In some lands summer brings sports, sunshine, the wonder of being outside. But in the heart of the Sonoran desert, where summer burns hot enough to ground planes like a New York blizzard, Arizonans find themselves listening more often to the hum of the air conditioner than the buzz of bees on wildflowers. No better time or place exists for reading than Arizona in summer. So to save you the pain and suffering of having a huge chunk of reading time and not a single good book in the house, I’ve compiled a list of four books to stock up before school ends.
“Grass” Sheri S. Tepper
If you’ve ever wished for a version of “Dune” as written by Ursula K. Le Guin, “Grass” will not disappoint. It manages to combine the massive sweep of a classic sci-fi with the intense inner lives of characters more typical of modern genre writing.
Tepper’s writing shifts nimbly between simple prose and trance-like lyricism, clearly delineating the lines between the everyday Orwellian madness of Marjorie Westriding-Yrarier’s life at the start of the novel, and the hypnogogic madness into which she is drawn on the planet Grass, where she and her family have become ambassadors with a secret mission.
(Paperback, 476 pages: intensely readable but a bit heavier than the other three books. Save for long stretches of uninterrupted reading time.)
“Borne” Jeff VanderMeer
Fresh from finishing his Southern Reach trilogy, whose first book “Annihilation” won the 2015 Nebula Award, VanderMeer sets out in “Borne” to continue his exploration of the New Weird, a genre he named and has become the self-appointed champion of.
An unnamed city plagued by the biotech left by The Company, an entity that has long since abandoned these ruins, now ruled by the giant, flying bear Mord. In this city of scavengers, Rachel adopts a scrapped piece of amorphous biotech, whom she names Borne, who seems to be both sentient and growing.
VanderMeer’s specializes in apocalyptic landscapes, yet his stories don’t revolve around survival, but adaption, not rebuilding, but evolving—in his eyes we cannot fight our environment or even leave it, only join it.
(Hardcover, 336 pages: pairs best with a standard GMO hamburger composed of a not-meat patty on a not-quite-bread bun with a slice of definitely-not-cheese, spread liberally with a paste of tomato-flavored polyethylene. Above all do not attempt to fully understand, be content and enjoy.)
“Bellwether” Connie Willis
It’s always a struggle to review the most awarded author in science fiction and fantasy, but “Bellwether” isn’t your typical highly-awarded, hoity-toity fare. It’s a razor of a social comedy, cathartic to read for those fed up with the endless beaurocracy of school life. Willis explores the frivolous causes for human activity, even the activities we take seriously. Like any good farce, “Bellwether” spirals out of control and just when the plot seems to have imploded, pulls back together, revealing a perfect latticework of interconnected elements.
Fans of John Green will find a more mature, in-depth approach to a familiar type of writing.
(Paperback, 243 pages: good, fluffy fun for people who take themselves too seriously. Read instead of filling out needless paperwork.)
“Without You There is No Us” Suki Kim
Don’t be fooled by the label on the cover, this is no memoir. Journalist Suki Kim recounts her year teaching undercover at the only North Korean school in the country run by Westerners. The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology is a school as tightly run as a prison and by Kim’s account with worse food, run by a group of evangelical Christians who seek to use their position as teachers to evangelize the sons of North Korea’s elite.
Of course these missionaries pretend they are nothing more than simple teachers, and Kim herself must use a double layer of deception: pretending she is a missionary pretending to be a teacher and not a journalist bent on revealing to the world the hidden lives of people in the world’s most brutal dictatorship.
(Paperback, 320 pages: personal, slow at times and deeply troubling. Read in a sunlit place.)