Summer 2016 went by far too fast, distracted as we were by Donald Trump and the return of the bare midriff. But even though my ST updates this year have been lackluster at best—it’s my 2017 resolution, I swear—I did actually manage to finish some books this summer. So before the frost fully sets in, here are a few things I done read recently.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
I know I’m a few years late to this one (it’s already out in mass-market paperback!) but it was worth the wait—WYGB was the perfect novel to complement the two nights I spent “glamping” on in an isolated cabin 20 miles outside of Santa Barbara. The novel is about 15-year-old Bee, whose eccentric mother Bernadette disappears just a few days before a planned family trip to Antarctica. By piecing together Bernadette’s last few months—through emails, documents, and other materials—Bee ends up uncovering a side of her mother she never knew about. Semple’s novel is fun mystery about family and genius that will have you mentally casting Bee and Bernadette for days. [🏆🏆🏆]
Most people in my book club really hated this one, but for whatever reason—because I was on vacation, because I started it the same day as that bomb went off in Chelsea—I found it compelling, if uninspiring prose-wise. Toobin, who also wrote the book that became the FX show The People v. O.J. Simpson, here documents the kidnapping of Patty Hearst in 1974 and her brief tenure with the self-proclaimed Symbionese Liberation Army. (Drunk History semi-accurately portrayed the ordeal last season, starring Kristen Wiig as Hearst.) Toobin’s book is as much a story of time and place—Oakland, California; the weird “revolutionaries” of the 1970s—as it is of Hearst, though he does a solid job of exploring her headspace too. Heiress reads like a really long magazine article, or a really short history book, and it’s a nice reminder that there’s nothing original about domestic terrorism. [🏆🏆🏆]
In a Dark, Dark Wood
If you are going to be on a plane anytime in the immediate future, check the airport bookstore for a Ruth Ware book. Her latest, The Girl in Cabin 10, has already made best-seller lists, and In a Dark, Dark Wood has everything you’d expect of a novel centered on a bachelorette party taking place in an all-glass cabin in the middle of the woods: intrigue, party games, red herrings, wine, murder. Ware’s writing isn’t much to…write home about, but she does turn a good mystery, and this one got me through two flights and a layover. [🏆🏆]
One of a run of books about slavery this year, Winters’ novel imagines a world in which the practice remains legal in four states—not just legal, but constitutionally protected. The Underground Airlines are a code name for an underground-railroad-like network of secret operators who help smuggle slaves to freedom, and UA the book follows a freed slave who has been entrapped by the CIA to track down said runaways. And if that doesn’t feel like enough of a racial and moral clusterfuck, it’s also worth noting that Winters is white. A doozy of a book, Underground Airlines is bold in concept, and thought-provoking in execution. [🏆🏆🏆]
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
It’s been a good long while since I’ve related to a book so hard. Awad’s first novel reads like a series of vignettes, which chronicle the life of Lizzie, a normal intelligent woman who happens to struggle with her weight. There’s Lizzie mentally bitch-slapping the skinny coworker who scarfs down pastries at lunch while bemoaning her dining partner’s dedication to salads. There’s Lizzie’s boyfriend, and later husband, whose satisfaction with her heavier figure never seems to penetrate her compulsion to lose weight for him. There’s thin Lizzie (heh), all toned muscles and sharp angles, who’s so focused on maintaining her new figure that she’s become an uptight bore. While Awad’s life skits contain no shortage of humor, they are also deeply honest, and beautifully vulnerable. Fighting with food is an exhausting and isolating way to live; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone capture it with such insight. [🏆🏆🏆🏆]