WHIRL (What Have I Read Lately) Books is a site for readers to find books for themselves and their book clubs. Liz at Literary Masters runs book groups and literary salons where we "dig deep" into literary treasures.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Summer Reading Suggestions!

The year has flown by, and the 2011/ 2012 season of Literary Masters has come to an end.  What a fabulous season it was!  And now, as promised, I have taken LM members' suggestions for summer reading and have compiled a list here.  There's not a synopsis or anything to go with the books (although sometimes there's a quote alongside the title), but you can rest assured that any recommendation from a Literary Masters member has to be good, yes?

The one title that was mentioned in every single salon was Fifty Shades of Grey.  This was the only book that was simultaneously liked and disliked.  And it was universally tittered over.  Described as mommy-porn (what is that???---rhetorical question; please don't answer it) and evidently featuring sado-masochistic themes, I'm not sure anyone who is an LM member has actually read this book, but we had fun imagining what it is about. 

I could do an entire blog post on "What Exactly is Summer Reading, Anyway?" but suffice to say here that most people think of it as lighter reading, you know, books that are not so taxing on our brains.  Others consider it to be reading that transports us somewhere else.  I always associate summer reading with books set in hot places.

So, I love to recommend books set in Africa or India.  Actually, I'd love to visit both those places, but I'll have to settle for an imaginary trip...here are some books that have taken me there (or nearby)...

West with the Night by Beryl Markham.  I blogged on it here
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry
Mothsmoke by Mohsin Hamid

The following titles will take us to lands near and far:

Many of you have recommended for non-fiction:

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
In the Garden of the Beast by Erik Larson
To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild
Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

I am very impressed by how many of you are reading the fourth book in Robert Caro's series on Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power. 

more non-fiction:
Coming Apart by Charles Murray
Citizens of London by Lynne Olson
Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz
Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild
Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer
Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz (this book is not published until August)

and a 'hot' book right now:
Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed (although one LM member finished this recently and wonders what all the fuss is about...)

Some fiction (I'm not sure how "light" these are, but members highly recommended these novels):

On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry (if you liked Brooklyn by Colm Toibin and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore--I blogged on that here--I think you'll like this latest from Barry)
The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (even better than TSC in my opinion)
Trapeze by Simon Mawer (he wrote The Glass Room, which so many of us loved last season)
Arcadia by Lauren Groff
We the Animals by Justin Torres "a quick, moving read"
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (he wrote The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet which we also loved last season; many consider Cloud Atlas to be his best)
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (extra credit for members who read this!!!)
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson: "charming, really sweet"
The Schmidt books by Louis Begley; the latest is Schmidt Steps Back
Carry the One by Carol Anshaw
The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger
Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (one of my favorite authors)
Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates "creepy, compelling, and thought-provoking"
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (some of you read this with me; click here for my blog post on it)

More fiction:
Skin Tight by Carl Hiaasen
Strip Tease by Carl Hiaasen
The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile by C. W. Gortner (this book isn't published until June)
The Jump Off Creek by Molly Gloss
Restless by William Boyd
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (definitely in my TBR pile!)
How It All Began by Penelope Lively: "delightful"
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander
The Submission by Amy Waldman
There But For The by Ali Smith
Winter's Bone: a Novel by Daniel Woodrell
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Only Time Will Tell and Sins of the Father, two novels by Jeffrey Archer

We should all laugh more this summer:
Lunatics by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel (fiction)
I'll Mature When I'm Dead by Dave Barry (non-fiction)
Bossypants by Tina Fey

Well, this should get you started for the summer.  Thank you for everything this season--reading just wouldn't be the same without you.  Here's wishing all of you a safe, healthy, and happy summer filled with good books, good friends, and much laughter!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Should Your Book Club Read West With the Night by Beryl Markham?

How long have I had this book on my TBR shelf, and who gave it to me?  I have a vague recollection of someone in my graduate program handing it to me saying she had more copies at home, and that everyone should read this book.  Ernest Hemingway would agree, evidently.  He wrote to Maxwell Perkins that Beryl Markham could "write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers" and implored Perkins to get the book and read it because "it is really a bloody wonderful book."

I thoroughly agree with Mr. Hemingway.

This bloody wonderful book is not so much a story as a collection of vignettes; it is Beryl Markham's (Beru to the indigenous Africans) memoir about growing up in Kenya when it was still British East Africa.  What I love about the book is...everything.  So, should your book club read it?  I don't know.  I don't feel like I need to discuss it with anyone, yet I do feel that it will be a book I return to again and again to experience it as much as possible.  I wonder if the fact that it is a memoir, a genre I don't read often, makes me feel like I just enjoyed a journey with someone (the author) and therefore don't feel the need to discuss it with others.  Hmm, I don't know; I'll have to give that some thought.

I do highly, highly recommend the book--five stars without a doubt--so read it on your own or with others, if you choose.  If you are an aspiring writer, you should run to your nearest book store to get this book.  Then you should read it out loud so that the language--clay in the hands of the master sculptress Markham--makes a lasting impression on you.

The setting is so vivid, you will feel like you are in Africa, and Markham's evident love and respect for that country gives it a quality that brings it to life in a lovely way.  Her descriptions will make you want to go there to see the places that she played in as a child and worked in as an adult  For example, Lake Nakuru with its throngs of pink flamingos.  I never do this, but I was so intrigued by Markham's description of that place, I "google imaged" it.  Check it out:

And what a adventurous childhood Markham had!  From encounters with lions to wild boar hunting with native friends, Markham recounts her tales with just the right amount of suspense and intrigue.  Talk about intrepid--this is not your everyday little league upbringing.  I am amazed Markham survived some of her adventures!

When she starts to fly over the bush to track elephants for wealthy tourists who want to shoot them, one realizes that this is, indeed, a life lived in a different era.  Colonialism, WWII looming, the frontiers of the skies to be conquered...Markham just touches on the rich history of the geo-politics of Africa at this time.

What Markham does not cover in the memoir is her personal life.  I was surprised when I googled her to find out that she was married three times, and allegedly had romantic involvement with some of the characters in her tale.  Hmm, interesting what she decided to leave out of the memoir.

Bottom line:  if you liked Let's Not Go to the Dogs Tonight, another wonderful memoir by Alexandra Fuller, I think you will like this book.  And if you haven't read Let's Not Go to the Dogs Tonight, you really should!