The Booker longlist is one I have anticipated, but in the past few years it has not inspired me to read from it. The prestigious literary award is given each year to the best novel written in English and published in Britain or Ireland. This year, however, when I really need a few good books, the list holds promise for me.
I’ve already read Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun, and I have Maggie Shipstead’s Great Circle on my library list. I will add Frances Spufford’s Light Perpetual where the author imagines how the lives of five children killed by a German V-2 rocket in 1944 might have turned out had they survived the bombing.
Richard Powers, author of the Overstory, has a powerful new story in Bewilderment, to be published in the United States in September. “The novel is set in the near future amid Earth’s slow deterioration. It follows a widowed father of a most unusual and troubled nine-year-old boy, as he turns to an experimental neurological treatment in order to save his son.”
Perhaps you’ll find something too. The full longlist includes:
Librarians always know the best books to read, and Nancy Pearl, Librarian of the Year in 2011, and NPR commentator and book reviewer, combined her recommendations into a book – Book Lust. Published in 2003, I am just getting to it, and making my list from it. Pearl has written a few sequels since then but this is a good place to start.
The book chapters are organized alphabetically by theme from “My Name is Alice” (authors) to “Zen Buddism” and “Zero,” and I started by skipping around, landing on “Magical Realism, Intriguing Novels, and First Lines to Remember.” Ultimately, I just flipped through all the pages, taking notes as I went, looking for new reads, and gratified when I came across a familiar title I had read.
Here are a few for my to-read list:
Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night uses a reunion at Oxford as the setting for an academic mystery without a murder.
John Banville’s The Untouchable is based on Sir Anthony Blunt, art historian, Keeper of the Queen’s Pictures, and one of the infamous group of Cambridge spies.
Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams tells about Cosi Noline, who comes home to Arizona to find an ill father, complications in love, and a town facing an environmental threat.
Pearl includes a separate section – “One Hundred Good Reads, Decade By Decade,” from 1900 to 1990s; the book includes an overwhelming list of titles with separate sections for her favorite authors, including Barbara Pym and Gore Vidal. It’s impossible not to find something to read.
What I’ve Read and Enjoyed Lately – but not Reviewed
The Paris Library by Janet Charles – based on the true story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris during World War II
Dream Girl by Laura Lippman – Another thriller from the author of “Lady in the Lake.” With traces of Rear Window, this is a page turner.
The Vixen by Francine Prose – Although it’s been almost seventy years since Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for espionage, Anne Sebba’s biography on Ethel Rosenberg recently brought the story back into view. Francine Prose brings her fictionalized and somewhat askew version of Ethel Rosenberg into her new novel The Vixen. Maria Semple , one of my favorite authors, calls it ” a rollicking trickster of a novel, wondrously funny and wickedly addictive.”
I found an old crossword from a Children’s Literature class I taught in a former life. The clues reminded me of some of my favorites. The crossword has 32 Across and 29 Down, but how about I give you the answers to ten of them, and you supply the question.
Her surname is Quimby and she is the delightful heroine of a series of books, some set in the 1980s.
The bull who prefers “smelling the roses” to fighting in 1936 book by Munro Leaf.
Mouse dentist who fools fox patient in this 1982 Newbery Honor book.
French mouse who works in a cheese factory.
With the last name of Longstocking, this Swedish tomboy appeared in a 1950 novel.
The adventures of a little girl who lives in a Paris boarding school in 1939.
First name of the orphan girl sent to live at Green Gables.
A young tiger who finally blooms under the watchful eye of his concerned parents.
Number of cats the old couple had in this 1928 picture book.
The title of the 2021 winner of the Caldecott Medal.
If you can’t get them all, here’s your crib sheet – the answers in no particular order:
Nothing like a fast paced page-turner to get me motivated these days. Chris Bohjalian delivered again with The Hour of the Witch and Laura Dave with The Last Thing He Told Me.
Although “witch” is in the title and the setting is witch-ridden New England, the Hour of the Witch was more of a feminist approach in dealing with an abusive husband. Divorce was not easy back in colonial times, but living with a monster was not an option for Mary Deerfield, especially after her drunken husband drives a three-pronged fork into her hand. Of course, the elders decide she must either live with it or be labelled a witch. Sometimes, being a witch isn’t a bad alternative. A great story from one of my favorite storytellers. I finished it in a day.
In The Last Thing He Told Me, Hannah Hall finds herself in a twisted plot as she tries to escape FBI agents and U.S, Marshalls with her teenage stepdaughter after her husband disappears. Turns out he is not who she thought he was, and you will keep reading to find out not only why he is hiding but what he did in his past. True love prevails in the end, and I had to read this in one setting to find out how.
Next on my wild and frenzied ride through satisfying fast reads is Cynthia D’Aprix new book. Remember the author who caused a controversy when she sold her debut novel “The Nest” to a publisher for a seven figure deal? Turns out she’s not a one-hit-wonder. Her new book Good Company promises another good read. ” On the day of her daughter’s high school graduation, happily married Flora Mancini is looking for an old photograph when she discovers an envelope containing her husband’s wedding ring – the one he said he lost over a decade ago.”
What scintillating fast reads are you reading these days?
Some habits might be good to recover, post vaccine – walking a few more blocks to hear the end of a story or driving another mile to hear the next chapter on audio. This year’s list of audiobook winners from the Audio Publishers Association has a few I may listen to, but also gave me some ideas for books I may order online to read.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke won Audiobook of the Year. When I asked my local librarian about it, she said she “liked it but it is different.” Piranesi is a fantasy novel by English author Susanna Clarke, her second novel and her first since her debut Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, published sixteen years earlier. It’s about wizardry and magic, and Ron Charles for the Washington Post says “Susanna Clarke’s infinitely clever ‘Piranesi’ is enough to make you appreciate life in quarantine – about a man trapped forever indoors…” Sounds deliciously weird, and I plan to try reading it.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo and Melania-Luisa Marte, won both the 2021 Young Adult Audie Award and the Multi-Voiced Performance Award. The title is intriguing and this novel, in verse, about two sisters losing their father, their hero, and finding each other along the way, caught my interest. Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam champion, and she won a National Book Award for her first book, The Poet X.
A Very Punchable Face by Colin Yost of SNL fame won the Humor award.
The Push by Ashley Audrain – nothing like listening to a psychological thriller. This one follows a new mom, Blythe Connor, whose concerns about her children are repeatedly dismissed—until a devastating incident sends the entire family reeling.
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel – five members of a family that left their roots in Colombia for a better life in the U.S., only to be met with an entire new set of challenges with being undocumented in this country. Written by Patricia Engel, a daughter of Colombian immigrants.
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner – with a trio of narrators, flipping back and forth between the 18th century, when a London apothecary sold poison to women solely to be used on men, to the present, as a young historian finds herself tracking down a series of clues to solve the infamous centuries-old “apothecary murders.”
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid – author of Daisy Jones and the Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. This story follows follows four famous siblings over the span of one all-night, ultimately disastrous party.