Wilton Barnhardt knows of which he writes. In his fourth novel, Lookaway, Lookaway, the native of Winston-Salem and current professor at North Carolina State University delves into Southern high society, peering beyond the serene surface of propriety and exposing the down-and-dirty truths (and secrets!) that lurk underneath. His portrait of the Johnstons—and all of their trials and tribulations—is biting and hilarious. (Read our What We're Reading post about the book here.)
We were curious about which books Barnhardt has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him. Here are his three recommendations:
By James Salter
What prompted you to read it?
It’s James Salter. What is he? Eighty-seven, I think—and this is the first novel in 30-some years. As with Alice Munro, I would read the shopping list of this master of English prose.
Why do you recommend it?
Of course, it has supremely drawn characters, which you’d expect. It is a textbook of narrative momentum. The opposing energies of precise detail then summary, extraneous episode then essential plot point, telling with no showing, showing with no telling. . . . It carries the reader along with assurance and aplomb. Reviewers said it was largely a roman à clef, which I admit adds a bit to the interest. But my main attraction was the glorious, inimitable James Salter prose!
What prompted you to read it?
There was such a New York Times rave; plus, Andrea Barrett blurbed it (I am dying to get her new story collection Archangel, too, by the way). Finally, my publisher, St. Martin’s contacted Fowler, and she was nice enough to provide Lookaway, Lookaway a blurb, so I was eager to see her new book. I adored her first novel, Sarah Canary.
Why do you recommend it?
It’s simply one of the best, most moving, important, humane books I’ve read in years. There are not many original family sagas left to tell, but, by God, Fowler has thought of a new one. (I suspect there are many nonfiction models for accounts of family life where some Skinner-like research experiment has played out, seemingly harmless and engrossing at the time but with later dire consequences, but there is no fiction I have ever heard of with Fowler’s particular subject.) I won’t say much more about it—it is full of surprises which I have no intention of spoiling. The narrator is winning, funny, wry, which doesn’t quite prepare you for the heartbreak and profound sadness ahead.
JACK HOLMES AND HIS FRIEND
By Edmund White
What prompted you to read it?
David Ebershof, a writer who I very much admire, wrote that it may be White’s best novel (and White has written so prolifically!), so I thought it was time to check in with E.W. again.
Why do you recommend it?
White is another master of felicitous prose, particularly when describing the Jamesean intricacies of human relations—and, yes, he can write sex better than most, and gay sex better than anyone! White, for my money, has been too melancholy in some of his books and his trademark moroseness is here, too (with good reason: existential New York miasma, AIDS, literary failures), but the spark of love and friendship between the gay hero and his straight friend, in the end, suggests hope and is a life raft to cling to. And White’s narrative legerdemain arrives once a paragraph, page after page, description after gorgeous description—spiced up, as well, by some of his wittiest dialogue.
Aussie Liane Moriarty is the author of five bestsellers, including The Hypnotist's Love Story and What Alice Forgot. Her latest, The Husband's Secret, is about a woman who stumbles upon a letter written by her husband and only to be open upon his death. Too bad he's still alive—and the letter contains a shocking secret that will alter many lives. Our reviewer calls the book "as scary as it is familiar," with a "gob-smacking twist."
We were curious about which books Moriarty has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her. Here are her recommendations:
I bought this book because I adored The Jane Austen Book Club by the same author. I don’t want to say too much because I think it’s best to approach this story without any preconceptions. (I made the mistake of reading reviews that gave away too much of the plot.) All I will say is that it’s a wonderful, original story about an unforgettable family, and I laughed and cried the whole way through.
By Rachel Joyce
I loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, so I was thrilled to receive a special advance copy of Rachel Joyce’s new novel, Perfect. I enjoyed this just as much Harold’s story, although it’s very different in tone and mood. There was one scene in particular that was so beautifully written, so touching and funny and perfect. I’m desperate for someone else to read it now so I can say, “What about that part where . . . ” [Perfect will be published next January.]
A Corner of White: Book 1 of The Colors of Madeleine
By Jaclyn Moriarty
My sister, Jaclyn Moriarty, is an award-winning YA writer, and this is the first in an extraordinary three-book fantasy series. It takes the reader on an incredible journey between Cambridge, England, and the Kingdom of Cello. It’s hilarious, magical, impossible to put down, and there are scenes that still explode through my memory as if I had seen them on the big screen. (And I bet we do see those scenes on the big screen one day.) I read this in manuscript form on a skiing holiday with my family, and once I got over my intense sibling envy, I lost myself in the beautiful worlds she created.
Before we dive headfirst into one of the biggest publishing seasons ever, let's take a moment to look back at the most popular books of the summer—the recent releases that really had you guys buzzing during the past three months. So, without further ado, we present Your Top 10 Books of the Summer, as determined by the number of pageviews on BookPage.com. We'll count down from #10 because it's more exciting that way.
One sweltering summer night in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Val and her best friend June take their inflatable raft onto the bay—but only one of them returns home. Searching for answers and pertinent evidence, their neighborhood is shaken as residents attempt to solve the biggest mystery they’ve ever witnessed. Ivy Pochoda’s second novel, Visitation Street, uncovers Red Hook’s secrets, delving deep into a girl’s disappearance and the ghosts that arise in its wake. (Read our entire review.)
THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB
by Lily Koppel
There’s just something about the early ’60s: the drinks, the conservatism, the consumerism, the Cold War. And the astronauts. “Mad Men” fans and history buffs alike won’t want to miss a new book about a relatively unexplored aspect of this era: the lives of the astronauts’ wives. NASA encouraged the women to be “thrilled, happy, and proud” of their space-bound men, but really they experienced so much more. (Read our entire review and a Q&A with Koppel.)
AMY FALLS DOWN by Jincy Willett
We readers can be greedy things. Mere books are not enough for us: We want the authors, too. We want their autographs, their photographs, handshakes, interviews. . . . In her hilarious, merciless, entirely delightful new novel, Amy Falls Down, Jincy Willett digs into this phenomenon from several angles. Our protagonist, Amy Gallup, is a contentedly washed-up fiction writer in her 60s who spends most of her days teaching writing classes online from her California home. Then one day she trips in the garden, conks her head on a birdbath and proceeds to give a newspaper interview she doesn’t remember doing. (Read our entire interview with Jincy Willett.)
“I heard a little about it after the fact,” Gilbert admits during a call to his office. . . . The issue is that “&” as an opening character refuses to show up in Internet searches, which could mean that online book buyers will miss a chance to read one of the best novels of the year. But Gilbert was never asked about and never considered changing the title. “I remember walking around New York and seeing these ghostly building signs—‘. . . & sons’—and wondering, who are these sons? The ampersand is essential to the title because it evokes the idea of a family trade, the sense that there is the family business of family and you’re kind of stuck in the business.” (Read our entire interview with David Gilbert.)
THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS
by Chris Bohjalian
In his 15 novels, Chris Bohjalian has delved into a potpourri of weighty topics, including environmental activism, medical malpractice suits and interracial adoption. Some of his more recent novels are injected with an element of mystery, and he continues on that track with his latest—a brilliant blend of historical fiction and a chilling serial killer story. This gripping novel opens in Florence in 1955 with the brutal murder of Francesca Rosati, daughter-in-law of Antonio and Beatrice Rosati. (Read our entire review.)
WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES by Karen Joy Fowler
Rosemary Cooke is, in many ways, an ordinary girl raised in an ordinary family. Her father is a behavioral psychologist who always brings his work home, and her mother is his supportive better half. As the youngest, Rose admires her older brother, Lowell, and is jealous because she thinks he loves her sister, Fern, the most. In fact, Rose thinks everyone would pay more attention to her if Fern weren’t around. But that’s where the Cookes are different from most families. Rose and Fern are their father’s work: Fern is a chimp, being raised as a daughter in a human family. (Read our entire review.)
By all appearances, Thea Atwell lives a charmed life. A child of Emathla, Florida, “a stone’s throw” from Gainesville, she rides horses and explores the lush land with her cousin and twin brother, insulated from the Great Depression by her family’s citrus fortune. But in July of 1930, at age 15, Thea is sent to a year-round camp for girls in the Blue Ridge Mountains, an idyllic enclave where Southern young women go to become ladies. Because as the headmistress says, “Becoming a lady is not simply a thing which happens, like magic . . . becoming a lady is a lesson you must learn.” Turns out Thea has done something very bad, and the camp—far away from Florida—is her punishment. (Read our entire review.)
THE HUSBAND'S SECRET
by Liane Moriarty
At first, this reviewer wanted to warn readers not to be taken in by the light tone of Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret. On second thought, maybe readers should let this rather crafty novelist’s deceptive breeziness and humor sweep them along. It makes the shocks just that much more deliciously nasty, including the gob-smacking twist in the epilogue. (Read our entire review.)
by J. Courtney Sullivan
“I didn’t want a wedding,” Sullivan admits during a phone call from her Brooklyn apartment, which she shares with her fiancé. “But now I’m having a very traditional wedding. There will be bridesmaids in taffeta.” All the wedding talk is relevant for two reasons: First, her dazzling new novel, The Engagements, is an examination of marriage and the eternal siren call of diamonds. Second, Sullivan got engaged while she was writing the book, so she was researching her book and her nuptials at the same time. (Read our entire interview with J. Courtney Sullivan.)
THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE
by Neil Gaiman
We readers expect magic when we pick up a Neil Gaiman novel. By now he’s built a reputation for his own unique brand of spellbinding fiction, but even among works . . . The Ocean at the End of the Lane stands as a landmark. Never before has Gaiman’s fiction felt this personal, this vibrant or this deeply intimate. Gaiman’s hero is an unnamed narrator who returns to his childhood home as an adult and is flooded with memories of a farm at the end of the English country lane where he grew up. We relive those boyhood memories as he does, beginning with an odd tragedy that brought him to the doorstep of the Hempstock family. (Read our entire review.)
What do you think of the list? Are there any surprises—that either made or didn't make the list? What was your favorite book of the summer? Let us know in the comments below!