I’ve been a publishing lawyer for over 20 years, and at Penguin since 2008. I love to taunt other lawyers by saying things like, “Why yes, I do get paid to read novels all day.” Actually most of my novel reading gets done after hours, on the LIRR. Here are some recent faves:
Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, by Anya Ulinich
Who says graphic novels have to be about super heroes (although some of us may regard Lena Finkle as one)? This wonderfully immersive story lets you experience what Lena’s life just as she does—saying one thing out loud and thinking something else at the same time. In this age of multi-media, it’s a pleasant surprise to see how “interactive” two dimensions can be. Best enjoyed in paper.
A Working Theory of Love, by Scott Hutchins
Did you like the movie “Her?” Do you worry about whether/how much we can be replaced by robots? Do you believe in reincarnation? If you ponder any of these questions, this book is for you. It juxtaposes our most human hopes and fears alongside the possibility of the most advanced technology. Technology marches inexorably toward us, but the human heart beats on.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler
If you can, get someone to rip the cover off this book before you read it (or advance your ereader past the cover page) and don’t read a single thing about it. I read this after it was announced as the winner of the 2014 Pen/Faulkner Award with no other knowledge about it. At first I thought I’d “gotten” it right away. Then it took a turn I didn’t see coming and I had to take a break and send copies to my two best friends so that they would read it along with me.
Shirley: A Novel, by Susan Scarf Merrell
Who among us lovers of literary fiction has not imagined what it would have been like to hang around with our favorite authors of the mid-20th Century? You know, when authors were revered, and their lives were private. Susan Scarf Merrell took it one step further. After mining archives including letters and journals, she re-creates the world of author Shirley Jackson and her husband Stanley Edgar Hyman, inserting a fictional couple into their life. Step inside this novel and see what happens when a writer asks herself “what if…”
Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
Where can a book that begins with tragedy go? A teenage girl is dead; it’s not a place I really want to visit. And yet Celeste Ng captivates page by page. She’s never maudlin or melodramatic. Instead she unfolds this sad story in such a way that makes us appreciate her characters and want to see how they will make sense of what’s happened. Even though you know the ending won’t change the beginning—this isn’t a book about miracles—you will not want to abandon this family.
The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride
I want to make a special plug for the audio version of this one. This book is full of outrageous characters speaking in dialect circa the 1850s, and hearing it brings it to life in a way that most of us can’t possibly create in our 21st Century minds. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that there can be a new way to tell an oft-told tale, but this narrator tells us story of John Brown’s fight against slavery in a way that makes the whole story completely fresh and new. This is neither middle school social studies nor “costume drama” historical fiction—it is vital, moving, thought provoking and raucous. Listen to it and you will see the story unfold in your mind’s eye as if you were watching the year’s Best Picture.
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