Why you should care
Because autumn is coming, and it’s time to read.
Without afternoons at the beach, long plane rides and other stretches of unassailed time, post-vacation doldrums can be a tough time to dive into a book. There are too many distractions, and how do you choose what to read when escapism seems irresponsible and realism seems untenable. Here are a few reads from novelists around the world that won’t let you escape our modern crises — but may put them in perspective.
The bleakness of The Handmaid’s Tale — both the book and the TV series — feels necessary in these times, but also crushing. But while one can feel Margaret Atwood’s influence on Naomi Alderman’s The Power, for which Atwood was her mentor, Alderman’s story is entirely different: Imagine a world where women suddenly, without warning, have more physical power than men. Imagine how that would change society — and with that, look at how our own has already been shaped by the opposite. Alderman’s storytelling is visceral and brave; you’ll stay up all night reading after a thousand deals with the clock that you’ll put it down after just a few more pages. Gleeful, intelligent, clever and unflinching, The Power is the kind of book to keep a person going, even in the deeply depressing dog days of 2017.
I found out it’s secretly been a favorite of half the people I know.
As an American in Paris, let me tell you: There is nothing worse than stories about Americans in Paris. They’re inevitably breathless trash encompassing whatever few streets the author’s hotel happened to be on, hackneyed experiences with magical Frenchmen and nothing of the real feeling of living here, and I avoid them assiduously — except The Dud Avocado, the story of pink-haired, ballgown-wearing Sally Jay Gorce and her adventures. It wasn’t until I started reading The Dud Avocado that I found out it’s secretly been a favorite of half the people I know, who to a person grabbed me by the lapels (or the Twitter equivalent) and said, “You’re so lucky to get to read it for the first time.” The author, Elaine Dundy, supposedly so incensed her husband, theater critic Kenneth Tynan, with the novel’s success — and her determination to write a second — that it ended their relationship. Let that be a lesson to all of us: Lose the husband, write the novel.
Nominally science fiction, Exit West draws a very real crisis in modern terms. Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid, who was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize for his earlier novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is not explicitly writing about Syria, but about any society in which people see their civilization slowly crumble into war. Exit West destroys any Western illusions that war zones in the Middle East are fundamentally different from their own cities and shows the slow decline of normal life into a refugee crisis, with a sci-fi twist: mysterious doors that appear without explanation and allow refugees to escape into other parts of the world, bringing people, for better or worse, into a new reality. But while stepping through such a door may be simpler and safer than taking a boat across the Mediterranean or walking across whole continents, the reception refugees receive, and the discombobulating effect of their new surroundings, is blisteringly real.
Meet the Tribe: Fiona Zublin
Video by Nat Roe.