There are a lot of excellent books out there. But reading takes time and no matter how much you may want to read, things can get in the way — like day-long Netflix binges, crafting Spotify playlists that make you look effortlessly cool, Instagramming your cat attacking the wind, etc. Fear not! Culture Binge presents a weekly feature, SnarkNotes, to cut through the cluttered world of books and guide you toward what you should be reading.
We’re kicking off the series by bringing you up to speed on The Latest and Greatest recent novels. At the end of each year, there’s always a pileup of “Best of” lists, literary prizes and holiday releases. Now that the dust has settled and we are firmly in 2014, we’ve taken stock of all of the recommendations, rants and raves and distilled them to our top picks.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
This whopper of a book (over 800 pages) garnered 28-year-old New Zealand novelist Eleanor Catton the 2013 Man Booker prize. Set in New Zealand in the height of the gold rush of the 1860s, The Luminaries has an extraordinary cast of characters: lucky prospectors and unlucky indentured Chinese laborers, crafty criminals and vengeful opium dealers, an honest newspaperman and a pessimistic Maori, an opportunistic madam and a romantic whore. Their lives intersect with the murder of a hermit and the disappearance of a wealthy prospector—but these relationships are more fated than they first appear. The book was just optioned for a BBC miniseries so read it now to be ahead of the culture curve.
You Should Read It If… you like deliciously rich Dickensian novels with fully-formed, complex characters and touches of the supernatural.
Culture Binge Mashup Deadwood meets Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh meets The Lumineers.
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
In Rachel Kushner’s novel (a finalist for the National Book Award), a young, unnamed female narrator leaves her native Nevada to make it in the New York art world of the 1970s. She falls in with a successful Italian artist—heir to a motorcycle empire—and his eccentric circle of philandering artists, drunk patrons, naive scenesters and broken dolls. She races motorcycles, travels to Italy, and gets pulled into the revolutionary spirit of the decade. A novel about speed, youth and messy love, The Flamethrowers is a fantastic portrayal of a young woman navigating an insane world and realizing that people can be pretty shitty.
You Should Read It If… you love strong female narrators, motorcycle racing and wish you had experienced NYC before Giuliani.
Culture Binge Mashup Warhol’s Factory meets Antonioni’s Blow-Up meets Chrissie Hynde.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
A literary darling, Donna Tartt (A Secret History, The Little Friend) publishes a book about once every 10 years. Each one is worth the wait. In her latest, The Goldfinch, teenager Theo Decker is examining a Dutch masterwork, “The Goldfinch,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mother when a bomb explodes and his life is shattered. He shuttles from a friend’s home on the Upper East Side to his estranged father’s rough scene in Las Vegas and back to New York, all the while carrying a deep secret and haunting guilt. He befriends an energetic and damaged Ukrainian, Boris, who shepherds him into a strange underground of international art theft and Russian gangsters.
You Should Read It If… you like larger-than-life characters, beautifully constructed prose and epic relationships.
Culture Binge Mashup Great Expectations meets Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann meets In Bruges.