Seema Mahanian is an editorial assistant at Pamela Dorman Books/Viking. She isn’t ashamed to say that she will read any Kennedy family bio and can recite all Oscar best picture winners since 1927.
The Bone People, by Keri Hulme
I ugly cried on a bus while reading The Bone People. Hard. But I was determined to finish, and I had zero regard for the fact that strangers were witnessing my heart being ripped out. So do I need to add that Keri Hulme’s debut, Booker-winning novel is devastating? Set in New Zealand’s South Island, three outcasts—Kerewin, a hermetic artist; Joe, a spiritual man and abusive alcoholic; and Simon, a mute, precocious orphan—form a family of sorts. Hulme, weaving in myth and legend, uses her characters to explore the intersection of Maori and European culture in contemporary New Zealand. The Bone People examine states of isolation, the desire for connection, and violence as communication. Raising the subjects of Maori displacement, and cultural survival, The Bone People is warm but brutal; it’s beautiful.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal
As an Australian, I have limited knowledge of Midwestern cuisine—I think cream of mushroom soup and casseroles involving marshmallows. I was wrong (sort of). This smart, hilarious, touching novel that reminds me of Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, revolves around Eva Thorvald—a lonely young girl with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the legendary, mysterious chef of the most difficult dinner reservation in the country. She finds solace and salvation in the recipes and ingredients of the Midwest. Each chapter is the story of a single dish and character in Eva’s orbit, set against the backdrop of church bake-offs, hot pepper eating contests, and the opening weekend of hunting season. J. Ryan Stradal captures the zeitgeist of the Midwest, and with joyful, wistful prose, examines how food can create both community and identity, while highlighting the bittersweet nature of life. I’m so excited for this to come out in July 2015. Everyone who’s read it has fallen in love with it. So get ready, because you will, too.
The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
As a twenty-something living in New York, where my friends are like family, tell me a book is about a group of twenty-something friends in New York, and the narcissist in me will devour it immediately. But I didn’t expect to fall for this novel so completely. The Interestings traces the friendships of a group of six—from fifteen-years old into adulthood—and how they, and their friendship, changes over the years. For me, few books about the passage of time have captured both youthful idealism about art and potential, alongside the harsh realities of adult success, jealousy, and failure, with such insight. Some characters are so well-realized that it felt more like investing time with new friends just made between the pages, than reading a book.
On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
Oh, Zadie. She gives an examination of race and gender in contemporary Britain and the US, with rich lush characters that spring off the page. She ties in elements of Rembrandt and the way we construct meaning and significance from art, while looking at the seemingly simple difficulties of contemporary relationships, both romantic and familial. This novel accomplishes so many things at once, and with such ease, I half-expected it to cook my dinner and clean my apartment as well.
The New York Trilogy, by Paul Auster
We’ve all read detective novels. We start as children, then we grow up, go through a post-modernist phase, and read Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy. These three interlocked novels are incredible. Auster uses elements of classic and hardboiled detective fiction mixed with experimental and meta-fiction, littered with references to 19th century American authors, to explore the many layers of identity and reality. I was so enamored that I once chased Paul Auster around a city trying to get his photograph. Sorry not sorry, Mr. Auster.
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