Benediction by Kent Haruf
I think I liked Benediction more than Plainsong. There, I said it. This novel about a small town is sparse, beautiful, and true. Haruf writes characters as well as anyone working today.
The first twenty-five pages of this really fantastic novel will knock your socks off. Ben and Helen say good-bye to their daughter as they head out to date night. Date night, it turns out, is actually their weekly appointment with a therapist. Ben feels trapped in the marriage and after weeks of not communicating in therapy he finally hits his breaking point. What he does next will set the novel in motion. What do apologies really mean?
The Fight to Save Juarez by Ricardo C. Ainslie
We have become so used to ignoring the Mexican drug war that when we finally do snap to attention, it’s mind-blowing. Nearly 60,000 people have been killed since 2007, and the government puts missing persons at about 25, 000. By 2009, Juarez was such a ground zero for drug violence and dirty officials that federal troops were sent in. That, of course, was only the beginning.
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
First of all, has anyone seen Larry Wright lately? I mean, we have to decide as a group to at least keep as good an eye on him as Scientologists are. While all religions are kooky in their own way (and if you’re religious and don’t think about that after reading Going Clear, you’re in denial), Scientology is extra kooky with the added benefit of celebrity nuttiness. And if you think the title is overblown…just read a little bit about the latest gal who (allegedly) flew the coop after thirty years; Leah Remini. Let’s keep an eye out for her too.
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
We should all be reading Claire Messud; she is an absolutely fantastic writer. Personally, I don’t read our blog, but I was told that this novel is on Liz’s list too, so I will keep this short. This is the story of Nora, a quiet woman who always plays by the rules. She then falls in love with a family.
& Sons by David Gilbert
You won’t find anything better than this novel to spend your money on this summer. I am including Schlitterbahn Water Park or seeing the new Spider-Man movie three times (is there a new Spider-Man movie?). This is the story of A.N. Dyer, a great but reclusive writer (think Salinger but you know…better writing). He has just delivered the eulogy at his best friend’s funeral as he begins to have a breakdown, or a breakthrough, depending on how you look at it. As Dyer desperately tries to bring his three estranged (and troubled) sons together we learn the dark side to the writer’s life. I loved this book; it’s a stunner, and check out this cool trailer
Tenth of December by George Saunders
Saunders is one of a small handful of truly smart and original writers working today, not to mention he is a master of the short story. Much like Alice Munro or Flannery O’Connor, Saunders tackles big themes like loss, poverty, war, sex, and violence. Saunders writing stays with you, and not just because he’s hilarious and devastating within five pages, but because you’re reading a book that matters.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell-LaMorte (once we’re married she will take my name)
Karen Russell is the most original writer working today. She is brilliant, engaging, and takes you places you may think you don’t want to go….and then you don’t want to leave. I am going to admit something that is pretty unflattering. I buy two copies of certain books. One to keep pristine, the other to read and write in the margins, or add Post-It notes in, or occasionally to highlight passages. I have doubles of Russell’s books in my house because you can not read her without saying “holy shit” to the language, to the turn of phrase, to the thought process. She is an artist. I can’t wait until she finds out we’re getting married!
Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins
This collection of stories linked by place is stunning. One of my favorite stories is “The Last Thing We Need.” It’s told through letters written by a man obsessed with the objects left behind a terrible car accident he stumbles across. Another story entitled, “The Past Perfect, the Past Continuous, the Simple Past,” is about careless tourists who hike the outskirts of Las Vegas and inevitably every year someone either dies or needs rescuing. Of course there is a bigger message in this story, as well as in the entire collection. I would suggest reading these in order, maybe just one story a day. These need to marinate. By the way, Watkins won two major awards for Battleborn in one day, here is a nice NPR piece
Photojournalists On War: The Untold Stories from Iraq by Michael Kamber
My favorite book of the year so far is this is a collection of censored photographs by three-dozen top photojournalists across the globe. These are stories that must be told, no matter how difficult to hear. We must be witnesses. These are first person in depth interviews as the war unfolds and drags on. Required reading, here is a slideshow
These are certainly my favorite books so far this year, but there is a book that I find myself talking about quite often. Sometimes in hushed tones if I am in mixed company. It’s the absolutely fascinating memoir called Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality by Suzy Spencer. While certainly a serious book about everything sex suggests (loneliness, trust, Christianity, marriage, and more loneliness) it’s also a book you will not be able to put down and you won’t be able to stop talking about.