It’s summer, and for some reason, everyone’s putting up a summer reading list, so I decided with all the reading I do, maybe I should choose a few books for people to read. Most of these books aren’t newly published, so there’s really no earthly reason for you to read them this summer, other than the fact that I really enjoyed these books, and people who take my advice on what to read rarely regret it. The list is bilingual (sort of).
1. The Mercy of Thin Air, by Ronlyn Domingue (first published 2005). I don’t remember what induced me to buy this book when I was stocking up my Kindle way back in November ’09, but I’m glad I did. I haven’t read The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, which a lot of people say The Mercy of Thin Air echoes, so I can’t offer a comparison. And because I haven’t read Bones, I can say that Mercy is a beautiful story of love, loss, and regret. I’m not really into “ghost” stories, and Mercy is not just another ghost story, but it’s much more than that. It’s also a historical novel, a love story, and something else that manages to mix all three genres with a dash of feminism, and the result is breathtaking. The fact that it’s a debut novel is just all the more reason to love it. I always enjoy brilliant novels by first-time authors. Domingue hasn’t published any other novels, but she has published a few short stories in literary magazines (all in 2005 – it must have been one hell of a year for her).
2. Island Beneath the Sea, by Isabel Allende (published 2010). I haven’t read it yet, but it’s high on my to-read list. Read it because Allende wrote it. Enough said.
3. The Unknown Errors of Our Lives: Stories, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (published 2002). Oh. The beauty of Divakaruni’s language doesn’t bog down her writing, unlike that of another work I’ve been reading for the past few months. I’ve read a lot of Divakaruni’s works, and I must say that I enjoy her short stories more than her novels. She always has a good story to tell and a lyrical way of telling it, with flashes of utter verbal brilliance that make me go back and read a sentence or paragraph again and again. If you enjoy this book and want more, then you can read Arranged Marriage: Stories, which was her first collection of short stories.
4. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, by Laila Lalami (published 2006). I haven’t read this book or any other book by Lalami, but this is another case of being seduced by the title. Ok, I admit, I’m also intrigued by the subject: it’s apparently about Moroccans who long to emigrate from their country. Coming from a country (Egypt) with a lot of people — especially increasingly disillusioned youth — who want to immigrate to any other place on earth, I’m interested in reading about the Moroccan experience. I’m also planning to read it this summer, so if you also read it, we can discuss it in a future post, right?
5. Catch Me If You Dare, by L.D. Alan (published 2010). Why? Because the author is a friend of mine :). No, seriously, because I’ve read some of this author’s other writings and am impressed. Also, the subject matter is intriguing: this is the first of a new mystery series. Detective Rainey Walker has to catch a serial killer called the Scarf Killer before he gets to his next victim, but Walker’s investigation is hampered by the mistrust of a post 9/11 Muslim community. If that doesn’t make for a good story, I don’t know what would. I’m planning to read this book this summer, and I’d suggest you do too. For more information about the book, the author, and where you can buy the ebook version, check out the blog for the series: http://raineywalkerseries.wordpress.com/.
6. Al-Asra Yuqimun al Matarees, by Fouad Hegazy (published in 1976). Roughly translated, the title would be The POWs Build Barricades. I haven’t read much Egyptian literature on the war years (pretty much 1948-1973), when Egypt was more or less at war with Israel. This novella tells the story of a group of Egyptian prisoners of war in 1967. The back cover of the Dar El Shorouk edition says that it deals with the author’s own POW experience, but it’s also categorized as a “novel”, so I don’t know how autobiographical it was. Also according to the back cover, it’s been translated into English and Russian, but I don’t know who the publisher of the English edition is, so if anyone knows, I’d appreciate the tip-off.
7. Lam A’rif An al Tawawees Tateer: Magmu’a Qasassiya, by Bahaa Taher (published 2009). Roughly translated, the title reads: I Didn’t Know Peacocks Can Fly: Stories. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, Taher’s short story collections — unlike his novels — haven’t been translated from Arabic. His short stories are enjoyable, and worth reading. One of the strangest and most interesting of the stories in this collection is the first one, “Sukan Al Qasr”, or roughly, “The Palace Residents”, which relates the somewhat spooky story of the relationship between the residents of a street and a seemingly deserted palace in an old Cairo neighborhood that is inexplicably under tight guard (complete with dogs, security forces, and cameras equipped with ultra-sensitive audio recorders). I’ve linked the Arabic title of this collection of short stories to the Alef bookstore page where you can order it. I’m saying this because Alef has a 15% discount for all online orders until mid-June.
That’s the list for now, but you’re all welcome to add to it or comment on any of the books I’ve mentioned above.
And for another reading list (with a competition to boot!), click here. Be warned, it’s an Arabic reading challenge. But you’re allowed to read the books in translation 😉