Rather than list every single book I’ve read since the last update, as there are many and not all were extremely interesting or worth my time, not to mention yours, this month I’m going to go ahead and just let you know which ones I recommend. (Though not necessarily to my mother. I have learned, through much trial and error, to just…not.) Please do not send me hate mail if I recommend a book you feel is vilely overrated in my estimation. People have, obviously, different tastes, and if I can forgive Vanessa for recommending David Egger’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius to me while on vacation, you can forgive me a judgment error or two. However, read with confidence knowing the following books have met with these stringent criteria:
- I did not, at any point, want to throw it across the room.
- I did not have any “dear god, I hope the person sitting next to me isn’t reading this over my shoulder” moments of extreme embarrassment on the bus or at work (that’s right, I’m looking at you and all your dragon sex, Miss Katie MacAlister. And you too, Little Miss Queen of Awkward Vampire Sex, MaryJanice Davidson.)
- I laughed out loud. Or at the very least, smiled broadly. Unless, of course, it was a serious book. And then there was no laughing. Though I’m sure there was thoughtful mulling.
- I did not get antsy or read ahead, just wanting it over. In fact, I was probably a little sad when it was over. And maybe a little hopeful of a sequel, in some cases.
- After finishing these books I searched for others by the same author, just because I enjoyed them so very much. And that’s the highest praise you can give, right? Going back for more? Rather than, say, creating a likeness and burning it in effigy?
Lord Vishnu’s Love Handles, A Spy Novel (Sort Of), Will Clarke
It’s weird, it’s disjointed, the protagonist is a semi-self destructive son of a bitch, some of it makes nearly no sense, and I absolutely, positively enjoyed every word of it. The “hero” is an alcoholic with psychic powers who doesn’t understand his abilities and has a hard time living with them. Then he’s taken under covert Uncle Sam’s unofficial wing and handed over to some Hare Krishnas for some training and all hell breaks loose.
Every Woman for Herself, Trisha Ashley
Despite a bit of the Mary Sue, this is a really fun book about 40-year-old, childless Charlie who, after being dumped by her boring husband, returns home to her family. Luckily a dashing, yet sensitive movie star has moved in next door for some quiet time with his precocious daughter. Look, I never said it wasn’t predictable. I said it was enjoyable.
A Long Stay in a Distant Land, Chieh Chieng
Louis Lumm has just lost his mother in a head-on collision, like so many other accidental deaths in what appears to be an alarming trend in all people Lumm. It is such a worry, in fact, that his aunt has changed her last name, not that this would fool death, and Louis harbors the belief that his family is cursed because his grandfather killed people during WWII. Told alternately through Louis’ eyes and various other members of his family, what could have turned out to be depressing and banal in another’s hands is instead funny and touching. And damned if it isn’t spot on with familial relations – every interaction between father and son, brother harassing brother and a smothering mother drowning her son in unwanted affection is pitch perfect.
Freddy and Fredericka, Mark Helprin
This one could possibly be the one exception to the non-antsy rule, as it goes on a bit longer than it should have. (They’re my stringent qualifications, I can bend them if I want.) But I wouldn’t say I ever shouted to the heavens “why, lord, why is this book still going?” like some novels I could mention *cough* Sushi For Beginners *cough* The story of Freddy and Fredericka, self-involved Prince and Princess of Wales, and their adventures during a year of anonymity in America while they find some depth is, while not in any way, shape or form a quick read, an extremely fun one. Ignore the pontificating on the difficulty of being a royal and how nobody understands and focus on the asinine adventures of two clueless royals thrust out into the real world as punishment for their shallowness, and enjoying it.
If Andy Warhol Had a Girlfriend, Alison Pace
A sweet unassuming love story that’s also quite funny about a young woman who works in New York’s hippest art gallery and the babysitting assignment she draws – following their most famous artist around art shows for months on end. Every chapter is headed with a quirky little Warhol quote that not only set the mood, it almost inspired me to pick up the Warhol book that provided Ms. Pace with her quotes. I said almost.
Looped, Andrew Winston
I was afraid that I’d never be able to follow this book when I first picked it up as it follows the lives of a bunch of loosely interrelated Chicagoans all throughout the year 2000, but I had no problems. And if I can manage to keep everybody straight, I’m sure you can too. The chapters are broken down into months, the chapter sections into days, and it all works in such a way that you really get a sense of the time passing between events, rather than leaving the reader to try and figure out the amount of time that’s passed. It left me wanting a follow up – what the hell happens to Robin in 2001, Mr. Winston? But I’m nosy that way.
This Body: A Novel of Reincarnation, Laurel Doud
Ms. Doud’s not afraid to go to a weird, dark place, I’ll give her that. And I’ll also give her two snaps and a twist for this debut novel about a middle-aged housewife being reincarnated a year after her sudden death into the body of a just-vomited-to-death, young 20-something spoiled little rich girl junkie. Wackiness, not always the fun kind, ensues, as she is forced to interact with her host body’s family and tries to insinuate herself into the lives of her remarried husband and children.
Amanda’s Wedding, Jenny Colgan
Ms. Colgan’s first book finds two friends out to destroy the wedding of a life long chum because she’s a bitch and a society-climbing harpy. As fun as it sounds. Which, come on, who hasn’t wanted to take a backstabbing, snide bitch down a peg or two, right?
Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre
Starting off with the title character, a teenage boy whose best friend just shot up a bunch of schoolmates, sitting in a cell in his underwear and careening on from there — this is quite the satire on our media and fucked up times. Vernon’s under suspicion merely because he was a friend of the shooter, and various things, like family secrets and a clueless mother you just want to smack, conspire to keep him from providing absolute proof of his innocence. The ending goes a bit too out of the realm of reality Mr. Pierre built up, but as there was no other way to really accomplish it without breaking his first person narrative, I forgive him. I’m sure you will, too.
White Bikini Panties, Kelly James-Enger
An unfortunately named novel (especially if one is in the habit of bringing books to work to read at lunch and ones boss is in the habit of asking what one is reading that day or one, say, leaves it sitting on ones desk face up) but well worth the read as that’s pretty much the only strike against it. It’s a Chick Lit novel without a predictably wacky mother or a pulled-from-the-ass new fantastic life and there’s an aura of adultness to the proceedings that a lot of Chick Lit books lack.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie
A quiet, slow moving book that asks whether or not ignorance really is bliss. Or maybe it’s just bliss for some if everyone else stays ignorant, so maybe everyone should stay ignorant, or they ruin it for others. Let me explain – during China’s revolution, two friends are sent into the mountains for their reeducation where they encounter the titular seamstress. To impress her, they smuggle contraband Western literature out of a fellow students stash and read her stories that capture her imagination. The question being: is that a good thing?
Don’t Point that Thing at Me, Kyril Bonfiglioli
A nifty little crime caper, narrated by the pompous Charlie Mortdecai, a British fop who lives just to the left or so of the law. And bless him for it.
Dirty Tricks, Michael Dibdin
A warped little tale, told by the British narrator while he’s being interviewed for possible extradition for murder out of a nameless South American country. He’s deluded and you’re never quite sure what to believe, though I’m pretty sure a fair bet is “not he.”
How to Meet Cute Boys, Deane Kizis
Freelancer 27-year-old meets and falls for 20-year-old clothes designer. She wants commitment, he doesn’t want a girlfriend per se, just a semi-regular snuggle partner, and the mating dance of miscommunication and trying to ensnare someone who doesn’t want to be ensnared ensues.
Apprentice to the Flower Poet Z, Debra Weinstein
Ah, the seedy underbelly of the cutthroat poetry world. Who knew it existed? I suppose we could have all imagined – it can’t be easy, looking for words that rhyme. It’s bound to send anyone over the edge, yes?
Murder by Design, Jon P. Bloch
All is not well in the land of interior design, when one of the stars of a swapping homes kind of decorating show is found dead. Luckily Hollywood gossip columnist Rick Domino’s there to figure everything out.
Harbor, Lorraine Adams
A story that leaves you drifting and thinking about how life truly is unfair, and not just in a “dammit, Target’s out of Xboxes” kind of way, Harbortakes the story of Aziz, a young Algerian who comes to America as a stowaway in the hold of a cargo ship, and weaves it into an intricate tale where every action you have, even something that seems right, can come back and bite you in the ass years later.