By Carole Reedy
“One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.”
Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle
Book lovers read year-round, but the summer months are often linked to lighter novels. Still, I clearly recall reading William Thackery’s classic Vanity Fair on the beach in Spain and Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past in front of a roaring Chicago fireplace in the early morning hours one winter. I suppose it could have been the reverse: Proust in the summer, Thackery in the winter.
This month’s selection keeps summer activities in mind, whether that means opening your book in your mother’s garden or on a beach, train, or plane.
The Silver Star, by Jeanette Walls
As Walls writes in the introductory quote, there seem to be more hours in the day for reading during summer, this being merely a perception of time that Thomas Mann so eloquently addresses in his grand tome The Magic Mountain. For Walls, the winter months may indeed have curtailed reading due to lack of electricity. Her book The Glass Castle, on the New York Times bestseller list for five years, is a bittersweet look at her childhood and at parents who tried to teach their children self-reliance…to the point of abuse. “Good stories out of bad memories” is how The New York Times describes this memoir. Walls is a descriptive writer and talks through her characters, perhaps because she’s one of them, and her story demonstrates that life itself is stranger than fiction. But while the tale of the children’s lives in the book is disturbing, it is less so when you realize that they not only survive, but create new ways of living.
Walls’ The Silver Star, published in June, is set in 1970s California. This story of a mother and her daughters is described by the publisher as a “heartbreaking and redemptive novel about an intrepid girl who challenges the injustice of the adult world—a triumph of imagination and storytelling.” It appears to be another story about the strength derived from a nontraditional, challenging childhood. In Half Broke Horses, a family account centered around her grandmother, Walls gives us yet another glimpse and perhaps an explanation of the motivations and actions of her parents.
And the Mountains Echoed, by Khalad Hossein,
Another popular writer, Hossein has just published his first book since A Thousand Splendid Suns six years ago. Along with his debut, The Kite Runner, the two have sold more than 38 million copies worldwide. Now, Hossein offers And the Mountains Echoed, a book he describes as “a kind of fairy tale turned on its head. You have a very painful rupture at the beginning and then this tearful reconciliation at the end, except the revelations and the reconciliations you’re granted aren’t the ones you’re expecting. Which is how life is, really.”From Kabul and Paris to San Francisco to the Greek Islands, Hossein explores a multi-generational family and how it nurtures and hurts, loves and betrays. The first printing is 1.5 million copies, so look for this blockbuster in bookstores and on your e-reader (where you can find all of the books mentioned here).
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
“What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? What if there were second chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?” Kate Atkinson’s website introduces her latest novel with these words. Certainly a provocative teaser, and few writers could live up to the mystery, but Atkinson certainly can. Each of her novels is different, refreshing, and compelling.
The New York Times recognizes Atkinson’s creative talent, reporting, “Atkinson’s latest novel…is her very best…A big book that defies logic, chronology and even history in ways that underscore its author’s fully untethered imagination…Even without the sleight of hand, Life After Life would be an exceptionally captivating book with an engaging cast of characters…[Atkinson’s] own writerly cradle was rocked by a very sure hand indeed.”
The Burgess Boys, by Elizabeth Strout
Strout is author of Olive Kitteridge, a novel in stories that won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize and was also nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award; also, it was a New York Times bestseller. Her newest novel is the story of two brothers, their sister and nephew. Once again, Strout ‘animates the ordinary with astonishing force.’ (NY Times).
Big Brother, by Lionel Shriver
Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin may have been more talked about as a movie than book. The film was indeed as haunting as the book, due to the brilliant performance of Tilda Swinton. Still, a book brings a dimension that the movie medium cannot provide. Library Journal describes Shriver’s latest as “brilliantly imagined, beautifully written, and superbly entertaining, Shriver’s novel confronts readers with the decisive question: can we save our loved ones from themselves? A must-read for Shriver fans, this novel will win over new readers as well.”
Anticipating the new fall books…
The most exciting news of the summer is that Jhumpa Lahiri (author of The Namesake, The Interpreter of Maladies, and Unaccustomed Earth) will publish a new novel in September. Get a sneak preview by locating The New Yorker’s Summer Fiction issue, in paper or online, where an excerpt called “Brotherly Love” surely will whet your appetite for the full meal. Lahiri’s latest is called The Lowland. She says she’s had the idea since 1997 and has been honing it into the story we’ll devour this fall.