Escape summer lulls with books
Whether killing time on a commuter train twice a day or relaxing at the beach, the endless hours of summer provides students with the opportunity to read for the pure joy of it … what a novel idea (no pun intended)! The following list includes tried and true good reads to sustain readers through the hot and empty summer hours.
“Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith” Jon Krakauer’s latest journalistic undertaking explores the bizarre world of fundamental Mormonism. Krakauer, whose previous works include “Into the Wild” and “Into Thin Air,” traces the steps of two brothers who develop their own twisted offshoot of an increasingly mainstream American religion. Their search for God and truth culminates in the murder of a young mother and her infant daughter. Along the way, Krakauer introduces readers to a cast of extremist characters whose stories shed some light on issues of polygamy, pedophilia and a frightening frame of mind unique to religious fanatics, which holds the potential of wreaking profound damage on society. Clear your schedule – you won’t leave the house until you’ve turned the very last page of this book.
“The God of Small Things” Arundhati Roy’s 1997 Man Booker Prize-winning novel occurs around the tragedy of a visiting cousin’s death during the narrator’s childhood. Through the voice of her 20-something character, Rahel, Roy reflects on growing up in a prominent family in the communist state of Kerala, India. Navigating the turmoil that occurs with her young cousin’s death, her mother’s personal tragedy and the upheaval in the greater class system, Rahel tells the story of historical injustice and her family’s fall from grace with stunning beauty. Her deliberate and well thought out use of language contributes to the haunting and disturbingly evocative nature of her prose. Simply brilliant.
“Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” reveals nasty tricks of the trade and dirty little secrets about the restaurant business. In Anthony Bourdain’s (host of Travel Channel’s “No Reservations”) 2001 bestseller, he describes his circuitous passage into what he refers to as the “culinary underbelly,” a life marked by hard rock, drug addiction, third-degree burns and mind-blowing cuisine. In the process, he discloses things you likely wouldn’t care to know about the food on your plate and shares with readers the reasons he avoids breakfast buffets and never orders fish on a Monday. You’d be well advised to follow suit.
“All the Pretty Horses,” the first installment in Cormac McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy,” follows young John Grady Cole, a teenage vagabond who leaves his home in Texas heading southbound on horseback with a friend. Upon his arrival in Mexico, he has the misfortune of falling into the bad company of another young Texas runaway and subsequently falls in love with a ranch owner’s daughter, triggering a very unlucky chain of events. McCarthy’s understated style makes this adventuresome, gun-slinging Western novel fabulously engaging. His sensitive and economical use of words astonishes readers in this award-winning book, which was later adapted into a Hollywood film starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz.
“A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories” presents 10 of Flannery O’Connor’s best-known short stories. Titled after perhaps her most widely-read piece, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the collection also includes the hard-hitting and wryly comic story “Good Country People.” Each of the 10 works draws out O’Connor’s incredible knack for satire and her often humorous consideration of religion, morality and the human condition. Though she often writes in a grim tone, her graceful turns of phrase and keen ability to capture personality crafts realistic dialogue, which overall compensates for what may otherwise profoundly disturb readers.
“Kafka on the Shore” contains a dual plot following a 15-year-old runaway named Kafka, and a misfit named Nakata, who has the mysterious ability to speak to cats. Their lives intertwine in this surreal work punctuated with Radiohead, Prince, Madonna and Beethoven. Author Haruki Murakami ventures into the deepest recesses of the subconscious, in what John Updike refers to as “an insistently metaphysical mindbender” where dreams and reality blur. Readers will certainly find this hip, obscure book hard to put down, especially as it never stops moving.
“The Book of Longing” A collection of poetry from renowned singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen (who brought listeners the original version of “Hallelujah,” later covered by Jeff Buckley and others), “The Book of Longing” provides readers with short, sweet poetic sound bites that were drafted during Cohen’s extended stay at a Zen monastery. Cohen’s music makes it clear he has an incredible talent for crafting artful lyrics while his sense of meter and rhythm lend beautifully to his exceptional poetry. In addition to his thoughtful contemplation of love, loss and yes, longing, he supplements his poems with playful sketches in this volume. It seems there is little Cohen cannot do well, his talents spanning across the visual, musical and literary landscape. He is truly a Renaissance man.
“Memories of My Melancholy Whores” From Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Memories of My Melancholy Whores” is a little known and very short work by the eminent Columbian writer. The book centers on an aging journalist’s reflection on a lifetime of loveless philandering until his 90th birthday, when he falls for a young virgin offered to him by a madam with whom he’s done business with all his life. Smitten with the 14-year-old child, the old man astonishes himself as he grapples with the perks and pitfalls of first love. Though this short work cannot compare to Marquez’s better-known classics, it offers readers a small taste of the captivating writing for which he has been celebrated.
“Their Eyes Were Watching God’s” sexy, steamy overtones make this tragic love story the perfect read for a sticky August afternoon. With the ferocity and passion of Janie and Tea Cake’s love, this is the perfect book to carry you through thunderstorm season. If you have not yet read it for a class – be it women’s studies, African-American studies or straight-up English – take a look, as it offers a wealth of material for a broad range of analyses. Zora Neale Hurston’s easy folk dialect helps provide readers with a look at a time in American history we will never see first hand. But readers, take warning and be prepared with ample supplies of Kleenex, as you will likely bawl your eyes out by the time “Their Eyes” grinds to a halt.