Friday, July 04, 2014

For the love of books!

cover story

Is the summer heat getting too hard to handle? Then keep calm, and … read a book! There is never a shortage of good books by famous writers, and like always some of the most prominent authors and personalities in the world have been busy penning tomes in various genres over the last year. And what better time can there be for you to catch up on your reading than your vacations? The next few months give you an excellent chance to find out what’s been going on in the world of literature. Here are a few of the recent releases (mostly from 2014, and a couple from last year) that you might enjoy reading this summer:


Mr. Mercedes: A Novel by Stephen King
Stephen King is one of the best known names in fiction, particularly famous for his horror stories, but for his latest book, which just came out a few weeks ago in June, the American writer has delved into crime fiction, coming up with the mystery thriller Mr. Mercedes. The book tells the story of a retired cop who must return to action in order to stop a man (who previously drove his Mercedes into a job fair, killing and wounding a number of people) from carrying out a terrorist attack. Different in style from the author’s standard fare, Mr. Mercedes has earned praise for its twists and turns, and is set to be part of a trilogy; the second instalment of the series, Finders Keepers, will be released in 2015.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
When unknown writer Robert Galbraith published his debut novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, in April last year, the crime fiction tome went largely unnoticed, selling only a few hundred copies. But things changed quite dramatically just a few months later, when it was revealed that Robert Galbraith was actually Harry Potter writer J. K. Rowling operating under a pseudonym. Now the British novelist has issued The Silkworm, the second book in the series which sees war veteran turned private investigator Cormoran Strike unravel mysteries and solves cases. The sequel, which was just released in June this year, finds the detective investigating the disappearance of a notorious writer who is hated by many and has gone missing without a trace in this absorbing whodunit.

The Goldfinch: A Novel by Donna Tartt
Even if you hadn’t heard of Donna Tartt until last year, it became impossible not to pay attention to this American writer after her novel The Goldfinch came out in October 2013. And now she is the year’s most important name in literature after winning the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the aforementioned tome. Her third novel and first new book in over a decade, The Goldfinch follows the story of Theo, who narrates the events of his life, from the attack that killed his mother when he was a boy to where he ends up as an adult. This (considerably long) book has earned praised for its ambition as well as bagging a number of accolades, but readers haven’t been as unanimously enamoured with it and their views have been quite mixed.

The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick
The runaway success of the 2012 film Silver Linings Playbook did wonders for the profile of American writer Matthew Quick, whose debut novel was adapted into the Oscar nominated movie. His new novel, The Good Luck of Right Now, which came out in February this year, is also hoping to follow in Silver Linings path, with plans to bring it to the big screen already underway. Until it comes to the cinema though, readers can enjoy the touching, uplifting story on paper, as they follow the tale of a man coping with loss whose life changes after he starts a one-sided correspondence with actor Richard Gere!

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hossein
Few authors are fortunate enough to sell millions of copies of each of their books upon their release, and Khaled Hossein is one of them. The Afghan-American author published his third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, last year, once again receiving international recognition. Centred on two siblings and their father’s decision to give one of them to a wealthy childless couple, the story revolves around the bond between families, and is told by different characters through multiple viewpoints.


Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
After the massive success of Freakonomics (2005) and its sequels Superfreakonomics (2009) that were also co-authored by these two writers, we now have Think Like A Freak, another instalment of thought-provoking ideas from the authors who have made economics interesting. This time their focus is on how to apply the ideas of their previous books in our everyday lives, as they try to help us think differently about the various things we encounter, giving us an alternative take on the problems in the world.

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg
Mathematician Jordan Ellenberg’s first non-fiction book How Not to Be Wrong is a discussion on harnessing, as the subtitle suggests, “the power of mathematical thinking”. The author is earning props for this work which explains mathematical ideas, relaying how math relates to and facilitates us to understand things in our daily lives. Just like Freakonomics, this book inspires us to not be scared of the subject but instead to embrace it as it can help us make sense of what happens around us.

If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young – The Graduation Speeches by Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut is best known for his science fiction and satire, but he wasn’t just a masterful storyteller; the writer was also “one of the most in-demand commencement speakers of his time”, and If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? compiles some of his graduation speeches. Sharp, witty, inspiring, cynical, erudite … this collection shares Vonnegut’s wisdom and advice with young graduates, while keeping his voice alive for generations who might not yet be familiar with his work; hopefully it will also inspire readers to discover more of his writings.


Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton

As the 2016 American Presidential election draws near, all eyes are on former First Lady Hillary Clinton and whether she will chose to once again run for the most powerful office in the world. In the meantime, her new book, Hard Choices, is likely to give commentators (whether they are supporters or detractors) much to talk about. The book, that was released this June, details the time that Hillary Clinton spent as America’s 67th Secretary of State from 2009 till 2013, and the hard choices she faced, as she shares accounts of the challenges that came her way during those four years and how they shaped her outlook of the future. Grab a fine toothcomb, and cue lengthy dissections and nitpicky examinations of each sentence by political pundits!

Brunette Ambition by Lea Michele
For something considerably more lightweight, you might want to try Glee star Lea Michele’s new book, Brunette Ambition. The American actress and singer is not only busy with the television series that is now entering its final season, but has also released a new album and issued this book, which briefly talks about her career and her friendships as well as discussing her love for food and staying healthy. It’s short and easy to read, and while the book isn’t exactly a literary masterpiece, it might inspire readers to eat healthy and take care of their bodies.

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
While Malala may be a polarizing figure here at home, both the girl and her book are a huge hit abroad. Whether you think of her as an inspiration or a propaganda vessel, you can’t escape the fact that I Am Malala is currently a book of note. To either praise her or criticise her, you first have to find out more about her and her views, and what better way is there of doing that than reading her (controversial) book? Co-written with British journalist Christina Lamb, the teenager’s memoir, which came out last year, offers personal reflections and historical information about Swat Valley and how she became a champion for education.

Graphic novels

Seconds: A Graphic Novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley
The popularity of the Scott Pilgrim series has made Bryan Lee O’Malley famous among comic book enthusiasts, and his new stand-alone, full-colour graphic novel seems like one of the most exciting offerings of the summer. Set to be released in mid July, Seconds is the tale of a young girl who owns a restaurant and, after a visit from a magical apparition, gets a second chance to undo her wrongs. And if the preview is anything to go by, the novel is going to be quirky, engrossing, and very interesting.

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi
Ernest Shackleton (1874 – 1922) was a polar explorer who led three British expeditions to the South Pole. The story of one of his most ambitious journeys is told in Nick Bertozzi’s graphic novel Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey, as he and his crew endure tough conditions on their dangerous, ice-bound journey. History is brought to life in these black and white panels that depict a dramatic adventure that tests the group’s camaraderie, persistence, and perseverance.

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 4th July, 2014 *

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