Welcome to Quick Lit, where we share short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately on the 15th of the month.
In this winter edition I’m sharing some great and varied books I’ve read lately, plus one book I haven’t finished (and am not certain I’m going to). I never do this, but I’m sharing because I’d love to hear your thoughts, and because I want you to know that when I say I don’t finish every book I start, I’m not kidding!
Since Christmas is right around the corner, I’m also sharing my three favorite books for gift-giving. (I popped on Instagram stories to share these early last week, and to those who asked to get this list in written form: your wish is granted!)
I hope you’ve read some good stuff lately. Please tell us all about your recent reads in comments.
What I’ve been reading lately: the new and the notable
I have had this on my list for a VERY long time. Then we talked to Peter Heller for a Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club author event, and that pushed me right over the edge. I think we were all swooning listening to him talk about his work and his process! In this book, his debut, Hig is one of the few survivors of a flu pandemic, save for his dog and a gun-toting loner. Or so he thinks. When he receives a random transmission on the radio, he begins to dream of what might exist beyond life on the hangar. Reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven but you don’t have to have read these in order to appreciate the way Heller examines the landscape between hope and despair. More info →
Readers, I very rarely include a book I HAVEN'T finished in Quick Lit... but I'm stuck at 30% in this audiobook. (And before you protest my problem is the format: I've heard some readers say they could ONLY enjoy it on audio, and some say they could NEVER enjoy it on audio ... so there you go.) The writing is absolutely lovely, the premise is interesting, but getting myself to hit "play" is a struggle. I'm finding it strongly reminiscent of our February Book Club selection The Ten Thousand Doors of January, which I loved. More info →
I read so many books because my kids tell me to. This is the latest urgent recommendation from my fourth grader, who fell in love with Eoin Colfer novels this year because—funny thing—our What Should I Read Next producer Brenna suggested them. When Brenna recommends books, we sit up and listen. The Supernaturalist is a middle grade standalone novel about a 14-year old orphan named Cosmo Hill living in the dystopian world of Satellite City, where his assigned societal role is to serve as a guinea pig for food and drug testing—which is exactly as scary as it sounds. But then he discovers he possesses a rare gift, and joins up with a team of vigilantes who share his gift and dedicate themselves to using it to do a little bit of good in their crummy world. But their mission changes when they discover they've all been lied to. This isn't my typical genre, but I'm glad I read it. More info →
I picked up this very short novel after one of my favorite readers recommended it at our inaugural Book Club Retreat this fall. Another selling point was that it's published by Europa Editions, one of my favorite publishers for finding works slightly off my beaten path. In this quiet, meditative novel, an unnamed narrator, who's just been released from fifteen years in prison, tells his story of doomed love: he, a peasant, committed the "crime" of falling in love with a wealthy girl, and in measured, evocative prose, he tells how it happened, and what it meant for his life. If you want a plot-driven book, this isn't for you, but poetry lovers will find much to appreciate. More info →
This fascinating and multi-layered spy thriller is told from the perspective of a Black woman, recruited by the CIA in the all-white, boys' club-era of the 1980s for an important African mission. Her assigned task is to fall in love—or pretend to—with Thomas Sankara, the president of Burkino Faso, known as "Africa’s Che Guevara." (Sankara is a real historical figure and I was so curious about how Wilkinson would handle his story.) The book's epigraph is from Ralph Ellison: he refers to being "a spy in enemy country," and I'm grateful this work inspired me to learn more about the rich literary history of African American spy novels and the theme of double consciousness. A rewarding read on so many levels.
Now for those three favorite books about books to give. Like many a book lover, books about books is one of my very favorite readerly categories. I love these three because they’re beautiful, useful, and fun.
Speaking of useful: you may not be able to tell from the cover photos, but these books vary greatly in size and heft. I’ve listed them here in order of small, medium, and large—so you can choose the right-size and right-priced gift for the reader you’re shopping for. (Even if that reader is you!)
Please note: these three books aren’t holiday-themed, and would make a great gift any time of year.
For your small format, small-price option: my own work is a beautifully presented essay collection that was formatted with gift-giving in mind. This book is for those for whom reading isn't just a hobby or a way to pass the time—it's a lifestyle. By turns wistful, funny, inspiring, and entertaining, I wax poetic on the magic of the library next door, bookworm problems, the books that made me fall in love with reading, and an "instructive" piece on how to organize your bookshelves that would fit right in at McSweeney's. You can also order signed and/or personalized copies through Carmichael's Bookstore: order online or call them at 502-896-6950. Just tell them you’d like a signed copy, or put “signed copy” in the order comments, along with the name you’d like it inscribed to, and any other personal message you’d like. More info →
For a lovely medium-sized coffee table book: I love Jane Mount's work and her well-known coffee table book My Ideal Bookshelf. Her latest collection is smart, fun, and whimsical, and would make a wonderful gift for the book lovers in your life. (Jane interviewed me for this book, and my picks appear on page 153.) More info →
Now for your LARGE option: this fun doorstop of a collection (and I say "doorstop" with affection) includes titles I expected (all six Austen novels) and titles I didn't (Make Way for Ducklings, Into Thin Air, The Hunt for Red October). The book includes numerous shorter reading lists, thorough indexes, and a checklist so you can see how many on the list you have read. (My current total is 168.) I chatted with Mustich on a special New Year's episode of What Should I Read Next?. More info →
What have YOU been reading lately? Tell us about your recent reads—or link up a blog or instagram post about them—in comments.