Here’s what I’ve binge-read lately – see what you might like.
I was overzealous with books this summer. This is not even the full list of novels that I devoured over the last few months, but they are the ones I liked best. Below, I wrote a little about why I liked each one and why you might enjoy them, too.
(But first, you might wonder, how do I access these books? Popular novels are expensive and hard to find in libraries. That is true. But – if you have access to any kind of e-reader [an iPad, Kindle, laptop, your phone if you don’t mind a small screen], and a library card, you can download most of these books FO FREE. It’s also very cheap to buy used books on Amazon. Then, you get a real, paper book in your hands, usually for less than $5.)
I’ve sorted these into categories based on the mood or genre you might be looking for, and I included some of my favorite quotations from each book (of which I keep an obsessive list in my phone) to give you a sense of their writing styles. I hope you find something you like!
If you feel like analyzing your place in the Millennial generation, read:
The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza
“The story of Imogen Tate, editor in chief of Glossy magazine, who finds her twentysomething former assistant Eve Morton plotting to knock Imogen off her pedestal, take over her job, and reduce the magazine, famous for its lavish 768-page September issue, into an app.”
Upon first glance I assumed this would just be an updated version of The Devil Wears Prada. But it’s first in my list of recommendations because it was much more. The story was an eye-opening, hilarious reflection on how technology forces business to change, and led me to self-reflect a lot about how I interact with people of other generations (Do I act like the entitled twentysomething coworker?). This book inspired me in so many ways, including to start my own business someday, and to learn how to code. You don’t need to be “into fashion” to enjoy this.
My favorite quotations from this book:
- “The girl visibly bristled and immediately launched into work chatter, avoiding the kinds of niceties that people with actual experience in business make sure to go through before getting to the point of any professional meeting.”
- “Everything looks better on Instagram, doesn’t it?” Aerin said. “Isn’t that what all that is for…the version of ourselves we wish we felt like all the time.”
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
You’ve probably heard about this one. It’s a mixture of Aziz’s comedic commentary and sociologists’ analysis of dating in the modern tech world. As a former sociology student, I think it was the perfect balance between ridiculous things that Aziz says and acute insight about what it’s like to date in the age of Tinder. If you like Aziz’s stand up, and can relate to anxiety about read-receipts and double texts, you will enjoy.
My favorite quotations:
- “The nights when you have amazing casual sex start getting outweighed by the times you wander home alone wasted and wake up hungover with a half-eaten burrito sitting on your chest.”
- “If you were in a bar, would you ever go up to a guy or girl and repeat the word “hey” ten times in a row without getting a response? Would you ever go up to a woman you met two minutes ago and beg her to show you one of her boobs?”
If you’re seeking a thriller with vibes like Gone Girl, read:
The Dinner by Herman Koch
“The darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives—all over the course of one meal.”
One of the most thought-provoking and enjoyably creepy books I’ve ever read. I love stories that exemplify different aspects of human nature through their characters, and this book did an excellent job of exploring everyone’s darker sides. Thrilling to read, which I did in one day.
My favorite quotations:
- “You’re looking good” could therefore mean that I did indeed look good, but it could also be an indirect request that I say something about her own appearance— in any event, to pay more attention to it than usual.”
- “Sometimes things come out of your mouth that you regret later on. Or no, not regret. You say something so razor-sharp that the person you say it to carries it around with them for the rest of their life.”
If you need a well-written apocalyptic novel, read:
Station Eleven by John Mandel
“An audacious, darkly glittering novel about art, fame, and ambition set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse.”
This was a fascinating and thorough examination of what would really happen in the case of a pandemic/apocalypse – how infrastructure would break down, how new “prophets” would emerge, how people would cope and continue to create art, and how society might rebuild. I was especially impressed by how well the characters’ lives intertwined. Highly recommend.
My favorite quotation:
- “There had always been a massive delicate infrastructure of people, all of them working unnoticed around us, and when people stop going to work, the entire operation grinds to a halt. No one delivers fuel to the gas stations or the airports. Cars are stranded. Airplanes cannot fly. Trucks remain at their points of origin. Food never reaches the cities; grocery stores close. Businesses are locked and then looted. No one comes to work at the power plants or the substations, no one removes fallen trees from electrical lines.”
If you need a vacation, read:
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
“Beautiful Ruins is the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962…and is rekindled in Hollywood fifty years later.”
This novel might look like a light beach-read, but the plot is deep. Seemingly-separate story lines take place in Italy, Hollywood, Spokane, Washington, Seattle, Washington, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (all special places to me) that are woven together perfectly by the end. If you like film, theatre, travel, or fantasize about Italy regularly like I do, you will love this.
My favorite quotations:
“He believed he could spot an American anywhere by that quality – the stubborn belief in possibility, which even the youngest Italians lacked. America with its expansive youth, and Italians living in the artifacts of generations, in the bones of empires.”
“So this is what ghosts are like, Michael thinks. Not white corporeal figures haunting your dreams, but old names buzzed over cell phones.”
“Pasquale recalled from his studies how some buildings in Florence could disappoint from various angles and yet always presented well in relief, always photographed well; that the various vintages were made to be composed, and so too, he thought, some people.”
If you want to think deep about family and your surroundings, read:
& Sons by David Gilbert
“Revolving around a New York writer of J. D. Salinger-like fame and reclusiveness, & Sons is about fathers and sons and the complications and competitions between them, all set within the world of East Coast preppy privilege. It has a twist with a tantalizing hint of science fiction and a devastatingly poignant ending.” –NPR
This book gives a fascinating picture of the uncomfortable sides of family relationships, as well as a reflection on the ongoing cultural transformation happening in New York City. The narrator/main character is like an outsider looking in on the plot, and it’s easy to relate to his anxieties, insecurities, and observations about people. The female characters feel a little like an afterthought to the story, but I forgave this because the writing was so good. As the novel is about a novel, if you enjoy writing, you will like it.
My favorite quotations:
- “Ugliness seemed to signify emotional authenticity. Half my characters had problems with heroin, and I had never seen heroin before but please give me a hit of that tragedy so I might swim in more human waters.”
- “She moved with the precision of a former urban athlete, eyes gauging the best path, chin balanced between no-nonsense and courteous, as though somewhere in the bowels of Manhattan a stopwatch ticked and a voice whispered ‘faster'”
- “Years later he would wonder if his initial reaction somehow dictated all that followed…maybe thoughts, their synaptic charge, maybe they bump into surrounding particles and change their direction and help shape some of that spooky action at a distance.”
Canada by Richard Ford
“When fifteen-year-old Dell Parsons’ parents rob a bank, his sense of normal life is forever altered. In an instant, this private cataclysm drives his life into before and after, a threshold that can never be uncrossed.”
Reading this felt a little like watching the movie Secondhand Lions. A sort of melancholy, coming-of-age story, the plot confuses at first – but the narrative is written in such a beautiful, calming way, that you keep reading until it all makes sense. I recommend this book for its well-written metaphors and observations about American life, treatment of Native Americans, family, and ultimately what Canada represents for the main character.
My favorite quotations:
“She at least could see their mistake, and the more misguided their lives became—like a long proof in mathematics in which the first calculation is wrong, following which all other calculations move you further away from how things were when they made sense.”
“It’s wrong to wish away even bad events, as if you could ever have found your way to the present by any other means.”
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
“Told from the alternating perspectives of teenage fraternal twins, a boy and girl named Noah and Jude, each of them narrating from a different side of the accident that forever changed their lives.” –NYT
This is another “coming of age” story that is probably most poignant for a younger audience than myself, but the story is mature. I was moved by the description of sibling relationships, difficulties of making friends, and strategies for coping with loss – all of which are filled with art/art history motifs, like Michelangelo’s David. If it’s not necessarily for you, this book would speak really well to a young person you know who’s trying to find their way into adulthood.
My favorite Quotations:
“I know from doing portraits that you have to look at someone a really long time to see what they’re covering up, to see their inside face, and when you do see it and get it down, that’s the thing that makes people freak out about how much a drawing looks like them.”
“Beer sucks. I lift my head. It’s still me in the mirror. It’s still me in me, right? I’m not sure.”
And finally, if you haven’t read one of her non-Harry Potter books yet, read:
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
“When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Seemingly an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?”
J.K. Rowling has a talent that goes far beyond her creation of the wizarding world. This book had all the understated humor and subtle societal criticism that Harry Potter did, but with a focus on small-town politics and how the rich interact with the poor. She makes fun of so many different types of personalities that we all are familiar with, to which both adults and kids can relate. I’m so glad I read this and plan to read her other post-Harry novels asap.
As you can see, I’m a big fan of books that make a point about the world around us – how people think and interact with each other, how society functions, etc. Therefore, if there’s a book in this vein that you love and think I should read, or you have thoughts about the books I described – please share!