November 26, 2012

Reading for … Fun?: Eight 2012 Books You Shouldn’t Miss

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The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach: Set in a small Midwestern Westish College, Chad Harbach’s first novel combines collegiate stress, emotional disorientation, complicated relationships and baseball for a unique, realistic universe. The little known D3 liberal arts school brings together a perplexed star shortstop, a physically depleted captain, a gay outfielder, a revitalized college president and his depressed, divorced 23-year-old daughter for a championship season unlike any other.  Sad, rich and hazy, the story is fresh in its unique way of handling subjects like sports that could very easily be cliche. Best of all, this excitingly brilliant novel creates a world that pushes the boundary on how emotions, relationships and characters are written and proves that Chad Harbach is a writer with a long future for us to look forward to.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: J.K. Rowling deviates from all that is magical in her debut adult novel, The Casual Vacancy. Stated as a novel she “had to write,” Rowling takes us into the lives of several dysfunctional families following the inopportune death of a head council-member. The juicy promise of “adult situations” here actually refers to loveless sex and severely flawed characters which serve to fuel the grimness of the novel. At times, The Casual Vacancy leaves the reader craving the flight and fancy of the Harry Potter series in order to escape Vacancy’s bleak realism, but Rowling gives fair warning that this is not an escapist story, but rather the opposite — a realist’s look into the dark side of small town life.

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story by D.T. Max: Written by D.T. Max, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story is an illuminating biography about the short and troubled life of brilliant writer David Foster Wallace. Max narrates Wallace’s accomplishments and sufferings warmly, the same way an old college friend reminisces about a treasured companion in a lengthy letter. Wallace struggled throughout his life with his own literary genius, several painstakingly unforgettable love affairs as well as severe drug and alcohol abuse. From Amherst to mental institutions, Bostonian halfway houses to Harvard, Wallace’s life was nothing short of tumultuous. Much like Wallace’s unfinished manuscript The Pale King, Wallace’s own life remains an unfinished masterpiece.

NW by Zadie Smith: You know the literary world is having a banner year when a Zadie Smith novel flies under the radar. Smith’s fourth novel details a Northwest corner of London through the eyes of four of its frustrated residents. A beautiful and often Joycean testament to the power of the English novel, NW is less about character and more about the way individuals fit into society. Witty and piercing, Smith approaches urban London life with compassion and extraordinary artistry. Plot might be secondary in this novel, but Smith’s command of the English language, not to mention her understanding of the human condition, make for a gorgeous portrait of a struggling society.

The Receptionist by Janet Groth: The latest New Yorker memoir has been accused of many crimes. But Janet Groth is really only guilty of being star struck — and which aspiring writer, moving in a firmament of creative luminaries, wouldn’t be? Armed with an English degree, Groth moved to New York City to seek fame and fortune as a writer in 1958. Instead, she became The New Yorker’s 18th floor receptionist, guardian of a cast of characters that could have come straight out of Mad Men. Groth’s temporary job would last for a puzzling 21 years. In that time, she earned a Ph.D., taught college classes and fell in and out of love. If you’ve ever tried finding yourself, or been curious about the legendary magazine, this delectable moveable feast is for you.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: What makes a great life? Tony Webster isn’t sure, as his best friends attain various degrees of excellence after leaving public school. Like most lives, Webster’s is plagued by compromise and littleness. Yet, he chooses to plough on, even if he isn’t always sure why. His candour is disarming, “If I can’t be sure of the actual events anymore, I can at least be true to the impressions those facts left. That’s the best I can manage.” Julian Barnes, a highly deserving regular on the Booker Prize shortlist, meditates on memory and mortality in this devastating novel about being average. Fans of past Booker Prize winners Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) and Alan Hollinghurst (The Line of Beauty), take note.

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz: The second collection of short stories by Junot Díaz M.F.A. ’95 is an exhaustive catalogue of dysfunctional relationships. Every story in this collection is about love gone wrong or love going wrong. It is just one telling of the contemporary immigration story; these snapshots are English and Spanish, American and Dominican, and as much about familial relationships as romantic ones.They are not stories of cultural or socioeconomic or political entrapment, but stories about the failings and fear that can trap anyone. This Is How You Lose Her makes a tentative offer to every reader with its aggressively poetic, second-person narrative, helping us see the error of our collective ways.

Winter Journal by Paul Auster: Paul Auster gets sentimental in Winter Journal — it is a journal, after all. Inspired by the death of his mother and his own entry into the “winter” eve of life, Paul reflects on vignettes, memories, addresses, meals, people and his mother — all sketched out in masterful prose and communicated in the second-person. It’s a lot of memories, a lot of pretty sentences and a lot of you’s. It will please fans of Auster eager to simply see him flex his literary craft once more as well as those who identify with sentimental aging (who are most of us, eventually).

Original Author: Sun Staff