If you only read one book this year, I don’t know that we could ever be friends. Who only reads one book a year? It’s absurd. Nonetheless, if you plan to read 5 books this year (and that is still far too few), allow me to make some recommendations:
First up is Home by Marilynne Robinson. Remember how much you loved Robinson’s award winning novel, Gilead? If so, pick up Home. It is Robinson’s retelling of the same series of events from a different angle. Sound like a gimmick? It’s not. Robinson won a Pulitzer Prize, for crying out loud, she isn’t into gimmicks. What could have been redundant in the hands of a lesser author provides deeper and richer insight in the hands of this one. Not only that, but Home manages to stand alone as its own work. So, forget what I said about reading Gilead first. Just make sure you read it eventually.
Second on the list is A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz. Oh my frick, this book is great. You know how reviewers misapply the adjectives “sweeping” and “dizzying” to books that are more confusing and cumbersome? Well, this book is sweeping and dizzying and heartbreaking and humorous. It is as grand as its Australian setting and as intimate as the relationship between the pro/antagonist father and son. The sleeper hit of 2008 and the best book Wes Anderson never wrote, but wished he had.
America America. The book so nice, they named it twice. The country with a history so elaborate and expansive, no author could tackle it in one novel, no matter how great or American. Instead, author Ethan Canin tackles eras in that history and in the life of Corey Sifter. Corey’s coming of age story reflects the coming of age of a generation and of a country.
Like your coming of age stories a little more great and a little less American? Check out The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine. Like Steve Toltz, Alameddine was an author whose name was new to me and, like Toltz, one who quickly became a favorite. I can honestly say that I have never read anything quite like The Hakawati. The Old Testament meets Arabian Nights is as close as I can get to describing it, and I’m not the first to describe it that way. These stories are ancient and eastern and mysterious and miraculous and exciting and fun.
Finally, let me suggest you pick up American Wife. Mostly because, if I don’t, you never will. Two reasons: it’s called American Wife, and it has a picture of a wedding dress on the front. If ever an author’s books shouldn’t be judged by their covers, that author is Curtis Sittenfeld. Sittenfeld wrote Prep, another book I avoided until a friend insisted I pick it up. What looked to be something out of the Gossip Girl craze, ended up being a poignant and powerful look into an all girls prep school. And, what looked to be trashy romance fiction with a political twist ended up being a portrait of a President and First Lady that made Laura Bush (who the book is clearly based upon) downright sympathetic (not so much G.W. or Mama Bush). If you’ve always wondered how an intelligent woman like Laura Bush ended up with a husband like our President, Sittenfeld’s book may offer a clue.
Well, that’s it for now kids. I recommend you read 10 or 20 or 30 books this year and, if you stop by the store and ask for Kester, I’ll even recommend which ones you read. But if you only read 5 books this year, read these. And if you only read one book this year, I don’t even want to know you.
Posted by Kester