In this season of best books lists, I will add a small selection, highly recommended for smart readers and book groups. I have yet to read “Fates and Furies,” or “H is for Hawk,” both on the best best-of lists, I adored Jenny Offill's "Department of Speculation" however I was not impressed by “Purity.” Beyond those favorites of the book reviewers, here is my short list, in no special order:
A mystery is at the heart of this captivating novel, but the story has much more to do with the nature of alienation. The time is the seventies. A mother determined to forge a different path for her daughter. A father a Chinese academic, inscrutable and emotionally detached. Three children suffering the weight of their family culture. What happened to the elder daughter is the thread that sustains the tale, told in exquisite prose with profound reflections.
Winner of the National Book Award for non-fiction, Coates, in a poignant letter to his adolescent son, details the nature of being black in America and the struggle to protect body as well as soul. A short stunning narrative, this is must reading for every thinking, caring American.
The French novelist and winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize has only recently been translated into English. His historical fictions are slight on pages and overflowing with elegant prose. Sort of an abstract impressionist. Characters often in the aftermath of war struggle to define their personal identity, their truths revealed between the lines. And while you may not be certain what is happening within these slim plot lines and the endings may leave you hanging, Modiano’s people stay with you. Start with “Honeymoon” and “Missing Person” which are nearly bookends. A new set of translations has just arrived.
I am an unabashed fan of Mr. Boyle since his early work twenty years ago, and he gets better with age. And like much of his recent work, he captures the issues of the time. In this novel, a young man in the throes of a psychological break is on the run. A conspiracy theorist teacher takes him in, while his exasperated father, and the authorities, are on his trail. In these pages we discover the other side of vigilantism, and how any family might find themselves in the horrific position of having a child who turns violent. An important story well told.
The last great memoir by the great doctor-philosopher/student of humanity, who passed away this year. He reveals ever more personal truths and his challenges as an academic and writer, as well as that time when gay men were meant to be closeted. He also reflects on his brother’s struggle with mental illness, the family dynamics that underscored his determination to excel, his obsessive-compulsive approach to writing, and a litany of interesting relationships, some with very famous people, that structured his personal evolution. I so admire this man and will return to his writings frequently for insight and wisdom.