Thursday, July 20, 2017

Not so light reads for summer

I’ve never understood why summer was considered the best time for light reading. It’s a time when many people are working less and therefore better suited to take on those tough, long books they’ve always wanted to read. (Plus, taking a giant book to the beach makes you look really cool.) Here are a few of my favorite anti-beach reads, all of them challenging, fun, and available at PWPL.

Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives, 2007
The book, in the form of diary entries and interviews, reconstructs the lives of a young man and a group of avant garde poets with whom he gets involved in Mexico. Bolaño delights in giving fragments of a story—sometimes via untranslated poems, sometimes via journal entries that stop abruptly—and having readers figure out the big picture for themselves. The book is impressive in the sheer number of characters and settings it manages to include. Despite its title, this is not a standard detective novel: it concerns a mystery that seems as deep as life itself, and after you finish the book you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.

Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, 1985
If you’ve read much Cormac McCarthy, you probably know the setup—a 19th-century young man goes on a quest through the southern US and quickly finds himself in circumstances he isn’t prepared for. As with many other McCarthy books, both the landscapes and people in Blood Meridian are relentless. This one of the first books I checked out from PWPL, and it is perhaps most challenging in its sentences, which stretch many of the rules of the English language. (There is one sentence in this book that will have you floored; you’ll know it when you get to it.) McCarthy can deftly pack pages’ worth of detail into a single paragraph, and although this means the reader has to do some unpacking, it is as much fun as work.

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas, 2004
If you’ve seen the movie, you’re familiar with the concept: there are six different stories from the past, present, and future—encompassing everything from a 19th-century composer to a futuristic cyborg society. The stories, each with their own narrators and styles, change into each other abruptly, and part of the fun for the reader is figuring out how they’re all linked together. Mitchell shows an impressive ability to convincingly write in six different genres, and more importantly, this is not just a pretentious concept; the stories are all fun and engaging, and together they deliver a powerful message about humanity.

Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad, 2010
This is another book that spans genres, time periods, and perspectives. At its heart are a few people in the music industry, and the book involves the people they spend their time with as well as the people they become. Each chapter is told by a different character, and while the chapters all work as short stories, they also form a larger narrative. Despite having a complicated structure, this book is accessible and fun. Not to mention, one of the chapters is in PowerPoint Slides, and Egan makes it compelling!

Samanta Schweblin, Fever Dream, 2017
This novel, translated from Spanish, seems like the perfect beach read—it’s short, and its title suggests pulpy horror—but there is something deeper at work. A dying woman talks with a young boy, and although their conversation seems clear enough, the reader begins to think that they can’t possibly be talking about what it seems they’re talking about. The woman starts to tell a story, and it gets crazier from there. The fact that Schweblin can take simple sentences and images and create a discordant, gripping, and wholly new story out of them is remarkable.

--Ben Kinney, Youth Services

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