Summer whizzes by, books get buzzed about, noted on “best of” and “to be read” lists, and then — blammo! — the talk turns to fall books. Wait, what about those summer titles? We haven’t read them all yet!
So before we get engulfed in the buzz of autumn reading, here are four books from the first half of the year that you might not — but should — know about.
“Patchwork: A Bobbie Ann Mason Reader.” (University Press of Kentucky, 487 pages, $35.)
In the 1980s, Bobbie Ann Mason, Raymond Carver and Ann Beattie grew famous for their “K Mart Realism” — gritty stories of working-class Americans, punctuated with references to popular culture and day-to-day life. “Patchwork” pulls together a sampling of Mason’s stories, novel excerpts and nonfiction. (Her stories ran mainly in the New Yorker; her memoir, “Clear Springs” was a Pulitzer finalist.) Her writing holds up brilliantly over time — clear, precise and emotionally true. Despite the pop culture references, none of it feels dated. As George Saunders notes in the introduction, “Ultimately, she is writing about something bigger and more universal, which is that, here on Earth, in these human bodies, it is hard to be happy. … These stories are full of sorrow and loneliness and the human heart pushing back.”
“The Desert and the Sea,” by Michael Scott Moore. (Harper Wave, 451 pages, $27.99.)
In 2012, journalist Michael Scott Moore headed to the Horn of Africa to write about Somali pirates who had been raiding boats and kidnapping sailors, and he ended up getting kidnapped himself. His memoir is an excruciating, nearly day-by-day account of being a captive for almost three years — surviving months of inertia, sometimes in chains, punctuated by occasional terror and beatings. Moore struggled to avoid Stockholm syndrome, to keep fit and to not give in to despair. His memoir is a close look at the misconceptions of his captors, the tedium of both his and their existence, and the stupid, underlying violence that can erupt at any moment.
“Conversations on Writing,” by Ursula K. LeGuin. (Tin House, 138 pages $14.95.)
A good interview, Ursula K. LeGuin notes in the introduction to this lovely little book, “is like a badminton rally: you know right away that the two of you can keep that birdie in the air and all you have to do is watch it fly.” And this series of interviews with David Naimon, host of the podcast “Between the Covers,” is nothing but flying birdies. You can see the pair warm to each other as the book progresses, with LeGuin’s answers growing longer and more passionate as she talks about the craft of writing, language and syntax, poetry, books in translation, and the way women authors such as Grace Paley just “slide out of sight” after death. This is a bracing book of ideas.
“The Lost for Words Bookshop,” by Stephanie Butland. (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 352 pages, $26.99.)
I am a sucker for books set in libraries and bookstores, and even more of a sucker if the bookstore is in England. So I had to pick up Stephanie Butland’s novel, which takes place in a used bookstore in York. Her charming novel follows the life of Loveday Cardew, a young woman with several tattoos, a sharp tongue, a quick mind and a deeply troubled, mysterious past. Working in the bookstore has been a lifesaver, but as the story descends into darkness it is unclear if the books, her poetry and her friends will be enough to keep her going. This book is pure escapism, though well written and well plotted escapism.
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