Great Reads

Kunzru, Hari. Gods Without Men

Kunzru’s assured novel wanders back and forth in time, following several groups of the lost as they seek something more or better for themselves.  Where their stories all collide eventually is the Pinnacles, three fingers of stone projecting up out of the Mojave Desert. Among the wide cast of characters are Fray Garces, a half-insane Jesuit missionary intent on conveting the natives; Deighton, a scarred and arrogant ethnologist attempting to study the culture of the native tribes before it is lost entirely; dissolute British rock star Nicky Capaldi; the members of a hippie commune, including their “Guide,” Judy; and several others. But the core of the novel is formed by the experiences of Jaz, an assimilated American Sikh; his white American wife Lisa; and their four-year-old son Raj, who has autism.  When Raj vanishes in the desert, near the Pinnacles, Jaz and Lisa become the center of a media storm.  Kunzru’s portait of their marriage is nuanced and insightful; his descriptions of Jaz and his family’s life as immigrants always slightly out of step with American culture even more so.

Complex, layered, lively, and intelligent, Kunzru has crafted an astute and piercing portrait of humanity’s continual quest for meaning—whether through religion, science, drugs, computer programming, or extraterrestrial life—amid the chaos of every day life.

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Ivey, Eowyn. The Snow Child

Childless middle-aged couple Jack and Mabel take advantage of the cheap land deals to buy a homestead in Alaska in the 1920s. Dreaming of a new start, a life of meaningful labor and simple pleasure, the couple instead find a punishing and brutal land with interminable winters and bug-ridden summers.  Mabel contemplates suicide as Jack nearly kills himself to get the planting done.  In a fit of playfulness one cold winter evening, however, Jack and Mabel build themselves a girl from the year’s first snow and decorate her with a scarf and mittens. In the morning, the scarf and mittens are gone and the couple begin to spot a real young girl in the woods around their cabin—a girl none of their neighbors have seen, or know about. And she is wearing the scarf and mittens.  Mabel convinces herself that their love and longing brought the snow-girl to life as happened in a Russian fairy tale she read as a child, but Jack suspects the reality to be darker than Mabel’s magical tale.  As the years pass, the girl, Faina, becomes as a daughter to the couple—but as Mabel knows, the fairy tale of the snow child never has a happily-ever-after ending.

Told in spare but poetic language, the  novel dances artfully around the question of Faina’s origins—magical, or not? But the real stand-out in the novel is Ivey’s description of Alaska, a landscape both punishing and spectacular—and humanity’s relationship with a place so wild. Recommended for fans of historical fiction and minor magical realism.

Powers, Tim. Hide Me Among the Graves


In Powers’ literary novel of supernatural suspense, vampires are very much real and haunt the streets of London.  When pre-Raphaelite poet Christina Rosetti was only 14, she unwittingly unleashed a supernatural horror upon not only her family, but all of London. That horror, a vampire who was once her uncle John Polidori—who is known for having published the first work of vampire-themed fiction—along with the mysterious Miss B—aka Boadicea, the ancient warrior-queen of the Iceni—plot to destroy London. Christina Rosetti and her artist brother Dante Gabriel Rosetti, former prostitute Adelaide McKee and veterinary doctor John Crawford, both of whom have managed to attract the attention of the supernatural fiends in various ways, plot to stop them and end their undead lives.

A complex and compelling plot, fascinating use of historical figures, and a unique and frightening take on the vampire legend make this historical horror novel stand out. Fans of books like The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon; The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte; and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostovawill not want to miss Hide Me Among the Graves.

Sacks, Oliver. An Anthropologist on Mars.

Neurologist and practicing physician Oliver Sacks has written nearly a dozen popular books on the unusual functions of the human mind and, in doing so, has given us new insights into what constitutes humanness.  An Anthropologist on Mars is one of my favorite books of essays by Sacks.  This is a collection of seven essays, including an essay about a painter who loses all sense of color after an accident and a narrative about Temple Grandin—from which the title is derived.  One of my favorite essays in the collection is about a highly regarded surgeon who is consumed by the compulsive tics of Tourette's Syndrome unless he is operating.  Oliver Sacks’ books are thought-provoking, entertaining, and inspiring.  Read this one if you haven’t read it already.  And you can look forward to his new book,Hallucinations, which is due out this coming fall.    


Lodge, David. Therapy.

Therapy is a book that has been on my mind for ten years.  Seriously.  I started reading it ten years ago and then lost it—to my despair.  For some reason I didn’t get my hands on another copy right away, and then I forgot the exact title and author—you know how that is—and from time to time I would remember this book as a wonderful pleasurable read and curse myself for losing it in the first place.  But the universe often rights itself, and I recently stumbled upon the title.  Hooray!  Of course, I finished the book in two days: a) because I loved it b) to minimize the chances of me losing it again. 

I had remembered this novel as humorous, charming, and immensely readable—which it is—but what I didn’t initially realize is that David Lodge is a serious—funny—British writer.  Therapy will not be the last David Lodge book that I read.   I am now a David Lodge fan.  He’s funny.  He’s smart.  He’s a fan of Graham Greene.  What more can I ask for?   Anyway, what isTherapy about, you may wonder?  Well, Tubby Passmore is a successful sitcom screenwriter who goes to various therapies for aches and pains and angst.  That’s basically it.  Well, there is a lot more involving love relationships and existential doubt…but you will just have to read it to find out.   

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