What great books have you read this summer?

A blogger glitch this morning has changed my planned post, but I’ll take it as a sign and change gears to ask: What great book(s) have you discovered this summer?

They can be Alaskan or not. Fiction or nonfiction or poetry. A new discovery or a re-read of an old favorite.

I’ll go first. What my two fave summer reads had in common were: they were both writers I’d never heard of before, they were short enough to read in two to three days (good thing, since I still have some unfinished doorstops on my nightstand) and they were both very dark and very, very funny.

Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles is a very slim (just a bit more than novella-length?) novel framed by the conceit that the protagonist, a failed poet turned translator, is stuck at O’Hare airport and writing a long, scathing letter of complaint to the airline that has grounded him, forcing him to miss the wedding of his estranged, lesbian daughter. But of course, it’s really not about the letter. It’s about Bennie Ford’s opportunity to review his life and figure out what went wrong. Many of the flashbacks work as wonderful, bitter, humorous or poignant short stories. Miles also weaves in excerpts of the Eastern European novel he is translating. All these threads, and the dynamism of the voice (which starts as a ranting whine and becomes more complex) make the thin book feel like much more than the sum of its limited pages. Loved it!

UAA visiting professor Josip Novakovich is the author of April Fool’s Day, a novel I might not have discovered except for the MFA program connection. This book, set in the war-torn Balkans, traces the life of Ivan Dolinar, a Croatian medical student who bumbles through life — from an unfortunate arrest, to labor camp, into the Serbian army and then, after deserting, onto the opposite side of the conflict. Add heavy drinking (of plum brandy), chess, infidelity and finally — at book’s end, a twist that produces a wonderfully absurd and caustic first-hand account of death. I finished the novel quickly but it’s still resonating — I’m finding myself dipping into journalistic accounts of the Balkans, plus short stories by Tolstoy and Chekhov, still thinking about the voice, the content, and so on.

Anyone else have a book they’d like to recommend, in a sentence or a paragraph?

8 thoughts on “What great books have you read this summer?”

  1. Where has the summer gone? Mostly recently I've read a couple of books in connection with my WIP: Dreiser's Sister Carrie, and Elizabeth Cohen's The Family on Beartown Road. I'm especially enjoying the latter…feels like cheating to read and count it as work.

  2. Therese Harvey

    Here is a link to the radio interview of author Elizabeth Strout talking about her book of short stories, Olive Kitteridge. http://www.onpointradio.org/2009/05/elizabeth-strout-olive-kitteridge
    Elizabeth Strout, author and alchemist, creates clear-eyed unflinching portraits of how it is to be human. Olive Kitteridge is brilliant, ornery, graceful, and as tragic and redemptive as human life can be. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year. I love this book.

  3. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    How did I overlook Olive Kitteridge winning the Pulitzer? Thanks, Therese. I'll add to my to-read list.

    Deb, I've got Dreiser on my list, too, for another of his books. But I haven't heard of Elizabeth Cohen.

  4. A book I read and enjoyed was Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann. It's a sheep detective novel. Sounds weird but is very interesting.

    Olive Kitteridge is another book I have on my pile for this summer.

  5. Carol Sturgulewski

    Try "The Coroner's Lunch," by Colin Cotterill. In Laos, just after Communist rule has taken over, an elderly doctor is named national coroner–much to his dismay. Beautiful descriptions of the country, a little mystery, a little humor–but mostly great insight into a very different and distinct culture, during a very tumultuous time. Several sequels, but begin at the beginning…

  6. Bill Sherwonit

    I have two books to recommend. Both (not surprisingly, given my literary passions) are non-fiction. And very moving. The first is Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness. Written by Erik Reece, it is top-notch literary(and advocacy) journalism that explores the awful destructiveness of "radical strip mining" for coal in the Appalachian region, where entire mountaintops are removed to get at the coal, with devastating consequences to the landscape and the inhabitants in the region, both human and otherwise. After reading this, I am amazed that the Obama administration is going to continue allowing some mountaintop removal to occur. And I wonder how President Obama can embrace the idea of "clean coal." What an oxymoron.

    The second book is by one of my favorite authors, Terry Tempest Williams. I actually had a little trouble getting into the book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World. But once I did, I found it to be a powerful story that weaves together the artistry involved in the creation of mosaics (which become the book's central metaphor and theme) together with the American West's persecuted communities of prairie dogs, her brother's death to cancer, and the aftermath of Rwanda's genocide. I loved her observations and reflections and study of prairie dogs, but parts of the section on Rwanda had me teary eyed. Very powerful stuff, both devastating and hopeful.

  7. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo is a pretty unique read. I won't say it's "good" because the narrator got on my nerves after a while, but the concept of the book is pretty interesting and it's certainly worth checking out.

    Brief summary: A young Chinese woman on a one-year student visa arrives in London to study English. The novel is written as a series of journal entries, each entry defining a new vocabulary word, and each word telling the next piece of the story.

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