This summer, there’s one book on everyone’s radar. But nobody wants to admit to it.
Which is why one friend wrote, “I read Fifty —— of ——. I plead the fifth.” Another said she justified reading E. L. James’ infamously erotic Fifty Shades of Grey by following it with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
For those who’ve already read the series, or who’ve decided to heed the reviews and forgo it altogether, here is a list of recommendations from your neighbors.
Radiologist and father of four (with another on the way) Bradley Sabloff is an original member of a 10-year, 25-member men’s book club. This month, they’re reading The Bad Girl by Nobel Prize-winning Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa. The book follows a “good boy’s” 30-year obsession with a “bad girl” as they traverse South America and Europe separately, continually reconnecting.
Bradley says he’ll also read more by Jess Walter, who wrote The Financial Lives of the Poets, a book Bradley says was universally liked by his group. No wonder – Publisher’s Weekly calls Walter’s writing “whip-smart satire with heart.” Which could entice even a physician with almost five children under five to read.
Susan Danziger, a pediatrician and mom of four, counts the reimagined Shakespeare tale Juliet by Anne Fortier as a stand-out this year. “I really enjoy historical fiction, and this book alternated between the past and present,” she says.
Susan’s lawyer/writer husband, Paul Danziger, loves history and travel essays. He’s planning on reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King, about a man who goes back in time to change history and stop the assassination of JFK. Paul’s favorite book this year was Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (of Seabiscuit fame). The book presents the true story of a man who held on to his dignity and true self despite tremendous suffering.
“A great read,” agrees Susan Zeller, who also lists Unbroken on her summer’s top three, along with Island of Vice by Richard Zacks and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Island is “about my favorite president – Theodore Roosevelt,” Susan says. “It depicts the power and tentacles of massive crime that still exist today, just in a somewhat more refined way.” Shantaram, she says, is “as beautifully written as any book that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. A lofty tome that’s worth the time.”
Lindy McGee, a pediatrician and mom to two young children, recommends Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. “This is Freakanomics for parenting,” she says. “It turns several long-held beliefs about raising kids upside down. They touch on discussing race, the validity – or lack thereof – of IQ testing for kindergarteners, and how kids really respond to praise.”
Lindy also suggests The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. “A fascinating look at the way culture influences the practice of medicine, as it tells the story of a 3-month-old Laos refugee and the California doctors trying to save her.” The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald also earns a spot on Lindy’s list as a book that “everyone who I’ve ever recommended it to loves.”
This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper wound its way to both Taryn Daniels’ and Karen Turbidy’s lists. The official description refers to an “emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind – whether we like it or not.” Karen goes a step further to recommend “any Jonathan Tropper book.” And the book she’ll be reading on vacation is Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, a chain of stories loosely linked by Olive, a retired schoolteacher in Maine, who helps bring to light the “humanness” and imperfections of life.
Farley Erikson says Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann was thought-provoking: “I was still thinking about the characters after I closed the book.” Set in 1974 New York, as Frenchman Philippe Petit walks a cable suspended between the Twin Towers, the book weaves several seemingly unrelated stories together, in the style of “six degrees of separation.”
And while you read that, be sure to share with your children the Caldecott-winning The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein. It’s the true story of Petit tightrope-walking above New York, captivating for children and adults.