5 Compelling Novels You Should Read Now
I read a lot this summer. A lot. I blazed through my admittedly ambitious list of ADR Summer Reads and began writing little micro book reviews on Instagram, which I loved doing and will continue to do (though I long for those brilliant swaths of summery reading time), but I wanted to share a few of my reviews here today. It's fun for me to go back and read these now, just weeks or months later, because they convey not just how much I enjoyed these books, but also a sense of place and time, where I was and what I was thinking when I read, and flipped the final page, of these remarkable stories.
Here are five novels I highly recommend. If you've read any of them already, I'd love to hear what you think in the comments. And scroll down if you want to know what I'm reading now.
1. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
"We all come into existence as a single cell, smaller than a speck of dust. Much smaller. Divide. Multiply. Add and subtract. Matter changes hands, atoms flow in and out, molecules pivot, proteins stitch together, mitochondria send out their oxidative dictates; we begin a microscopic electrical swarm. The lungs the brain the heart. Forty weeks later, six trillion cells get crushed in the case of our mother's birth canal and we howl. Then the world starts in on us." (Anthony Doerr, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE)
I finished this beauty this morning in my garden as the late September wind whirled and my little pajama clad girls danced on crunchy leaves. It was pretty close to a perfect moment. I flipped the final page and felt a tremendous sense of calm and warmth. This book was beastly and tender, deep and dark and light and riddled with love. The language was pure poetry; I found myself reading slowly, delighting in the evocative pops of prose, in the short and addictive chapters, in the redolent metaphors. And the characters were so startlingly human, so full of longing and flaws and the confusion and ache that comes with loss and war. I loved this book so much. It will stay with me. I will tell my girls to read it one day. If you haven't read it yet, do. You will be dazzled.
2. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
"I'm a good girl, I'm a nice girl, I'm a straight-A, straight-laced, good daughter, good career girl, and I never stole anybody's boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend, and I put up with my parents' shit and my brother's shit, and I'm not a girl anyhow, I'm over fucking forty years old, and I'm good at my job and I'm great with kids and I held my mother's hand when she died, after four years of holding her hand while she was dying, and I speak to my father every day on the telephone - everyday, mind you, and what kind of weather do you have on your side of the river, because here it's pretty gray and a bit muggy too? It was supposed to say "Great Artist" on my tombstone, but if i died right now it would say "such a good teacher/daughter/friend" instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is FUCK YOU ALL." (Claire Messud, THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS)
How can you not be curious to read the book that begins this way? Messud's protagonist Nora is extreme and yet she's also universal in a way... She bristles with existential/sexual desire and quiet rage, she wonders about the things that so many of us do - time and love and happiness and purpose. This book haunted me. It felt sinister at times, a twisted and exquisitely-told cautionary tale, but in other moments, I detected a sharp edge of optimism, of redemption. In any event, I'm left a bit stunned and baffled by this one, admiring of Messud's lush, tumbling prose, her keen ability to bring complicated emotions and questions to the page. Wow.
3. Euphoria by Lily King
Mom is a voracious, enviable reader. She always has been. Dad was a big reader too, but a slow reader. I recall so many iterations of the same playful conversation between them, where Dad jokingly accused Mom of not actually reading the dozens of books she plowed through, and claimed she must be skimming. It's interesting, but I've always put myself more in Dad's camp, because usually I'm a pretty slow reader. Passionate, but slow. But something in me has shifted, unlocked. I've read more this week than any other week. Really read. Four whole beautiful books. And I know it's vacation and I know I've had more time and freedom, but it's beyond that somehow. I find myself understanding Mom better, and her furious, and brilliant consumptive pace.
I'm late to the game on this one, but EUPHORIA by Lily King is spare and sage and glorious. It drew me into another world. It lit in me a fire of curiosity about Margaret Mead and anthropology. It broke my heart more than a bit. It made me want to sit down and write.
Anyway, a somewhat ramble. Sincere hopes that my reading blaze continues even in the thicket of impending real life. Off to shower my babes and wait for the sun to set on our final night here.
4. The Unfortunates by Sophie McManus
"She makes it through the hours to nightfall. In the gloaming, the rising bank of trees pressed in dark sentinel against the floor-to-ceiling glass. Because she's worked at night most of her life, night alone is strange. She feels, as in a fairy tale, that whenever she turns her back, an ogre bends through the treetops and his face fills the glass. The tattered spiral of a child's nightmare -- stand too close, she risks being grabbed and pulled through the pane, right into the woods. Stupid." (Sophie McManus, THE UNFORTUNATES)
A telling sign: As I flipped the final pages, I was aware of my own heart pounding, a bright line sign of investment and intrigue. This book is lush and literary and I'm still trying to put my finger on why it yanked me in so swiftly, and so surely. Maybe because the characters are so intelligent and fiercely flawed? Because it paints so exquisitely - and heartbreakingly - the underside of privilege and the complexity of family? Because the level and quality of detail is remarkable? And, my goodness, the ending. Not that I can talk about that... Read this one, guys.
5. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
"Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves?" (Donna Tartt, THE SECRET HISTORY)
This story startled me. The theme of losing control ran like a river through it, subtle at times, roaring at others. We are a society smitten with control, but I think many of us secretly crave the opposite, the mythic release, the freedom, the almost animalistic surrender. This book was stunning in its moral murkiness, in its complexity, in its layers of humanity. It took me a little while to read and now I know why. I was savoring it. I didn't want it to end.
WHAT I'M READING NOW: FATES AND FURIES BY LAUREN GROFF
I'm about halfway through FATES AND FURIES by Lauren Groff and loving this unique and harrowing depiction of a marriage. A taste of the relentlessly exquisite language: "A question of vision. From the sun's seat, after all, humanity is an abstraction. Earth a mere spinning blip. Closer, the city a knot of light between other knots; even closer, and buildings gleamed, slowly separating. Dawn in the windows revealed bodies, all the same. Only with focus came specifics, mole by nostril, tooth stuck to a dry bottom lip in sleep, the papery skin of an armpit."
What are you reading? What books have you loved lately?