Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Top Ten Books You Might Find Me Reading on a Beach this Summer

Ready or not, now that Memorial Day has passed, summer is officially upon us. For the purposes of Mentor's Reader and Mentor Public Library, that means it’s summer reading time. What follows is a list of books that you might find me (Adult Information Services Librarian Travis Fortney) reading on a beach this summer. Some of these are by authors who are old favorites (Diana Wagman, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Larry Watson) and many are by authors who I’ll be trying for the first time.

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

Life #6, by Diana Wagman
In this novel that’s based on Wagman’s own experiences at sea, a woman is “caught up in a wave of memories as she faces her own mortality.” Facing a cancer diagnosis, Fiona recalls the previous times in her life when she nearly died, including a fateful boat trip with her former boyfriend, Luc. This one’s on my to-read list because Wagman’s previous novel The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pet-- a fast-paced absurdist novel about a game show host’s ex-wife who gets kidnapped by a disturbed ex-carnival worker--was one of my favorite books of 2013. Because I’ve read Care and Feeding, I know that Life #6 is bound to be well-plotted, character driven fiction with a healthy dose of humor.

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Haslett’s second novel, after 2010’s much-acclaimed Union Atlantic, contains a combination of theme, concept, and plot that’s right up my alley as a reader: Depression, unhappy marriage, and a child prodigy facing a perilous path toward adulthood. It’s the story of a woman named Margaret who goes through with her marriage to John, despite his being hospitalized for depression, and what unfolds from that leap of faith.

My Struggle Book 5, by Karl Ove Knausgaard 
Although Book 5 comes out this summer, one volume per year of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle has been released every year since 2012. I read books one and two last, but then stalled. The books are essentially an epic autobiographical bildungsroman that unfolds over a series of six books and thousands of pages: a modern day Proust, or an update of say, Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories or Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The books are the ultimate experiment in literary naval gazing. I know that sounds painful, but at their best the books provide the reader with a kind of double life to escape into, and Knausgaard’s prose is often funny and emotionally resonant.

The Girls, by Emma Cline
This is probably one of the more highly anticipated literary/mainstream novels coming out this summer, with blurbs from Jennifer Egan, Richard Ford, and none other than Lena Dunham on the cover. The plot features a character named Evie who finds herself pulled into the orbit of a group of girls she sees in a park. The girls, it turns out, are members of Manson-like cult, and this fact sends the plot hurtling toward a violent resolution.

Zero K, by Don DeLillo
The plot of this novel deals with cryogenics. At the outset, Jeffrey Lockheart is summoned by his father Ross to Convergence, a compound in the desert near the capital of Kyrgyzstan, where his sickly stepmother is undergoing a procedure in which her body will be frozen to zero degrees Kelvin (the “Zero K” of the title, about 460 degrees below zero Fahrenheit), in the hopes of being resurrected at some later time when the limitations of modern medicine no longer exist. What appeals to me about this novel is DeLillo’s acrobatic sentences, his ruminations on death, and his dark sense of humor. This is supposed to be the author’s best work since 2001’s Underworld, which is something they’ve been saying about this author’s work for a long time, but even a minor DeLillo book is enough to get me excited.

As Good as Gone, by Larry Watson
Watson is one of the more reliable authors of “Montana Fiction” a subgenre that I like to read as often as possible and includes work by favorites of mine like Kevin Canty, James Harrison, and Jim Crumley. This novel by Watson is about an old cowboy name Calvin who long ago abandoned his wife and children for a life of independence on the prairie. Calvin’s status quo is challenged when his estranged son asks him to return and care for his grandchildren for a week. Calvin acquiesces, but soon he is solving seventeen-year-old Ann and eleven-year-old Will’s problem’s “the Old West Way.”

The Cradle: A Novel by Patrick Somerville
These last four are all older books that I’ve had on the shelf for awhile but not yet gotten to for one reason or another. The Cradle is the story of a young couple in Wisconsin in the Clinton 1990s, Marissa and Matthew, who are about to have a baby. Marissa insists that Matthew track down the historic Civil War cradle she was reared in by her now-estranged mother, Caroline. This sends Matthew on a road trip through the Midwest where he encounters a series of characters who’ve played one role or another in Caroline’s life over the years.

Lowboy: A Novel by John Wray
Lowboy is a comic novel that follows a schizophrenic sixteen-year-old named Will on an afternoon journey through New York City. Will believes he has the power to reverse climate change and save the world. Meanwhile, Will’s mother and a social worker hunt for Will, in the hopes that they can find him before psychosis claims him once and for all.

The Pig Trilogy: The Pig Did It, The Pig Comes to Dinner, and The Pig Goes to Hog Heaven
by Joseph Caldwell
The book in this trilogy that I actually have on my shelf is The Pig Comes to Dinner, but that book is short enough that I’m fairly likely to read the whole trilogy if the first book draws me in. What appeals to me about these books is the author’s reputation for dry, ironic wit, as well as characters like a self-pitying novelist turned swineherd, and a writer who makes an occupation of “correcting” famous novels.

All That I Have: A Novel by Castle Freeman Jr.
Another older novel that’s short, dark, and comic. This is the story of Sheriff Lucian Wing who acts as the sole law enforcement for a collection of seventeen tiny Vermont towns. Lucian is a laid back person who believes in letting little and big things take care of themselves whenever possible. He believes in resolving problems without resorting to violence or arresting anyone, but his views are put to the test when a local burglarizes the home of a Russian gangster, putting the fragile peace and the teen’s life both in jeopardy.

What's on your list this summer? And don't forget to make your reading count by signing up for the summer reading program--it's not just for kids!

~Travis F.

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