Do you ever wonder how Critic X could tout a silly, mediocre novel, or a puerile autobiography?
If only there were a Critics’ Buy-Back Day!
Dear Critic at New York Times/Washington Post/L.A. Times/Chicago Tribune, etc.
Would you please buy back this dreadful book you recommended?
Granted, they are paid to read bad new books, so there is the tendency to overpraise the slightest hint of talent. You must adjust your standards to immerse yourself in twenty-first century literature.
But even I occasionally find great new books, and I unreservedly loved the following five, from five different genres. I don’t guarantee–my taste is my taste–but one of them might be good summer reading for you!
1 . The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch. Shelved in the literary fiction section, this haunting science fiction novel has been widely reviewed–deservedly so. Set in 2049, it consists of the meditations of Christine Pizan, an artist, rebel, and “skin writer,” on gender, ecology, devolution, and the dictatorship on the space station where she lives. We also read her book about Joan of Dirt, a post-apocalyptic Joan of Arc who led the Resistance on the now devastated Earth. The rumor is that Joan is still alive. (You can read my post on this intriguing book here.)
2. The Clairvoyants by Karen Brown. Entertaining, suspenseful, and engrossing, this is one of my great bookstore finds of the year. Two sisters, Martha and Del, were raised near a summer colony of psychics. Martha, a reluctant clairvoyant, repeatedly sees the ghost of Mary Rae, a missing person, after she moves to Ithaca to attend college. When her sister, wild, promiscuous Del, shows up at her apartment, Martha has to take her in: Del has been living in a progressive mental hospital. And then things get eerie fast. (Here is my post on this novel.)
3. Morningstar: Growing up with Books by Ann Hood. This won’t be published till August, but I received an advance copy and loved it. Hood is a novelist and has written a spellbinding memoir of her reading in childhood and adolescence. Her favorite book was Marjorie Morningstar. (You can read my post here.)
4. The Idiot by Elif Bautman. A charming, comical coming-of-age story. Selin, the slightly nerdish narrator, is baffled by nuances during her freshman year at Harvard: she is perplexed by the conversation of her eccentric roommates, the medium of e-mail (which is new in 1995), and the intentions of Ivan, a charming Hungarian student who writes e-mails to her constantly. Does he like her? The daughter of Turkish immigrants, Selin falls in love with him, to the point that she spends her summer in Hungary. But will it work out? He already has a girlfriend. (You can read my post here.)
5. Jane Welsh Carlyle and Her Victorian World by Kathy Chamberlain. This engrossing biography focuses on eight years in the life of Jane Welsh Carlyle, Thomas Carlyle’s wife. Virginia Woolf called her one of “the great letter writers,” and Elizabeth Hardwick said she had a “private writing career.” Indeed, the quotes from the letters are better than excerpts from many novels! (You can read my post here.)