One of my favorite parts about summer is that I finally have some reading for fun time again. In the past couple of weeks, I read two really great books, so I wanted to recommend them here. I had specific criteria for what I wanted in recent reads: no "chick lit," but at the same time, nothing too long or overly serious. I wanted to read something meaningful, but I wanted it to feel joyful. A little bit of sadness, as always, would be okay.
The first book was Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I picked up a signed copy of at his book reading in Midland, (which I should add that my friend Kristen generously treated Brendan and I to).
The book was exactly what I was looking for: an escape into a kind of warped alternate reality meets dark fairy tale that left me longing to be in that world. I read this book on our cruise to Alaska, often while Brendan searched for whales out the window in our stateroom. It was a fast read, and I wish it had lasted longer. It was about a man who recalls a serious and disturbing but also distant memory past of his boyhood. The setting is charming; the characters act human, but can do things that aren't. This is magical realism at its finest. I was often worried for the characters, but I enjoyed spending time with them nonetheless. If you are able to put aside all of your notions about what is and isn't possible for a while, then you will enjoy this book.
The second book, A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, I picked up in Sitka, Alaska at a local bookshop. Brendan recommended it based on our friend Erica's recommendation. It also won a Pulitzer Prize, so I wasn't really taking a risk on this one.
I just finished the book this evening, and it has left me reeling with a the recognition of myself and my own longing for a meaningful existence that was found in every single character (and there are so many). This book was fun and strange: one entire chapter was a powerpoint presentation, for example. It was also gut wrenching in the best kind of way. It could have been published as a series of short stories, but all of the characters are subtly intertwined and interconnected (I often had to flip back the pages to recall just how). Typically, I think of myself as the kind of reader that wants to spend a lot of time with a single character, but this book proves that isn't true. Instead, it would appear I just like my characters incredibly well developed and relatable, and most authors just don't manage to do that in one chapter like Jennifer Egan. Having this reminder was good for me. It is a lot to manage on the pages, but Jennifer Egan pulls it off.
If you write, both of these books are great examples of writing what you want to write without regards for if people will understand it or how it will sell. If you are a person (and I hope you are), and these books don't make you want to weep with the feeling that by understanding fictional people you are actually being understood, then I think you have gone to a very dark place.
I will be reading more from Neil Gaiman and Jennifer Egan in my future; I know that is for sure!
But first, some much needed sleep.