I remember summers not so much by what I did, but by what I read. I read a ton, usually two or three novels going at a time...but almost always, when the summer is over, one will stand out in my memory. There's the summer of The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. The summer of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. And then there was the summer I read hardly anything, because I was under a deadline, but every day when I reached the point of brain fry-age, when all original thought had been dredged up and consumed, I watched one of the “Making Of” videos on myLord of the Rings DVDs. There are a lot of them. Then, when I’d seen them all, I watched them again. For some reason, at that point in my life, listening to screenwriters and actors and directors and artists talk in endless detail about story and the creative process and setbacks and breakthroughs was both soothing and inspiring. (Especially since, of course, it was LotR, and you knew it was all going to turn out great in the end.)
This summer has been the summer of A Suitable Boy.
I plucked the book off a bookstore shelf in June. I hadn’t heard of it before, I didn’t know anybody else who’d read it. Entirely impulse. Skimmed the first two pages and was instantly entranced. So what if it had 1,472 more pages after those first two? What else is summer for?
A Suitable Boy is set in 1951 India, just a few years after the country won its independence from Britain. It's about a young woman, Lata, and her family's search to find her "a suitable boy" to marry. (Lata has ideas of her own, of course--and thereupon hangs the tale.) The novel follows four families, at least a dozen major characters, has I don’t even know how many plot threads...and yet the author, Vikram Seth, weaves it all together so beautifully that not once did I confuse characters or storylines. Almost every page is a marvel of storytelling. And, an even more amazing feat—Seth wrapped all those storylines into a beautiful, fitting, and entirely satisfying ending. A Suitable Boy is now one of my favorite all-time books. It’s made the desert-island list, and that’s the highest recommendation I can make. If you love a big, gorgeous family epic, a fictional world you can immerse yourself in for a long, thoroughly enjoyable time, then run do not walk to your nearest bookstore and get you a copy and take it home and dive in.
If you don't think A Suitable Boy will float your boat (hey, no judgement here--I'm one of two people in the entire country who didn't like Cold Mountain) then check out The Chick Manifesto's list of "Top Ten Hopefully Unfamiliar Books," parts one and two. Any list that contains both Rosemary's Baby and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has to have something for everyone. (Plus they included A Princess Bride, which is another personal desert island pick, and if the island has a DVD player, I'm bringing the movie, too, because this is seriously the best book-to-movie adaptation ever made. Mandy Patinkin, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright (before she was Robin Wright-Penn), the best swordfight in all of moviedom, and the immortal line: "I am Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.")
Compelling characters. Fascinating worlds. Action. Passion. What's not to love?