1. On Turpentine Lane is Elinor Lipman’s latest novel (just out this past winter) and I love it just as much as I did The View From Penthouse B. This time she has written a literary mystery story wrapped up in her usual romantic comedy. At the heart of it all lies an “adorable” little house that’s just come onto the market, and which may, or may not, be haunted by the past of its former owner. Even as our heroine looks through the house with the realtor for the first time and learns a bit about the events that occurred in the master bedroom–events that would send any other prospective client running–she decides to buy the charmer anyway. As the plot unfolds in Lipman’s expert hands, and we come to know and love her complex characters well, we are compelled to keep reading because we want to know the answer to our inevitable question: what really happened in the house on Turpentine Lane? And, consequently, what will happen to our heroine?
I am a bit of a compulsive reader. It’s like a hobby, in a way. I’m passionate about it, have fun with it when I am not working, and take joy in all it brings me.
I have a suggestion for three books you might sample over the coming summer months. Everyone has time to read during July and August, when the usual warm weather surrounds us and brings with it lazier hours and more free time. These are not exactly “beach reads,” which generally means romance fiction or chic lit, but they are compelling, fast-paced, have believable heroes and heroines–and are literary as well.
“If I hadn’t been naïve and recklessly trusting, would I ever have purchased number 10 Turpentine Lane, a chronic headache masquerading as a charming bungalow? “Best value in town,” said the ad, which was true, if judging by the price tag alone. I paid almost nothing by today’s standards, attributing the bargain to my mother’s hunch that the previous owner had succumbed while in residence. Not so off-putting, I rationalized; don’t most people die at home? On moving day my next-door neighbor brought me a welcome loaf of banana bread along with the truth about my seller…”
2. Nothing Was The Same, by Kay Redfield Jamison. This is one of my favorite memoirs of all time and not to be missed. The author of Night Falls Fast and An Unquiet Mind, as well as a physician, Jamison is known for her searing writing about her bipolar disorder. She is so well-respected it makes me admire her accomplishments to the max, at the same time envy overcomes me. She is a truly gifted writer–the sort where the reader marvels at every word she chooses and every sentence she constructs. This memoir is lyrical and sad, yet inspiring as well. She tackles the oh-so-difficult subject of losing her beloved husband to cancer, describing the emotional course of his illness and what is required of both of them as they love and support each other throughout it all. Here’s an excerpt of her beautiful style. Who wouldn’t love a husband like this one?
“I met a man who upended my cautious stance toward life. He did not believe, as I had for so long, that to control my mind [and my bipolar disorder] I must first control my heart. He loved the woman he imagined I must have been before bowing to fear. He prodded my resistance with grace and undermined my wariness with laughter. He could say the unthinkable because he instinctively knew that his dry wit and gentle ways would win me over. They did. He was deft with my shifting moods and did not abuse our passion. He liked my fearlessness, and he brought it back as a gift to me. Far from finding the intensity of my nature disturbing, he gravitated toward it. He induced me to risk much by assuming a portion of the risk himself, and he persuaded me to write from my heart. He loved in me what I had forgotten was there.”
3. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, author also of Bel Canto, which was a national best-seller. She’s been the recipient of numerous prizes and here writes a novel that crosses the line between commercial and literary. Everyone whose taste is discriminating should want to read Patchett. In State of Wonder she combines a fast-paced plot with beautiful language and insights into the human condition–and does it all with grace and élan. Here is the opening paragraph, before her heroine sets out on a intriguing journey into the Brazilian jungle; it’s replete with enough mystery that it will tempt you to wonder what will happen next:
“The news of Anders Eckman’s death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over, the envelope. Who even knew they still made such things? This single sheet had traveled from Brazil to Minnesota to mark the passing of a man, a breath of time so insubstantial that only the stamp seemed to anchor it to this world.”
Well, those are my top summer reading suggestions for you. I’d love to hear your favorites, so that I can buy and enjoy them. Feel free to write me back with suggestions for those about which you are most passionate.