Do you ever dream about being interviewed by the New York Times after your novel becomes a bestseller? Yes, well. . . I love that feature in the Book Review, By the Book, where an author is interviewed and asked, among other things: “What’s on your nightstand right now?” Sometimes I scoff at how pretentious those lists can be. You know, Proust, Nietzsche, the complete works of James Joyce. Of course I know writers read those books, but I like it a lot more when an author will fess-up to reading the latest Stephen King or a new thriller by a young or not-yet-discovered writer.
Also, I’m seeing a lot of lists appear in the newspaper and at my local independent bookstores right now — it’s time for summer reading! I love summer reading. Well, I love Spring reading and Fall reading and Winter reading too, but in the summer you get a pass to read whatever the heck you feel like. (Fall, for me, is the time to hunker in with the classics or at least a serious literary read.) So I thought I’d suggest a few titles for your summer reading list, including books I’ve recently read and also some titles that I’ve recently discovered and are stacked up on my virtual night stand right now.
First off, if you have not yet read Donna Tartt’s excellent novel, The Goldfinch, go out and buy or borrow it as soon as possible. It is unequivocally the best novel I’ve read in the past year—or maybe the past five years. And, it’s hefty. You can start this one on the plane (if you’re flying somewhere on your summer vacation) and then finish it sitting in a beach chair, or on the porch, while sipping your favorite beverage. This assumes, however, that you have planned in time for significant leisurely reading. At 771 pages, this novel will keep you in its thrall for days. And, if you’re like me, as soon as you close the cover, you’ll want to turn back to the beginning and start all over. Tartt not only composes beautiful sentences, again and again—the kind you’ll want to read out loud and savor—but the story of Theo Decker (thirteen years old when the book opens, in his twenties at its end) will keep you rooting for him through the chaos of his formative years. With the backdrop of the wealthy private school world in Manhattan to the weird world of the moon-like Las Vegas suburbs, Theo makes his way back home as best he can with only the kindness of strangers and his own wits to see him through. Oh, and yes, also that stolen painting of the Goldfinch which continually haunts Theo and the reader.
And here are some books I’ve read reviews of and can’t wait to get my hands on. First, there’s a debut thriller by a young Swiss writer, Joel Dicker, which is a bestseller in Europe and has now been translated into English. The book, The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair, described in the New York Times Book Review as “unimpeachably terrific.” The plot appeals to me: A young novelist, Marcus Goldman, suffering from writer’s block after the success of his first novel, travels to a coastal town in New Hampshire to write along-side his mentor, Harry Quebert, “a gruff, grandiose, tough-talking romantic who uses boxing to illustrate writing tips.” The visit to New Hampshire doesn’t go well or last long but soon after Marcus returns to New York, the body of a fifteen-year-old girl, missing since 1975, is found on Harry’s property. And Harry has been arrested. Apparently Harry’s only literary masterpiece—published soon after the girl’s death—centers on an improbable love affair between two characters much like Harry and the dead girl. So Marcus returns to New Hampshire with the intention of helping his mentor and clearing his good name and legacy.
The novel is “a playful, page-turning whodunit, dense with suspects, multiple timelines, contradicting stories, past sins, town secrets, personal entanglements and an array of colorful (suspiciously behaving) locals.” Sounds great – I’m off to the bookstore. (Found it yesterday at Elliott Bay Books!)
Next up for me is Stephen King’s latest, Mr. Mercedes. This is, Megan Abbott says in the New York Times Book Review, King’s first foray into the straight-up detective novel genre—no paranormal or horror story here. It’s a hard-boiled detective novel with a twist: “Instead of another hard-drinking soulful detective, King presents a hero who lost interest in alcohol upon his retirement, and whose only addiction is daytime television.” Abbott suggests that by successfully deviating from the detective novel’s “creakiest devices,” Mr. Mercedes feels fresh.
In true Stephen King style, the first half of the novel “tickles our anxieties, his detective engaging in a classic cat-and-mouse game with the killer.” But, the reviewer tells us, “King is up to something sneaky” involving one of his female characters. Apparently, the MacGuffin in the novel is a fedora which appears halfway through the story but doesn’t quite fit any of the characters except, maybe, Holly Gibney, who “jostles her way into the center of the action, playing a critical role in the investigation but also, more substantially providing the nerve, drive and jittery heart of the novel.” She never gets to wear the fedora, but its disappearance “marks a shift in the story itself,” where the spotlight moves to Holly. Now that appeals to me—a hard-boiled detective novel with a nod to female ingenuity. Need to get it.
Following is a list of the other books on my nightstand. Find full reviews for them in the NY Times Book Review.
Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke, described as a “chiller” from an author who is not only a suspense novelist but a prizewinning poet. “The best sections of the book take place at the Siberian orphanage . . . “ I’m in.
Sedition by Katharine Grant, “In Georgian London, a tale of seduction, sex, love, death and the pianoforte.” Enough said.
Love, Nina, A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Sibbe: “[A] series of letters Nina Stibbe wrote to her sister while working as a young live-in nanny 30 years ago for Mary-Kay Wilmers, then and now a top editor at the London Review of Books.” Fun!
So much to read! And I hope you’ll let me know what you’re reading this summer—there’s always room for more!