Fidelity, by Wendell Berry. This might just be my favorite author of all time. In case you are not familiar with Berry’s fiction, he writes a lot about the rural town (or as he calls it, the “membership”) of Port William Kentucky, in stories that take place during the early part of the 20th century. The stories are mainly about farmers and how they take care of each other and the land, and part of the fun is the way that the characters recur: a small child in one story may reappear as an old man on his deathbed in the next. He believes land conservation is a Christian duty, and Berry practices what he preaches — he is a working farmer and political activist himself, at age 77. There is no way I can describe how lovely and beautiful his writing is. You just have to read it yourself.
Steal Across the Sky, by Nancy Kress. So, aliens land on the moon. They explain that ten thousand years ago they committed a terrible crime against humanity and now they wish to atone for their crime. The crime, it turns out, was that they performed experiments on humans by removing the gene for a sixth sense that allowed us to communicate with the recently dead. In other words, they deprived us of the uncontestable certainty that there is life after death. All this we learn in the first third of the book. Pretty amazing premise, no? Well the reason I’m giving you this great big spoiler is because unfortunately the rest of the book did not deliver. There is SO MUCH you could do with a premise like that, but the story just devolved into an action thriller with totally stock characters and predictable twists. Very disappointing.
Oreo, by Fran Ross. This one, wow, where do I begin? Don’t remember how I stumbled across it, but… whoa! This thing is a total romp. Satire in the grandest tradition, with racism as its subject. The main character, Oreo, is a biracial girl who at age 14 goes off to NYC in search of her white Jewish father, Sam Schwartz. Of course there are many Sam Schwartzes in the phone book, and her quest turns into quite an adventure. This girl possesses blazing intelligence, brilliant wit, and the ability to get herself into and out of the most incredible situations. If you loved The Sot-weed Factor, or Don Quixote, or are a fan of George Saunders, you should totally read this.
The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson. I came kinda late to this party. Everyone and their sister has read and adored the whole series. I actually skipped book one and started off with this. Did not expect to love it, just ’cause I’m a snob and if everyone and their sister love it there must be something wrong with it, right? Well ha ha, I loved it just as much as everyone else! Like all great thrillers there were a few unbelievable plot twists, a few situations carried to unrealistic extremes, but what the heck. If we wanted realism we wouldn’t read thrillers, right? And I should add that even though I was coming in in the middle of the series, I didn’t feel the least bit confused. Of course I don’t know what I might have been missing, but it seemed to me that this worked just fine as a stand-alone novel.
Hummingbirds, by Joshua Gaylord. Prep school book. Snatched in a hurry, randomly, off the library book shelf. I almost hated it. But somehow I ended up loving it. Basic plot is: teachers and students at a fancy expensive private school for girls in NYC. Both sides lead complicated, intertwined lives. There is romance. And awkward social situations. And vandalism. And department politics. And stuff like that. If that’s not your bag, you still might give it a try. It’s not my bag either, but I did like it.