Welcome to the Third Annual Jordana Horn Summer Reading List! This list is by no means conclusive, but it’s a list of books I’ve read in the past six months that I thought were particularly terrific. Please put your own ideas and suggestions for great reads in the comments, and friend me on GoodReads (I’m “Jordana Horn Gordon” there) so we can keep talking books, which I love passionately. Without further ado, here are some great reads that should sit on your shelf or device this summer, in no particular order.
1. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris
This one is demanding and intellectually ambitious, but well worth your time. It’s the story of dentist Paul O’Rourke, who is bored with his life, dental practice, and his relationship to the world at large–until his online identity begins to be recreated by strangers. These strangers claim to be the descendants of Amalekites, the ancient enemy of the Jewish people–which is interesting enough without including the fact that they claim that Paul is one of them, and he just might believe them. This is a book about identity–what it means to be part of a people and a person. It’s jaw-droppingly good.
2. When It Happens To You, by Molly Ringwald
I didn’t want to read this one at first, because, really? Wasn’t it enough that you were the star of “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club,” Molly Ringwald? Let well enough alone, lady. Well, apparently it wasn’t, because Ringwald is actually a kickass writer as well. I stand corrected. This book of interlocking short stories, in which each story ties in through threads of characters to the one before it, is really enjoyable. It’s a clever, well-written exploration of humans and human nature, and all the greater for being such a pleasant surprise.
3. The Intern’s Handbook: A Thriller, by Shane Kuhn
This book was so much fun I could barely stand it. Interns are invisible, right? Well, that’s what HR Inc banks on–they provide “interns” who in fact are mercenary assassins, their skills available to the highest bidder. This book is assassin John Lago’s hilarious and fun confessional, written in his voice for the benefit of future killers. If you are going on vacation–or just want a vacation from your own life, of toilet training, and office drudgery–this is the book to pick.
4. The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories, by Marina Keegan
Keegan was killed in a car crash days after her graduation from Yale. This posthumous collection of essays and stories reveals just what an incredible talent was lost in that accident. Keegan’s essays radiate youth and promise; her fiction betrays a knowledge of human character that goes far beyond her chronological age. After reading this book, you feel a small sense of what a tremendous blessing Keegan was to the world, and are so grateful to have had the chance to stand near the bright light that was her life.
5. Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead: This book, from the author of “Seating Arrangements,” is an intelligent read about Joan (I couldn’t help but picture Christina Hendricks, sorry), a ballerina in love with the Mikhail Baryshnikov-esque Russian dancer Arslan. She helps him defect, and then herself defects from the ballet world to marry her long-time friend Jacob and raise her son. The story is itself a ballet, well-choreographed, dramatic, and compelling.
6. A Guide for the Perplexed, by Dara Horn
If you didn’t think I was going to include my own sister’s novel here, well, then you must think that this book–a book about how much sisters can hate each other, as well as how technology changes memory–is emotionally autobiographical. It’s not. (Well, at least not from my side. Hmm. Maybe it’s time she and I had lunch?) In any event, it’s a little bit “Homeland,” a little bit Jewish historical fiction, a little bit sibling rivalry, and all great.
7. Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan
This book, a memoir about travel and being a daughter, was so, so much better than I ever thought it would be. “Your father’s the glitter,” Corrigan’s mother once told her daughter, “but I’m the glue.” When Corrigan starts working as a nanny in Australia to two children, she gets a taste of the hard work of parenting, and suddenly starts hearing her own mother’s voice and insights–long ignored–everywhere. In one review I read, it said that this book was about who you admire, why, and how that changes over time. This book is about that and so much more; as a parent, a daughter, and a reader, I was very impressed.
8. Little Failure, by Gary Shteyngart
Gary Shteyngart is just hilarious. This memoir is a smart trip into Shteyngart’s past as a new Russian kid in 1980s America. Shteyngart more often than not takes the tack of self-deprecation, and in doing so, conveys his story with both candor and intimacy. From his labeling as “Gary Gnu” (I too watched The Great Space Coaster as a child) to his pot-filled days at Stuyvesant High School and later Oberlin, Shteyngart generously shares his humor and writing with his readers–and with a healthy serving of insight as well.
9. Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill
Holy crap, this was a great book!!! Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s only 182 pages: this examination of a marriage and its love story–and whether or not it can survive–will blow you out of the water. The prose is magnificent. Read it with a highlighter, because each sentence is going to impress you with its strength and ferocity.
10. My Life in Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead
This book is a perfect blend of literary analysis–of George Eliot’s Middlemarch–and memoir. Mead adored this book while growing up, and shares the book, attendant history of Eliot, and history of herself with equal generosity. It’s a beautiful homage to George Eliot and to the transcendent power of reading.
11. The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty
A friend recommended this book to me on a Thursday afternoon at school pickup. I finished it by the time I dropped the kids off for school the next day. Yes, I’m a speed reader, but this is how compelling I found this book: as tired as I was, and as many things as I had to do, I COULD NOT STOP READING IT. I finished it while standing topless in my bathroom as the shower was running and my children were banging on the door, screaming like mad cats. Its twisty plot will keep you riveted too.
12. Lost for Words, Edward St. Aubyn: This send-up of the infighting, posturing, politics, and ridiculousness that goes on behind the scenes of determining who should get a major literary prize was absolutely hilarious. This is probably best appreciated by my fellow book-nerds, but everything–from the characters to the dialogue to the excerpts of the books in contention for the prize–was pitch-perfect.