Later this week, we’ll celebrate the Fall Equinox (it’s on Saturday the 23rd this year) — so you know what that means, don’t you? Yep! It’s time for me to share my . . .
Each quarter, right around the solstice or equinox, I think back on the books I’ve read over the previous 3 months, and I choose my top five.
Before I get started on that, I have two quick announcements to make!
First, this happy little runner (that’s my daughter, Erin) is running in a 5K next Saturday at the San Francisco Zoo to raise money for St. Jude’s. She was recently lamenting the fact that she’s still shy of her fundraising goal, so I told her I’d share her race link here . . . in case any of you might be interested in supporting her effort. (Just a mom, shamelessly plugging her kid’s efforts. As one does.)
And, second, just a reminder that tomorrow is our Read With Us book discussion day and Zoom. You can still RSVP for the Zoom if you’re interested — just leave a comment on this post today or send me a quick email.
Okay. That’s it for my announcements. Now . . . back to my Top Five Books from this past summer (the link listed for each book will take you to a published review of the book – where available – or some other kind of link if not):
First up, I’ve got James McBride’s most marvelous new book, The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. Washington Post book reviewer Ron Charles called it a “vibrant, love-affirming novel” and I just couldn’t agree more. The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store is a powerful novel that splices together comedy and tragedy with quirky, richly-drawn characters, a strong sense of time and place, and solid storytelling. There are a lot of characters, and some jumping around . . . so put your seat belts on and trust James McBride to get you there all in one piece! The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store is a delight. (I gave this one 4.5 stars.)
Next, I’ve got Tan Twan Eng’s The House of Doors. (This one is on the Booker longlist; we’ll have to see if it makes it to the shortlist later this week.) I’m a huge fan of Tan Twan Eng’s earlier work, and count his The Garden of Evening Mists as one of my favorite books ever. In this latest novel, The House of Doors, Tan mixes fact, fiction, history, and literature to produce a graceful and convincing biographical sketch of W. Somerset Maugham. Filled with graceful, evocative prose, the story is cleverly told as a back-and-forth narrative. Tan is a master at capturing a sense of time and place in exquisite detail, and I was swept away by the sights and textures of 1920s Malaya. While there are several storylines and themes for readers to juggle, it all generally works well, although some of the storylines are stronger than others. The overall result is a gentle, captivating novel that is a pleasure to read. (I gave this one 4.5 stars.)
Yeah. I know. I hate to do this, since I’ve been talking about it for months already anyway . . . but The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka might be my favorite of all my summer reads. Because, wow! It’s just such a unique and heartbreaking story – an really unlike anything I’ve read before. How to describe it? Well, it’s experimental (like Lincoln in the Bardo). It’s daring (á là Salmon Rushdie). And it’s bitingly absurd (á là Kurt Vonnegut). But Karunatilaka’s voice is beautifully his own in Seven Moons . . . which is part mystery, part history, part satire, and all heart. Yeah, it’s rather irreverent, kind of a hodgepodge, and more than a little bit creepy, so . . . probably not a book for everyone. But if you take your time with the reading, if you accept that things are going to jump around a bit, and if you’re prepared to do a little bit of research when you’re unsure of the history, the payoff is huge. (The last two chapters are just beautiful, and a perfect ending.) (I gave this one 5 stars.)
Next, I’ve got Day by Michael Cunningham (author of The Hours, another of my favorites). Day is a beautifully written and exquisitely crafted novel revealing an intimate slice of life for the members of a tight-knit family on one particular day (April 5) for three consecutive years (2019, 2020, and 2021). Cunningham is so, so good when it comes to character development – and his skill is especially impressive given the tight constraints he set up for himself with this book’s structure. I was captivated by this short, tight novel of relationships, self-discovery, loss, and love. I had the pleasure of reading this one in pre-publication form, so it’s not available quite yet I’m afraid . . . but you won’t have to wait long, as it’s due to be released in mid-November. (I gave this one 5 stars.)
And last, I’ve got Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. Is it the best book I read this summer? Nope. Is it great literature? Nope. But it’s a book well worth reading. Killers of the Flower Moon is a highly readable, well-researched, and absolutely devastating true-life exposé of greed, betrayal, bloodshed, and racism. Basically . . . it’s yet another true slice-of-life-in-America that most of us have never been exposed to. Give it a read. Because it’s never too late to learn our history. (I’d been meaning to read this for years, and was inspired to read it ahead of the movie based on the book coming out next month.) (I gave this one 4 stars.)
And . . . there you have it! My Top Five Books from summer 2023.
How about you?
What books would make it onto YOUR Top Five list for the last 3 months?
If you’re looking for my previous Top Five lists, I’ve moved them. Now you can find them in my Field Notes (just click in from the menu bar at the top or bottom of any page) — or click the link.