23 September, 2021

Litstack Recs | Midsummer Reads & The Last Days of Magic

Midsummer Reads

I’ve got a beautiful TBR stack, and in recent months I’ve been spending time with some fantastic books. I’m trying to be methodical, but curiosity often gets in the way and so now there are a more than a few reads in-progress. Here’s a quick round-up so far.

I’ll be sorry to finish Salt Houses, by Hala Alyan, the saga of a Palestinian family that examines the intergenerational experience of dislocation and the resulting emotional and cultural distances. Hala’s prose style is precise and elegant, and her portrayals richly drawn, as here: “Souad admires her equanimity—the way Budur steps deftly over conflict as she would an overturned shoe.” Winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Arab American Book Award, the novel. Watch a reading and onstage talk with the author at the Transnational Literature Series, at Brookline Booksmith, hosted by Shuchi Saraswat.

Journalist, historian, and found of Salon, David Talbot has written books that investigated Alan Dulles and the murder of JFK (The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government), San Francisco in the pivotal decades of 1960 to 1980 (Season of the Witch), and numerous other interrogations into what he calls “hidden histories.” In 2020, after suffering a stroke, he went on to document his recovery in the memoir Between Heaven and Hell. This most recent title, By the Light of Burning Dreams: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Second American Revolution, co-authored with his sister, the writer Margaret Talbot, and brother-in-law Arthur Allen, is a survey of 1960s activists who defined the decade, and intended to inspire a new generation of activists.

For the sheer imaginative beauty of its sentences, Jo Lloyd’s The Earth, Thy Exchequer, Ready Lies is thrilling. Publisher’s Weekly wrote, “Each story in Lloyd’s crisp and layered debut collection is like a picture postcard from the Welsh countryside, belied by family secrets, dashed hopes, and the long shadows of history.” I’ve long admired Jo’s stories, and knowing they are collected here is a delight. The book has just been published in the US by Tin House Books as Something Wonderful: Stories. Read an interview with Jo Lloyd here.

Hardcover The Liar's Dictionary : A Novel Book

I purchased Eley Williams’ The Liar’s Dictionary on the basis of its wonderful description: In the name of artistic freedom, a disaffected lexicographer in Victorian London inserts what are called mountweazels (false entries added as a hedge against copyright infringement) into a massive Encyclopaedic Dictionary, and a century later when the book is about to be digitized, a modern-day intern at a publishing house is charged with weeding them out. In his NY Times review, Dwight Garner wrote, “Dictionaries are plump and (mostly) written in earnest. This novel more resembles a bonsai tree — compact, wizened and funny. It’s about fricatives and vowels and Latin and love; it’s about updating the meanings of words like “dyke,” “teabag” and “marriage.” Its idea of a joke is to remark that someone looks like they’ve been hit by an omnibus.”

Lauren Alwan

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