Regulars Recommend: Jason Rubin

Today we have a regulars recommend from delightful regular Jason Rubin!

Jason usually can be found playing board games, baking flourless chocolate cake (or other goodies), or reading a book (obviously). He also has a fondness for building Lego models, doing funny voices, and solving the NYT crossword (currently on a 74 day streak!) The whole being stuck at home indeterminately thing has also led to him learning to crochet and working out on a trampoline (although not at the same time). He imagines that in an alternate reality (or possibly this one) he is a grumpy dragon who wishes adventurers would stop trying to kill him and be his friends know, until dinner time.

I love recommending books to people I know. I find such joy in reading a great book, and by passing on a recommendation, I get to share that joy with someone else. Unless, of course, they dislike the book I’ve recommended. But that clearly makes them wrong. Or a bad friend. Ok...ok...just someone with different tastes. And that’s fine (but not really). Before making a recommendation, I like to ask what other books that person has enjoyed to better guide my recommendation. If they really enjoy historical fiction romance stories, I’m not going to suggest they read the latest Stephen King. 

Given that I’ve been locked away in my apartment for seemingly forever with no end in sight, I thought making recommendations to those I don’t know would be fun for a change. Of course, I can’t ask each of you what other books you have enjoyed. But I’ll precursor my suggestions with the cloying-but useful-“if you liked X, you’ll love Y!”. Additionally, some people really just like books that are easy to read, say a Harry Potter type book (Rank 1). Other folks really like meaty, dense prose like a Crime and Punishment (Rank 10). I’d put Game of Thrones somewhere between the two (Rank 5). Each of my recommendations will give you a rough idea of this as well. 

One (or two) more provisos. While I am a lawyer by profession, you will not find any legal drama/related novels on this list. I find them annoying. The actual practice of law is nothing like it is portrayed to be in novels (or TV). I don’t need to read about a lawyer with this super-cool fascinating life while I sit in an office for 8 hours a day. No thank you. The other thing you won’t find on this list are well-known top best-seller novels. They don’t need the publicity and have been written about enough. Rather, I’m going to try to highlight some books which I have thoroughly enjoyed and which deserve more readers than they currently have. (They all also happen to have staggeringly good titles...which, as everyone knows, is the mark of a good book.) 

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (for those who like short stories. Similar to but better than A Visit From the Goon Squad).

Readability: 5-6 

Do you like short stories? Of course you do. Do you like incredibly well written prose? Duh. Can you think of nothing better to read than the depressing effects of the war in Chechnya? either. I was initially hesitant to pick this up for precisely that reason. I have little to no interest in reading about war and no real curiosity about the war in Chechnya. Set that aside. Really. What the author has done is write a novel comprised of multiple short stories that all link together. A certain painting by an obscure Russian painter is the thread that weaves all the stories together. The chapters jump around between time periods and character perspectives. It isn’t always clear how one character relates to least initially—but everything connects in the end. The author has also penned one of my favorite lines ever—“Hipsterdom’s a tightrope strung across the canyon of douche-baggery. He hung by a finger.” That is a great line!! For those of you who do not think this is a great line, skip ahead to the next recommendation. Or stop reading all together. We aren’t ever going to be friends. In all seriousness though, this book is absolutely a joy to read and the chapters are woven together so well. This is not an easy breezy read but it’s so very worth it. 

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (for those who like, really, really good mysteries.)

Readability: 3-4 

Let’s start with the is amazing. 7 1/2 Deaths? What does that even mean? How can you have a 1/2 death? Is it like being “mostly dead”? Is it just a “little death”? (no...that’s an entirely different genre). So, right away, the title of the book pulls you in. And, thankfully, it only gets better from there. The protagonist has eight days to solve a murder...or rather, he has the same day—lived eight times. Complicating this is that he wakes up every day in a different person’s body and consciousness. (Think Rashomon meets Groundhog Day...ish.) And while the timeline can get a little confusing at times, it’s not insurmountable. This novel is easily one of the most creative and innovative ways to tell a story I’ve read. And even when you think you have the story all figured totally don’t. This is one of those books that you savor and don’t want to rush through—even though you really do want to see what happens next. You’ll be disappointed when it is over because you don’t get to read it anymore...but you will think about it for days afterwards and recommend it to all your friends because it is just that good.

Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls by Matt Ruff (for those who like character development, conflict and soul-searching)

Readability: 4 

Speaking of brilliantly inventive books with one person inhabiting multiple persons, in this novel, multiple personalties inhabit one character (well...two, actually). Andrew Gage is not alone in this world...he has 100+ different personalities kicking around in his skull (don’t don’t meet them all and don’t have to keep track of that many). That doesn’t make him “not alone”, but wait! He meets Penny...who also has multiple personalities. What happens when one of Andy’s personalities falls in love with one of Penny’s personalities? What happens when Andy’s personalities fight amongst themselves for control? And is there a mystery surrounding Andy’s past as well? (‘Spoiler’: There is.) I definitely want some of whatever Matt Ruff uses to come up with this novel novel (see what I did there?). This is another of those books where you absolutely want to read “just one more chapter” and then you’re cursing yourself for staying up so late reading. (Side note: If you happen to read and enjoy this book, I highly recommend all of Matt Ruff’s novels. His stories generally involve very innovative themes and methods of storytelling.)

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (for those who want to be tickled by a slew of literary references and alternate reality)

Readability: 2-3 

Who among us hasn’t wished they could jump into a novel? That’s right, we all have. Oh, you haven’t? C’mon! You totally have. Hmm. Well...then you aren’t reading the right books aren’t enjoying them properly! Ok...ok...what if you could jump into a novel AND impact the outcome? Well, then you’ll definitely identify with the villain in this amazing novel. In an alternate world, London’s law enforcement has a division called Jurisfiction, which polices literary crimes. When Acheron Hades jumps into an original Charles Dickens’ manuscript, kidnaps various characters and kills a minor character, this changes all copies of the novel. And now he’s going to do the same to Jane Eyre! Enter our stalwart detective Thursday Next (yeah yeah, weird name — it gets explained...eventually) and her pet dodo (they aren’t extinct in this world.)

I don’t want to tell you anymore about this because you should discovery the joys and surprises on your own. The best part is that if you read and like this novel (and you will), Jasper Fforde has a bunch of other books in the series. So, even after this one, you still get to go on more adventures with Thursday Next, and since those books are already published, you don’t have to wait around forever waiting for the next one. 

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson (for those who like to read about self discovery and relationships)

Readability: 3-4 

So, to be completely honest with you all, I read this book a long time ago and don’t remember a whole lot of the details. So, you ask, why are you recommending it? Can’t you recommend books you’ve read more recently?? And yes, I can...and did. (Ahem...see above!) But while I don’t remember the details, per se, I do know that I really, really enjoyed this novel. And given that I still feel that way after all this time means something. Alice, a twenty-five year old editorial assistant, is hired by a reclusive award winning author to look after her nine year old son, Frank. Frank is a genius but is a bit of a social outcast—most fourth graders are not geniuses and don’t know how to interact with one. Alice doesn’t know how to interact with one either, but learns throughout the story. The relationship that develops between her and Frank is really beautiful and heartwarming. If you like stories about children, relationships, or just a good tale, do yourself a favor and read this book. 

Well that’s all I’ve got to recommend right now. If you’ve been inspired to read one (or more) of these novels, I’ve done my (non-paying) job. And if after reading one (or more) of them, you really liked the novel, I’d love to hear from you! If, on the other hand, you think I’m way off base with my suggestions—well, you can keep that to yourself. In all seriousness though, reading is one of the great pleasures in life and I hope I’ve helped to spread a bit of joy through these recommendations. 

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