You know how, all winter long, amidst the work deadlines and kids’ basketball games and the demands of prime time television, you told yourself you were planning to use your summer to deplete the stack of must-read novels waiting on your nightstand? Did you have an image of yourself stretched out on a beach (or at least stretched out on a couch), book in hand, comfortable and satisfied?
Well summer’s about halfway over. How’s the reading coming?
I ask because as I prepare for my family’s vacation to Yellowstone I’m interested in some reading recommendations. I’m up for just about anything—heavy or fluffy, creepy or funny—just as long as it’s good. I’ll kick it off with my list:
—Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. A literary novel that’s also an incredibly fast and satisfying read. Although the story of racial tension and prejudice on a Mississippi Delta farm in the late 1940s can be harrowing—and yes, a touch predictable—the writing is lovely and the characters richly drawn.
—Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout. If you haven’t read this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner in fiction, you should. Stout writes with charity, which is the highest compliment I can pay any writer. Plus, Olive is a character you won’t soon forget.
—The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. This one’s a beach book for sure. A quintessential thriller, full of plot twists and mysteries to be solved, Dragon Tattoo will keep you guessing. I found the beginning of the novel a little long to slog through, but once the story got going it really took off. Plus, the novel’s translated from the Swedish, so it has that touch of international cache that John Grisham’s latest title lacks (but of course you don’t care about cache, right?).
—For all of you non-fiction readers: A Failure of Capitalism by Richard A. Posner. True confession: I haven’t read the whole thing (yet) since I bought it for my husband for Father’s Day, but what I have read is lucid and interesting and makes the complexities of our current economic crisis relatively easy to understand for those (like me) without much background in economics. Not the cheeriest of summer books, to be sure, but if you approach your summer reading with a sense of purpose rather than a sense of escape, then here you go.
—And finally, for those of you planning to enter next year’s Irreantum fiction contest: Story by Robert McKee. Our own Stephen Carter has recommended this title a number of times and I finally broke down and read it. Great stuff. Much of my summer has been spent reading the entries to the Irreantum fiction and creative nonfiction contests (over 100 entries in all), and while I have come across some gems—if you entered, yes, it was probably you—the majority of entrants could definitely use some story structure intervention. McKee’s book gets at the heart of story structure in a practical, accessible, memorable way. For all the writing books I’ve read and pieces of fiction I’ve studied and written and edited and graded, McKee helped me see the act of story creation in a whole new way.
Now I want to hear about the books you think I should be reading. Yellowstone is right around the corner. Hopefully I can get my nose out of a book long enough to see some buffalo.