For a little something different this week, I decided to give you some legitimate book suggestions, rather than talk about what I’m reading right now. (But FYI I’m reading Lorrie Moore‘s A Gate at the Stairs, and I’m almost done, and it’s getting juicy.)
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get bored with the whole chick-lit-on-the-beach thing. Don’t get me wrong—I have a whole set of books I read only before bed that must contain silliness. But summer reads do not have to be sub-par as a rule. They just have to hold your interest. We all have different definitions of what “summer read” really means. Here’s a list of books I’ve enjoyed, dare I say, would put at or near the top of a list if I had one, and perhaps you’ll enjoy them too…hopefully stretched out on the beach, but really, an air conditioned room will do just as well.
The Feast of Love
By Charles Baxter
READ THIS IF: You get wound up in beautiful language, and are a lover, not a hater.
ALSO: Because Charles Baxter is a great writer. And, in a fun twist, he’s a character in his own story, living life in Michigan, chatting with his neighbors. Mostly, the book is told to the Charles Baxter character through their narratives. But it’s still a fictional novel—it just plays with the rules a bit. Warning: This book will make you think, so if it’s above 90 degrees, maybe save it for another day.
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
By ZZ Packer
READ THIS IF: You feel like the world doesn’t get you.
ALSO: ZZ Packer has a knack at writing characters that you can effortlessly get, even if they feel like the world doesn’t get them. Maybe that’s why it’s so rewarding to feel like you can relate. She writes with honesty and immediacy, and you might get lost in these stories, only to look up at an empty beach, the sun going down.
This Boy’s Life
By Tobias Wolff
READ THIS IF: You want to get engrossed.
ALSO: As memoirs go, this one reads like fiction—after all, it’s Tobias Wolff and the prose is graceful. If coming-of-age stories are your thing, this one will completely transport you to Tobias’s childhood. His desperation as a powerless child is the driving force, and makes for a not very uplifting story, but the good news is, we know Tobias comes out on top in the end.
Bonus: If you read Geoffrey Wolff’s Duke of Deception along with it, you’ll get a much bigger and fascinating picture of the family. (Geoffrey is Tobias’s brother.)
By Jhumpa Lahiri
READ THIS IF: You find familial and romantic relationships endlessly fascinating.
ALSO: In signature Lahiri fashion, these stories are remarkably emotional, mysterious and provoking. Unaccustomed Earth focuses on the children of immigrants as they grow into adulthood and navigate love, marriage and death in a land that is not inherently their own. This is not new territory for Lahiri, but she looks at it from different perspectives this time, exposing the pain of seeing one’s parents as vulnerable people, for instance.
By Leonard Michaels
READ THIS IF: You wish you had lived in 1960s New York and like really good writing.
ALSO: Again, Leonard Michaels’s prose is reason enough to pick this up. He is known for writing sentences that you can breathe in like air. On top of that, while the story is not exactly plot-heavy (never been a problem for me), the drama is in the relationship of a young couple that you won’t be able to take your eyes off. The narrator exhaustingly revolves his life around Sylvia, and there is a very compulsive sexual tension throughout. Actually, be warned—sex is the main event, and it’s not always pretty.
What have you been reading on the beach lately?