The latest of my (still lagging) 75 books for 2006 were The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and Stumbling and Raging: More Politcally Inspired Fiction, edited by Stephen Elliott.
#4: The Namesake is a novel that was totally addictive; it demanded that I come home and pick it up when I was trying to eat dinner with friends. At its best, it features Lahiri's beautiful, thoughtful and sad writing. But it isn't always at its best, perhaps because the story doesn't have the emotional power of some of her short stories. Her protagonist is cold and connects with few people in his world. For readers in our world, he's hard to connect with, too. But it was still a fast, good read.
Lahiri is the youngest writer ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature, at age 32. I know she was 32 because we went to elementary school together. We grew up in the same small town in Rhode Island; her dad worked with my mom at the university library. We were in plays together, fifth grade together, Girl Scouts together. The Namesake draws on a New England childhood that often resembles our own. When the mother in The Namesake chose not to throw a birthday party for her son because the local kids claim to be allergic to milk, I cringed. I was allergic to milk. In the book, an Indian society evolves inside of the suburban society; in real life, I saw the moms in their saris, even in winter, shopping at the grocery store. Was there a world full of real curries and somosas right there in my town? I'm fascinated to think there was.
I have lots of questions to ask her about her beautiful writing, the big prize, and why Peter Ashley's dad makes an anachronistic appearance to deliver the protagonist. And I hope someday I get to ask them on Pinky's Paperhaus.
#5 Stumbling and Raging is a book of short stories inspired by, not about, politics. Editor Stephen Elliott will soon appear on Pinky's Paperhaus to talk about the book. Four Stanford students helped him put it together, and they had nice pickings. While there are a few stories I didn't love, it's a really strong collection. Marquee names include Dave Eggers, Aimee Bender, Sandra Cisneros, Neal Pollack and Chris Abani. but the less well-known writers, like Courtney Angela Brkic (that's not a typo) and Jeff Parker, hold their own. Funds raised by the book's sales will be given to progressive Congressional candidates; a good read in more ways than one.