J. Courtney Sullivan
Love, Nina: Last summer, while on book tour, I took along an early copy of Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe. It’s a collection of letters that the author wrote to her sister while working as a nanny in London in the eighties. I was interested mainly because I myself was a nanny in London for a time. I couldn’t have predicted how much I would fall in love with this smart, sweet and hilarious book. Stibbe’s employer was the editor of the London Review of Books. Their household was always full of literary types. Her observations and recollections are just incredible. Every morning for a week, I had an early flight, something I usually dread. For the first time ever, I was actually eager to board the plane so I could get back to Love, Nina. I don’t often laugh out loud while reading, but in this case, I laughed uproariously at every page. I could not stop laughing. I’m pretty sure my fellow passengers thought I was nuts.
– J. Courtney Sullivan, author of The Engagements
Lost For Words: A Novel: One of the best moments I had last year was reading Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels, the first four–and yes, I said that, four. It’s not every writer who can make a reputation for himself with a tetralogy these days, but I had heard so much about them I decided to try them out, and I’m glad I did–it’s an incredible fictional landscape he created there around a single man, and its done with a lot of wit, style and heart. When I heard he had a new novel coming out, I knew I’d set aside everything more or less once it was out, and that time is here. His new novel, Lost for Words, is about the committee responsible for awarding an annual literary prize, sponsored by a company that sounds a lot like Monsanto. This novel has a broader canvas, I think–the Patrick Melrose novels were funny but I wouldn’t call them satire the way this one is. Lost for Words takes hold of our world and reinvents it. While it is ostensibly about this literary prize, it is very much about the way power is made and wielded in this world, where increasingly, companies are more important than governments. St. Aubyn goes into much of the same territory as William Gibson did with cyberpunk back in the 80s and 90s, but where William Gibson wrote science fiction to describe his corporate dystopia, St. Aubyn just goes down to the local literary prize committee meeting and the writing desks of some of the writers intent on winning the prize that year. Sometimes it’s said that writing about writers can’t make it very far with readers, that it is too small a circle, but if anyone can make this tiny fight among writers relevant to the wider world as well, it’s St. Aubyn.
– Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh and the forthcoming The Queen of the Night
Love in the Time of Cholera: Despite its dark and ominous title this novel is exactly what summer should be. It’s lush and long and full of love. And also some other good L words, like lust and lunacy. The great Garcia Marquez himself passed away this year, so this summer is also a perfect time to honor his work and life by meandering through his masterful oeuvre.
–Tiphanie Yanique, author of How to Escape from a Leper Colony and the forthcoming Land of Love and Drowning
So wait: whose idea was it that we read like dolts in the summer? The beach book, the summer read: what is that? The sun comes out and suddenly we’re supposed to toss aside our c ritical judgment and read for “pleasure”—as if all that literary fiction was nothing more than quarts of castor oil we forced down our gullets? Here’s what I say: go big-brain in the summer. Read the classics. Having boozed my way through a spotty, short-lived academic career, I use the summers to catch up on my lifelong self-education project; one summer I finally read Moby Dick, another I steeped myself in Virginia Woolf and the modernists, another it was the proto-metafiction of Tristram Shandy and Don Quixote. This summer I’m continuing my project of reading all of Shakespeare. But by far the best summer I ever spent was reading Russians: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev. And there are some unexpected advantages to a summer-lit course. You can block a lot more UV rays with Proust than you can with Patterson. And sexy? Try this thought experiment: you’re at the beach and on towels on either side of you are two similarly well-constructed representatives of the opposite sex. One is reading a grocery-store thriller covered with giant letters and blood spatters. The other is reading War and Peace. Which one do you hope glances up to ask for sunscreen?
– Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins