins this remarkable novel by Amy Bloom, whose critically acclaimed Away was called “a literary triumph” (The New York Times). Lucky Us is a brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny novel of love, heartbreak, and luck.

Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star and Eva the sidekick, journey through 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris’s ambitions take the pair across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, and to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.

With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine though a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life, conventional and otherwise. From Brooklyn’s beauty parlors to London’s West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species.

IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT YET

Birds of America: Stories by Lorrie Moore

The celebrated collection of twelve stories from one of the finest authors at work today.

New York Times Book of the Year
A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
Winner of the Salon Book Award
Village Voice Book of the Year

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton

Considered by many to be her masterpiece, Edith Wharton’s second full-length work is a scathing yet personal examination of the exploits and follies of the modern upper class. As she unfolds the story of Undine Spragg, from New York to Europe, Wharton affords us a detailed glimpse of what might be called the interior décor of this America and its nouveau riche fringes. Through a heroine who is as vain, spoiled, and selfish as she is irresistibly fascinating, and through a most intricate and satisfying plot that follows Undine’s marriages and affairs, she conveys a vision of social behavior that is both supremely informed and supremely disenchanted.

A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee

His remarkable debut novel was called “rapturous” (The New York Times Book Review), “revelatory” (Vogue), and “wholly innovative” (Kirkus Reviews). It was the recipient of six major awards, including the prestigious Hemingway Foundation/PEN award. Now Chang-rae Lee has written a powerful and beautifully crafted second novel that leaves no doubt about the extraordinary depth and range of his talent.

A Gesture Life is the story of a proper man, an upstanding citizen who has come to epitomize the decorous values of his New York suburban town. Courteous, honest, hardworking, and impenetrable, Franklin Hata, a Japanese man of Korean birth, is careful never to overstep his boundaries and to make his neighbors comfortable in his presence. Yet as his story unfolds, precipitated by the small events surrounding him, we see his life begin to unravel. Gradually we learn the mystery that has shaped the core of his being: his terrible, forbidden love for a young Korean Comfort Woman when he served as a medic in the Japanese army during World War II.

In A Gesture Life, Chang-rae Lee leads us with dazzling control through a taut, suspenseful story about love, family, and community — and the secrets we harbor. As in Native Speaker, he writes of the ways outsiders conform in order to survive and the price they pay for doing so. It is a haunting, breathtaking display of talent by an acclaimed young author.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity by an acclaimed and beloved author. Called “a tour de force”by the San Francisco Chronicle, this ambitious, electrifying work traces the harrowing journey of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in fifteenth-century Spain. When it falls to Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, to conserve this priceless work, the series of tiny artifacts she discovers in its ancient binding-an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair-only begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunges Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu

Seventeen years ago, Sepha Stephanos fled the Ethiopian Revolution for a new start in the United States. Now he finds himself running a failing grocery store in a poor African-American section of Washington, D.C., his only companions two fellow African immigrants who share his bitter nostalgia and longing for his home continent. Years ago and worlds away Sepha could never have imagined a life of such isolation. As his environment begins to change, hope comes in the form of a friendship with new neighbors Judith and Naomi, a white woman and her biracial daughter. But when a series of racial incidents disturbs the community, Sepha may lose everything all over again.

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

The Fortress of Solitude is the story of Dylan Ebdus growing up white and motherless in downtown Brooklyn in the 1970s. It’s a neighborhood where the entertainments include muggings along with games of stoopball. In that world, Dylan has one friend, a black teenager, also motherless, named Mingus Rude. As Lethem follows the knitting and unraveling of their friendship, he creates an overwhelmingly rich and emotionally gripping canvas of race and class, superheros, gentrification, funk, hip-hop, graffiti tagging, loyalty, and memory. The Fortress of Solitude is the first great urban coming of age novel to appear in years.

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

When John Dowell and his wife befriend Edward and Leonora Ashburnham, they appear to be the perfect couple. He is a distinguished soldier and she is beautiful and intelligent. However, what lies beneath the surface of their marriage is far more sinister and their influence leads John into a tragic drama that threatens to destroy everything he cares about.

Ford Madox Ford wrote The Good Soldier, the book on which his reputation most surely rests, in deliberate emulation of the nineteenth-century French novels he so admired. In this way he was able to explore the theme of sexual betrayal and its poisonous after-effects with a psychological intimacy as yet unknown in the English novel.

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

Lord Copper, newspaper magnate and proprietor of the Daily Beast, has always prided himself on his intuitive flair for spotting ace reporters. That is not to say he has not made the odd blunder, however, and may in a moment of weakness make another. Acting on a dinner party tip from Mrs. Algernon Stitch, Lord Copper feels convinced that he has hit on just the chap to cover a promising war in the African Republic of Ishmaelia. So begins Scoop, Waugh’s exuberant comedy of mistaken identity and brilliantly irreverent satire of the hectic pursuit of hot news.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

Here is Philip Roth’s masterpiece — an elegy for the American century’s promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic bliss. Roth’s protagonist is Swede Levov, a legendary athlete at his Newark high school, who grows up in the booming postwar years to marry a former Miss New Jersey, inherit his father’s glove factory, and move into a stone house in the idyllic hamlet of Old Rimrock. And then one day in 1968, Swede’s beautiful American luck deserts him.

For Swede’s adored daughter, Merry, has grown from a loving, quick-witted girl into a sullen, fanatical teenager — a teenager capable of an outlandishly savage act of political terrorism. And overnight Swede is wrenched out of the longed-for American pastoral and into the indigenous American berserk. Compulsively readable, propelled by sorrow, rage, and a deep compassion for its characters, American Pastoral gives us Philip Roth at the height of his powers.

In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien

This riveting novel of love and mystery from the author of The Things They Carried examines the lasting impact of the twentieth century’s legacy of violence and warfare, both at home and abroad. When long-hidden secrets about the atrocities he committed in Vietnam come to light, a candidate for the U.S. Senate retreats with his wife to a lakeside cabin in northern Minnesota. Within days of their arrival, his wife mysteriously vanishes into the watery wilderness.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson’s famous exploration of humanity’s basest capacity for evil…

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have become synonymous with the idea of a split personality. More than a morality tale, this dark psychological fantasy is also a product of its time, drawing on contemporary theories of class, evolution, criminality, and secret lives.

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