From Zak M. Salih Email him at zak[AT]borderstan.com.
More end-of-summer reading suggestions for the time-pressed and commitment-phobic.
Don’t have the time to commit to a big book in the remaining time left this summer? Still want to feel like you’ve indulged in some culture along with blockbuster movies, patio happy hours, and saccharine pop songs?
You may want to try these three books: a novel written in short chapters, a collection of essays, and a book of poems. Pick one up, read for two minutes or 20, and come back to them whenever you’re recovering from your other, non-literary summer adventures.
This experimental first novel (whose title is an acronym for Himmlers Hirn heist Heydrich “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”) is a tense recreation of the events leading up to—and after—the 1942 assassination of Nazi bigwig Reinhard Heydrich (chief architect of the Final Solution) at the hands of Czech and Slovak resistance fighters.
In addition to being a taut thriller, Binet’s novel interposes this story with the author’s own quest to understand how best to tell it. Can historical fiction ever capture the truth of an event or a person’s life? If you’re looking for reading with a heavy layer of “meta,” this one may be worth your time. (Cover Courtesy Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Face it: You either think Jonathan Franzen is one of our country’s best living novelists or you think he’s a smug member of the literati. For the former type of reader, there’s much to be enjoyed in his latest collection of essays, speeches, book reviews and commentary on everything from the doom and gloom of the digital era to the art and craft of bird watching to the future of the novel.
Even if you don’t want to read the whole collection from start to finish, picking just a few of these essays (especially the title essay, a New Yorker piece on the death of the author’s friend, David Foster Wallace) are enough to get a solid dose of some insightful cultural criticism. (Cover Courtesy Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
It’s unfortunate that the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy doesn’t get nearly as much acclaim as some of his late 19th- and early 20th-century contemporaries. But thanks to Daniel Mendelsohn’s fresh translation of Cafavy’s poems (first published in 2009 and earlier this summer released in a single paperback edition), that may change. In simple terms, Cafavy’s poems fall into two camps: those that deal with secret homosexual love and those that deal with events in ancient and early medieval history (don’t worry—there are plenty of footnotes here to set you straight on who all these kings, queens, seers, sages, and popes are).
What’s most powerful in these accessible poems is their intense sense of longing and melancholy, whether it’s for a love the speaker can’t have or a decisive moment in history that could have changed everything. Recommended poems to try: “Ithaca,” “Caesarion,” “Myres: Alexandria in 340 A.D.,” and the famous “Waiting for the Barbarians.” (Cover Courtesy Random House, Inc.)