It’s summertime, so my blog productivity has slowed as the thermometer inches into the 90s. Davidson College asked for Summertime Reading Picks, and since I managed to come up with a few, I thought I’d post them here to generate the specter of activity. But don’t be confused by Cassatt’s lovely pastel drawing (left): the books recommended here are not suitable for reading aloud to small children!
Irene Nemirovksy, Suite Francaise. A historical novel that was interrupted by history, Suite Francaise depicts the Nazi occupation of France with the richness and density that hearkens back to Tolstoy. Nemirovksy, a Russian-born Jew who converted to Catholicism when she married a Frenchman, worked on the novel up to the day she was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. The manuscript was preserved by her two daughters, who survived the war hiding in various convents. The English translation includes heartbreaking letters from Nemirovsky and her husband after her arrest, vainly attempting to secure her release.
Anything by British novelist Kate Atkinson. My favorite is her debut novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, a serio-comic tale of family inheritances and (mis)fortunes that taps into the tradition of Dickens’ Great Expectations. Atkinson’s When Will There Be Good News, one of a series of mysteries starring the endearingly defective detective Jack Brodie, is a great beach read. With enough references to Jane Eyre to make you feel literary, it is a page turner that’s hard to put down—a kinder, gentler (and more genuinely feminist) Girl With Dragon Tattoo. You have the plucky heroine beseiged by malevolent male predators, but the narrative excitement does not derive from scenes of salacious sexual torture.
Just after returning from a faculty trip to Russia last month (I blogged there instead of here), I happened to pick David Benioff’s City of Thieves off a bookstore shelf. “Oh, that’s a good one,” said the friendly proprietor, “It’s about the German seige of Leningrad in WWII.” Which was exactly the topic I’d come home wanting to learn more about! Turns out Benioff is the head writer of the HBO series Game of Thrones, so he knows how to put together a good story. He’s done his research, and though I don’t know how historically accurate some of the details are, I found the characters compelling and their exploits just far-fetched enough to stretch my imagination and make me believe. Another good book for the beach or plane ride.