Some Friends Have Asked For Summer Reading Recommendations

In the past couple of weeks, several people have asked for book recommendations; I just found the time to write these down. Here goes:

book cover

A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra — I learned so much about Chechnya (1996-20014) through this impressive story and these compelling characters, and the writing is brilliant; I found myself copying down many lines I just needed to save somewhere.

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer — great writing, great story set in pre/during WWII.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr — just lovely language and characters, plot builds with such authority — WWII as well.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Goff — a husband and wife’s stories, lots of Greek tragedy here with great writing.

A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin — the compelling, tragic life of a mathematical genius.

When Breathe Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi — nonfiction, stunning writing about facing death.

She Weeps Each Time You’re Born by Quan Barry — haunting, gorgeous writing about past and present Vietnam.

The Nightingale by Krisin Hannah — strong story of two sisters in France during WWII.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri — I’ll read anything by her J — the story of two brothers, one who straddles life in India and the US.

Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris — probably no one will love this book more than I — she’s the nonpareil of grammar; I wrote her, and she responded!

Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter by Nina MacLaughlin — nonfiction, Nobles grad who writes with power and humor about changing her life.

All That is Solid Melts Into Air by Darragh McKeon — a gripping fictional account of characters surviving the Chernobyl disaster.

Euphoria by Lily King — Lily taught at Nobles and is a warm, lovely person, and she is a fine writer. This book is loosely based on Margaret Mead’s fascinating life, love, and work in New Guinea. Great writing. Also try Father of the Rain by Lily — so powerful!

Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill — this feels like poetry; it’s beautiful, heart-breaking, funny, and moving about marriage, mothering, forgiving, and being an artist — all written in compelling, vignette-ish pieces.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout — I love this writer, and this book is about writing, too. A mother-daughter unveiling as well.

And here are five of my absolute favorites written up for an article in the Nobles Bulletin years ago with this title:

“Five Books I Wish I Hadn’t Already Read So That I Could Read Them For the First Time Again”

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss is a clever, moving novel. I definitely like this kind of book where the story unwraps slowly and mysteriously through different voices, in this case: Alma, a precocious 14 year-old; Bird, her ten-year old brother, and Leo, a retired locksmith (I love the symbolism of his being a locksmith – there is so much that must be unlocked…). You have to be comfortable with not knowing exactly what is going on all of the time, but if you stick with it, this novel delivers so much haunting beauty and knowledge of love. And the writing is just perfect.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is a tragic, detailed saga that pulled me into India and made me have to travel there. After I finished this novel, I was sitting next to Ben and said, “You have to read this book so we can talk about it.” He did. (He’s quite obedient) He loved it, too, and we decided to go to India to see if we could create a travel and service experience for Nobles students. We did. Five groups have gone to India since our first look-see excursion. Four years ago I began teaching a senior elective on Contemporary Literature of India. All triggered by this novel…

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese is set in Ethiopia and unravels a complex, entertaining story of intersected lives, some from Ethiopia, others from India, America, and England. There is a lot to love about this novel. There’s the Ethiopian history and political events, the intricate surgical detail (Verghese is a surgeon as well as a fine writer), and the imaginative plot. The writing is just exquisite, and the characters so interesting. I have a thing about twins in literature or plays; the twin boys in this story add such richness and complexity. I loved this book.

Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Berniéres is flat out fine story telling, unearthing a poignant love story. There are parts I had to copy in my journal, so much truth was in his words. Maybe it was so engaging because I read it first when Ben and I were on a six-month sabbatical traveling around the world with our children. I had time to read each morning when I woke up which is a luxury for me. I had the whole day to think about and remember strong images and particularly truthful passages.

The Republic of Love by Carol Shields is at times funny, detailed, and always engaging – another love story. (I’ve read every book she’s written. I wrote Carol Shields after finishing her book, Unless, as I’d heard it was her last because of a cancer diagnosis. She wrote me back a lovely hand-written card that I treasure.) This quirky love tale unveils Shields’ ability to write with such authentic voices for her characters. (The Stone Diaries, for which Shields received the Pulitzer, highlights this finesse with voice as well.) The book brims with details and has a plot that surprises and pleases, unrolling through alternating chapters from the two protagonists, Fay and Tom.



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