Small Planet’s Summer 2021 Reading List
Desert Oracles, Kung Fu Guys, Financial Meltdowns, Elevated Rabbits, and More.
Imagine a world where you wake up on a Saturday morning this summer, and the first thing you reach for is a book. No status updates, Twitter or mail. No Gram, headlines, or messages. Be the change, baby!
Vernon Subutex 1
The first book in a series that follows the stories of many different characters all connected by one man – Vernon Subutex – who used to own a record store but now doesn’t have any money and is meandering around Paris without home or ambition. It was originally written in French but I read the English version. The writing is still incredible and the dark humor definitely does not get lost in translation.
The Constant Rabbit
I went on a deep Jasper Fforde dive last year, and The Constant Rabbit is maximum Fforde. The plot, concerning “elevated” rabbits living among humans in the UK, tackles some very serious, and unsettling, truths about racism, performative politics, and sneaky bias, while still having some pretty silly moments.
I just finished Shuggie Bain, which won the Booker Prize last year. Douglas Stuart’s painful, beautiful story of a boy and his mother scraping by in 1980s Glasgow was great and very difficult to put down. although it deals with some really tough subjects. Stuart’s prose, and his capacity to weave love into tragedy, are beautiful.
I’ve been reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s sci-fi for decades, starting with his Mars trilogy. His writing combines hard science with personal relationships. Aurora is set in the 25th Century as the inhabitants of a generation ship approach a planet 12 light-years away from Earth. They’ve been in transit for almost 200 years, and facing their impending arrival with some trepidation. We learn about the ship, its crew, and their first exposure to an alien world. As with the best of science fiction, it opens our eyes to possible futures with both pathos and a dash of adventure.
The Mark And The Void
Paul Murray’s novel about the worst finance bros in Dublin is slyly hilarious and surprisingly tender. How can you resist a mash-up of art heists, financial meltdowns, the search for love, and the writing of a book titled For the Love of a Clown?
Now in paperback, Charles Yu’s National Book Award winner applies a structure so universal to Americans — a deep understanding of how TV and movie tropes work in front of and behind the camera — to propel a narrative around the specific experience of an Asian actor struggling to break clichés. Written in the format of a script (Yu also wrote for WestWorld), Interior Chinatown does the impossible, making for a fun ride through harsh territory.
Two girls go missing in an (incredibly) remote Russian peninsula full of dangers both natural and man-made. In the year following their disappearance, this intricately woven story provides a lens of what makes or breaks communities, and how violence and corruption seep into the lives of women everywhere. It also imbued in me an unexpectedly deep empathy for a previously unexplored part of Russian culture and history (to western eyes, that is).
Excellent book, and one of the rare flawless adaptations into an excellent TV series. I’ve been a fan of Neil Gaiman’s since Sandman, and I read a couple of Terry Pratchett’s books. But I guess it was the general sense of whimsy and lightness, alongside quite a bit of sarcasm & wit, that drew me to what is now regarded as a modern classic.
Desert Oracle Volume 1
This essay collection of greatest hits from Ken Layne’s gonzo zine is a portal to the Mojave Desert for everybody who wishes they were there but stuck in the waning embers of lockdown. UFOs, radio-friendly balladeers, nuclear physicists, cult leaders, and con artists all make appearances in this part survival guide, part survey of a beautifully fringe America.
Rock Me On The Water
Despite embracing the unfortunate trend of novella-sized nonfiction subtitles (“1974—The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television and Politics”) and more than a little celebrity worship, Ronald Brownstein’s entertaining history posits that this year was the high point of L.A.’s cultural influence on America, a flashpoint where art and business worked together to make some pretty great product. The TV and film sections are particularly fun.
Sense and Sensibility
I have a weakness for British costume dramas, and getting it in literature format is just as sweet. There’s something emblematic of our own era when reading tales told in centuries past, when youth relied upon inheritance (and the beneficence of the wealthy) rather than trade for their living. In this great novel’s telling, we see two sisters ride the whirlwind of rigid social structure and courtship rituals, and we hang on with white knuckles to learn whether they make that ultimate match… regardless of whether it’s for love or money.