Recent Recommended Reading, Part Two: 15 More Good Books

Yikes, this Part Two installment was not meant to take months to pull together, but — summer. Recent is no longer exactly accurate, but anyway, here you go:

If you’re looking to spend some dreamy, golden-hour melancholic days reimagining classic Greek mythology, I highly recommend:

35959740Circe, by Madeline Miller
This is one of my favorite books of the year. Miller spins a deeply moving backstory for Odysseus’s favorite sea-witch.  Compassion, guilt, vengeance . . . the peace and loneliness of a solitary life . . . reinvention, magical herbs, pet lions — it’s all here, and it is gorgeous. “I thought: I cannot bear this world a moment longer. Then, child, make another.” 

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller
This is another deft reimagining of one of Greek mythology’s greatest heroes. More than prophecies, decade-long-sieges, and competing egos, the heart of this telling is a love story between Achilles and Patroclus, who are, like every other Greek, fate’s pawns. “I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”

If you’re looking for something a little more fantastical, perhaps with a long, riveting chase scene:

Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich
Evolution is unraveling, reversing. Marital Law, blackouts, rationing ensue. Pregnant women are being abducted and held in guarded facilities. In short, people are freaking out. This chilling dystopian novel is different from Erdrich’s usual work but no less powerful. It’s a breathless tale of a changing world and female agency. “After a while, I asked who was in charge. Phil said God. I said that was the most terrifying thing I’d ever heard and he said, “Yeah, me too. That’s why I bought the Bushmaster.” 

The Book of Dust, by Philip Pullman
If you haven’t read Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, I question what you’re doing with your life. This prequel takes place a decade or so before the events of The Golden Compass (here Lyra is but a wee babe) and involves the usual delightful mix of suspense, heroism, exploratory theology, fate, and rapid pacing of all Pullman’s work. “Malcolm saw something out of the corner of his eye—or was it in his eye? A little patch of white on the floor of the canoe. And then, without the slightest warning, it became the shimmering, flickering spot of light, floating in the darkness ahead of him.”

The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel (Winternight Trilogy) by [Arden, Katherine]The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden
Two old gods at war. A dogmatic village priest. A harsh winter. A wild, strong, and spirit-touched girl with a life-altering choice to make. Set in medieval Russia, this is a good cold-weather read to enjoy over a glass of spiced wine in front of a fire. “All my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me.” 

Or perhaps something more domestic?:

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) EbooksPachinko, by Min Jin Lee
Beginning in 1910 during Japanese colonialization and ranging through 1989, Pachinko follows the saga of a Korean family through four generations. With echoes of East of Eden, it asks what it means to be good while examining great human themes like suffering, success, prejudice, honor, tradition, and the need to belong. “No one is clean. Living makes you dirty.” 

Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson
A beautifully written classic meditation on domesticity versus transience as experienced by two orphaned sisters as they come of age under the care of an eccentric aunt. “But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long.” 

Looking for a memoir? Try one of these:

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel LevyRules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy
The New Yorker staff writer Levy’s intimate memoir recalls professional adventures writing profiles of unconventional heroines, before taking a devastating turn to explore wrenching loss and finding a way forward. Check out this essay for a taste of what you’re in for. “When I was young. When I had no idea that all over the city, all over the world, there were people walking around sealed in their own universes of loss, independent solar systems of suffering closed off from the regular world, where things make sense and language is all you need to tell the truth.”

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah
This is not your typical comedian’s memoir. Noah’s journey from the South African ghetto to The Daily Show is surprising, fascinating, and inspiring. Born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother during apartheid, Noah’s very existence was a crime. A crime with an absolute badass mother. The lengths she went to support and protect her children, her shrewd resourcefulness, humor, and unconditional love, are truly epic. I learned a lot and laughed a lot reading this book. “Learn from your past and be better because of your past,” she would say, “but don’t cry about your past. Life is full of pain. Let the pain sharpen you, but don’t hold on to it. Don’t be bitter.” 

The Home Place, by J. Drew Lanham
The Home Place is a thoughtful, elegiac meditation on nature and belonging, written by one of the country’s few black ornithologists. It’s both a moving memoir about growing up and loving a place and also a thoughtful exploration of the contradictions of black identity in the rural South. “I don’t expect everyone to feel the same way that I do about land. For so many of us, the scars are still too fresh. Fields of cotton stretching to the horizon — land worked, sweated, and suffered over for the profit of others — probably don’t engender warm feelings among most black people. But the land, in spite of its history, still holds hope for making good on the promises we thought it could, especially if we can reconnect to it.” 

Want to laugh about serious stuff?:

Calypso, by David Sedaris
I’ve read every one of David Sedaris’s books, and intend to read every new book he writes, forever and ever, amen. What I wouldn’t give to spend a weekend at the Sea-Section with him and his family. “In France the most often used word is “connerie,” which means “bullshit,” and in America it’s hands-down “awesome,” which has replaced “incredible,” “good,” and even “just OK.” Pretty much everything that isn’t terrible is awesome in America now.” 

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, by Samantha Irby
Bitches Gotta Eat blogger Samantha Irby is really fucking funny if you like your emotional truths about chronic illness, poverty, race and gender politics, relationships, and general adulting peppered with self-deprecating humor, IBS jokes, and tales about a bitchy cat named Helen Keller. “Real love feels less like a throbbing, pulsing animal begging for its freedom and beating against the inside of my chest and more like, “Hey, that place you like had fish tacos today and I got you some while I was out,” as it sets a bag spotted with grease on the dining room table.” 

If you want to challenge your brain with some smart nonfiction:

On Immunity, by Eula Biss
This fascinating book examines the history and science of inoculation while addressing our distrust of authority, government, the medical establishment, chemicals, medicine, and of course, vaccines. Biss gathers statistics and explains the science of herd immunity as well as she meditates on myths and metaphors. “We do not tend to be afraid of the things that are most likely to harm us. We drive around in cars, a lot. We drink alcohol, we ride bicycles, we sit too much. And we harbor anxiety about things that, statistically speaking, pose us little danger. We fear sharks, while mosquitoes are, in terms of sheer numbers of lives lost, probably the most dangerous creature on earth.” 

Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit
Typical Solnit — smart, scathing, funny, feminist, and unflinching. “Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.” 

The ArgonautsThe Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson
Maggie Nelson makes me feel dumb. Not in a bad way, more in a try-to-rise-to-the-challenge kind of way heady thinkers pull you along.  Here is a deep dive intellectual examination of gender, sexuality, queerness, pregnancy, transition, motherhood, and family-making. 
“There’s something truly strange about living in a historical moment in which the conservative anxiety and despair about queers bringing down civilization and its institutions (marriage, most notably) is met by the anxiety and despair so many queers feel about the failure or incapacity of queerness to bring down civilization and its institutions