What to call this entry? Well, it’s still summer, but the phrase “Summer Reading” calls up doleful memories of schoolwork intruding into free time. “Beach Reading” sounds great in theory, but the actual beach experience–heat, glare, sand, seawater–is not ideal for either e-books or books on paper (especially library books!).
I ruin my own reading experience quite fine by myself–getting up every few minutes from a book to Google an unfamiliar concept or bit of history I come across. That works fine for Trivia Night, but would leave any self-respecting storyteller grinding their teeth. So when The World’s Worst Reader™ actually finishes a book, it’s cause for celebration, no matter what you call it. So here are five books that TWWR™ has found truly worthwhile and would happily push upon any innocent bystander. (All items mentioned are available in the BCCLS system.)
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
A thoughtful apocalyptic dystopia with an emotional tug. It opens on stage, with an actor collapsing while playing King Lear. Soon the Georgia Flu has wiped out virtually all humanity. Some time later we catch up with a small band of players roaming a deserted America, entertaining pockets of survivors for shelter and food. There’s an intriguing use of an airport–that symbol of transit and ephemerality–re-purposed as a poignant museum of permanence, featuring a precious few things saved from the wreck of mankind. This early sentence, describing an impromptu tribute to the dead actor, hooked me and many other readers: “Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.”
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
This is a first novel, but Hayes, a veteran screenwriter, clearly has nothing to learn about craft, plotting, pace, or characterization. A diabolical and terrifyingly plausible scheme to destroy the United States, carried out by a radical Islamic mastermind who nonetheless stands as a fully-formed character. And the only person who can stop it is Pilgrim, a single flawed but brave government agent pulled out of retirement for one last case. Yes, we’ve been here before, but never so inventively and with such care at building both character and suspense.
Hayes seems to consider it a sin to release narrative tension for a second, and the string remains taut as we venture from a tenement hotel in the East Village, to a beheading in Saudi Arabia, to a suspicious shooting in a lavish mansion in Turkey on the shore of the Aegean Sea. We follow in rapt fascination as the cat-and-mouse game draws the two men together, the terror scheme followed through with deadly patience, skill, and single-minded ruthlessness, with Pilgrim equally creative and inspired in pursuit. Each seemingly random occurrence is part of a complex, many-sided puzzle box, every piece sliding into place with a satisfying click by the end. A bravura performance, with not an inch of fat in its 600-plus pages.
The Wreck of the River of Stars by Michael Flynn
For want of a nail….We’re on board The River of Stars, a once majestic, now-obsolete space vessel, on its last sail when a catastrophic engine failure puts the trip in jeopardy. But no reason to fret: There is expertise and material aplenty on board, and time enough to solve the problem…if not for all the attendant perils flesh is heir to and which no technological advancement has eclipsed: Pride, stubbornness, lust for glory. The space-faring odyssey unfolds with Shakespearean inevitability–the end is right there in the title. But though the actual misfortune is telegraphed, the two-column roster of the survivors and the doomed is sorted with the scary randomness of real life. No heroes or villains are on board, just a human-sized story against a vast backdrop of space. Naysayers found it a trifle slow going and overly crammed with technological detail, but I found it powerful in its purposeful, doomed majesty.
John Dies at the End by David Wong
Speaking of giving away the ending. In this oft-hilarious monster rally of a horror novel, John and Dave are a Clerks-style buddy act getting by in a Midwest town whose name remains undisclosed for the readers’ protection–a town under the sway of Soy Sauce, a street drug that opens up doors of perception leading into a nightmarish alternate dimension oozing with hideous creatures and sickening gore. It’s pitch-black macabre comedy with a truly sincere feeling of doom. If you found clowns creepy before….
Y: The Last Man by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Pia Guerra
In this dystopian action saga, a comic series published 2002-2008, Vaughan imaginatively thinks out the ramifications–political, societal, and sexual–of a world where every single male mammal has mysteriously perished save one, underachieving escape artist Yorick Brown, now a wanted man in every sense.
The “Y” in the title is a nod both to the Y chromosome that makes Yorick a He, and to the story’s core question–why did all the others males die, and why did this one survive? Even more impressive than the world-spanning plot is Vaughan’s world-building, how deeply he’s thought about how different a world composed solely of women would be. Just one detail: Female Democratic members of Congress are confronted with an armed band of widows of former male Republican congressmen, demanding the seats of their deceased spouses in a battle to balance the institution left leaning to the left by the disappearance of men. (Editor’s note: This series was recommended last year by another staff member!)
Death in the Eye, my self-published murder mystery in the cozy Agatha Christie tradition, is available as a Kindle book and a paperback, and through the Hoboken Public Library’s Technology Lending program.
-Written by Clay Waters, Library Assistant