What To Read Right Now: May and Beyond



Laura Cornell

In the last few months, new titles have felt a bit slim-pickings, so I went back and read East of Eden by John Steinbeck, which never disappoints. I recently convinced my book club to read Cannery Row, which was equally lovely, and now am on a mission to devour the spare prose of this most-American of writers.  Both are classics to be returned to again and again, especially when and if your kids are reading Steinbeck or studying the Great Depression.

But, then I dug into the new short story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, by Karen Russell whose novel Swamplandia! wound up on many Best of 2012 lists. All I can say is — WOW! Exclamation point intended. Imagine you bit into a sour lemon and it alerted every sense that your brain was on fire  — reading Karen Russell’s prose is just like that, and what’s even more exciting is that her imagination takes flight into the most wicked territories imaginable. Or not imaginable — no one in my book club (including our fearless PhD leader) could think of another example of an author who so deftly moves between the totally real and the monstrous unreal. Many reviewers referred back to her first collection of short stories as even more pithy and great, so I’ve loaded St. Lucy’s School for Girls Raised by Wolves onto the iPad, as well as Swamplandia! – which was short listed for the NYTimes’ top 5 fiction titles last year. Teens will love these books, as well. Highly recommended!

The Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded this year (it famously wasn’t last year) and so I’ll take a tentative peek at the tale chosen – it’s called The Orphan Master’s Son and was written by Adam Johnson about describes the oppressive society of North Korea. The reviews are powerful, but I am not sure the subject matter will match my Spring mood. Whether the choice was dictated more by world politics than world literature remains to be seen, but I look forward to being pleasantly surprised. It might be in a holding pattern on the reading list, but stay tuned.

Two masters chroniclers of contemporary society have new books, — Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings: A Novel about teens growing up in the mid-1970s and Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs about a woman whose life comes into sharper focus through a passionate involvement with the family of her downstairs neighbors. I only somewhat liked Wolitzer’s previous The Wife, but truly loved Messud’s The Emperor’s Children). The summer reading pile is growing taller by the moment. Who knows when I”ll get back to Steinbeck…

Since The Great Gatsby comes this month, it’s worth taking a spin back around that gorgeous tale before seeing it translated, once more, onscreen… I read it again when my daughter’s English class tackled and like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Scarlet Letter, the prose sparkles and hums, reminding us why we read. And, as I wrote in the blog last week, the death of E.L. Konigsburg has me thinking once again about the delightful From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. No young girl should grow up without knowledge of Claudia Kincaid’s heroic runaway trip to NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.