There are so many wonderful books in the world and with more published every week it can be hard to know where to start, especially on Mondays, when everything is ten times harder than it usually is. So let us do the work for you. Here are the three books you need to be reading this week. You’re welcome. This week it’s Less by Andrew Sean Greer, The Futures by Anna Pitoniak, and Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Image Via The Washington Post
Who says you can’t run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.
QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?
ANSWER: You accept them all.
What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.
Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, Less is, above all, a love story.
A scintillating satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart, a bittersweet romance of chances lost, by an author The New York Times has hailed as “inspired, lyrical,” “elegiac,” “ingenious,” as well as “too sappy by half,” Less shows a writer at the peak of his talents raising the curtain on our shared human comedy. (Via Amazon)
It’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and that’s in addition to its many other accolades. It’s one of those books that you’ll keep seeing all over the place once you’re aware of its existence, and then you won’t be able to stop thinking about it until you read it for yourself.
Booklist described it as Greer’s best work yet, and according to The Washington Post, “Greer’s narration, so elegantly laced with wit, cradles the story of a man who loses everything: his lover, his suitcase, his beard, his dignity. Must poor Less…settle for a life of convivial loneliness? Not a problem. Less is plenty likable — even more.”
The Futures by Anna Pitoniak
Image Via Anna Pitoniak
Julia and Evan fall in love as undergraduates at Yale. For Evan, a scholarship student from a rural Canadian town, Yale is a whole new world, and Julia–blond, beautiful, and rich–fits perfectly into the future he’s envisioned for himself. After graduation, and on the eve of the great financial meltdown of 2008, they move together to New York City, where Evan lands a job at a hedge fund. But Julia, whose privileged upbringing grants her an easy but wholly unsatisfying job with a nonprofit, feels increasingly shut out of Evan’s secretive world.
With the market crashing and banks failing, Evan becomes involved in a high-stakes deal at work–a deal that, despite the assurances of his Machiavellian boss, begins to seem more than slightly suspicious. Meanwhile, Julia reconnects with someone from her past who offers a glimpse of a different kind of live. As the economy craters, and as Evan and Julia spin into their separate orbits, they each find that they are capable of much more–good and bad–than they’d ever imagined.
Rich in suspense and insight, Anna Pitoniak’s gripping debut reveals the fragile yet enduring nature of our connections: to one another and to ourselves. THE FUTURES is a glittering story of a couple coming of age, and a searing portrait of what it’s like to be young and full of hope in New York City, a place that so often seems determined to break us down–but ultimately may be the very thing that saves us. (Via Amazon)
Maybe I’m biased, but as a millennial who has moved to New York City in the last year, I find multiple elements of this book relatable, including the aforementioned description of New York City and what it’s like to feel increasingly separated from someone you love. Sometimes it’s good to read something that opens your mind to other worlds and points of view, but sometimes it’s also nice to read something that reminds you that you’re not alone in your experiences.
NPR praised Pitoniak for her use of “precise and incisive powers of observation” in this book. Publishers Weekly also commended the author and remarked, “Navigating terrain—love and youth, college and city life—that’s often oversimplified, Pitoniak eschews cliché for nuanced characterization and sharply observed detail. Evan and Julia ring true as 20-somethings, but Pitoniak’s novel also speaks to anyone who has searched among possible futures for the way back to what Julia calls ‘the person I had been all along.'”
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
Image Via Goodreads
Poornima and Savitha have three strikes against them: they are poor, they are ambitious, and they are girls. After her mother’s death, Poornima has very little kindness in her life. She is left to care for her siblings until her father can find her a suitable match. So when Savitha enters their household, Poornima is intrigued by the joyful, independent-minded girl. Suddenly their Indian village doesn’t feel quite so claustrophobic, and Poornima begins to imagine a life beyond arranged marriage. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend.
Her journey takes her into the darkest corners of India’s underworld, on a harrowing cross-continental journey, and eventually to an apartment complex in Seattle. Alternating between the girls’ perspectives as they face ruthless obstacles, Girls Burn Brighter introduces two heroines who never lose the hope that burns within. (Via Amazon)
I’m all for a book about two female friends who are ambitious and beat the odds together, and this one has gotten a lot of praise. The cross-continental element only serves to make it even more interesting.
BookPage described it as, “Magnificent and heart-wrenching…. Readers of Rao’s vital, vibrant novel will not soon forget these two strong, driven young women,” and Vogue called it, “Incandescent…A searing portrait of what feminism looks like in much of the world.”
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