Staff Picks: What We’re Reading This Summer

Courtesy of W.W. Norton & Co.

As writers ourselves — even if we happen to be of the “ink-stained wretch” variety — we’re constantly reading, whether it’s for the job or otherwise.

And when we’re ensconced in otherwise, we read (and not just Twitter posts, text messages and anything else that passes for literary discourse these days) for the sheer pleasure of it. But our tastes are quite different, as you’ll see below, where we discuss what’s holding our interest these days.

By the way, staff writer Sasha Rogelberg gets a pass here, as their contribution is a full-blown review of “Something Wild’ by Hannah Halperin, which you can find directly above this article.

Gabe Kahn, editor-in-chief
“The Premonition: A Pandemic Story,” by Michael Lewis (W. W. Norton & Co., 2021)
I’ve been hooked on Michael Lewis ever since 2003 when I read “Moneyball.” Not only was he ahead of the curve (or maybe the slider?) in presaging baseball’s advanced-statistics era, somehow he even made numbers fun.

This time Lewis set out to find who was responsible for the United States’ botched response to the COVID-19 pandemic, expecting the breadcrumbs to lead directly to former President Donald Trump. But while neither Trump nor his administration was blameless — far from it — in Lewis’ telling, during his deep dive into the actions that led to the death of thousands of Americans, he found a systemic failure in government that was years, and administrations, in the making.

Because of the gradual politicization of health departments, officials acted as if “First, do no harm” applied to government leaders at the top of the food chain, and determined that the best way to accomplish that goal would be to do nothing at all, to tragic effect. Lewis tells the story through the eyes of multiple state and federal officials who saw it coming and tried to sound the alarm, which accomplished little other than derailing their own promising careers.

Yes, reading “The Premonition” is a little like watching a car crash in slow motion, but as with “Moneyball,” Lewis manages to write a page-turner nonetheless.

Courtesy of HQN

Andy Gotlieb, managing editor
“Wrong Alibi,” by Christina Dodd (HQN, 2020)
“The “Wrestler’s Cruel Study,” by Stephen Dobyns (W.W. Norton & Co., 1995)
Two rather different books sit atop the nightstand these days.

“Wrong Alibi” is a conventional bestseller type of thriller, complete with an interesting protagonist looking to get revenge on the man who set her up for murder, a compelling setting and a couple twists and turns.

It’s the kind of story that easily could be adapted for the big screen.
That said, it’s well-written and moves briskly along, making it an ideal beach read — particularly when it’s 90 degrees in Margate, and Evie, the main character, is dealing with subzero Alaskan temperatures.

Courtesy of W.W. Norton & Co.

Then there’s “The Wrestler’s Cruel Study,” which I saw on my parents’ bookshelves, sitting there years after it was a book club read. Having read a couple of Stephen Dobyns’ horror-thriller books years earlier — and remembering that he had a knack for turning a pretty good phrase — I dug in.

But “The Wrestler’s Cruel Study” is the opposite of a beach read. While the premise seems tailor-made for the mass market — pro wrestler Michael Marmaduke, aka Marduk the Magnificent, seeks to find his abducted fiancée — Dobyns goes far deeper than just a conventional story.

Instead, the author plumbs the depths of society, considers various philosophies and, for all I know, the meaning of life. Not the typical kind of stuff to read at 11:30 p.m. before drifting off to sleep, but thought-provoking nonetheless.

Courtesy of W.W. Norton & Co.

Eleanor Linafelt, staff writer
“Everybody,” by Olivia Laing (W.W. Norton & Co., 2021)
“Everybody” is “a book about freedom,” as the subtitle states, and Olivia Laing tackles this broad subject with an equally broad overview of people and movements who have resisted various forms of oppression over the past century.

Each of the eight chapters focuses on a different threat to bodily freedom, from climate change to incarceration to racism. Laing provides a detailed look into the lives of figures who have grappled with restrictions on their freedom, including Susan Sontag, Malcolm X and Magnus Hirschfeld. “Everybody” is most compelling when Laing’s voice comes through; her autobiographical anecdotes and cultural analyses are refreshing amidst the sometimes tedious historical information.

The consistent thread throughout the book is Wilhelm Reich, a German psychoanalyst and protégé of Sigmund Freud who was forced to flee Berlin after the Nazis came to power. Laing weaves details of his fascinating and unusual life through each chapter, tying together complex struggles for freedom across countries and decades.

Courtesy of Penguin Books

Leah Snyderman, intern
“Pride and Prejudice,” by Jane Austen (Penguin Books, 2002 reprint, 1813 original publication)
Jane Austen’s iconic “Pride and Prejudice” lives up to its long-lived hype, but it is so much more than a romance novel.

It’s the story of Elizabeth Bennet’s journey in discovering love. On a night during courting season, the Bennet family attends a ball when new faces walk in: Charles Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy begin a rivalry when Elizabeth overhears him speaking negatively about her, and decides then and there to hate him. The story follows Elizabeth and Darcy’s journey through life as their prides and prejudices fight to take over.

Austen’s writing style is nothing short of brilliant. The way she is able to create her characters with such depth and complexity made them feel that much more real. Her satirical elements provided authorial commentary on early 19th-century English society.

This book deserves its label as a classic; it’s truly timeless.


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