New York City and London were featured prominently, as well as vaudevillian comedians, wealthy socialites, Jewish escape artists, media whores, working-class Englishmen and bi-racial schoolchildren.
This was an eventful summer in the world of literature, both in the trade paperback and hardcover arenas.
Relative newcomers such as Thisbe Nissen and Zadie Smith were welcomed with open arms Nissen, for “The Good People of New York,” a hilarious and heartfelt coming-of-age mother and daughter tale, and Smith for “White Teeth,” a witty, fascinating look at three generations and as many cultures, set in working-class London. Smith smartly throws in an exploration of the ethical issues surrounding genetic engineering for good measure.
Old-timers such as John Irving were less successful in their summer literary endeavors. Irving”s eagerly anticipated novel, “The Fourth Hand,” was trashed by everyone from The New York Times to the “Podunk Press.” Many claimed that Irving mocked himself and his style, something a literary author should never, ever do. Well, he warned everyone that “The Fourth Hand” would be a departure from his usual Dickensian antics.
Nick Hornby and Michael Chabon continued to impress the literary world. Perpetuating the British takeover whose momentum was started by Zadie Smith, Hornby”s underrated “How to Be Good” humorously delved into the issues of a working-class English family. As for “Wonder Boys” author Michael Chabon well, he won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in April for “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.” A story of two Jewish men who gain fame in the comic book industry, this book has been hailed as possibly epitomizing the “great American novel.”
Rich, stylish New Yorkers (and their sex lives) are featured in “Kissing in Manhattan” by David Schickler. The narrative voice is exuberant, sassy and very, very funny. A great read if you want pure entertainment and laughs.
One of the oddest books of the summer was “Niagara Falls All Over Again,” about a vaudevillian entertainer who falls in love sort of with his partner. Surprisingly moving while managing to be funny at the same time, this book smoothly combines the necessary elements of good literature.
Here in Ann Arbor, summer sizzled with the heat from some of the year”s best authors arriving for readings. Nissen, Charles Baxter and W.D. Wetherell, among others, showed up to discuss their work with large, enthusiastic crowds.