Whether you’re looking for intellectual stimulation, help with finding the beauty in life, a great detective novel, or an evocative visit to death row, we have something for you this month in our reading recommendations.
Andrea Lani, Senior Editor and Literary Reflections Editor, fell hard for this unlikely page-turner: “Every once in a while I develop a book crush. I come down with a case of puppy love for a volume whose narrative voice is so engaging I want to snuggle in bed with it all day and sneak off into corners to read when I should be doing other things, like cooking dinner or getting ready for work. My current book crush is Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer, the copy chief of Random House. I realize that a book about punctuation and grammar might sound dry to some, but the only thing dry about Dreyer’s English is its author’s sense of humor. Dreyer is so witty that I’d venture to say even someone who could care less* about proper sentence construction would enjoy wandering about in the English language with him for a couple hundred pages. Even I feared that the ardor would wane when I got to the chapter called ‘Notes on Easily Misspelled Words.’ It did not. I worried that the book and I would lose the spark when we hit ‘Notes on Proper Nouns.’ We did not. Even these dull-sounding topics are entertaining in Dreyer’s hands. Dreyer’s English and I, like all new loves, agree with each other on most things (like our feelings on the current use of the term ‘curate’ for assembling anything other than a museum collection), and when we disagree, he’s so charmingly blasé (when it comes to a rigid but senseless rule he prefers to flout) or curmudgeonly (when it’s a new-fangled trend that gives him the vapors, like using ‘they’ as a singular pronoun), that I forgive him his foibles. The only fly in the ointment of this new relationship is the footnotes. The book is peppered with them, and they’re every bit as droll as the text. However, they’re denoted by teeny-tiny asterisks that I usually don’t notice until I reach the bottom of the page. Otherwise, my new love, this book, is perfect.
*This phrase, which is the ire of many a grammarian, appears in the chapter titled ‘Peeves and Crotchets,’ but not because it’s one of Dreyer’s pet peeves. ‘I appreciate its indirect sarcasm,’ he writes, ‘and the more people hate on it, the more I’m apt to use it.’ “
Kate Haas, Creative Nonfiction Editor, shares this: “I’m reading Wrecked, the third in Joe Ide’s compulsively readable series about young LA investigator Isaiah ‘IQ’ Quintabe. Now, I tend to like my fictional detectives upper crusty (Lord Peter Wimsey), ecclesiastical (Rev. Clare Fergussen) or historical (the Benjamin January mysteries). So maybe you wouldn’t peg me as a fan of ‘the Sherlock Holmes of the ‘hood’ (according to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). But IQ, a loner who is kind, deeply wounded by life, and smarter than an MIT graduating class put together, gets under a reader’s skin in the best way. (Here’s a guy who’ll investigate a neighbor’s problem and allow himself to be paid with a hand-knitted reindeer sweater.) In the previous two books, IQ has slowly begun to emerge from the isolation he entered with the murder of his beloved older brother. Now, along with cracking high-profile cases, he might even be inching toward love. But when IQ agrees to track down the missing mother of the young painter he’s drawn to, he finds himself entangled in a dangerous situation involving sadistic ex-military members, blackmail, and of course, murder.”
Christina Consolino, Senior Editor, was inspired to read this one: “Many books I choose to read are written by the authors that Literary Mama profiles. Six months ago, I read Rene Denfeld’s The Child Finder and vowed that when next I had time on my hands, I’d check out her first novel, The Enchanted. I’m so glad that I did, because this book moved me in a way that others have not, and I found myself putting the book down in order to take time to process what I read. The narrator, an inmate on death row living in an old, stone prison, begins the story in this way: ‘This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it but I do.’ Death row is the last place readers would consider enchanted, but before I’d gotten to page five, Denfeld had cast her spell on me. Through the narrator’s eyes, we experience fantastical things: tiny men who hammer inside the walls, golden horses that stampede beneath the prison after each execution, and flibber-gibbets that dance while the incinerator burns. And despite the fact that the narrator is confined to his cell, the reader is given the privilege of moving outside of it, where we learn about the corruption that permeates the prison system, the secrets that ‘the lady’ (a death row investigator) unearths, and the backstory of ‘the fallen priest,’ who doles out comfort to the inmates. Denfeld’s deliberate prose and vivid imagery create a world in which the reader becomes attached to each character, death row inmate or not; one where sympathy, understanding, and redemption are just as prominent as death and destruction. As one reviewer said, ‘It’s a story of hope even as death waits.’ “
Viji Sridhar, Profiles and Reviews Editorial Assistant, enjoyed this self-help book: “We are in a world of constant distractions. For scatterbrained souls like me, juggling motherhood, house, and work can in itself be overwhelming, but add an electronic gizmo and its eternal distractions to the mix and it leaves me seriously craving for those stare-out-of-the-window blank, calm moments. I can see everything but what is in front of me. Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday floated into my world at this useful juncture. Divided into five sections—Looking, Sensing, Going Places, Connecting with Others, and Being Alone—the book provides multiple avenues to hone one’s attention-paying skills, and more importantly ‘to experience the enchanting everyday.’ Based on the suggestions in the book and my own improvisations, here are some things I tried: Going on ‘color walks’ where you zone into specific colored objects (a fun game with kids in the car), drawing out stick-figure cartoon conversations from some bizarre/serious/funny encounters, paying attention to the mood of a room, looking for the ‘most absurd’ product while shopping at Walmart, taking a new route to work, following occasional silence hours when you talk only if you absolutely need to (serves me really well at work), and certainly my favorite one—looking outside a window to find something, anything, that delights me.”
Which books are you reading or intending to read this summer? We’d love to hear in the comments or tweet us @LiteraryMama. You can also follow us on Instagram @Literary_Mama and Goodreads for more recommendations.