Today’s Chicago Sun-Times has a lengthy list of summer reading suggestions, built on what the book section’s contributors are most looking forward to reading. My pick:
Exiles in the Garden by Ward Just (July 7): No novelist is more sensitive to the different moods of different cities than Just — his 2004 novel, An Unfinished Season, is a modern classic set in Chicago — so I’m eager to see how Vietnam War-era D.C. comes across in Exiles.
I could have gone on, and not only about Just, who deserves to be on the short list of great living American writers but has somehow failed to become a household name among the folks who care about such things. (It may be that Just is perceived as a “writer’s writer,” smart but esoteric, but that’s a limiting, unfair assessment. He’s highly readable, and even his Washington novels aren’t sunk in wonkishness.) There are plenty of books I’m either excited about reading or finishing, or which I’ve eagerly recommended to people in recent months. Among the 2009 books I’d suggest for the beach bag are Robert Goolrick‘s A Reliable Wife, an entertainingly sinister tale of a love triangle in the Wisconsin wilderness; Gary Indiana‘s The Shanghai Gesture, a riff on old-fashioned Fu Manchu stories whose satire cloaks some genuinely felt concern about current-day helplessness in the face of globalization; George Pelecanos‘ The Way Home, another morality tale about a neglected corner of D.C. life, this time the products of juvenile correctional institutions, that’s bolstered by its precise characterizations and Pelecanos’ increasingly stripped-down style; Simon Van Booy‘s Love Begins in Winter, a collection of elegant, ghostly, yet never melodramatic love stories set in Stockholm, Las Vegas, Quebec City, and other far-flung settings; Charlie Haas‘ The Enthusiast, an easygoing comic novel about an editor in the curious world of niche magazines; and Yoshihiro Tatsumi‘s A Drifting Life, a magnificent sprawling memoir from the manga pioneer that explores the nature of creation, the business of art, and the frustrating path to self-awareness. (At 850-plus pages, that last one probably won’t work well for the beach bag, which probably speaks to my lack of knowledge about what works well for the beach. I’ve never been much for the outdoors.)
Like a couple of my Sun-Times contributor colleagues, I’m looking forward to Thomas Pynchon‘s Inherent Vice (though there’s plenty of Pynchon I’d like to get to before that one), but I’m just as interested in Colum McCann‘s portrait of New York City in the early 70s, Let the Great World Spin, Lisa See‘s Shanghai Girls, Glen David Gold‘s Sunnyside, Kevin Canty‘s story collection Where the Money Went, the re-publication of Rudolph Wurlitzer‘s 1968 cult novel, Nog, and Richard Powers‘ Generosity: An Enhancement. That last one doesn’t come out until October, but that’s the funny thing about book reviewers—one of the best things about summer is looking forward to the books that come out in fall.
4 thoughts on “Summer Reading: A Few Small Suggestions (and One 850-Page One)”
Look for my review of Just’s new novel at Shelf-Awareness.com in June. I agree with everything you’ve said about him. His last one, Forgetfulness, was a gem, but so is everything he writes.
Love this. I’m adding your stuff to my Bookswim rental list!!
Interesting that Goolrick and Pynchon should publish novels a few months apart. In the October 13, 1978 issue of the long-defunct New Times magazine, Goolrick published an article, “Pieces Of Pynchon,” which, though sometimes pretty tangential – a good part of it is taken up with Goolrick describing dreams in which he reads a letter from Pynchon, etc. – has some very interesting material. For one thing, Goolrick was able to get Pynchon’s pre-1983 agent Candida Donadio to talk about him at length and on the record – the only time she ever did that with any journalist. There are some other amusing quotes from such friends of the novelist’s as Faith Sale. One of these days, given Goolrick’s new-found prominence, I figure some Pynchonoid will put the article online.
I know I found this post-summer, but I wanted to chime in on Ward Just. I agree on your comment of one of the few great living american writers. first read “Echo House” and wanted more..