Recently I saw a Buzzfeed list of books called “22 Books You Should Read Now, Based on Your Childhood Favorites.” I love this list! Both columns are great – the books for kids and the ones for adults. This is now my go-to book list when I don’t have some other pressing book desire.
I picked Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore from the list because I adored The Westing Game when I was about 10 years old and had all but forgotten that book! I remember feeling as though it was a secret discovery that hardly anyone had heard of, but of course it is a classic – I also want to go back and read that soon. Mr. Penumbra is a delightful mystery about a little bookstore, an ancient secret society, and the interplay between old and new technology. Full of quirky characters, plot twists, and pop Internet references, it’s lighthearted and funny and bursting with a kind of sunny love of life that I found maybe a little unserious but certainly thoroughly charming.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, maybe you’ve heard of this obscure little paperback? Haha. I am slowly making my way through old HP because I’ve never read it before, that’s right, never. I was not that interested in children’s lit when the series originally came out but I’m getting around to it now. Only two books in but it’s fun so far.
I heard about The Circle from a Blogher post, and while I’m not the world’s biggest Dave Eggers fan, I was intrigued by the plot synopsis about a young woman named Mae who goes to work for a big social media company and finds herself entwined in a cult like dark side of the group. “The Circle” is something like if Facebook, Twitter, and Google were all subsumed into one giant entity, plus some futuristic technology (“retinal” computers, ear pieces, and a lot more). At times the message here was heavy-handed and annoying, especially in the voice of Mercer, Mae’s ex-boyfriend, who argues piously with her about her technology-mediated life… every time Mercer went on another Luddhite rant against social media I felt like Eggers was preaching directly at me. I’m not sure why he did this when the rest of the book’s plot got the point across just fine. I think I was irritated by this book for about half of its length – in particular, around page 200 of this 700 page novel I started to wonder how it could possibly go on in this vein – but by the end it had won me over. And in the end it did really make me think about my own social media habits and to what weird extent I might be hooked on Likes and comments and so on. Worth a read if you can pardon some preachiness and repetitive bits early on.
Another book I just read from the Buzzfeed list is The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. The novel follows a group of friends from when they meet at art camp in the summer of 1974, through to the present day when they are in their 50s. All have varying degrees of talent as teenagers and all end up with varying levels of personal and professional success as adults. It’s interesting to me that this book has very mixed reviews on Goodreads and the most common complaint is that readers had trouble connecting with the characters and/or felt that nothing in particular happened in the book. I did not feel this way on either count, but I can understand this view – so I recommend it with the caveat that apparently a lot of people do not like it! It’s a long one, so if you get 200 pages in and don’t care for it yet you probably won’t fall in love. We enter the story through the viewpoint of Julie (soon to be dubbed Jules), an awkward girl who comes to camp to escape the sadness of her family life after her dad dies. She is brought into the fold of a little group that she considers the coolest and most talented bunch at camp. Other readers gripe that there is nothing all that interesting about these people, but I think it rings true that when you are a teen and find YOUR people, you think they are the coolest and most interesting people who ever lived. For me this whole book is really just about that – ordinary lives that seem so much MORE simply because they are yours. Despite the sweeping timeline, Wolitzer hasn’t written an epic – she’s written something is actually quite small, but true.