These days I have more books waiting on my ‘to be read’ shelf than I dare admit. Graduate research certainly takes its toll on pleasure reading as academic articles and theoretical texts trounce literature. I still manage to squeeze a few novels into my overstuffed reading life—mostly for my own sanity. Fiction provides a much-needed escape at the end of a day full of analysis and theory.
Bookstores and newspapers have already circulated their recommended reads for the long, not-so-lazy days of summertime. For those of you who have already chewed through those recommendations—or for those who didn’t find anything appealing on this year’s NPR Summer Books blog—here are my suggestions for fiction-induced bliss.
by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
I refused to read this book for three years. Despite its place on nearly every bestseller list imaginable—and its prominent display in bookstores—I simply would not read it. Why? The novel is comprised of fictional letters. I believed that such a format would disrupt the immersive experience of reading, not to mention annoy me endlessly. When I was preparing to move to England, a friend recommended Guernsey to me because of its ‘British’ flavour. Finally, the book possessed appeal. To embrace my new English home, I tentatively picked it up…and commenced to eat that proverbial humble pie. The story is charming and highlights a part of World War II I had never heard of before: the German occupation of the Channel Islands. The letter format of the book did take a little getting used to, and the plot is more ‘fluffy’ than I usually like. As The Times wrote, Guernsey can ‘lift even the most cynical of spirits’. And I, more cynical than most of my friends, genuinely enjoyed this short book. If you’re looking for a sweet, non-complicated, feel-good read (I cannot believe I’m advocating this!), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is outfitted for you.
I read Nicholls’s One Day last summer and became infatuated with his writing style. Sharp, witty, cynical—Nicholls exemplifies the dry, droll humour that I have come to love in Brits. So when I discovered that Nicholls had published a novel four years prior to One Day, I simply had to read it. While The Understudy is not as innovative or compelling as One Day, it still serves an enjoyable, funny read. The book focuses on Steve McQueen—no, not that one—an actor who is doomed to play silent stage roles and corpses due to his ordinariness. His latest job is to understudy ‘The Twelfth Sexiest Man in the World’, Josh Harper, in a play about Lord Byron, and Steve enviously watches Josh maintain perfect health. The two develop a bizarre friendship, and Steve discovers a way to perhaps get his lucky break after all—proving to his ex-wife and daughter that he truly is an Actor—only his plan requires a helluva lot of lying. The Understudy illustrates the strength of some dreams, the futility of others, and the all-too-common bridge between them.
Sticking with British authors for the moment, Juliet, Naked delivers a bittersweet, humorous novel about loneliness, music, and life changes. Annie and Duncan have been together for many years when suddenly they realize they may not love each other as much as they believed. Duncan is obsessed with a washed-out musician—Tucker Crowe—more enthusiastic about maintaining the Tucker fan website than his relationship with Annie. When Tucker releases a stripped version of his album Juliet, Annie decides to contact him about the album’s weaknesses, instigating a surprising relationship between the two. Hornby gives us access to these three characters and their flawed lives without judgement, adeptly balancing humor and honesty. Fans of Nicholls’s writing will enjoy this book.
For years I noticed the Luxe books at Barnes and Noble, drawn to the gorgeous, opulent dresses on each book cover. I refrained from reading them, however. They were, after all, a late 19th century version of Gossip Girl. And I am, like, so above that kind of trashy reading. But then I caved. The flouncy layers of shiny pink satin proved too irresistible, and I devoured the first novel (The Luxe) in two days. The Luxe was quickly followed by Rumors, Envy, and Splendor. Brimming with juicy scandal, gossip, and schemes, the Luxe series is my guiltiest pleasure. The books follow the interwoven lives of the most prominent families in 1890’s Manhattan—their secrets, their affairs, their deepest desires. What makes The Luxe series even better is that Godbersen did her homework. She meticulously researched the Gilded Age of New York City, down to the fashion trends during that time. So alongside delectable plots, you also receive mini-history lessons. Godbersen also does not believe in happy endings—so her novels are imbued with a sense of realism—and she never shies away from including the unfair and the unjust. The Luxe reveals the caged, oppressive, and duty-bound existences that come with high society and money. Godbersen just published a new novel, Bright Young Things, about young women in 1920s Jazz Age Manhattan. And, yes, it’s waiting for me on my bookshelf.
If you’re looking for a sweeping, epic-length novel this summer, The Swan Thieves may be exactly what you want. When artistic genius, Robert Oliver, attacks a painting at the National Gallery of Art, he becomes the psychiatric patient of Andrew Marlow. Oliver is obviously deeply disturbed but refuses to talk—forcing Marlow to go to extreme lengths to uncover his patient’s tormented secrets. Kostova exquisitely weaves Marlow’s investigations with a hidden history that transpired alongside French Impressionism. History and art lovers will revel in the intricate details, drawn from Kostova’s dedicated research. The ending is a mite too abrupt for me—challenging my notions of realistic character motivation—but the 564-page novel redeems itself by its sheer ambition and adoration of French art.
It is here. It has finally arrived. The second instalment of the Kingkiller Chronicles Series. Described as a ‘mesmerizing sequel’ and ‘towering work of fantasy’*, Kvothe continues to share the story of his search to find answers about the murder of his parents—even as the dark present is creeping towards him and the identity he is so desperate to hide. I have only read the first few pages, but already Rothfuss has shown that the past four years of waiting have not been in vain. The Wise Man’s Fear promises to be just as exhilarating an experience as the first novel, and once I finish it, I’ll post my review here on (edge)wise.
Do you have any book recommendations? Please send them!