Summer reading list
Man, it’s hot. Too hot to sleep. Too hot to work. Better pull up a hunk of shade and get out a good book.
I can’t remember who it was who said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Was it George the Elder to George W.? Perhaps it was Jocasta to Oedipus. Actually, I think it was Uncle Ben to Peter, but that is neither here nor there. I’m actually trying to paraphrase whoever it was and say, “With great weather comes great responsibility"—to do some serious vacation reading.
Here’s a list of the best and most-talked-about new books, from fiction to memoirs to short-story collections. Grab one of these this summer for an instant literary getaway. (Sunblock and umbrella drink not included.)
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf, $24.00): The latest offering from the author of The Remains of the Day, this novel is set in an alternate universe, circa mid-1990s, where human clones are bred and raised as living organ donors for the general population. Narrator Kathy H, aware that she’s approaching the end of her life, looks back on a childhood that was simultaneously idyllic and ominous. Ishiguro’s typically understated prose belies the magnitude of the ethical and scientific issues confronting his dystopic world, and our own.
Misfortune, Wesley Stace (Little Brown & Co., $23.95): Musician John Wesley Harding, a.k.a. Wesley Stace, turns his hand to writing in this acclaimed debut novel. In the slums of Victorian London, an eccentric nobleman rescues an abandoned baby left on a junk heap. Still grieving over a beloved sister who died in childhood, Lord Loveall vows to raise the baby in her stead as his own daughter and heir (much to the chagrin of the greedy distant relatives who hope to inherit the estate). The only problem is, the baby’s a boy. A wry, ribald adventure, Misfortune explores gender and sexuality in one of the most notoriously repressed periods in history.
Lost in the Forest, Sue Miller (Knopf, $24.95): Set against the picturesque backdrop of California’s wine country, this novel explores the complexities of family life and the ambiguity of romantic relationships. Ex-spouses Eva and Mark, who divorced over his infidelity, are brought together by the death of Eva’s second husband. Absorbed in grief and the awkwardness of rekindled attraction, they lose sight of their parental responsibilities; meanwhile, their 15-year-old daughter Daisy begins an unsettling sexual affair with a 50-something family friend.
Fat Girl: A True Story, Judith Moore (Hudson Street Press, $21.95): This powerful and disturbing memoir confronts an increasingly common health problem from an insider’s perspective. Forced to endure a horrific childhood with a distant and abusive mother, Moore learns that food can substitute for love. Her graphic descriptions of the physical discomfort, humiliation and self-loathing caused by obesity are both deeply affecting and emotionally painful, but it’s a timely look into an alarming social trend.
Earthly Joys, Philippa Gregory (Touchstone, $16): Prolific historical novelist Gregory tells the story of John Tradescant, a 17th-century English gardener who’s swept into the current of history when he befriends Sir Robert Cecil, adviser to King James I. As revolution sweeps England, Tradescant becomes a servant of the Duke of Buckingham, lover to King Charles I—and his intimate relationship with the flamboyant and powerful duke will change his life forever.
Oblivion, Peter Abrahams (William Morrow, $24.95): Fans of the mind-boggling twists of the movie Memento will flock to this suspenseful thriller with an equally unreliable narrator. Private investigator Nick Petrov specializes in finding missing children, but, on the verge of solving his latest case, Petrov collapses and is hospitalized for a brain injury. When he awakens, his memories are fragmented, and he senses that he’s not the same person he was. But the answers he seeks—both to the case and to his missing past—may be more harmful than he realizes.
A Long Way Down, Nick Hornby (Riverhead, $24.95): Author of books-turned-movies High Fidelity and About a Boy, Hornby returns to familiar territory in his latest novel: confirmed losers at the fringes of society banding together to carry each other through seemingly unbearable sorrow. Four people—a TV celebrity whose career is shot, the despairing mother of a demanding special-needs child, a privileged, unhappy teen and a fading rock star—meet on the roof of a building that’s a favorite spot for suicidal jumpers. Sharing their stories late into the night, they find an unlikely common ground, and, to their surprise, a reason for living.
The Bright Forever, Lee Martin (Shaye Areheart, $23.00): Nine-year-old Katie Mackey, daughter of the richest family in a small Indiana town, rides her bicycle to the library one summer evening and never returns. Told from multiple perspectives, the story probes the darkest secrets of the town’s citizens, whose private unhappiness and inner turmoil build up to an explosive and tragic crime.
Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules, David Sedaris (Simon & Schuster, $14.95): No, it’s not a new book by beloved humorist Sedaris, whose scathingly hilarious memoirs have earned him a considerable following. This short-story anthology is Sedaris’ attempt to share his love for short fiction with his fans. It’s also a benefit for 826NYC, a non-profit tutoring center in New York that helps children from ages 6 to 18 with writing workshops, homework tutoring and learning the English language. Benefit your bookshelf and young writers at the same time with this collection of authors like Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Munro and Joyce Carol Oates.