It’s yet another amazing summer for books. Major writers, major quality literary fiction.
Here are a few that have caught my eye:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Scribner)
Doerr has written short story collections, a memoir and two novels, all to great acclaim. His collection Memory Wall (2010) was his major break out with a mass readership.
His work has won four O. Henry Awards, been anthologized in several collections and I don’t have the energy to write out all the other awards and distinctions he’s won.You can find his essays here and here and a short story here.
“She walks like a ballerina in dance slippers, her feet as articulate as hands, a little vessel of grace moving out into the fog.”
– All the Light We Cannot See
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).
The Casebook by Mona Simpson (Knopf)
Mona Simpson has studied poetry with such notables as Seamus Heaney, was editor of The Paris Review for five years and has won loads of prizes, including the Guggenheim (as did Doerr, by the way).
The Casebook is her sixth novel.
“We come into the world whole, all of us,but we don’t know that, don’t know that life will be taking large chunks out of us, forever.”
– The Casebook: A Novel
Miles Adler-Hart starts eavesdropping to find out what his mother is planning for his life. When he learns instead that his parents are separating, his investigation deepens, and he enlists his best friend, Hector, to help. Both boys are in thrall to Miles’s unsuspecting mother, Irene, who is “pretty for a mathematician.” They rifle through her dresser drawers, bug her telephone lines, and strip-mine her computer, only to find that all clues lead them to her bedroom, and put them on the trail of a mysterious stranger from Washington, D.C.
Their amateur detective work starts innocently but quickly takes them to the far reaches of adult privacy as they acquire knowledge that will affect the family’s well-being, prosperity, and sanity. Burdened with this powerful information, the boys struggle to deal with the existence of evil and concoct modes of revenge on their villains that are both hilarious and naïve. Eventually, haltingly, they learn to offer animal comfort to those harmed and to create an imaginative path to their own salvation.
Casebook brilliantly reveals an American family both coming apart at the seams and, simultaneously, miraculously reconstituting itself to sustain its members through their ultimate trial. Mona Simpson, once again, demonstrates her stunning mastery, giving us a boy hero for our times whose story remains with us long after the novel is over.
The Man Who Walked Away by Maud Casey (Bloomsbury)
from her website:
Maud Casey is the author of two previous novels, The Shape of Things to Come, a New York Times Notable Book, and Genealogy; and a collection of stories, Drastic. She is the recipient of the Calvino Prize and has received fellowships from the Fundación Valparaiso, Hawthornden International Writers Retreat, Château de Lavigny, Dora Maar, and the Passa Porta residency at Villa Hellebosch. Casey teaches at the University of Maryland and lives in Washington, D.C.
In a trance-like state, Albert walks—from Bordeaux to Poitiers, from Chaumont to Macon, and farther afield to Turkey, Austria, Russia—all over Europe. When he walks, he is called a vagrant, a mad man. He is chased out of towns and villages, ridiculed and imprisoned. When the reverie of his walking ends, he’s left wondering where he is, with no memory of how he got there. His past exists only in fleeting images.
Loosely based on the case history of Albert Dadas, a psychiatric patient in the hospital of St. André in Bordeaux in the nineteenth century, The Man Who Walked Away imagines Albert’s wanderings and the anguish that caused him to seek treatment with a doctor who would create a diagnosis for him, a narrative for his pain.
In a time when mental health diagnosis is still as much art as science, Maud Casey takes us back to its tentative beginnings and offers us an intimate relationship between one doctor and his patient as, together, they attempt to reassemble a lost life. Through Albert she gives us a portrait of a man untethered from place and time who, in spite of himself, kept setting out, again and again, in search of wonder and astonishment.
Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
from his website:
Edward St Aubyn was born in London in 1960. He was educated at Westminster school and Keble college, Oxford University. He is the author of seven novels of which ‘Mother’s Milk’ was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize, won the 2007 Prix Femina Etranger and won the 2007 South Bank Show award on literature.
His first novel, ‘Never Mind’ (1992) won the Betty Trask award. This novel, along with ‘Bad News’ (1992) and ‘Some Hope’ (1994) became a trilogy, now collectively published under the title ‘Some Hope’.
His other fiction consists of ‘On the Edge’ (1998) which was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize and A Clue to the Exit (2000).
“That was the wonderful thing about historical novels, one met so many famous people. It was like reading a very old copy of Hello! magazine.”
– Lost for Words
Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels were some of the most celebrated works of fiction of the past decade. Ecstatic praise came from a wide range of admirers, from literary superstars such as Zadie Smith, Francine Prose, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Michael Chabon to pop-culture icons such as Anthony Bourdain and January Jones. Now St. Aubyn returns with a hilariously smart send-up of a certain major British literary award.
The judges on the panel of the Elysian Prize for Literature must get through hundreds of submissions to find the best book of the year. Meanwhile, a host of writers are desperate for Elysian attention: the brilliant writer and serial heartbreaker Katherine Burns; the lovelorn debut novelist Sam Black; and Bunjee, convinced that his magnum opus, The Mulberry Elephant, will take the literary world by storm. Things go terribly wrong when Katherine’s publisher accidentally submits a cookery book in place of her novel; one of the judges finds himself in the middle of a scandal; and Bunjee, aghast to learn his book isn’t on the short list, seeks revenge.
Lost for Words is a witty, fabulously entertaining satire that cuts to the quick of some of the deepest questions about the place of art in our celebrity-obsessed culture, and asks how we can ever hope to recognize real talent when everyone has an agenda.
Cambridge by Susanna Kaysen
“Susanna Kaysen is an American author.
Kaysen was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Kaysen attended high school at the Commonwealth School in Boston and the Cambridge School before being sent to McLean Hospital in 1967 to undergo psychiatric treatment for depression. It was there she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. She was released after eighteen months. She later drew on this experience for her 1993 memoir Girl, Interrupted, which was made into a film in 1999, her role being played by Winona Ryder.”
“It was probably because I was so often taken away from Cambridge when I was young that I loved it as much as I did . . .”
So begins this novel-from-life by the best-selling author of Girl, Interrupted, an exploration of memory and nostalgia set in the 1950s among the academics and artists of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
London, Florence, Athens: Susanna, the precocious narrator ofCambridge, would rather be home than in any of these places. Uprooted from the streets around Harvard Square, she feels lost and excluded in all the locations to which her father’s career takes the family. She comes home with relief—but soon enough wonders if outsiderness may be her permanent condition.
Written with a sharp eye for the pretensions—and charms—of the intellectual classes, Cambridge captures the mores of an era now past, the ordinary lives of extraordinary people in a singular part of America, and the delights, fears, and longings of childhood.
from his website:
Tom Rachman is the author of two novels, The Rise & Fall of Great Powers (upcoming in 2014), and The Imperfectionists (2010), an international bestseller that has been translated into 25 languages. Rachman, who was born in London in 1974 and raised in Vancouver, studied cinema at the University of Toronto, then journalism at Columbia University in New York. In 1998, he joined the Associated Press as a foreign-desk editor in New York, then became a correspondent in Rome in 2002. He has written articles from India, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Belgium, Britain and elsewhere. From 2006-08, he was an editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Slate and The New Statesman, among other publications. He lives in London.
“People kept their books, she thought, not because they were likely to read them again but because these objects contained the past–the texture of being oneself at a particular place, at a particular time, each volume a piece of one’s intellect, whether the work itself had been loved or despised or had induced a snooze on page forty.”
New York Times bestselling author Tom Rachman returns with a brilliant, intricately woven novel about a young woman who travels the world to make sense of her puzzling past.
Tooly Zylberberg, the American owner of an isolated bookshop in the Welsh countryside, conducts a life full of reading, but with few human beings. Books are safer than people, who might ask awkward questions about her life. She prefers never to mention the strange events of her youth, which mystify and worry her still.
Taken from home as a girl, Tooly found herself spirited away by a group of seductive outsiders, implicated in capers from Asia to Europe to the United States. But who were her abductors? Why did they take her? What did they really want? There was Humphrey, the curmudgeonly Russian with a passion for reading; there was the charming but tempestuous Sarah, who sowed chaos in her wake; and there was Venn, the charismatic leader whose worldview transformed Tooly forever. Until, quite suddenly, he disappeared.
Years later, Tooly believes she will never understand the true story of her own life. Then startling news arrives from a long-lost boyfriend in New York, raising old mysteries and propelling her on a quest around the world in search of answers.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing by Nina Sankovitch (Simon & Schuster)
Nina Sankovitch launched ReadAllDay.org in 2008, and at the end of her year of reading, she was profiled in the New York Times. She continues to review books on ReadAllDay.org and for the Huffington Post. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and four sons.
Witty, moving, enlightening, and inspiring, Signed, Sealed, Delivered begins with Nina Sankovitch’s discovery of a trove of hundred year- old letters. The letters are in an old steamer trunk she finds in her backyard and include missives written by a Princeton freshman to his mother in the early 1900s. Nina’s own son is heading off to Harvard, and she hopes that he will write to her, as the Princeton student wrote to his mother and as Nina wrote to hers. But times have changed. Before Nina can persuade her child of the value of letters, she must first understand for herself exactly what it is about letters that make them so significant—and just why she wants to receive letters from her son. Sankovitch sets off on a quest through the history of letter writing—from the ancient Egyptians to the medieval lovers Abelard and Heloise, from the letters received by President Lincoln after his son’s death to the correspondence of Edith Wharton and Henry James.
Sankovitch uncovers and defines the specific qualities that make letters so special, examining not only historical letters but also the letters in epistolary novels, her husband’s love letters, and dozens more sources, including her son’s brief reports from college on the weather and his allowance.
In this beautifully written book, Nina Sankovitch reminds us that letters offer proof and legacy of what is most important in life: love and connection. In the end, she finds, the letters we write are even more important than the ones we wait for.
Whet your appetites for some great reading?