Five 30-Second Summer Book Reviews

Seeing as the summer is drawing to a close (and I haven’t posted any book reviews in a while), I thought I’d summarize my thoughts on a few of the books I read this summer — and hopefully give some of my recommendations to add to your August reading lists. These were all great reads for me (I don’t say that lightly, by the way), and I highly recommend all of them, although the subject matter and writing styles differ a lot between the books. Anyway, let me know what you think, especially if you’ve read any of these yourself!

{FA9F4AF7-6A4A-4DF6-92A0-2C73C043B046}Img100

1. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

Admittedly, the fact that I read this on the beach in Italy probably makes it seem a lot better than it is. However, Tom Rachman’s debut novel is pretty wonderful, and I would read it again in a heartbeat (that is, if I didn’t already have a hundred books in my “read this now” queue). Tracking the lives of individuals involved with an English-language newspaper in Rome (from readers to publishers to copy editors), Rachman weaves a stunning narrative that doesn’t quite come together until the very end…which, of course, is what makes it so perfect. Each chapter reads like a little insight into the life of each individual, and explores their personal struggles as well as their relationship to the newspaper. Rachman is gifted at painting vivid, realistic, and raw characters, and even though each chapter is relatively short, his writing (which is very clear, by the way) packs a punch, as he pulls out distinct details from each character’s life. Bit by bit, the reader is also fed the story of how all these lives intertwine — both intentionally and unintentionally — which kept me hooked until the very end. Perfect beach reading, very fresh and original, and overall just fantastic writing.

thetablecomesfirst_custom-0755d8d8c89788c077e23759a5ba51551f570186-s2

2. The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik, a novelist and writer for The New Yorker, is one of my hands-down favorite authors, and he particularly excels with his memoirs. I read one of his other memoirs, Paris to the Moon, a year or so ago, and fell in love with his writing style — it’s sharp, witty, intelligent, and yet decidedly unpretentious. The Table Comes First is less of a memoir than Paris to the Moon, but very enjoyable nonetheless. Although it’s a 300-page volume on one seemingly simple topic, food, there is never a dull moment in Gopnik’s writing. Incredibly cultured, his wealth of knowledge shines through as he weaves together food’s history, philosophy, and its criticisms alongside personal experiences on the topic. It’s really a brilliant read, and I highly recommend this for all a) foodies, and b) francophiles.

DisruptedDestinyCover

3. Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary

If you’re looking for a good briefer on the history of Islam and the Middle East, look no further. (Okay, I know most of you probably weren’t looking for this. That being said, it’s totally relevant to the world today, and will seriously enhance your understanding of current events. So go read it!) Ansary’s book is widely regarded as one of the best histories of Islam out there, and his writing style is simple and understandable — this is not some stuffy book intended only for academics. What I love about Ansary’s writing is his humor, ability to synthesize, and that he doesn’t assume his readers have any prior knowledge of the topic. It reads like an engaging historical narrative, so if you’re into non-fiction/history, this is a good pick!

the-satanic-verses

4. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

This is the first novel I’ve read by Rushdie. It’s still banned in many parts of the world and can be controversial in many respects (the book is partly a re-telling of the life of Mohammed, and Rushdie includes narrative elements which run contrary to the Muslim faith), but that’s part of what makes it an interesting read — it’s equal parts entertaining and relevant to our understanding of society today. I’ll admit, though, this is a tough book to understand without a lot of background knowledge of religion (and not just Islam), as well as historical events. I would recommend reading some sort of analysis to better grasp the major themes. This reading guide is a good start (and doesn’t give away the plot — just use it as you go from chapter to chapter). However, it is still an entertaining narrative, and Rushdie is a phenomenal writer — so I’d recommend this for anyone that really appreciates more complex literary styles and long, intense novels (think Beloved).

alchemist

5. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This is a classic. I’ve been reading The Alchemist every summer for the past six years — I’m currently on my seventh reading. Regardless of whether you’ve read it before, it’s always a great addition to your reading list, and I find that I learn something new every time I pick it up. It’s not so much that the book has changed as it is that my life and perspective shift from reading to reading — so that something new stands out to me each time. That being said, the novel (very short, by the way — you could read it in a few hours) is packed with wisdom, reading more like a fable than anything else. It tracks the life of a former shepherd, Santiago, who abandons his flock in search of his “Personal Legend” — looking for buried treasure at the Pyramids of Egypt. It’s a timeless book about following your dreams (yes, I know this sounds cheesy), but all of us could use a reminder like this once in a while. A great book for self-reflection, and perfect for pretty much any time, ever.

{Images: The Imperfectionists; The Table Comes First; Destiny Disrupted; The Satanic Verses; The Alchemist}

Advertisements

Book Review: “The Family Fang” by Kevin Wilson

I was required to read The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson for college, and finished in just two days. Equal parts hilarious and touching, this novel has a great amount of depth and soul, with fully developed characters and an incredibly original plot line. Although a bit offbeat, I would highly recommend this book to anyone — it’s easy to read, but the prose is excellent and the story not one to be missed.

The novel, which alternates between past and present, centers around the Fang family — parents Camille and Caleb, and their two children, Annie (Child “A”) and Buster (Child “B”). Camille and Caleb are performance artists who seek to create chaos and, in effect, something that they call beauty. At one point in the novel, Caleb muses to himself:

“The act is not the art,” he told himself. “The reaction is the art.” (page 166)

Many of the public acts they commit are incredibly bizarre, only stirring up trouble and undoubtedly disturbing the people around them, whose spontaneous reactions the Fang art depends on (one such example: the book opens with a scene in which Camille attempts to steal a ludicrous amount of jelly beans from a candy store, with the intent of getting caught). In the flashbacks throughout the book, Caleb and Camille use their children as props in their pieces, often forcing them into strange and often dangerous situations all in the name of art.

The present-day plot focuses on Annie and Buster who, now adults, have to deal with the irreparable consequences of a childhood of forced participation in their parents’ art projects. Annie is a fairly established actress with a bad publicity streak and Buster, a struggling writer. After several unfortunate turns of events, Annie and Buster find themselves living again with the parents they haven’t spoken to in years. At this point, the novel changes pace — losing some of its earlier hilarity as the reader becomes more invested in the lives of its characters. Annie and Buster must confront their past again, and observe how their parents’ art has evolved since losing “A and B.”

There are many unexpected twists and turns in this novel, all of which reveal something deeper about the characters. Wilson has deftly crafted a story that is truly brought to life by its protagonists — a story which is entertaining and engaging on the surface, but also one which delves into moral issues underneath. It is soulful, witty, and packed with originality, while at the same time managing to be incredibly thought-provoking. This is a can’t-miss novel with a lot of heart, and I would recommend it to anyone.

{Source: Image from wilsonkevin.com.}

From the Shelves | “All the Pretty Horses” by Cormac McCarthy

While reading this book, someone said to me, “in a hundred years, McCarthy will be the Hemingway of today.” I believe it.

All The Pretty Horses is not McCarthy‘s most widely-read novel (see The Road for that), but its unbridled descriptive power and beautifully structured prose make it fascinating. You could spend hours dissecting the thousands of sentences in this book without ever running out of things to say and contemplate. I’ll admit it: there were points when I had to take breaks, just because the material can be so mentally overwhelming if you really let yourself get into it.

Reading McCarthy is refreshing. He pulls apart every bit of grammar you’ve ever learned, destroying it with torrents of run-on sentences and lack of punctuation (namely quotation marks — indeed, sometimes it’s difficult to keep track of who’s talking). Yet he does this in a manner so eloquent and powerful that you can’t get enough of it.

McCarthy’s style underscores the story itself: wild, turbulent, and raw. He tells the story of John Grady Cole through bouts of long, poetic paragraphs composed of only a few sentences contrasted against short, rapid-fire dialogue. In the book, the first in The Border Trilogy, McCarthy lays bare both young love and violence in “a place where dreams are paid for in blood.”

As fair warning to potential readers: it’s easy to get lost in this book mentally. This is one of those books where it is, in my opinion, best to discuss the story as you read it — to truly make sense of the details and understand on a deeper level what is going on. Especially with a novel like this, when the language can sometimes be very detailed and confusing at first glance, it is a good idea to take your time reading it so that you don’t miss out on anything.

That said, this is a stunning work. The prose is breathtaking and the language is beautiful. Take the time to read it, to enjoy it, and you will not be disappointed.

{Source: Image via wildriverreview.com}