By Carole Reedy
Even we dedicated readers, with our lists, book clubs, and notebooks, have trouble keeping up with the plethora of new authors and their work. We want to read everything by our favorite writers, and then there are the best-sellers. Add to that books recommended by friends and then all of the articles from The New York Times, The Guardian, and the multitude of literary publications.
Recently, I’ve set aside these approaches to discover some books I’ve missed. These were never on my to-read list, although certainly somewhere along the line they were recommended by one of the previous methods. Consider adding these to your list or just keep them in the back of your mind. Someday they may be offered on sale or, as happened to me, you may just decide “now is the time to read this.”
THE MAN WHO LOVED DOGS by Cuban author Leonardo Padura (2009), English translation by Anna Kushner (2014). In this grand novel of more than 700 pages, the two main characters are Trotsky and his murderer, but the book is chock full of history about Stalin, Siberia, and Russia, as well as the Spanish Civil War. The story shifts from Trotsky’s exile to Siberia before moving to Turkey and Norway and eventually to Mexico. The storyline concerning Trotsky’s assassin is equally detailed and mysterious, including all the intricacies and politics of the Spanish Civil War and communism, ending, as you well know, in Mexico with all the twists and turns neatly tied up. This novel, rich in detail and fact, is overwhelmingly fascinating.
THE ESSAYS OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE. I recommend Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (2006) and A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (1998), both compilations of his essays originally published in magazines such as Rolling Stone. David Foster Wallace’s talent was cut short by his suicide in 2008 at age 46 after 20 years of depression. It was a tremendous loss to the literary community. DFW was, along with his friend Jonathan Franzen, one of the finest authors of essay and fiction of the 20th century. With Wallace’s amazing command of English language grammar and vocabulary, innovative style, and acidic view of modern capitalist society, he captivated readers. DFW had the ability to see a situation, analyze it, and communicate it in the clearest, cleverest manner. He could make anything interesting and amusing, including the campaign trail of John McCain, the Maine Lobster Festival, a week-long Caribbean cruise, and yes, believe it or not, a review of Garner’s Book of American Grammar Usage. I would describe his writing as painfully perfect and I would describe him as a genius. His last book, the novel Infinite Jest, explains infinity from mathematical and philosophical points of view. TIME Magazine named it one of the best 100 novels in the English language from 1923 to 2006.
Any selection from the ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH SERIES. Need a pick-me-up? Anyone who has read even one of these delightful, poignant novels knows what it means to feel content after finishing the final paragraph. When I turn the final page, I think to myself “This is how the world should be.” If you haven’t read any McCall Smith, start with The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (1998). If you’re already a loyal fan of the series, check his recent list as there may be several you’ve missed. In addition to the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, 44 Scotland Street and the Sunday Philosophy Club are the other most popular of his grand selection of work. You will fall in love with the characters and want to follow all their adventures.
A FINE BALANCE by Rohinton Mistry (1995). Like War and Peace (Tolstoy) and A Remembrance of Things Past (Proust), this novel, about the India of Indira Gandhi, is an all-inclusive history that shifts into one of the grandest statements about the human condition. Spoiler alert: this is not a “happy” book, but it will be one you will never forget. The biggest mystery is why Mistry hasn’t written another novel of this grand caliber.
THE FLÂNEUR: A STROLL THROUGH THE PARADOXES OF PARIS by Edmund White (2001). I’ve recently noticed in the press many references to “flaneuring.” A new book by Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse: Women Walk the City, recounts her reflections while “flaneuring” in New York, Paris, Tokyo, Venice, and London, as well as that of other women walkers, including George Sand and Virginia Woolf. It may have all started with White’s gloriously written account of his days in Paris, where he strolls, observes, and drops interesting literary facts and gossipy tidbits about the residents of the areas he visits or the architecture. It takes a special talent to make one man’s strolling a compelling read…but he accomplishes it handily.
In the coming years we’ll surely miss more books, but take heart: they might be found another day…ojalá.