By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief
For me, summer is a time devoted to reading fiction. But like many people who read a lot, I have a difficult time remembering one book from the next, especially if I read them in quick succession and if, as is all too often the case, the story is good, but not great (one example from this summer: California by Eden Lepucki). As an American, with a woefully limited amount of time to spend on vacation, I find it is a top priority of mind to pick books that will be both edifying and entertaining — and, frankly, not too depressing (I’ve had several vacations all-but-ruined by my reading of novels that were assigned for review that turned out to be awful or morose). What’s more, I’m always looking for that book that is a stand-out. Something unexpected and that over-delivers on its promise. Here are my top three reads this summer so far. What are you yours?
And, following Marshall McLuhan’s advice that the best way to judge whether a book is for you or not is to peruse page 69, I offer a few sample sentences from page 69 of each title for you to judge for yourself.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Simon & Schuster)
It’s a big, fat engrossing novel that tells parallel stories of two children who experience World War II from different sides of the front-lines: one is a young blind girl in France, the other is an orphaned German boy who ends up fighting for the Nazis. What makes this novel unique is the way in which Doerr manages to wrap elements of pulse-quickening mysteries and thrillers within the layers of a novel that is ultimately about the way the senses and the imagination collaborate to enrich life to its fullest, even in the most dire and urgent of circumstances. It’s a bravura literary performance and hugely enjoyable.
Sample from page 69:
Radio: it ties a million ears to a single mouth. Out of loudspeakers all around Zollverein, the staccato voice of the Reich grows like some imperturbable tree; its subjects lean toward its branches as if toward the lips of God. And when God stops whispering, they become desperate for someone who can put things right. Seven days a week the minders drag coal into the light and the coal is pulverized and fed into coke ovens and the coke is cooled in huge quenching towers and carted to the blast furnaces to melt iron ore and the iron is refined into steel and cast into billets and loaded onto barges and floated off into the great hungry mouth of the country. Only through the hottest fires, whispers the radio, can purification be achieved. Only through the harshest test can God’s chosen rise.
The Martian by Andy Weir (Crown)
After his crew abandons him on Mars thinking he’s dead, Mark Watney — a botanist — struggles to survive until NASA can figure out a way to rescue him (or not!). Like the best SF, this unique take on the “lost in space” genre (think back to Alfred Bester’s The Stars, My Destination) serves up a compelling story in a series of vulgar and irreverent diary entries that document the rigorous scientific methodologies Watney employs to keep himself alive, as well as the inevitable mishaps. But the science heavy prose manages to remain compelling to the end, fueled largely by the likability of the protagonist, which makes the “will-he-or-won’t-he-live” narrative all the more compelling. (Oh, and this one started as an Amazon KDP title before Crown picked it up for publication in the United States).
Sample from page 69:
I unplugged Rover 2’s battery and plugged in Rover 1’s. Then I went through the airlock to the rover and checked all systems. Everything was a-okay.
I drove the rover around a bit to make sure the harness was secure. I found a few largish rocks to drive over, just to shake things up. The harness held. Hell yeah.
For a short times, I wondered how to splice the second battery’s leads into the main power supply. My conclusion was “Fuck it.”
Why We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf, translated by Tim Mohr (Scholastic)
This novel — originally published in German as Tschick — was described to me as the the German equivalent of Catcher in the Rye. It has sold over a million copies in Germany and has made it onto numerous assigned school reading lists. What’s the appeal? It’s a winning story about a Berlin 8th-grader who, after being left at home while his mother is at rehab and his father takes a “business trip” with his secretary, decides to take off on an impromptu road-trip with Tschick — an oddball Russian — in a stolen Lada. What follows is a traditional road novel, one filled with misadventures and strange encounters, albeit set in present-day Europe, which makes it all the more exotic and intriguing (at least to an American).
Sample from page 69:
And that is when I saw a creaky bicycle cruising down the street. Though cruising down the street is overstating it a bit. And to call it a bicycle is also a stretch. It was the frame of an old girls’ bike, but it had two different-sized wheels in teh front and back. In the middle was a tattered old leather seat. There was also a hand brake dangling down from the handlebars. It looked like a broken antenna. The back tire was flat. And riding the contraption was Tschichatschow. With the exception of my father, he was pretty much the last person I wanted to run into right then.