The Grumpy Librarian: Are You a Time Traveler?
In Which Walker Percy, Sheila Heti, and Ian McEwan Share Something...
Caitlin Goodman, aka, The Grumpy Librarian, is here to help. The rules are simple: if you’re looking for what book to read next (who isn’t), just send over two books you love, and one you… don’t. The Grumpy Librarian will do the math and provide you with the ideal next read. (To submit your books, you can email TheGrumpyLibrarian@lithub.com.)
Albert Camus, The Stranger · JD Salinger, Franny & Zooey
John Updike, Rabbit Run
Readers won’t be shocked to learn this submission comes from a friendly neighborhood white dude. The question is whether Dear Writer is a time-traveling intellectual from the early 1960s or just someone who hasn’t done much reading since AP English. If you didn’t know that there have been several books published in the past 50-plus years, the Grumpy Librarian will gamely recommend one of them. But if you are a time-traveling intellectual from the early 1960s, you’ll like Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, find it in the New Fiction section of Brentano’s!
There’s nothing objectionable about this list, exactly, although it is mildly worrisome that a fully-grown adult no longer in college would claim such affinity with The Stranger. Dear Writer may be really into books where insufferable, blinkered protagonists struggle with empathy, but at least he recognizes Rabbit, Run is a bridge too far. Taking self-analytical detachment into the contemporary era, the GL recommends Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? There are echoes of the Glass family: the exhausting self-awareness of “Sheila” in this “novel from life” is calculated to overwhelm. It is not tightly constructed and it is not spare or quiet, and Heti does not care to earn points for style, but it seems a fitting enough literary successor to the psychotherapizing of your old favorites. Here in 2016 whiskey is still acceptable, but you’re going to have to swap in Adderall for the Quaaludes.
JoJo Moyes, Me Before You · Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
Look, here’s a spoiler alert. Did you know that the male lead in weepie Me Before You chooses to kill himself even after he’s been shown the magic of true love because he’s in a wheelchair? Wooooof, and that’s not even touching on the whole “I have no ambitions because of my secret gang rape” reveal. Anyway, sorry if this column just ruined the book (or movie) but the GL is too grumpy to countenance such pablum. The Handmaid’s Tale is schlock of a higher caliber, although the GL prefers her Atwood with a minimum of hectoring allegory.
As much as it pains your GL, you would definitely like Never Let Me Go. It’s lite sci-fi romance, speculative fiction in trade paperback. But it is more appealing to recommend Ian McEwan’s Atonement. It’s got the sheen of big-H History, set primarily in pre-WWII and wartime England, plus a deserved reputation as a contemporary classic. The GL has not, and will not, see the movie, but that also exists if you’re the compare/contrast type. Definitely don’t try and finish the book in public, unless you don’t mind crying into your Sweetgreen salad.