It’s not quite June gloom outside, and May gloom doesn’t have the same ring. While the weather isn’t cooperating, Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of the summer. To usher in a season of more relaxation (if you’re lucky) the Berkeleyside editors (Frances, Tracey and Lance) have some book suggestions.
“Golden State,” Stephanie Kegan
This beautifully written memoir about a young woman working at a preeminent literary agency on the cusp of the digital age is really a love letter to books. Joanna Rakoff, freshly graduated from Oberlin, takes a job at The Agency for The Boss, whose biggest client is the reclusive J.D. Salinger. One of the first things Rakoff learns is never, ever to give out Salinger’s phone number and address and to quickly steer all Salinger calls to The Boss. Left to answer Salinger’s fan mail (which Salinger has asked never be sent to his home) Rakoff’s heart melts as she reads letters from fans who believe the author is talking directly to them. She is supposed to respond with form letters, but can’t resist writing back to the neediest fans. Rakoff eventually develops a phone relationship with the hard-of-hearing Salinger, and even meets him briefly. Rakoff only works at The Agency for one year, but it is enough to persuade her of the power of literature. She later goes on to write the well-received novel, “A Fortunate Age.” Newly out in paperback.
“Do No Harm,” Henry Marsh
“H is for Hawk,” Helen Macdonald
On the surface, it’s surprising that this book, in which the author breaks and trains a hawk as a way to cope with grief following the death of her father, has proved such a hit. “H is for Hawk” won the prestigious Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction in the UK where it originated, and has made bestseller lists in both Britain and the US. Its appeal is Macdonald’s glorious writing, which ranges from the scientific to the almost poetic, and the way the narrative draws you deep into the mysterious, wild world of predatory birds.
“Leaving Berlin,” Joseph Kanon
If you enjoyed Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir Bernie Gunther series, you’ll find plenty of echoes in Joseph Kanon’s latest book, “Leaving Berlin.” Kanon, however, is the better writer. Alex Meier, a German Jew, returns to Berlin from his exile in the US after falling afoul of McCarthy and HUAC’s Hollywood witch hunts. He finds the postwar wasteland of East Berlin (pre-Wall) not quite the peoples’ paradise they expected. Everyone seems to lead at least a double existence, with the Stasi, Stalin’s KGB and the CIA all jostling for advantage.
“Poor Man’s Fight,” Elliott Kay
It’s summer, and you probably want some escapism. Elliot Kay‘s science fiction novel was self-published on Kindle a couple of years ago and, purely by word of mouth, was a sensation. “Poor Man’s Fight” is out next month in paperback (and if you like it, you’ll rush to read the sequel, “Rich Man’s War”). “Poor Man’s Fight” is a book of dramatic battles in space with the twist of a keen political sense: the worlds in Kay’s universe are dominated by mega-corporations that keep control thanks to the huge debts people pile up for their education. Of course, that’s wildly speculative fiction…
Find these books at the Berkeley Public Library and at Berkeley’s many independent bookstores.
Follow Berkeleyside on Twitter and on Facebook where we often break news. Email us at email@example.com. Would you like the latest Berkeley news sent to your email inbox once a day? Click here to subscribe to Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.