The Literary Edit: Our End of Summer Reading List

We are allowing intuition to guide us this August, as we pick up these five very different but equally compelling novels.
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Zadie Smith

This quote by Zadie Smith sums up this month of reading – all over the map. Different styles sprinkled in with no rhyme or reason and no two novels alike -- except they are all novels. This is my favorite way to read, guided by intuition, or simply a blind pick, it’s always the perfect leap of faith . . .

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Here’s what I’ve been reading…

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Less by Andrew Sean Greer

I absolutely loved this book! An endearing narrator, an Eat, Pray, Love sort of quest and a tale of someone who doesn’t quite realize how magnetic and magical he is – a wonderful, heartwarming journey with a memorable character.

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Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

The first book in Achebe’s trilogy was on a must-read list that I came across a month or so ago, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t it earlier (my husband and several friends had read it in high school). A powerhouse of a novel, Things Fall Apart comes in at a slight 210 pages, yet carries with it an unmatched force, detailing the culture of a particular people in Africa through the character of Okonkwo. Achebe plants the reader firmly in the time and place of one African community as British colonization enters the scene – so much so that I felt each page carried with it the weight and immediacy of direct experience. If you haven’t read this book, find it. It’s a one-sit read – timeless, necessary, and an absolute perspective shifter – a true classic.

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My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh

This is the book of the summer, and deservedly so – My Year of Rest . . . stays with you, grabs on tight, almost like a wrestling match – for me, the back and forth was trying to decide whether I loved it, or hated it, waffling between the two until the last page. I am still undecided. I loved the premise, and could understand the narrator – there are seasons when a “year-long nap” seems like the perfect fix to hard times – a sleep and then a refresh, a pause to create a better play moving forward. I was challenged, however, by how strongly I disliked the narrator, which then forced the question: Do I need to like the main character to like a book? Maybe I do? That feels like a major limitation and worth a closer look -- much like when I read My Absolute Darling, a book that made me profoundly uncomfortable, yet, because I was so scared to read it, this meant I couldn’t dismiss it. Love it (or not), Otessa Moshfegh’s latest novel simply can’t be dismissed.

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Outline by Rachel Cusk

I signed up for a book club through the LA Review of Books a few months ago, and my first book was Rachel Cusk’s latest novel, Kudos – the third in a trilogy. I hadn’t read her work before and thought I should start at the beginning; Outline is the first of the three, followed by Transit, and finally, Kudos. On a red-eye back from Boulder, I started Outline and read straight through the 5-hour flight. The story is told through a series of conversations with the narrator – a narrator who is never really introduced, her story never really told, yet we get an impression, an outline, through her interactions with others, similar to how an object emerges through attention to its negative space. Cusk is clearly one of the best writers today, creating a story so nuanced, subtle and absolutely captivating.

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

Secretly, I have always been intrigued by this book, and had never read it. But as I near my 40th birthday, I’ve realized that I thought I’d have a bit more of life figured out. Perhaps, an inch-closer to life’s answers, a smidge closer to . . . dare I say, enlightenment? I’m as far away as ever, with no answers, and maybe the nugget to take is to simply enjoy the journey? But I’m not there yet, still looking for answers as I creep towards this birthday. And in that search, I picked up Zen . . . I found a few answers and more questions, which I think is a good thing and maybe the point. Pirsig details one of the most interesting father and son stories I’ve read and offer’s a peek into his own mental breakdown or “hard enlightenment” as he calls it. From this vantage, it is one of the most interesting and confounding books I’ve read and worth its salt as a metaphysical classic.

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