I read all day for work, so when I read at night (my chin slumping towards my chest as my 8:00 buzz wears off), I have a few requirements: my books need to help me talk to other human beings at some point, my books need to actually keep my attention (see the super unsuccessful Middlemarch experiment of 2013), and my books need to preserve some level of mental health (basically I don’t want to read super sad memoirs).
My most recent picks are:
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
A veteran comes home from Iraq as part of a heroic military unit and spends one day at a Dallas Cowboys game as a VIP. Fountain’s characters talk like how I, as a woman who spends no time with working class men, imagine they really do talk. The politics of the book will make you marvel at how long it has been since the Bush era and its geopolitics. Mostly I think book is a fabulous depiction of how spectacle feels (both traumatizing and exhilarating).
Life long friends meet at an arts summer camp. This book is the most delightful and on-point description of intra-friend jealousy that I have encountered. Wolitizer’s account of upper middle class white people’s debilitating need to be special is everything Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children wasn’t.
The Next Best Thing
You need to be reading Weiner. Not this book, but don’t worry she writes a lot of them. I suggest Along Came You. The Franzen/Weiner debate about whether the divisions of high/low book culture are gendered or merely a distinction of taste never ceases to delight me (and it keeps on going!). But I genuinely think critics who don’t read Weiner’s books should stop writing about it. How can you engage in this debate without including formal analysis of both authors’ work? If you have already read something by Weiner, The Next Best Thing is interesting because it essentially takes on the question of commercialization in art from the perspective of TV. The protagonist gets her pilot picked up and then watches the network mess it up. Weiner’s own blind spots about commercialization become pretty clear in the book as Weiner describes her protagonist’s show as a newfangled Golden Girls but fails to prove this level of quality in her descriptions of the show’s plot or dialogue. Weiner, like her protagonist, often declares her own work to be literature without serving up the real quality. However, Weiner’s book takes risks that I see very few literary authors take on, such as having some steamy sex between a wheelchair bound man and a disfigured woman and giving you ALL the technical details. She is also basically the Stephen King/George R.R. Martin of books about normal women. In other words, the books are just technically excellent when it comes to plots, characters and stakes.
Coming up next: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., some good new young adult books, and the Flamethrowers (come on Brooklyn Public Library, bring me my books!).