This week’s list of suggested titles was compiled by local writer Geoff Kirsch.
“Drop City” by T.C. Boyle
An “Alaska” novel like you’ve never read before, TC Boyle tells the story of a 1970s Northern California hippie commune that gets kicked off its land and decides to relocate to a homestead in remote Interior Alaska. Not only is TC Boyle’s sense of place exceptional, but as far as sheer writing ability goes, this guy’s got the goods. The section with the disgruntled vegetarian who decides to go deer hunting is particularly brilliant. So is the scene in which the magic bus arrives at the landing 60 miles upriver from Fairbanks and all these hippies come spilling out into pre-pipeline Bush Alaska.
“Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides
Don’t let the title fool you. This isn’t some British drawing room snoozer. “Middlesex” is what fancy literary types like me call a “bildungsroman,” or coming-of-age story, wrapped into the saga of the Stephanides family. Half the novel takes place in the present, as the main character comes to terms with his/her gender identity (he/she is born with both male and female genitalia), while the other half follows three generations as they flee war, immigrate to America and assimilate. A touching, funny, well-written story about the American Dream. Oprah featured this novel in her book club, so you know it’s good.
“Catch-22” by Joseph Heller
This is as good as satire gets, at least modern American satire. We’ve all heard the term “catch-22,” meaning a problem for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in that problem. Read the novel that coined the term, as a squadron of WWII fighter pilots attempts to get home from service alive and sane. Modern Library Ranked “Catch-22” seventh on its Best English-language Novels of the 20th Century. It’s easily the most readable of any of that list’s Top 10, except maybe “The Great Gatsby,” and only because that one’s so short.
“The Witches of Eastwick” by John Updike
My wife tells me no one’s as good as Wally Lamb, but if you ask me, for a man, John Updike does an incredible job constructing female characters in this novel. Three recently divorced women are each seduced by a wealthy bachelor who moves to town (Eastwick, Rhode Island) only to discover that (spoiler alert) he’s the devil and they have witchly powers. It’s like Harry Potter for grown-ups, sort of. Also check out the film version, starring Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, Cher and Jack Nicholson.
“Pet Semetary” by Stephen King
Alongside blasting live Yes albums and eating Nutella off a spoon, Stephen King ranks among my guiltiest pleasures. He is also one of my earliest influences. Workmanlike in style, maybe, but this guy knows how to tell a story. While I find it hard to choose an absolute favorite Stephen King novel — “Misery,” “The Shining” and “The Stand” could each lay claim — my father-in-law recently sealed the deal. He had a friend, he said, who found “Pet Sematary” so frightening while reading it, she kept it in the freezer. How’s that for provoking reader response?
• Submit your own list of Five Good Reads in any genre to the Arts desk at firstname.lastname@example.org.