Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer Book Recommendations

oct1

Acks, this summer has been so busy that I've really fallen down on my book recommendation posts. So here is a belated list of some great, extra-long-for-the-beach, not-too-meaty-but-certainly-not-frivolous summer reads:

The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins)--a big fat Victorian mystery novel that you could devour in a matter of days or read bits at a time for a month. It's a great book for readers who love a compelling plot, but need something 100 IQ points smarter than the vampires who shalt not be named.

Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)--this seems like an obvious/easy recommendation for many reasons, but it's a wonderful, complicated, political, heart-wrenching book. I've read it several times but most recently, I had forgotten how quickly it takes you in and I read all 600-plus pages in a single day, unable to wrench myself from away.

The Emperor's Children (Claire Messud)--a novel on the light side, but there are some funny moments and fairly snappy writing throughout. It's an easy read and though it's self-indulgent at times, the moments of humor make up for it (at least for me).

Have you read anything good lately? I also just checked out The History of Love from the public library, because I'd read a few good reviews of it, but the jury is still out. Have you read it?

P.S. The Man Booker Prize longlist was announced on Tuesday; it's one of my favorite places to poach great contemporary reading recommendations.

P.P.S. Where do you go for book reviews? I used to read The New York Times but then I read a scathing review of Ian McEwan's beautifully-written On Chesil Beach followed by a glowing review of the sack-of-crap novel Commencement, so I've all but given up on its judgments.

55 comments:

dot said...

You should pick up Bonnie Jo Campbell's new novel, Once Upon a River, once you have more time. It's fantastic.

Martina Lynne :: The Life Academic said...

I absolutely adored History of Love but some other friends had very different responses. I think it's a very polarizing book, apparently like On Chesil Beach , which I think was one of the greatest and saddest things I've ever read. So who knows. But I'm doing book reviews all week at my blog, so if you're needing recommendations, check it out.

Kristin said...

The History of Love is great, it made me want to read Nicole Krauss' other books. Similar to her husband's (Jonathan Safran Foer) work, though, it can be a bit... I don't want to say trite, but maybe? Personally, I can overlook certain amounts of it, and that book stuck with me. I'd recommend it.

P.S. I totally can commiserate with your moving pain - I'm in the process of packing up a fully furnished 2 bedroom apartment to move from the East Coast to Northern Ireland in a fully furnished 1 bedroom flat. Uhh... where is all that stuff gonna go?!

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Great suggestions. I love the Woman in White!

But this also made me a little sad. I liked Commencement :( I think it can't be judged alongside On Chesil Beach though, which was also great. I hold them to different standards.

Courtney Erin said...

I just finished reading the Central Park Five about the Central Park jogger rape case of the 80s that resulted in five African-American teenagers doing hard time for a crime they didn't commit and it was a really fascinating read about the intersection of racism, the law, and popular culture in NYC during the period. Really interesting.

xoxo ~ Courtney
http://sartorialsidelines.com

MEGGY said...

I definitely recommended Bossypants by Tina Fey. She's so witty, strong-willed, and ambitious. If you want a book you'll basically laugh all the way through, check this out!

What Would a Nerd Wear said...

kristin--yes, i agree with you on the "trite" bit--i might call it trying a bit too hard; there are moments (at least in the first 30-40 pages i've read) where i can see the author sitting at her computer trying to be profound...
anonymous--commencement and on chesil beach are definitely two different books! i just stopped trusting the NYT when their reviews seemed so off (to me, at least). my complaint about commencement is that it was very upper-middle-class-and-white without any awareness of it, and it started to nag at me. i hope i did not cause any offense! i know i'm crazy defensive when anyone speaks ill of ian mcewan in front of me; i know how attached a person can get to a book she loves :)

What Would a Nerd Wear said...

meggy--yes, i just read bossypants! it cracked me up in so many places and i loved it overall, though her constant over-the-top humility started to ring false after a while. just me?

Deena said...

I've been meaning to re-read "Housekeeping" by Marilynne Robinson. Such a lovely book. I just read "The Beauty of Humanity Movement" by Camilla Gibb and thought it was pretty good.

PS. Hope you & Christopher are having some luck with apt. hunting!

What Would a Nerd Wear said...

thanks, deena! we actually just found a place yesterday! hurrah, i won't be homeless!

Simply Bike said...

I've tended to find good book recommendations from NPR and their book review site.

I read the History of Love about 5 years ago, so my tastes may have changed, but at the time, I had mixed feelings about it all the way to the end. Hm. Curious to see what you think.

I've been reading lots of yoga books lately, learning more about the philosophy behind the practice.

S.

gina said...

I'm reading Age of Innocence right now and liking it so far. I haven't gone wrong with Edith Wharton yet.

I finished all the Harry Potter books recently. I almost stopped reading after each of the first 3, but the last 4 got progressively better. Another good light read is Jen Lancaster. I just picked up (but haven't started) her most recent, If You Were Here. It's her first fiction piece; everything else has been memoirs.

I get my best recommendations from one of the book clubs I belong to. The leader works at a bookstore and the people in it are mostly writers, editors, English majors, and lawyers. (I know, "which one of these is not like the other?" started playing in my head too.) The stuff we read is usually really good, and every time we have a book choosing session, I end up with another 20 books or authors on my "To Read" list of all the stuff we didn't choose.

ssm said...

oh hey THANK YOU for saying Commencement was a sack of crap. I wish I could erase my brain of that book. I get my reviews from librarians and book bloggers. As a former book reviewer, trust me when I tell you book reviewers aren't to be trusted. :)

Anonymous said...

I found the History of Love to be fantastic but it has a particular style that I think some people dislike significantly. I also found it really interesting to compare to some of Jonathan Safran Foer's book which struck a similar note for me. I only found out later that they are married but weren't at the time she wrote The History of Love.

the other emily said...

Yay, I love Wilkie Collins! Reread The Woman in White the last time I was home, now I just have to dig up my old copy of The Moonstone.

amanda said...

You crack me up! "The vampires who shalt not be named." Hilarious. Anyway, one of my summer reads last summer was "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell," by Susanna Clarke. Have you read it? It's captivating.

Maria said...

it's funny that I'm reading this post while watching the 1944 Jane Eyre :)

Jeanni said...

Right now I'm reading War of the Worlds and it's great!

Tina said...

I hated History of Love! I was really disappointed. Currently the books I loved and recommend are Handmaid's Tale and A Woman of Independent Means. Also, The Road and True Grit were good quick reads, perfect for an afternoon. And of course, Tess of the D'Ubervilles has a special place in my heart, but I'm sure you already know her!

Gray Skies said...

I've been meaning to read "The Woman in White" for years, and I think I'll finally do it! I just got "War and Peace" from the library - not exactly a light summer read! But it's something I've been wanting to read for ages.

she said...

i read the History of Love a couple years ago on a fluke...i liked the cover (yeah, yeah) so i picked it up because it came in paperback form and i was going on vacation. it took me a bit to get into it, but getting to the end of that book is one of the most poignant, memorable experiences i've had with reading in my entire life (which is saying a lot...i've been a voracious reader and was a lit major in college). the book was due, but i wasn't finished, so i took it to the library one night and planned to finish it there and drop it in the slot on my way out (yes, i like to hang out in public libraries). i distinctly remember sitting in a chair by myself in a quiet corner of the library, my heart beating, my eyes racing ahead to finish, and yet at the same time i found i didn't want the book to end. it's my favorite feeling to have about a book. as i'm typing this comment, i can't even remember how it ends or what in particular had me so stricken. maybe i'd read it again now and have a totally different experience. either way, for this reason i'd stand behind it as a worthwhile read.

Erin said...

The History of Love is a very polarizing read. I picked it up a few years ago after a boyfriend declared it the best book he'd ever read. I was incredibly ambivalent about it. Entertaining enough, but didn't speak to me like it did so many others. Meh...

If you haven't read The Hunger Games trilogy, pick them up ASAP! Teen/fantasy are not usually my genre, but those books are some of the best I've read in YEARS. :)

Anonymous said...

@whatwouldanerdwear definitely not offended re: Commencent! I agree NYT books reviews are iffy :)

Laura said...

I don't really read book reviews but I do rely heavily on recommendations from friends. I have a few friends who have voracious book appetites and similar tastes as me so I almost always have a great recommendation from them.

Have you read The Book of Lost Things? Its kind of dark but I loved it.

wildchild said...

i've been reading fitzgerald's "tender is the night" while i'm living here on the riviera (since a friend told me he wrote it while living here) and i've enjoyed it. it's not one that i can read right through though. i read a few chapters, set it down and do something and then come back in a few hours.

usually to find books, i just go to the bookstore and spend hours pouring through every book on the shelf that looks appealing, reading the inside flap and the reviews, and then write them all down. slowly throughout the summer, i order them from surrounding libraries so i don't have to spend a penny on ones that i zoom through so fast.

Amber K. said...

I love www.goodreads.com, where you can rate books and compare book ratings/compatibility with other people. But mainly, I like looking at book ratings, book reviews, and all the lists that people vote on for various categories of favorite books.

Laura said...

I love when you post book recs. I don't think you've steered us wrong once.

I just read Jane Eyre for the first time while we were vacationing in Jamaica. I was rather glad I was reading via kindle, considering the view of Jamaicans as "savages"! But I really liked it all the same.

I just read "Room" and thought it was ok. I think it would have benefitted from another character's POV.

Also, just read something called "The Last Letter" and read it in a day. I'd say it's a bit "Oprah's Book Club", but I don't even know if I mean that as compliment or not.

What Would a Nerd Wear said...

laura--eeps, i hope i can live up to that! yes, jane eyre can be pretty racist (as can 99% of 19th century novels) and politically-problematic, but the fact that its politics are so transparent is partly what makes it so interesting. i haven't heard of "the last letter," i should check it out. oprah is hit or miss--i love that she brings attention to really wonderful books but at the same time, it pains me inside to see that so many people don't know how to read at all (two and a half minutes on the oprah book club website will show you that). this comment is starting to sound snobbish, but it just makes me sad sometimes that we don't have literary experts on these "book club" sites helping to steer people toward reading books meaningfully...

Caroline said...

I just finished World War Z. I couldn't put it down after I picked it up! It was such an engrossing read and I finished it in a couple of days.

Jessica said...

So glad I'm not the only one who's been over NYT recently! I'm getting an MA in children's literature, and often their discussion of children's and young adult literature is incredibly patronizing and uninformed.

Don't know if you're interested, but I'd love to recommend some children's and YA books that are more on the literary side: Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by MT Anderson (There are 2 volumes--I especially enjoyed the gothic elements of Vol. 1), and The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.

Vanessa said...

Another great selection! I also check NY Times, but I really like looking through the reviews on Amazon for an honest opinion and a little variety.

Paige (Final Clothes-Out) said...

Jane Eyre is tied with the HP series for my favorite book of all time (strange combination, I know).

I read Bossypants a few weeks ago, and it was just hilarious. It had been a while since I laughed out loud at a book. It's not challenging in any way, but sometimes you just want a fun read!

Courtney H. said...

Just Kids by Patti Smith is great if you're looking for a nonfiction read! It's a memoir about Smith's relationship/life in NYC with Robert Mapplethorp.

Danielle Susi said...

I'm reading Memoirs of a Geisha right now and it's just beautiful. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I don't know how a film could ever capture the type of detail and poise of the written version.

Ali said...

I love love love The History of Love! I loved the story, and more particularly how it was told.
I usually go to NPR for book reviews. My boss and I have also recently swapped books: I have Water for Elephants and she has Charlotte Gray (one of my VERY favorite books. Truly, I could read Sebastian Faulks forever).

andrea said...

you MUST read "the shadow of the wind" by carlos ruiz záfon; the first book i've been unable to put down in years!

http://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Wind-Carlos-Ruiz-Zafon/dp/1594200106

Jennifer Araya said...

I read "Woman in White" as a freshman in high school and it instantly ranked as one of my very favorite books. I've read it probably 10 times since then and it only improves with time. "Jane Eyre" was part of my reading fare for my senior-year in high school, and similarly, it still ranks among my favorite books. It's another one that's great to read and re-read. :)

Thanks for the reading recommendations and for reminding me of some old literary friends.

A Warner said...

i loved the history of love, but not until the very end. i remember powering through it in one day because it was such an easy read. i got to the end and my head began reeling as i mentally went back through the book to connect all of the dots.

i just finished reading this side of paradise by fitzgerald; not my favorite work by him, but it's definitely got character as far as writing style. it was more intriguing to read when i learned that he wrote it at two separate points in his life.

i've gone to NPR and NYT for book reviews, but my favorite way to find books is to go into a bookstore and start browsing. picking up a random book and reading the back blurb and a few pages from the text has gotten me to buy some interesting books. i worked for borders (RIP) for a long time while i was in college and picked up this habit while doing reshelves.

What Would a Nerd Wear said...

a warner, you and wildchild are in the same (fitzgerald) boat! and several people have recommended NPR--i am ashamed to say i've never listened to their book reviews, but clearly i'm going to have to start.
thank you all for your wonderful, thoughtful suggestions. i am so galvanized by these comments!

Megan said...

I just read Jane Eyre for the first time earlier this year and just LOVED it. It was wonderful! And perfect timing. I needed a rich piece of fiction to pull me out of my mid-winter funk!

Maggie said...

I love Jane Eyre! I may have been the only person who actually read it in my high school English class, but I adore it.

I've recently really enjoyed Never Let Me Go (such a gorgeously written, beautifully sad book!) and The Tiger's Wife (I liked that it played with the line between fantasy and reality).

Maggie said...

Also, I just wanted to note that I read Ex Libris off your recommendation and absolutely loved it! (I then gave it to my boyfriend's mom- she's an editor and a book lover as well- and I think she also really liked it).

Nicole said...

Tania, thank you so much for posting this. I was the person who asked for more recommendations on formspring. I really appreciate that you took the time to write this before moving. I can't believe you had even a moment to spare! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I don't have a book to recommend, but I LOVE to get suggestions from this list: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/03/24/midmorning_books/. If you need something to listen to on the trip to DC, I would highly suggest giving this a listen: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/07/25/midmorning2/

knitzalot said...

It sounds like we're on the same wavelength this summer. I just read Jane Eyre for the first time ever and I'm in the middle of the Woman in White. So far, I'm enjoying it.

Laura Ann said...

I've read Jane Eyre before and am going to be reading it again this semester for my Victorian Lit class. I'm looking forward to it!

arliddian said...

I love The History of Love; it prompted me to pick up Nicole Krauss's other books. I really like her writing style. I think she writes about loss in a really beautiful way.

Will be picking up The Woman in White as soon as I can!

Amy said...

Recently got round to reading Kerouac's On the Road. You've probably been there but it just swept me along completely, the pace is mental and i just couldn't put it down at all! Loved it. xXx

blackberryhorse.blogspot.com

Blue said...

The History of Love was beyond great, read it as soon as you can. And shame in the New York Times, I LOVED On Chesil Beach! I agree, the writing was beautiful, I think it's one of McEwan's best books, along with Atonement!

Jenny said...

The Man Booker Prize list is what I consulted for ideas on my thesis. Amazing texts with little scholarly research so there is plenty of room for new ideas and elbowing my way into the critical conversation. :)

Kelly said...

I get many of my recommendations from the employee rec's at my favorite local bookstore, The Elliot Bay Book Company (Seattle).

Right now, I am reading One Day by David Nicholls, which is a light but fun read. There is a ton of British slang which keeps me on my toes.

Thanks for the book recommendation feature. I love it!

megs said...

have you heard of goodreads.com?
it's a cool website where you can make your own lists, including "read", "to-read", etc.. you can add friends and write your own reviews. i love it and i think you would too! check it out!

-megan
http://illumeme.blogspot.com

kelsey williams said...

Jane Eyre is my favorite! I want to buy an old old old copy of it to keep on my bookshelf!

Liz said...

You'd love "the art of racing in the rain" it's an easy read and just so good!! :)

Caitlin said...

Have you looked at a website called, Goodreads.com? It might help. <> I'm in the middle of many books currently and The Woman in White is sadly being effect. I blame Hemingway's The Garden of Eden for this.

smalltown20something said...

I'm going to agree with a few of your other readers, Goodreads is a great website and has lots of different reviews!

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