Summer Reading Recommendations
Thursday 21 June 2018
I start summer vacation at 11:59 am tomorrow. I’m obviously looking forward to it! I'm also looking forward to all the time I will have to read. And with a long flight to the U.S. coming up – I live in Singapore – I should have ample time to get into a juicy thriller or an outlandish novel. When stuck on a long-haul flight, I want to escape from my reality of row 32B. I want to forget that I'm on a plane. I need something that's fast and entertaining. It’s not the time for me to pick up a Man Booker or Pulitzer Prize winning novel.
Keigo Higashino’s novel Naoko is set for the way there and I plan on reading Crazy Rich Asians for the way home (the movie, set in Singapore, comes out in August). This is definitely not highbrow literature! I admit to this because I think it’s important to share our reading lives, and that includes the novels others might judge us for reading.
While I don’t know if either novel will make my top ten list this coming December, I know they’ll get me through the flight better than alcohol. I also think the following 10 books – my favorites from the last six months – are worthy of your time. Whether you have a break or you still in the classroom, I hope you carve out some time for yourself and a good book.
Favorite Books from January – June 2018
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent will crush your soul. I'm calling it the new A Little Life. But I will caution you: it’s disturbing. The protagonist, Turtle, is a 14-year-old female 8th grader who has a father that believes the end of the world is upon us. She's just awesome at times - can forage for food, hunt, and live in the woods, if need be, for days on end. But, her home life is troubled, to say the least and that's where things get messed up. Turtle is such a complex and complicated character and she will stick in your memory for a long time.
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
This is a wonderful collection of eight short stories. My favorite was the last one, titled "Fatherland" in which a man has two wives, and three kids with each wife. And he’s given the kids matching names! The story follows the two eldest daughters, each named Phuong, as they meet each other for the first time. As the title suggests, all the stories revolve around refugees in some way, and it's eye-opening the various ways Nguyen explores what it means to be a refugee as well as all the complications and complexities it involves. Incredibly relevant and gorgeously written, The Refugees is worth it!
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is an epic novel of historical significance. I was blown away by the ways in which Koreans were/are treated in Japan. I never knew their history in the country and the ways in which they were systematically discriminated against. The novel follows the story of Sunja in the early 1900's as she is forced to leave Korea for Japan (you find out why in the novel). It continues on until 1989, and in that time, you get this sweeping understanding of Korean history in Japan. It's beautifully written as well. Don’t be afraid of the size of the novel, coming in at over 500 pages. It is definitely worth your time!
The Power by Naomi Alderman
You will either love or hate The Power by Naomi Alderman. I loved it. I know many colleagues who hated it. In the novel, women get the power: electricity that bubbles from their fingertips and when controlled can kill anyone on demand. The world flips. Women now have complete physical dominance over men. In some societies around the world, it’s used for revolutionary purposes. In others, it’s more muted. If you can suspend your disbelief, and instead immerse yourself in the alternating plot lines, you’ll find yourself amazed by Alderman’s critical and insightful social commentary about what it means to be a woman in our society today.
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
Haig is the author of several novels such as The Humans and How to Stop Time. But it’s this book of nonfiction that really floored me. Haig tells the story of his crippling depression and anxiety in short, succinct chapters of one to three pages. He is so open and so honest about his mental illness that you cannot help falling for his prose. In other words, it's not only eye-opening, but also lyrical in style. I highly recommend it.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
If you are looking for a quick-witted, stubborn teen narrator who just says it like it is, this is the book for you. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez is about a protagonist dealing with the death of her 22-year-old sister. She feels guilty about that death (is she partly to blame for it?) and is trying to come to terms with it all. The story revolves around the narrator, Julia, finding her identity amid this grief and amid not living up to her sister and the expectations and demands of her parents. It was nominated for the National Book Award this year and that doesn't surprise me as it is top notch YA.
Selection Day by Arivand Adiga
I’m American. My understanding of cricket it close to zip. Still, I loved this novel. Two teen brothers are battling it out to become famous cricketers while also having to deal with their domineering father who wants to control every aspect of their life. Set in Mumbai, the novel follows these brothers as they move up the ranks in the cricketing world and hope to star for India in the future. If you like novels about sports, families, and competition, this is the book for you.
Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan
Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan is a great Filipino thriller. Set in Manila, mainly at the Payatas garbage dump, boys the age of 10-13 are being viciously killed. Their faces are being sliced from ear to ear, leaving them unidentifiable. Perhaps even worse, no one cares about finding out who has done this to them. Amongst a backdrop of corruption and ineptitude, two priests attempt to find the killer and bring him to justice. It's a violent novel. It's also won the Philippine National Book Award in 2002 and rightly so; it's well-written with a tight plot line and interesting characters.
Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish
Zou Lei wants to make a better life for herself in the U.S. She’s an undocumented immigrant, an Uighur from China who finds herself lost in New York City. As she’s trying to make ends meet, she finds Skinner, a young American just back from war in Iraq. He’s all kinds of messed up from the war, and struggles – rightly so – to hold it all together. Can their relationship survive her lack of papers and his mental instability caused by IEDs?
Millionaire Expat by Andrew Hallaman
If you haven’t heard of or read Andrew Hallaman’s The Millionaire Teacher, I highly recommend it. This is his third book and it was as useful, instructional, and inspirational as his first. He’s a finance guru who speaks to international schools around the world and it’s worth listening to his message. I don’t think I’ll ever become a millionaire, but that doesn't stop Hallam from showing me how to get there.