Do not plan on picking up The Hunger Games if you have any obligations in your life, including work, family, hobbies, or if you happen to require sleep. These books are by far the most vivid, gripping, engaging reads I’ve encountered in years. The series is situated in the future – the United States is ancient history, replaced by an fascist-like entity called Panem divided into twelve enslaved districts. Each year, children must fight to the death in a tournament called The Hunger Games.
This series, like Harry Potter, The Lightning Thief, and Twilight, are young-adult books which have crossed over into mainstream. In 2012, the first of the movies come out, so if this is the first you’re hearing of The Hunger Games, it will be the first of many.
2) Where Men Win Glory : The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer (Nonfiction)
Regardless of your politics, Pat Tillman was an interesting character. An elite athlete who played professional football for the Arizona Cardinals, Tillman turned down a multi-million dollar NFL contract to enlist in the Army after 9/11. He was recently married, and left behind a life of comfort to pursue his ideals.
Tillman was also an intellectual, reading Thoreau, Nietzsche, and Chomsky, whose ideas informed his experiences as captured in his journal entries. When he was killed in friendly fire, his family spent years attempting to unravel Army cover-ups about what truly happened. Krakauer’s book is a phenomenal character study and odyssey, not just of Tillman but of the loved ones who lost him and their quest for the truth.
3) Early Bird by Rodney Rothman (Memoir, Comedy)
Not since Barrel Fever did I laugh out loud as much as I did with Early Bird. Rodney Rothman was a young television writer who burned out on late-night comedy shows and decided to retire early – to Century Village in Boca Raton, FL (note: Boca Raton is the location of Rocket Matter, the company that sponsors this blog).
What results is sort of comedic anthropology, as Rothman lives like an elderly, retired person and gives us insight into what makes them tick. They have cliques, sleep around, shout obscenities during Bingo, and some of them are grumpy for a reason. I did not want this book to end.
4) Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (Nonfiction)
If you read Seabiscuit (recommended in my previous unputdownable book list), you’ll recall that Laura Hillenbrand evokes recent history in three dimensions. Louis Zamperini was a U.S. entrant in the 1936 Berlin Olympic games, and later was shot down as a pilot in the Pacific during WWII. He then spent over forty days at sea, adrift in a raft, before being picked up by the Japanese and serving incredibly cruel time in a POW camp.
In seemingly every scene in the book, detail after detail form a full cinematic picture of the events. Hillebrand’s writing technique is amazing – she’ll get a variety of perspectives from the participants just to form a single scene. The result is an incredibly rich, vivid portrait of Louie’s incredible endurance, the psychology of the Japanese WWII prison guards, and a fascinating chapter in world history.
5) The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva (Fiction)
I love a good spy novel, and can’t believe I was never turned onto Daniel Silva earlier. I think one of the barriers was that he features a recurring character, Gabriel Allon, and I didn’t want to get invested in a series. But that was a mistake, because Silva is among the best spy writers out there, right up there with Ken Follett.
The Unlikely Spy is very reminiscent of Follett’s Eye of The Needle – it’s just as well developed and gripping, takes place in the UK during WWII. In fact, it seems to be an homage to Follett’s spy masterpiece. It is NOT a Gabriel Allon book. I found it to be a completely compelling read, and you’ll find that the characters have a richness that’s absent in a lot of popular fiction.
What about you? What books do you recommend for the summer that you couldn’t put down?