The last three novels I've read have all been big winners in my book, but they couldn't be more different. I thought I'd take a few minutes to share them with you.
The most recent novel I read was We the Animals, by Justin Torres. I didn't expect to like this slim debut novel but for some reason it kept tugging at me whenever I walked past it, so I finally decided to give it a go. And it kept me. It is fierce and concentrated and feral and heartbreaking, a child's view of family's struggles and relationships, presented in brilliant language. The New York Times called it "a strobe light of a story," while Vanity Fair called it "a gorgeous, howling coming-of-age novel that will devour your heart," and author Pam Houston called it a "musical tornado of a novel." It is definitely a wow. I look forward to more from this author.
The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes. This intense, suspenseful novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about until he is presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he’d understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world. Who are you? How can you be sure? What if you’re not who you think you are? What if you never were? The review on NPR called it “an elegantly composed, quietly devastating tale about memory, aging, time and remorse." I thought it was spectacular.
The Night Circus, a novel unlike any I'd ever read before. The author, Erin Morgenstern, is a visual artist, and in her writing she created worlds that I could see just as if I were standing inside of them. Generally I'm not big on books that involve the circus or magic. And this involves both. Sort of. And yet I found it both delightful and breathtaking. It involves a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors and who meet in Le Cirque des Reves, a Victorian nocturnal black-and-white circus. Here are some of the accolades reviewers have bestowed upon this novel and its author: "playful and intensely imaginative," "quietly, enchantingly perfect," "an extraordinary storyteller," "a beguiling, gripping read," "A literary Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride." I definitely recommend giving this one a go.
I'm also "reading" two audiobooks right now that I'm enjoying very much: one I'm listening to on my iPod when I walk and the other I'm listening to in my car when I drive. Sadly for the former -- and for my ability to fit into my clothing -- lately I've been spending more time with the latter book. I blame the weather and the lack of daylight.
The walking book is Pulitzer-Prize winner A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, an inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age. It took me a while to get going on this one, because it bounces around a bit in time and in point-of-view, so it takes a while to get a handle on all of the characters and their relationships. But now I'm really enjoying it.
The driving book is The Stranger's Child, by Alan Hollinghurst, a sweeping, multi-generational novel that opens in England in 1913. “At once classically literary and delightfully, subversively modern." This book is so entertaining that I find myself manufacturing reasons to drive my car -- something I don't do that often, since I can easily walk just about everywhere I need to go -- just so I can continue to listen to this delightful book.
Novels that I'm considering treating myself to when the holiday rush moves past and I can focus again include The Art of Fielding, 11/22/63, Wish You Were Here, Matterhorn, Pearlmann's Silence (by the author of Night Train to Lisbon) and The Corrections (yes, I admit, I've haven't read it yet, but I enjoyed Freedom). The novels I'm most looking forward to being published in 2012 are Truth Like the Sun, the newest from Jim Lynch (The Highest Tide, Border Songs), which is due out in April (just in time for the store's 20th anniversary celebration!), and Dora: A Head Case, a novel (due to be published summer 2012) by Lidia Yuknavitch, author of the stunning memoir The Chronology of Water.
Ah yes, so many books, so little time. Tomorrow I'll talk about recent, current, and forthcoming nonfiction reads.