All you have to do is wait. Sit tight and wait for the right moment. Not try to change anything by force, just watch the drift of things. Make an effort to cast a fair eye on everything. If you do that, you just naturally know what to do. But everyone’s always too busy. They’re too talented, their schedules are too full. They’re too interested in themselves to think about what’s fair.
My peak? Would I even have one? I hardly had had anything you could call a life. A few ripples. some rises and falls. But that’s it. Almost nothing. Nothing born of nothing. I’d loved and been loved, but I had nothing to show. It was a singularly plain, featureless landscape. I felt like I was in a video game. A surrogate Pacman, crunching blindly through a labyrinth of dotted lines. The only certainty was my death.
―Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance
Looking for something to do with the rest of your summer? Here are twelve books to help pass the time.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer/Annie Barrows, 2008
An epistolary novel, meaning it is presented as a collection of letters. Historical piece that puts a personal face on the German occupation of the small British island of Guernsey, which sits in the English Channel off the coast of France. Comic and charming at times, wistful and sad at others.
The Left Hand Of Darkness – Ursula K. LeGuin, 1969
Ambassador Genly Ai is a visitor on the icy planet Gethen, where normal humanoids are completely gender fluid. While trying to bring Gethen into an intergalactic alliance, Ai becomes embroiled in political intrigue, finding himself in need of rescue. Perhaps more relevant now than when it was written. Unique exploration of sexuality and gender.
Little Fuzzy – H. Beam Piper, 1962
The “uninhabited” planet Zarathustra is owned lock, stock and barrel by the Zarathustra Mining Company, intent on exporting all of its resources. Then the colorful prospector Jack Holloway comes in contact with a small two legged creature, whom he dubs Little Fuzzy. Soon an entire community of Fuzzies comes to light, ready to fight for their home. The company will stop at nothing to protect its interests. Charming, easy read with a big message.
To Say Nothing of the Dog – Connie Willis, 1992
In the near future, historians from Oxford do their field work by time traveling into the past. Lady Schrapnell has employed most of the department to help her rebuild Coventry Cathedral as it was before the Germans bombed it during World War II, but the Bishop’s Bird Stump, a large Victorian knick-knack of some sort, remains elusive. On top of that, someone’s brought a cat from Victorian England into 2057! Hilarious and clever, with many nods to Victorian and early 20th century literature. The second book of the Oxford Time Travel Trilogy, but it stands alone nicely.
The Shining – Steven King, 1977
Horror classic that many people haven’t read because they have seen Kubrick’s movie and think they know too much. My advice, if you like horror: read the book AND watch the movie. They are both masterpieces in their own right, but they tell very different stories. Abusive alcoholic Jack Torrance takes a job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. Cut off from civilization with his wife, Wendy, and son, Danny, he is exploited by the hotel itself in an effort to get to access to the boy, who has special psychic abilities.
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath, 1963
Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of Esther Greenwood, a young woman trying to make her way in the world. Fearful and unsure how to make the transition from school to the workplace, she fights depression and attempts suicide. Mental illness and the modern woman’s struggle for identity and purpose are illuminated with audacious honesty.
The World to Come – Dara Horn, 2006
Benjamin Ziskind steals a painting by Marc Chagall from an art gallery wall, convinced that it hung in his childhood living room. A sprawling family saga that encompasses the persecution of Jews after the Russian Revolution, the confusion of Vietnam, the disaster of Chernobyl and modern day terrorism, as well as personal struggle, love and tragedy. Humor and a touch of magic realism derived from Jewish folktales, as well as the nonlinear narrative, keep it from being ponderous. Violence, sex and harsh language are present, but so are piety, love and spirituality.
The Tale of Murasaki – Liza Dalby, 2000
Gorgeous historical novel about the life of Murasaki Shikibu, 11th century poet and author of The Tale of Genji, sometimes called the world’s first novel. It dramatizes her development from a shy, idealistic daughter of a minor scholar to a master storyteller using her talents to entertain the Empress of Japan. Enchanting read. Sexuality, sensuality and the oppression of women are explored.
The Heretic’s Daughter – Kathleen Kent, 2008
The story of Martha Carrier, one of the first women tried and put to death during the Salem Witch Trials, as seen through the eyes of her daughter, Sarah, who survived that bloody time. It presents a dark picture of the depravity of which mankind is capable, full of violence and oppression underlaid with twisted sexuality. Kathleen Kent is ten generations removed from Sarah Carrier and tells a tale that honors the memory of her ancestors.
My Name is Red – Orhan Pamuk, 1998
Four master illustrators have been selected to complete a secret book for the Ottoman Sultan, a book which strays from the traditional elements of Islamic art to include illustrations influenced by western style. Elegant the gilder is now dead, his body rotting in the bottom of a well. The murderer is one of the other three, but which one? Religious and political intrigue in Istanbul, illuminated by incredible insight into Islamic art, history and culture.
The Golem and the Jinni – Helene Wecker, 2013
Two “monsters”, a Jewish Golem and an Arab Jinn, each find themself in New York City at the end of the 19th century, hiding their identity from everyone around them. Will their contrasting natures and cultures destroy each other, or will they be able to confide and trust one another in order to defeat the evil, violent man that comes to possess and use them? Fusing the riveting stories of immigrants, full of hardship and sweetness, with fantasy and mythology creates a fascinating and perceptive novel.
Dance Dance Dance – Haruki Murakami, 1988
A surreal journey that begins when a commercial writer returns to a seedy hotel where he once stayed with a lover, only to find it transformed into a fancy western-style palace. There is something waiting for him there, guiding him as he attempts to salvage the pieces of his life and forge valid human relationships. Sexuality, gender and violence are integral to the plot, which inhabits the darker side of humanity, delving into prostitution, rape, murder and suicide. Mystery, science fiction and satire rolled into a dreamscape searching for the meaning of life.
I could feel a small polished stone sinking through the darkest waters of my heart. All those deep convoluted channels and passageways, and yet she managed to toss her pebble right down to the bottom of it all.