Monday, July 25, 2011

Summer Reading Quiz (Optional!)




















I recently was on Greater Boston with Emily Rooney, a popular local show on PBS. I was one of three writers invited to share our summer reading picks in four categories. The show was a blast and all of the books got a slight bump in sales. Here are my picks:

Fiction: The Believers by Zoe Heller. This is about a prominent left-wing lawyer who lives in a Greenwich Village brownstone with his cynical, foul-mouthed English wife. They have three adult children. When the lawyer has a stroke and goes into a coma, his wife finds out he had a secret life. The book is a spot-on portrait of the upper-middle-class left-wing Jewish intelligentsia but the best thing about is the writing – it’s witty, acerbic, sophisticated, insightful and heartfelt. The Believers is wicked entertaining, Heller writes like nobody’s business.

Non-fiction: A Ticket to the Circus by Norris Church Mailer. This is a memoir of her 32-year marriage to Norman Mailer. Church was an Arkansas high school teacher when they met and fell madly in love. Suddenly she found herself at the pinnacle of New York’s cultural elite. The book is full of literature, sex, and celebrity – everyone from Oscar de la Renta to Oscar de la Hoya makes an appearance. But the best thing about this book is the voice – Norris Church is down-to-earth, funny, honest and wise, just the kind of gal you want to spend a long summer afternoon with. A Ticket to the Circus is delicious fun.

Guilty Pleasure: Tales from the Yoga Studio by Rain Mitchell. This novel, the first in a series, is sort of Sex and the City set at an LA yoga studio. It centers on the interconnected lives of five women who practice at the studio. I do a little yoga and I find the whole yoga “movement” satirical. This book captures it perfectly and the writing sparkles. I laughed out loud and by the end I was genuinely touched. Tales from the Yoga Studio is the perfect beach read.

Classic: Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain. Most people know Mildred Pierce from the Joan Crawford movie, but the book is nothing like that. In fact, it’s like nothing else anywhere ever. Set in a vividly portrayed 1930s Los Angeles, it centers on an obsessive mother-daughter relationship and features one of literature’s greatest evil daughters. Part noir, part lurid melodrama, part je ne sais quoi, it’s tawdry, sexy, blistering and compelling. This book goes all the way – and then some. Mildred Pierce is a blast and a half!

There you have it. Do you like my picks? Hate them? I'd love to know what everyone else's choices are.

Happy summer and happy reading to one and all (it's a great summer to crank up the AC and spend the afternoon with a book or two).

9 comments:

Beth Groundwater said...

Those all sound like great picks, Sebastian! I'll add a couple of good ones that I'm reading for my book club. Our July discussion was on THOSE WHO SAVE US by Jenna Blum about the lives of Germans during WW II and the secret that estranges a mother and daughter for decades afterward. Our August discussion will be on LEFT NEGLECTED by Lisa Genova, about a hard-driving career mom who is left brain-injured after a car accident, where she is unaware of everything on her left side. Both are fascinating books that make you think.

Jess Lourey said...

They sound like interesting books, all of them, and I haven't read any of them, so thank you! And can I point out you mentioned "sex" in three out of the four? ;) You may have tipped your hand a little.

Alan Orloff said...

You had me at je ne sais quoi. I think I'm going to have to get me a copy of Mildred Pierce. Thanks for the rec, Sebastian.

Lisa Bork said...

I'll definitely check out Mildred Pierce on your recommendation, Sebastian, thanks.

I just finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, about a woman whose involuntary donation of her cancer cells led to tremedous advances in medical research and medical ethics as well as a lot of grief for her surprised family. I recommend it.

Darrell James said...

Just finished THE RIDGE by Michael Koryta. Something of a paranormal suspense novel. A little outside my genre, but I really enjoyed it.

Robin Allen said...

Those all sound good, Sebastian, as does your own book. For nonfiction, I've been recommending Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution by T.J. English.

Keith Raffel said...

The Believers -- great pick, Sebastian.

Kathleen Ernst said...

I haven't read any of them! Always fun to hear recommendations. I just started THE FAR TRAVELER: VOYAGEES OF A VIKING WOMAN, by Nancy Marie Brown.

G.M. Malliet said...

Mildred Pierce is brilliant - it's also a very compassionate book, I thought (it's been years since I read it). Cain understood his character so well...since he was a male author writing about a woman's life that's even more impressive.