I’m a slow-moving person, so a two-week vacation to Iceland killed four weeks of blogging (a week to get ready to travel, two weeks away, a week to recover). What better way to get back into the swing of things than a new Top Ten on Tuesday post?
Given how much I read, it surprises my friends just how often the books that they love are ones I haven’t read. Why is this? Sometimes it’s because I’m stubborn and I don’t want to be part of the crowd. Other times it’s because I take against a book based on a the description makes it sound like it’s just “not my thing”. Most often it’s because I expect I won’t love the books everyone else thinks are wonderful. I hate saying I don’t like “X” when the majority of people I know thought it was wonderful. Makes me look like a boor and an ass (I just finished Ben MacIntyre’s great look at the damage the clubbiness of upper crust British culture inflicted on WWII and Cold War espionage: A Spy Among Friends and it has affected my affectations). I may be snobbish at times, but I don’t like being reminded of it by the crestfallen face of a friend. Reading avoidance can be a safe strategy. That said, more often than not, once I get past the hurdles I throw up in front of myself, I like the books people take the time to recommend.
Here is a current list of some books people I know have been recommending that I haven’t yet tackled.
Books I Expect to Devour — When I Get to Them
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki — I have been meaning to read this since before it came out, before it made the Booker Prize shortlist, before everyone I know read and raved about it. I’ve started it three times, found it engaging, and still I put it down. This must not continue. I will read it. Soon, or at least soonish — I’ve got this year’s Booker nominees to tackle now.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt — I turn red every time someone asks me if I’ve read this, because the question isn’t “Did you read…” but instead is, “Didn’t you love it?” or “How does it compare to The Goldfinch?” You’d think my embarrassment would get me in gear. Since I will be officially taking up the role of bookseller this fall, I had better get on this one. I want to genuinely recommend it (or not) to people looking for something to read after finishing Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winner.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi — This book won all the awards: Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and more. What more impetus do I need to pick it up off the shelf it has languished on for the last three years? My friend Laura, who has never steered me wrong, keeps asking me if I’ve read it yet. I need to get a move on.
Books Waiting for The Mood to Strike
Euphoria by Lily King — Good reading friends who are faster off the mark have said good things about this recent novel based on Margaret Mead’s experiences in Papua New Guinea. It’s been getting strong reviews, has a fabulous cover (yes, I am that shallow). Plus, Lily King lives in Maine which I count among my favorite places, and a plus for any author. What’s holding me back? Perhaps it is a lingering fear of reading about jungles? I admit to a strong aversion to heat, humidity and creepy-crawlies that makes it difficult to read about them, regardless, I will toughen my resolve, it’s only for a few hundred pages.
Stoner by John William — The hot literary rediscovery of the last few years. I know I’ll like it, everyone I know who’s read it — Craig, Ona, Steve, Meg — has raved about this book, there are so many of you I’m better off listing the people who haven’t read it — me.
The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn — Sigh. I read the first chapter or so and it’s great, but I can never make myself put down that fantasy novel about marauding witches to immerse myself in the dysfunctional doings of an upper crust family. I will probably approach this one sideways by reading his new parody of the Booker Prize Culture Lost for Words first. A good British literary industry satire is balm to my soul and will warm me up for the rawer nastiness of his much praised semi-autobiographical writing.*
Two Really Popular Books I Don’t Think Are for Me + One New to Me
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes — Everyone loves this. Everyone. I’m resisting this as a curmudgeon who has sworn off books that take aim at my underlying sentimentality with their jacket copy. Plus, I cry easily and resent being made to do so by books that manipulate the creaky machinery of emotional trauma and healing without even trying to hide the outdated mechanisms. I don’t think I could bear it if this made me cry. I suppose I have to tackle it, but not willingly. I will eat crow if overwhelms my defenses and you can all have a good laugh at my expense.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown — Again, everyone, absolutely everyone loves this book. I suspect I will too, but the thought of reading it doesn’t excite me. Why? I guess I haven’t been in the mood for a tale of good character and teamwork that overcomes hardship and makes the world a better place. See note above.
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones — This one only recently hit my radar when a friend recommended it to me on Goodreads and a blogger I follow also gave it a great review. I need to find a copy when I get back to PA and suspect I’ll read it soon.
Independent People by Halldor Laxness — This is cheating. I’ve read this one. Still, I thought I’d sneak it in here since it’s going to undergo one of its periodic resurgences when David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks hits the shelves in a couple of weeks. If you read it — it’s a bit of a challenge and takes work — its exploration of dogged persistence will linger with you, as will the portrayal of life on an Icelandic croft with sheep, a cow, superstition, class divides, and lots of coffee. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself talking it up to others as an under appreciated gem. I plan to reread it soon and to finally read the other Laxness novels that have been sitting on my shelves since (cough) 2008 after my last visit to Iceland.
What books recommended books are still in your TBR pile?
*David Mitchell has a hilarious and touching section narrated by a novelist, Crispin Hershey, in his new novel, The Bone Clocks, which has primed me for more in the same vein. Can you tell I loved Mitchell’s book?