Saturday, December 21, 2013

5 big books I'm reading this summer


Once upon a time, I used to read for the hell of it. Anything. Everything. Deliberately selected. Randomly chosen. Recommendations from friends, family, colleagues and library customers. Books of all sizes. The closer we'd get to summer, the more I would find myself keeping an eye out for big books. Fat books. Weighty books. Meaty books. Long, hot days meant I could take the time to get seriously lost in new possibilities, new characters, new places. Yeah. I was *that* guy. Then something happened, and I stopped reading as much. I'm talking about an absolutely standstill. Suddenly, something that was fun felt more like a chore, or a task to tick off. It's somewhat melodramtic, but I felt like I had lost my voice. Or maybe just my ability to enjoy others' voices. I've since resigned from Auckland Libraries and, weirdly enough, find myself excited about reading again. And, summer being a thing right now, I've been on the hunt for big books. And here are a few I have on my TBR (to be read) list.

Note: 'Big' is, I realise, a subjective term. In this context, I'm meaning anything that is 500+ pages.

How about you - do you like big books? If so, what was the last big book you read? And what big book do you have lined up next?



1. The luminaries / Eleanor Catton
832 pages. Historical fiction. The astonishing and epic second novel from the prize-winning author of The Rehearsal - a sure contender for every major literary prize. It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a whore has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky. The Luminaries is an extraordinary piece of fiction, which more than fulfils the promise of The Rehearsal. Like that novel, it is full of narrative, linguistic and psychological pleasures, and has a fiendishly clever and original structuring device. Written in pitch-perfect historical register, richly evoking a mid-19th century world of shipping and banking and goldrush boom and bust, it is also a ghost story, and a gripping mystery. It is a thrilling achievement for someone still in her mid-twenties, and will confirm for critics and readers that Eleanor Catton is one of the brightest stars in the international writing firmament. Booker Prize for Fiction 2013.



2. The goldfinch / Donna Tartt
771 pages. Fiction. Composed with the skills of a master, "The Goldfinch" is a haunted odyssey through present day America and a drama of enthralling force and acuity. It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art. As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. "The Goldfinch" is a novel of shocking narrative energy and power. It combines unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and breathtaking suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher's calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is a beautiful, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.



2. The sleepwalkers : how Europe went to war in 1914 / Christopher Clark
696 pages. Nonfiction. The moments that it took Gavrilo Princip to step forward to the stalled car and shoot dead Franz Ferdinand and his wife were perhaps the most fateful of the modern era. An act of terrorism of staggering efficiency, it fulfilled its every aim: it would liberate Bosnia from Habsburg [Hapsburg] rule and it created a poweful new Serbia, but it also brought down four great empires, killed millions of men and destroyed a civilization. ... Drawing on many fresh sources, this account reveals a Europe very different from the familiar picture, putting Serbia and the Balkans at the centre of the story. Starting with the ... assassination of Alexander I of Serbia in 1903, Clark shows how, far from being the place of enviable stability it appears to us, Europe was racked by chronic problems: a multipolar, fractured, multicultural world of clashing ideals, terrorism, miliotancy and instability, which was, fatefully, saddled with a conspicuously ineffectual set of political leaders. He shows how the rulers of Europe, who prided themselves on their modernity and rationalism, behaved like sleepwalkers, stumbling through crisis after crisis and finally convincing themselves that war was the only answer.



3. A naked singularity / Sergio de la Pava
678 pages. Fiction. This book tells the story of Casi, a child of Colombian immigrants who lives in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan as a public defender--one who, tellingly has never lost a trial. Never. In the book, we watch what happens when his sense of justice and even his sense of self begin to crack--and how his world then slowly devolves. It's a huge, ambitious novel clearly in the vein of DeLillo, Foster Wallace, Pynchon, and even Melville, and it's told in a distinct, frequently hilarious voice, with a striking human empathy at its center. Its panoramic reach takes readers through crime and courts, immigrant families and urban blight, media savagery and media satire, scatology and boxing, and even a breathless heist worthy of any crime novel. If Infinite Jest stuck a pin in the map of mid-90s culture and drew our trajectory from there, A Naked singularity does the same for the feeling of surfeit, brokenness, and exhaustion that permeates our civic and cultural life today.



4. We are water : a novel / Wally Lamb
564 pages. Fiction. In middle age, Annie Oh--wife, mother, and outsider artist--has shaken her family to its core. After twenty-seven years of marriage and three children, Annie has fallen in love with Viveca, the wealthy, cultured, confident Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her professional success. Annie and Viveca plan to wed in the Oh family's hometown of Three Rivers, Connecticut, where gay marriage has recently been legalized. But the impending wedding provokes some very mixed reactions and opens a Pandora's box of toxic secrets--dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of the Ohs' lives. We Are Water is an intricate and layered portrait of marriage, family, and the inexorable need for understanding and connection, told in the alternating voices of the Ohs--nonconformist Annie; her ex-husband, Orion, a psychologist; Ariane, the do-gooder daughter, and her twin, Andrew, the rebellious only son; and free-spirited Marissa, the youngest Oh. Set in New England and New York during the first years of the Obama presidency, it is also a portrait of modern America, exploring issues of class, changing social mores, the legacy of racial violence, and the nature of creativity and art. With humor and breathtaking compassion, Wally Lamb brilliantly captures the essence of human experience in vivid and unforgettable characters struggling to find hope and redemption in the aftermath of trauma and loss. We Are Water is vintage Wally Lamb--a compulsively readable, generous, and uplifting masterpiece that digs deep into the complexities of the human heart to explore the ways in which we search for love and meaning in our lives.

BONUS BIG BOOKS:

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