Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” He wasn’t the first best-selling author to give those words of advice and I don’t know any writer that doesn’t take them seriously, including me.
Many of my friends know that I am a serious reader and take pride in walking into a bookstore able to give a thumbs up or down to most of the books displayed on the new fiction shelves. So, with a month to go before the end of summer, I thought it an appropriate use of this week’s column to write my best and worst books of the summer of 2013. Of course, what follows is only one person’s opinion, but as Malcom Gladwell claims in his best seller “Outliers: The Story of Success,” it takes about 10,000 hours for someone to become an expert at almost anything and, if I do a quick back of the envelope calculation, I feel confident creating this list. And because I read adult and young adult fiction, I have included titles from both of those genres here.
My absolute favorite adult fiction novel this summer was “The Interestings,” by Meg Wolitzer. Not many books are pageturners and even fewer leave you wanting more. This book was both. The story begins in 1974 at a summer camp for artistic students. A small group of friends is formed, they name themselves The Interestings and then, over the next 40 years, we see if they live up to the name. The time and place are beautifully wrought and, at many times in the book, I felt pulled back across time to my own experiences in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s the perfect combination of a literary novel and a juicy summer read.
The book that had me staying up later than I should have and then had me re-reading pages in disbelief was “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. This is a breathtaking fictionalized account of what it’s like to live in North Korea. Johnson spent three years researching this book and made several visits inside North Korea. Since speaking directly to foreigners is against the law in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the author had to cull together observations, testimonies of gulag survivors and then fill the void with his own imagination. If only half of it is true, it will astound you. With each page, you delve deeper into a society that is so oppressed you can’t believe it can possibly be true and yet you know it is. It has a little bit of everything: coming of age, thriller, love story, adventure. I’ve never read a book quite like this. The material is so dark, but you can somehow relate to the characters and see the beauty that exists in any human story regardless of how grave and hopeless it is. You won’t stop reading it.
The thumbs down part of this article would have to be “The Dinner,” by Herman Koch. I was very excited to read this book as the premise intrigued me; a darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives—all over the course of one meal. Who wouldn’t want to read it? 306 pages later, I was sick to my stomach and hated every character. It’s very difficult to enjoy a book when you are rooting for no one.
The difference between reading adult fiction and young adult fiction is usually the resolution. There is almost always a happy ending in young adult and, if not necessarily happy, then hopeful. This was the case with my favorite young adult fiction this summer, “Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell. This quirky star-crossed lovers tale is set in 1986 in Omaha, Neb. An overweight red head moves to town from a dysfunctional family with a bad past and falls in love with the half-Asian skinny boy with spikey hair. Most of their romance takes place on the school bus over comics and rock n’ roll tapes, and yet their love is profound. The book reminds you of how important first love is, how it can be transformative and even set you on a path that guides the rest of your life.
Another favorite in this genre this summer was “Reconstructing Amelia,” by Kimberly McCreight. I’m always fascinated with the way authors weave technology into a story and this one does it especially well. The book opens with the alleged suicide of the only child of a single mother. Knowing her daughter could not possibly have killed herself, she uses texts, email, blog entries and Facebook status updates to piece together a crime. There are some very interesting plot twists and it’s an incredibly quick read. Both of these young adult books would be appropriate for ninth-grade readers and up.
And since the summer is not over yet, I still have the books I’ve yet to read.
“And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini—the much anticipated book from the author of “The Kite Runner” and “The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls” by Anton DiSclafani. Once you’ve finished with all of these, check out suggestions on www.goodreads.com. It’s a great site for readers of all genres.
To contact Lisa, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can follow her on Twitter, @westchesterwand.