The source of self-esteem, Toni Morrison
It may be premature to regard a recent release as a classic, but Toni Morrison’s work is so reflected in the canon of American literature – musical and observant prose folded in Beloved and The bluest eye set the standard for fiction at the end of the 20th century. Morrison’s latest book is not so much a memoir as an ode to the writing process: it is a collection of essays and lectures on the artistic life, with nods to James Baldwin, Romare Bearden and Martin Luther King Jr.
Jaws, Peter Benchley
So the shark is a metaphor, supposedly. Just a year before Steven Spielberg adapted it into a blockbuster, and more than a decade before Shark Week launched as an American pastime, Peter Benchley published his first novel, about a seaside resort terrorized by a big white shark with an attitude power and to be kept under the thumb of the marital unity. Or capitalism. There are some unfortunate scenes that haven’t aged well, but the book still works as an unassuming literary Splenda for summer reading.
Dandelion wine, Ray bradbury
For the first 14 years of his life, Ray Bradbury lived in Waukegan, Illinois, a mid-sized town just below the Wisconsin border. This is where we place Dandelion wine, one of Bradbury’s novels that is so clearly his darling, and not just for the direct comparisons between the young protagonist’s life and his own. The book is intensely nostalgic for youth and summer, loaded with images from childhood in the Midwest. “Hold summer in your hand, pour summer into a glass,” he wrote. “Change the season in your veins by lifting the glass to the lip and tilting the summer.”
Course, river, Jeanne Didion
A few years before the publication of Collapse towards Bethlehem and The white album, essayist Joan Didion published Run, River, a portrait of a dark and uninspiring marriage that collapses in on itself after a sudden murder. The novel is set in Didion’s hometown of Sacramento, and it shows: there’s a confidence in the way she writes of the Western pace of life that sustains the difficult story and makes it infinitely more readable.
We have always lived in the castle, Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson ended her career with We have always lived in the castle, and despite its obvious merits, the novel never quite reached the heights of Jackson’s new cult “The Lottery”. The two female protagonists are Jackson’s personal sun and moon, sisters kept in a remote domain with death a permanent stain on their past and future. Without a gadget, monster or ghost, the novel straddles the line between horror and psychological fiction, reworking the concept of American Gothic for years to come.