I’ve just returned from a bit of a drive, and after a week and a half of McDoubles, leg cramps, and climbing gas prices, all I want to do is lie down in a recliner and read something other than a Google Maps printout. But what, exactly? I’ve done some research (read: fooled around on the Internet) and come up with these possibilities.
1. “Love & Obstacles” by Aleksandar Hemon
I never read Hemon’s 2008 novel The Lazarus Project, but Amazon recommends it to people who enjoyed Sasa Stanisic’s How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, which I liked quite a lot. Adam Kirsch loved Love & Obstacles (“Hemon, who came to America at age 28 not knowing English, has been recognized as a brilliant English stylist. His portraits of immigrant dislocation have made him one of the most celebrated members of a talented cohort that includes writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, Gary Shteyngart, and Junot Díaz”), and that’s all the recommendation I need.
2. “Inherent Vice” by Thomas Pynchon
It will infuriate some readers, a few of them friends of mine, to learn that I am not a Pynchon fan. I’ve read the first hundred pages of Gravity’s Rainbow a few times, a reliable sign that I will never finish it. I was bored to tears by The Crying of Lot 49. I did enjoy Vineland, mostly because I was moving to Northern California and appreciated the crash course. So why do I want to read Inherent Vice? It’s simple: Tibor Fischer compared it to Elmore Leonard and Charles Willeford. Sold.
3. “Blokes” by David Castronovo
John Gross wrote about it here, not very favorably, and Michael Weiss discussed it here. I can do without John Osborne, but I’ll read anything about Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin for the anecdotes alone.
4. “Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent” by John Reader
Chances are I won’t really pick this one up. I’m not a fan of micro-histories (the Post called them “inanimate biographies”), and even if I were, this particular object would not be high on my list. But Idaho is one of the nine states remaining on my list, and this seems like appropriate background reading.
5. “The Food of a Younger Land” by Mark Kurlansky
Speaking of food and travel, I’m desperate to get my hands on this one. As a lover of food and travel, I can’t wait to read about a time when this country wasn’t overrun with McDonald’s, Hardee’s, and Wendy’s (not that I object to any of ’em). The Times review hits pretty close to home: “The highlights of any road trip, of course, are the pit stops for food, and . . . I-95 should offer a cornucopia: Maryland crabs, North Carolina barbecue, Virginia ham, Georgia boiled peanuts. Yet as we’re all sourly aware, Interstate exits rarely, if ever, yield memorable culinary pit stops. Without strenuous preplanning, road food is almost always bad food, sad food, chain food, clown food.”