Several people within the last few weeks have asked me for a list of summer book recommendations. The reason they ask, mind you, isn't because I have stellar taste or any real literary connections, knowledge, or insight. In fact-- my taste of often borders on questionable as I read WHATEVER is set in front of me. This, this, and this included. But I do love books, and I love talking about them with people who care. I'm asked for recommendations because I have an opinion, that's all. The books below are those that I am reading, have read, or intend to read in the coming months. And unlike many of the quacky new aged voyeuristic titles that I've picked up as of late, I think you'll like these too.The Ask was recommended to me by two people whose taste I trust for completely different reasons. The first rec came from someone who tends towards solid, thoughtful, and well written material. The other came from a bit more indulgent and demanding reader who enjoys absolute entertainment above all else. I have a few chapters left of this novel and can say in all honesty that it's the best book I've read in a very long time. Lipsyte clearly has fun with language and gets off on deconstructing sentences so that they clamor along like the ideas themselves. He tells a story of squirming middle class woes, right here in New York with a sick sense of humor and rare brilliance. I love this book and look forward to reading more of his work. (Actually, if you want a taste, try this.)
The Best of Everything popped into my head last week when talking with a friend about the lack of Mad Men in our lives. I read this book several years ago and then again last summer. It's a story about secretaries in 1950's New York, although written after the Sexual Revolution, a decade later. It is therefore a very specific narrative that pokes and prods at feminism without dismissing the indulgence and excitement of an era of typewriters, martinis, driving gloves, and pillbox hats. If you miss Don, Roger, Peggy, Bette and Joan, well here ya go. Handed to you on a platter, I swear.
I've been unknowingly reading Gabrielle Hamilton for years, in essay form in various publications. When Blood, Bones, and Butter debuted a few months ago, I finally put it together that this, this, and this(!) were all written by the same snappy, heartfelt lady. I WILL love this book, I can already tell, and look forward to the sunny day in the near future that I can lay outside and dig into it. (I don't however, like the title or the cover of this book. WHY, Gabrielle!? Those are three of my least favorite words, an unsettling illustration, and not my favorite color.)
I was blown sideways by this book. Never have a read a more dysfunctional, dynamic, and obsessive love story. This is the book that will stay with you, all wide eyed and surprisingly fulfilled by two characters living on raw emotion and little else. Charlie Smith's writing is wild and sprawling and his narrator, Billy, is an unforgettable loser--much like The Ask's Milo but with a less tasteful ego, if you can believe that. READ IT, then let's talk about it.
Hemingway crept into my life a few weeks ago without sufficient warning. I always shied away from his novels with a naive distaste for what I only assumed was overly masculine prose and content. However, this essay caught my interest for its cinematic accuracy, and then a bartender in Chicago (of all places, of all people) recommended The Sun Also Rises as somewhere to start. I later spent an entire Saturday dragging John from used bookstore to used bookstore on the west side before getting my hands on my own copy. It's a STUNNING read, so outrageously contemporary that I find myself underlining like a mad woman. This is the story of a group of American and British expats lounging around in Parisian cafes just like those cliched black and white photos from the same era. I haven't finished it yet, and while i don't look forward to the bull fighting portion, the Spanish nightlife and saucy romances will surely push me through.
A better way of finding essays like The Hills are Like White Elephants than my current tactic of searching 'full text Hemingway' online. These little stories are packed with-- I'll say it again-- outrageously contemporary dialogue. Hemingway is blowing me away and I cannot get enough of these little cafe conversations taking place in Paris, Barcelona, Switzerland, Africa, Cuba, and Florida. This is the quintessential 'summer get-away' package, if I may be so cliche.
Alison lent me this book months ago with the most glowing of recommendations, yet I haven't picked it up. It's currently mocking me on my nightstand. Soon, Ali, I promise. It's on my summer list.
One of my favorite New York novels, I read this book the first month I lived here. I had a habit of reading books like this that year-- The Bell Jar, The Best of Everything, Goodbye to All That, The Dud Avocado, The Women's Room, The Women, Captoe's Breakfast at Tiffany's-- books about young girls moving to New York and usually getting really messed up over it. I LOVED books like this-- they solidified my motives and kept me company duing those first few months when I didn't know a soul. Next up? THE GROUP!
As perfect but slightly less iconic than Gatsby, Tender is the Night is an easy, escapist, intelligent book about Paris in the 20's. (Not unlike Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, I'm suddenly realizing while typing this.) This is also his most autobiographical novel-- all tragedy and glorious heartbreak. As Fitzgerald himself wrote, "Gatsby was a tour de force, but this is a confession of faith."
Let's all read this, why not. Bossypants is the book that I will stay up all night finishing, I swear to you. It falls in line with my habit of reading self-indulgent-memoirs-written-by-strong-and-intelligent-women, but this one will be funny! Can't wait.