Modern Literature, from A to B – Part I

I’ve probably already mentioned that I spend a lot of time driving for my job. Chicago to Springfield and back (404 miles). Chicago to Rock Island and back (354 miles). Plus various Chicago suburbs and other cities in the Land of Lincoln.

Aravind Adiga
Aravind Adiga

I know what you’re thinking. Don’t I get jaded by all the glamour? That is a concern, but a bigger problem is finding something to listen to. There are long stretches where the only options are Christian radio, country music, and golden oldies. I have nothing against any of these, but I also don’t want to listen to any of them for any great length of time.

This is how I came to discover the audio books section at my local library. I really like listening to books, especially fiction, when I’m driving. When I started listening to audio books in the car, I began with the classics – meaning books I was supposed to read in high school or college but didn’t. Erasing the accumulated guilt of all those neglected homework assignments felt great.

I went on to a handful of authors that I knew I liked. When I finished those, I was stumped on how to proceed. Finally, instead of picking books at random, I decided to go with an alphabetical approach. I skipped authors that I knew I didn’t like, also some that seemed to fit into a genre that didn’t interest me.

The result is that I’ve discovered a lot of authors that I enjoy, that I had never heard of before. My only complaint is that as the library obtains new books, or as I see old books returned to the shelves, I haven’t been able to get past the letter B.

Kate Atkinson
Kate Atkinson

In any case, today I am going to share part of this list with you. These are all books that I liked. If you’re looking for something new to read in the area of fiction, this might be helpful.

Chinua Achebe

  • Things Fall Apart. The life of a tribal leader is gradually destroyed as Christianity and colonial governance is established in Nigeria.

Aravind Adiga

  • The White Tiger. A very dark comedy about one man’s path from poverty to wealth in modern India.
  • Last Man in Tower. A retired teacher stands in the way of the construction of a luxury high-rise in Mumbai.

Monica Ali

  • In the Kitchen. The human face of globalization revealed through the kitchen of an upscale London restaurant.
  • Brick Lane. Bengali immigrants struggle to adjust to life in England.
  • Alentejo Blue. English expatriates generally not finding happiness in a scenic region of Portugal.
Sherman Alexie
Sherman Alexie

Julia Alvarez

  • In the Time of the Butterflies. Sisters are drawn into the movement to overthrow the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic.
  • Saving the World. An idealistic international aid worker gets involved in a dubious project in the Dominican Republic.

Kate Atkinson

  • Behind the Scenes at the Museum. A very funny and very painful story of emotional deprivation being passed from one generation to the next in an “ordinary” English family.

Sherman Alexie 

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. Everything this guy writes is a mix of brilliant, hilarious, and horrifying. An adolescent Native American boy tries to create a future for himself off the reservation.
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. A collection of short stories portraying the lives of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, on and off the reservation. See first sentence in description above.

So that’s the As. I’ll have to talk about the Bs in Part II at some point in the future. My three favorites were The White Tiger (Adiga), Behind the Scenes at the Museum (Atkinson), and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (Alexie). If you haven’t read some or any of these, you might want to give then a look.

What books have you been reading lately?

14 Comments on “Modern Literature, from A to B – Part I”

  1. It’s very lovely, you drive and listen to new story!
    Oh, the printed book between TV and computer can’t win. The last audio book I’ve listened was ‘the Fairy Stories’ for children. It’s comfortable: not to read them, kids listen to story themselves.

  2. My adult son and I listened to “The Last Picture Show” while gallivanting around the northeast one summer. I picked it because I thought it would be entertaining to both of us – and I introduced him to a new author – he went on to read the Lonesome Dove books. I like listening to non-fiction while I knit – just finished Robert Caro’s “Passage to Power” – 27 disks!

    • I started out with more non-fiction in the car – I listened to Master of the Senate while driving (I read Passage to Power at home), also the Shelby Foote Civil War book. Gradually I shifted to mostly fiction.

      As to family car trips, we found Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe series to be very enjoyable for all generations.

  3. Oh! I’m a huge Sherman Alexie fan, and as he’s in your top three of the A’s, I’ll surely need to check out the other two.

    PS – Most of my cousins live in Whiteside county and surrounds. Uh, yeah, glam is your middle name!

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