Here’s what I brought to WBRC Fox 6 on July 2. These vacation-ready must-reads include a LOL trip around the world, a thriller from Down Under, an important story of self-invention and some easy-to-pick-up, easy-to-pick-up-later short stories.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer is laugh-out-loud funny and poignant and important all at the same time. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is about Arthur Less, a not-so-successful novelist about to turn 50 who is not at all happy with his life. He’s alone, but even worse, his boyfriend of nearly a decade is about to be married to someone else. When the wedding invitation arrives, Less realizes he needs to leave—for anywhere else. So he cobbles together a trip around the world—courtesy of a bunch of half-baked literary events and what little savings he has left. The jaunt takes the novelist to Mexico, Italy, Germany, Morocco, India and Japan—all far, far away from the everyday life he doesn’t want to face. It’s a love story and a satire of an American abroad and a whole lot of fun to read.
The Van Apfel Girls are Gone is an impressive debut novel by Felicity McLean. Tikka Malloy remembers the hot summer of 1992 for two reasons: all the ongoing debate about the exoneration of Lindy (“dingo took my baby”) Chamberlain, and that was when Tikka’s best friends disappeared. The Van Apfel sisters—Ruth, Hannah and Cordelia—simply vanished. Were they taken? Did they run away from their strict, evangelical parents? Their disappearance shook their small town and left lasting trauma. Tikka and her older sister know something of what happened, and when Tikka returns home years later, she’s confronted with questions. This is a thrilling, at times darkly comic, coming-of-age story about childhood memories, female friendships and unexpected consequences. It’s scary good and was named a Barnes & Noble Summer 2019 Discover Great New Writers Selection.
Educated by Tara Westover is one of the most moving memoirs I’ve ever read. Tara Westover was 17 years old before she ever set foot in a classroom. She grew up in the mountains of Idaho with a survivalist father and a mother who was a midwife and healer. Isolated from all of mainstream society, she never even saw a doctor and there was no one to intervene and protect her from family violence. When one of her brothers got himself into college and returned home talking about the outside world, Tara decided she wanted that life, too. So she taught herself enough math, grammar and science to take the ACT and was admitted to Brigham Young University. It opened her mind and her heart and her entire world. She learned for the first time about psychology and philosophy about the Civil Rights Movement and the Holocaust. Her self-invention and thirst for knowledge transformed her and took her to Harvard and to Cambridge University. This memoir is about truly finding oneself and the absolute pricelessness of an education. It’s also about family loyalty and the price of severing ties with those you love.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove is by Karen Russell, the bestselling author of Swamplandia! (yes, I’ve talked about this Pulitzer Prize finalist before). In this book, she offers a selection of short stories that I think are vacay-perfect for a couple of reasons: They are highly entertaining, and they can be picked up and picked up again later as your day dictates. Summer is made for short stories! Russell writes beautiful prose with a definite dark edge. A group of boys finds a militated scarecrow that looks a lot like a missing classmate. A community of girls held captive in a Japanese silk factory transmute into silkworms and plot a revolution. And in the title story, two vampires in a lemon grove try to slake their thirst for blood as they consider their immortal relationship. You won’t soon forget any of these pieces.