Monday, February 28, 2011
1) The Emperor's Children, by Claire Messud — I read this book in October, 2006, and when I finished I wrote "This may have been the best book I’ve read this year – complex, literary, funny, fast-moving, beautifully written and just generally a joy to read." It's about three young New Yorkers struggling to find their way just prior to 9/11. It didn't get many great reviews (it only averages 2.5 stars among 266 reviews on Amazon), which is absurd to me, because I agree with the blurber who called Messud a "writer of near-miraculous perfection." Sometimes it's fun that you like something everyone else hated, right?
2. Zeitoun & What Is The What, by David Eggers — Zeitoun is the most rage-inducing book I think I've ever read. Told in sparse, unadorned prose, the tale of a Syrian immigrant mistreated in the wake of Hurricane Katrina spotlights how wrong things can go when common sense fails. It's simply brilliant. What Is The What is Eggers' story about a Sudanese refugee named Valentino Achak Deng escaping the country's civil war. It's based on a real person, but tells the collective story of the Sudanese "Lost Boys" who come to American and try to remake their lives. Eggers is one of my all-time favorite writers.
3. Beautiful Children, by Charles Bock — I'm going deep cut here. This is a great story (which I read in February, 2008 before a trip to Vegas) of the Las Vegas tourists or conventioneers never see. But it's also the story of failed marriages and flawed characters. The characters' stories are told separately, but all intersect in surprising ways. As interesting as these stories are, Bock is at his best when he's simply describing the absurdity of Las Vegas — his hometown. This is the debut novel by a writer I can't to wait to read more of.
The Secret History, by Donna Tartt — This novel, which I read in December 2003, absolutely blew me away. I wrote: "These were some of the most vivid, graphic, intense scenes I have read in any literature." The story's about a group of New England college students and a secret society. This is one of the very few novels I've actually ever stayed up until dawn to finish.
5. Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill — I finished this book in March 2009, and wrote that O'Neill's style reminded me of an Irish Philip Roth. I'm still not 100 percent sure I "got" this novel, but I know I really liked it. The story itself revolves around a Dutch immigrant trying to start a cricket league in New York City post-9/11 as his marriage unravels. It's a novel about safety and fear, about the immigrant experience in American, and about how easy it is to lose your moral compass. It's not beach reading, exactly, but very, very good.
Have you read any of these? Thoughts?
Do you have novels like these mentally queued up when friends ask you for recommendations?
Posted by Greg Zimmerman at 12:18 PM