For me, good summer reads are books driven by immensely likeable characters and a great story. In this vein, I’m offering some of my recommendations for books you may find so engrossing that you’ll take them into the shower, before you realize what you’ve done!
At the top of my list is A Manuel for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin.
This collection of short stories is set on life’s fringes where real people struggle to get by. I was reminded of Mary Karr’s memoirs, recounting her scruffy growing up in Texas in a family that comes off as humorous in their eccentric dysfunction.
My favorite story in Berlin’s collection follows a middle-aged woman who, feeling aimless, travels to Mexico where, in a cheap hotel, she befriends a group of scuba-diving fishermen. She perfects deep dives, to the point of danger. When it’s time for her to leave Mexico, we sense she’ll return home with a sense of purpose, but Berlin doesn’t spell this out. Her endings are never clear. But then neither is life.
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. It’s the story of an elderly woman and man, both widowed, who come together in a charming, unexpected way. Haruf’s spare style is perfectly suited to the simple manner in which his small town couple develops an undemanding, yet fulfilling intimacy. A male friend told me this book made him weep. Whether you weep or not, you won’t regret reading this treasure of a book.
For a change of pace, there’s the new runaway best seller, Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler.
This is a humorous, insightful, original coming-of-age story about a young woman who comes to New York to find herself and ends up working in a high-end restaurant that resembles the late Union Square. Foodies will love this book for its exhaustive food and wine references. More to the point is the way Tess, the protagonist, is pulled into the after-hours server’s world of large amounts of booze and coke. However, she’s too smart not to see through this, and eventually she moves on. I loved the ride with her because she writes beautifully, charming me with her original perspectives. I rooted for her all the way.
On my nightstand are these books I have yet to read:
Negroland, by Margo Jefferson. She won the Pulitzer for criticism. This memoir promises a rare glimpse into the Black Bourgeoisie through Jefferson’s growing-up in an upper class Black Chicago family.
The St. Zita Society by the prolific mystery writer, Ruth Rendell. My mystery-loving sisters have been goading me into reading Rendell and enjoying the delights of mysteries for some time. This is the summer when I will follow their advice.
Books that are tempting me:
The Door by Magda Szabo, a Hungarian writer. This novel explores the relationship between an older woman and her servant, written in the last years of Communist rule in Hungry.
Fate and Furies by Lauren Goff. This is the story of a marriage over the course of 24 years. It took the critics by storm.
Finally, a reader’s travel trip:
If you’re like me and find yourself going nuts over your inability to keep up with your magazine subscriptions, try this: tear out stories and articles from your unread pile and tuck them in your carry-on bag or into your beach towel. It can be so gratifying to put a dent in that nagging pile of periodicals!
Please feel free to share your favorite reads here or on the WOW Facebook page.