Sunday morning, as I read the New York Times Book Review with my tea, still the most favorite moment of my week, I was thrilled to discover three and a half literary novels on the print best seller list. That’s barely one-fifth of the titles, but as it is usually filled with all escapist fiction, this was a treat.
Just launched, J.K. Rowling’s first adult novel, “The Casual Vacancy” landed at number one. There was an awful lot of hype and expectation on this one, and a lot of pre-orders, so no surprise, and while the critics have been harsh, I’m told she weaves another good albeit dour yarn.
Michael Chabon’s “Telegraph Avenue” is bursting with his signature descriptive prose and earthy dialogue and is a riff on race in America through the daily lives of a handful of residents of Oakland, CA. Chabon in my mind is pure genius and although the prose if often a bit too dense and makes you mind wander, I just love him. I want him at the head of my fantasy literary dinner party table.
The greatest surprise on the list was Junot Diaz’ “This is How You Lose Her” as stories, even woven together into a metaphor, don’t usually make for best sellers. However Pulitzer Prize winner Diaz is that rare literary creature who captures the Hispanic-American culture with characters that we root for and long for or sometimes want to banish from the earth, and his language is so hip that you don’t even notice how brilliantly crafted it is. The half on the list: “Gone Girl.” Yes, it has been on the list for 17 weeks and other than the “Shades of Grey” trilogy was the most talked about book of the summer, and an interesting contemplation of relationships and sanity, but, in the end, more page-turner than literary, which may be why so many enjoy reading it, of course, and that's the nature of the book business.
And now a heads up: Barbara Kingsolver's novel "Flight Behavior" lands early November and I've had the great pleasure of reading it. What's it about? The monarch butterfly image is a hint. The new novel is another gorgeous, languorous, brilliant evocation of the crossroads of human longing and the natural world. In the simplicity of Kingsolver's prose lies terribly important truths and while critics take her to task for her so-called "ecological agenda" she writes beautiful novels that make us think - is there any better definition of literary fiction? I want her on the other end of my fantasy dinner party table! Happy reading.