The Saltlist

Satire in the Age of Letters and Technology- more than just a pinch of it.

Books that you MUST read

By: Ria Jethi

It’s common practice, as the year draws to a close, to reflect on the past twelve months – to think back on what you did, how you spent your time, and who you spent it with. My years, more than anything, are shaped by books, so when I look back I’m thinking about what I read. The same goes for thinking about the year to come: When I make my New Year’s resolutions, it’s pretty much just a long list of books that I want to get my hands on. Owing to the fact that I am looking forward to 2012, here are some things that I am already reading; it would be wise of you to do the same. If what I’m reading and loving is to indicate something, 2012 is going to be a strange and wonderful year. Trust me.
So what better way to keep warm and, more importantly, start a brand new year than loading up on ten of the most exciting reads? With our picks, you’ll travel to exotic lands, laugh out loud, and listen to children’s toxic speeches — all in the safety of your most snugly blanket and a cup of coffee of course.
If you’re an avid reader like me, you are likely to check the best seller lists from time to time to see what’s new and popular or whether perhaps, your favorite author has released a new book. Some might say that bestsellers aren’t necessarily the highest quality books available but I believe that it gives me a great starting point when looking for something new and interesting to read.

The Fallback Plan: Leigh Stein:
What to do when you’ve just graduated from college and your plans conflict with those of your parents? That is, when your plans to hang out on the couch, re-read your favorite children’s books, and take old prescription tranquilizers, go against your parents plans that you should get a job?
Without a fallback plan, Eshter Kohler decides she has no choice but to take the job her mother has lined up for her: babysitting for their neighbors, the Browns.
It’s a tricky job, though. Six months earlier, the Browns’ youngest child died. Still, as Esther finds herself falling in love with their surviving daughter May, and distracted by a confusing romance with one of her friends, she doesn’t notice quite how tricky the job is … until she finds herself assuming the role of confidante to May’s mother Amy, and partner in crime to Amy’s husband Nate. Trapped in conflicting roles doomed to collide, Esther is forced to come up with a better idea of who she really is.
Both hilarious and heartbreaking, The Fallback Plan is a beautifully written and moving story of what we must leave behind, and what we manage to hold on to, as we navigate the treacherous terrain between youth and adulthood.

Running the Rift: Naomi Benaron:
If you stretch a spring long enough, far enough, the metal will fail and the spring will snap. The same with a human body. The same with a human heart. The same, even, with a country. – from Running the Rift, page 231
In this debut novel, set during the Hutu-Tutsi tensions and eventual violence in Rwanda, Jean Patrick Nkuba has known all of his life that he wanted to be a runner — the first Rwandan Olympic medal contender in track, to be exact. He is faced with the question of how much he can pursue a personal dream in the face of the peril of his country, and whether, once forced to flee, he can find all he loves again, but the real triumph is the beauty and delicacy of Benaron’s prose. In case you’re unconvinced, this novel won theBellwether Prize, an award given by biennially by Barbara Kingsolver to a work of fiction concerned with issues of social justice.

The Walk: Robert Walser:
Reading Robert Walser’s books are like looking into a room through a piece of glass that’s tinted and warped. Everything’s in there, but nothing looks quite right. Of Walser’s many skills, his ability to write in a tone that is warm, tender, and utterly disorienting as he plays earnestness against irony in a way that is so seamless it can be impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. In recent years – thank heaven – there has been a resurgence of Walser reissues and translations, and every publication should be heralded is a literary event, because it is.

The Snow Child: Eowyn Ivey
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.Ivey creates a world out of emptiness and populates it in completely unexpected ways.

The Map and the Territory: Michel Houellebecq:
Award-winning, controversial and forgetful Michel Houellebecq’s magnum opus, for which he won the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary award. has finally appeared in the States. Like much of Houellebecq’s work, it centers on an alienated middle-aged men as it follows the life of artist Jed Martin: his work, his family, his friends, his relationship to the world at large. Houellebecq’s trademark wit and wonderful prose are hard at work here, making this book funny, strange, poignant and a joy to read.

Distrust That Particular Flavor: William Gibson:
Celebrated science fiction writer William Gibson is not particularly known for his nonfiction. Novels and short stories? Yes. Coining the word “cyberspace”? Definitely. But this new book collects 30 years worth of his other writings, including essays, reportage, and lectures, which, while they don’t exactly live up to Gibson’s other prose, are fascinating, and despite his post-scripted prostests, well-written. More important, no matter what the ostensible topic, they say something worth hearing about the man, the myth, the legend.

American Dervish: Ayad Akhtar:
A first novel as self-assured and effortlessly told as Ayad Akhtar’s “American Dervish.” is difficult to find. Mr. Akhtar, a first-generation Pakistani-American, has written an immensely entertaining coming-of-age story set during the early 1980s among the Pakistanis in the author’s hometown, Milwaukee.

When Mina comes to live with Hyat and his mother and father, Muslims living in a pre-9/11 America, the boy is immediately in love. After all, this woman has changed his chilly family into a happy one, melting even his father’s tough exterior. But when Mina begins dating someone, Hyat is thrust into emotions outside of his control, and threatens to bring his new world — and hers — crashing down around their shoulders.

The Orphan Master’s Son: Adam Johnson:
This epic adventure, set in the dangerous and nearly fantastical climes of North Korea, is an incredibly vivid page-turner of a novel, following Jun Do as he transforms from childish pawn of the system to professional kidnapper to rival of Kim Jong Il, whom he opposes in order to save the love of his life. Romance, coming-of-age tale, adventure and thriller all in one, this book is singular and not to be missed.

The Fat Years: Koonchung Chan:
In Beijing’s near-future, an entire month has disappeared from the official record. And it’s not as if it’s a mere technicality -it’s more like a sort of collective amnesia and sense of artificial cheer has engulfed the country, leaving no one but a scarce few wondering about what that blank month means. Eventually Old Chen, living in Happiness Village Number Two, joins up with ex-flame Little Xi to kidnap a senior official, whom they force to explain the meaning of these the “fat years.” And well, we won’t give it away, but we think it’s worth a read.

The Flame Alphabet: Ben Marcus:
The wild, delicious prose of Ben Marcus is at its best in The Flame Alphabet, which imagines the crumbling world when children’s speech becomes toxic to all who hear it. Sam and Claire, bodies failing, must run from their beloved daughter, whose laughter at their strange illnesses cuts ever deeper into their skin and psyches. Strange and moving and endlessly fascinating, this novel is yet another of Marcus’s wicked triumphs.


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