Posted by Katie Waring, Managing Editor for 3.1
A few weeks ago, Managing Editor Lucia LoTempio posted her best poetry picks for our readers’ summer reading lists. Now it’s time to stretch out a hammock, slather on a little sunblock, and crack open a few fantastically juicy works of fiction and nonfiction.Whether you’re in the mood for a romantic novel, a witty short story, or an first-hand account of Detroit’s socioeconomic downfall, these books are sure to land on your must-read list for the summer:
The History of Love by Nicole KraussW.W. Norton & Company, 2006.
In this experimental novel, Nicole Krauss weaves together the stories of two characters: an elderly man, Leo, who spends his days writing and coping with the notion of inevitable death, and Alma, a teenage girl who sets out out an adventure to find her fictional namesake. Krauss creates a series of truly unique, quirky characters in this novel, establishing the tone of the work in the very first line: “When they write my obituary. Tomorrow. Or the next day. It will say, LEO GURSKY IS SURVIVED BY AN APARTMENT FULL OF SHIT.” Krauss has a lyrical style of writing similar to husband Jonathan Safran Foer, so if you enjoyed Everything Is Illuminated or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, check out this book!
All the Names by Jose SaramagoMariner Books, 2001.
Portuguese author Jose Saramago won the Nobel Prize in 1998 and it’s easy to see why in this novel, originally published in Portuguese in 1997. In this book, Saramago introduces readers to a dystopian society through the perspective of Jose, a low-level clerk in the unnamed city’s Central Registry of Births, Marriages, and Deaths. Jose’s slightly disorienting, obsessive search to find a woman mentioned in a record thrown across his desk somewhat mirrors Saramago’s writing style–with little punctuation, dialogue lacking quotation marks, and few paragraph indentations, it takes a chapter or two to get used to Saramago’s unique style. The adjustment, however, is worth it: Saramago’s detail, irony, and subtle commentary on the human condition makes this read well worth the effort.
God Bless America Stories by Steve AlmondLookout Books, 2011.
Steve Almond combines humor, tragedy, and wit in a collection of short stories that inverts the stereotypical ideal of the ‘American Dream.’ If you’re looking for a quick read that will hold your attention from the first page of each story to the last, look no further. Almond’s characters, like Billy Clamm from the collection’s titular story, are often quirky and unexpectedly persistent when it comes to getting what they want: Billy, an aspiring actor, takes his method acting in a Tea Party reenactment job to such serious proportions that he ends up in a boat full of cocaine, floating through the Atlantic.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieAnchor, 2014.
I’ll admit it: I haven’t read this book yet. But since it’s publication in March, the book has made a huge splash in literary circles–it’s been named one of The New York Time’s Ten Best Books of the Year, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and made its way to the top of my to-read list. In this novel, Nigerian-born Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie presents a love story complicated by race, identity, and cross-continental boundaries. Lovers Ifemelu and Obinze are separated when Ifemelu leaves military-controlled Nigeria for America, while Obinze immigrates to London. They reconcile fifteen years later in their newly democratic homeland.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl StrayedVintage, 2013.
Ever since I encountered one of Cheryl Strayed’s essays in a workshop last year, I’ve been a bit obsessed with her writing. Alright, maybe it’s a bit more than “a bit.” Wild is Cheryl Strayed’s first full-length memoir, and it’s simultaneously heart-wrenching and hilarious from the very first page. In this book, Strayed doesn’t just take readers on a trip down the Pacific Coast Trail: she takes us on an emotional journey through the diagnosis and loss of Strayed’s mother to cancer, Strayed’s subsequent divorce, and the series of events that prompted the twenty-two year old to hike over 1,000 miles of unpopulated trail wilderness by herself. If you’d like to see a preview of this memoir, check out the book trailer Strayed made for Wild‘s release.
Kayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats by Roger RosenblattEcco, 2012.
This is another book written as a result of an author losing a family member. However, while Strayed writes in the wake of her mother’s death, Rosenblatt writes in the wake of his daughter’s. Two and a half years after Amy, 38, died of an undiagnosed heart condition Rosenblatt, still grieving, takes his kayak out on the water near his Quogue, Long Island home. As he ventures through the water, Rosenblatt recollects Amy as a child, his marriage, career, and summering in the Hamptons during his own childhood. Rosenblatt’s language is filled with imagery and is captivatingly poetic from the very first page.
Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuffPenguin Books, 2013.
If you’ve ever had an interest in investigative journalism, Detroit, the auto industry, or government, this is the book for you. Charlie LeDuff worked as a reporter for The New York Times before returning to Detroit, his hometown, and taking a job at The Detorit News. In this account, LeDuff tackles the big questions on Detroit’s fall from world capital of the auto industry to America’s capital of unemployment, illiteracy, home foreclosure, and homicide. LeDuff examines everything from the holes in firemen’s boots to ambulance response times, a body found frozen in an abandoned buildings, the impeachment and arrest of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and the death of LeDuff’s own sister. If you’d like to sample LeDuff’s writing before reading this book, check out this essay published in Mother Jones, which investigates the death of a seven-year-old Detroit girl and deals with many of the same questions and issues brought up in the book.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl StrayedVintage, 2012.
Did I mention I’m a tiny bit obsessed with Cheryl Strayed? Okay, maybe I shouldn’t feature two of her books on this list when there are a lot of perfectly good, wonderfully-written nonfiction books out there, but I can’t help it. It’s that good. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of advice columns taken from Strayed’s Dear Sugar column in The Rumpus. And before you think advice columns: each response Strayed writes as ‘Sugar,’ the resident advice expert at The Rumpus, is written more personal essay than column. Strayed draws on her own life experiences–oftentimes describing painful memories in explicit detail–in order to help Dear Sugar readers. “My mother’s last word clanks inside me like an iron bell that some beats at dinnertime: love, love, love, love, love,” Strayed tells one reader named Johnny. “The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of love.”