An old friend texted me out of the blue a few weeks ago. We live in different cities, so we don’t see each other often, but last summer we were both in New York for several months, and I lent her some of my favorite recent reads. A month ago, she was traveling and had several long plane rides. She liked my recommendations last summer, did I have any more for her?
I tried to keep my reads within the last year (with an exception for a series). And two books that I recently read and wanted to recommend aren’t yet out, but are listed below.
EDUCATED by Tara Westover- This memoir had been on my radar for a while before it was released in February, and I’d heard from a number of readers I trust that it was a gripping read. The general premise is almost hard to believe–a young woman from a survivalist family in Idaho, whose homeschooled education has been largely ignored, teaches herself enough math, science, and English to take the SAT and get into BYU. From there, she goes on to get graduate degrees from Harvard and Cambridge while struggling to reconcile her new intellectual life with her upbringing. I found the latter half–her (fraught) assimilation into higher education–most interesting, but Westover’s writing about the rural landscape around her and the complicated dynamics of her family is worth the read alone.
THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin- I read this over my holiday break–another book that had been on my radar for a long time. Another startling premise (this one fictional): four siblings visit a fortune teller on the Lower East Side and learn the dates they will die, with huge implications for how they live their lives. I fell hard for the Golds. Simon and Klara, the youngest siblings, move to San Francisco in the ’80s and find work as a dancer and magician, respectively. The elder two siblings, Daniel and Varya, finds respectable jobs in science. I was most drawn to Simon and Klara, younger and more vivid in the novel itself, but I wonder if that’s more a symptom of my age and experience than anything else. This is a spellbinding novel about fate, purpose, and how to live a meaningful, engaged life, whether or not you know exactly how much time you have.
ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman- The joy in this novel is in how it all unfolds for the reader. I have to confess to have mixed feelings about this one; I loved it all the way until the end, when one twist made me throw the book across the room. But the read was good enough to make it on here. It’s hard to talk about this book without giving much away; Eleanor Oliphant lives a very ordinary, solitary life (with the exception of phone calls from her “mummy”), that is never better than “fine,” until she falls in love with a musician who doesn’t know she exists and meets a new friend from IT. The plot doesn’t sound like a page-turner until you realize that the real story is Eleanor’s mysterious past. I had some doubts until I got about 40 pages in, and it slowly dawned on me–oh, this is going to be messed* up.
*Fine, I used a different term, but my parents read this blog
CRAZY RICH ASIANS Series by Kevin Kwan- My CRAZY RICH ASIANS (and CHINA RICH GIRLFRIEND and RICH PEOPLE PROBLEMS) obsession has been well documented on this blog. These books are perfect plane fare: funny, smart, jet-setting. They’re not slim tomes, so one volume might last you one cross-country flight, but if you’re headed to Asia, I’d go ahead and bring the whole set.
BONUS: The two books I wanted to recommend but are not yet out:
THE LOST QUEEN by Signe Pike (pub date: Sept. 4, 2018): Full disclosure, I work on this one, and when I describe it to people I always start out the same way: Did you know that Merlin of Arthurian legend had a twin sister? This is historical fiction set in sixth century Scotland–I time I’ll admit I’m not particularly passionate about, except here–about Languoreth, the twin sister of the man who served as the historical inspiration for Merlin. The children of a powerful chieftain, Languoreth went on to become a powerful queen in her own life, but has gone mostly unnoticed in history.
SOCIAL CREATURE by Tara Isabella Burton (pub date: June 5, 2018): I’ve been recommending this book to almost everyone in New York. Pitched as a Mr. Ripley for the digital age, it delivers exactly that. It’s effervescent, beguiling, almost aspirational until it isn’t. The New York references (some lightly disguised) make you feel like you’re in on some inside joke. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read recently.