Top Books for September
Labor Day weekend may be the unofficial end of summer, but it’s the start of fall reading with: Oprah’s latest book club pick, a chronicle of the making of The Room called The Disaster Artist that itself is becoming a film starring Dave Franco and Zac Efron, a revisit of Jonathan Safran Foer’s debut Everything Is Illuminated before the release of his first novel in more than a decade, and a poignant look at everyday life in Palestine.
The Underground Railroad
Alex: With the likes of Oprah and President Obama in his corner and rave reviews from critics, Colson Whitehead’s latest novel bounded into my fall reading list seemingly out of nowhere. After finishing it, I’m not surprised by its meteoric ascent.
Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad makes metaphor literal and history tangible. In this antebellum tale, the Underground Railroad is a reality, a subterranean maze of tracks with nebulous destinations. For Cora, a slave who escapes the horrors of the Georgia plantation on the trains, the only direction that really matters is north. From these bones Whitehead builds a story that borrows tropes from Homer to Gulliver’s Travels to Les Miserábles while remaining, at its core, a wholly American tale. Grappling with America’s history of racism well beyond emancipation, Cora’s story is at once brutal and uplifting. Whitehead may take liberties with historical facts, but what emerges is, in many ways, a truer and more comprehensive portrait of America than you’d find in a history book.
The Disaster Artist
Niree: The best–worst movie of all time, The Room, premiered in 2003 and has persisted for over a decade, reaching Rocky Horror Picture Show cult status in theaters across America. Fans arrive at midnight showings with cartons of plastic spoons, ready to hurl gleeful insults at the screen, while the film’s visionary writer/actor/producer/director, Tommy Wiseau, basks in the glow of attention. But just how did a movie so bad—it features characters casually confessing to, then forgetting about, life-changing events; recycled romance scenes; an inexplicable actor change; and neighbors leaving their underpants places—get made?
That’s the question The Disaster Artist attempts to answer. With help from sharp-tongued New Yorker contributor Tom Bissell, actor Greg Sestero (who played best friend/Judas to Tommy’s Johnny character) recounts all of the hard-to-believe happenings that led Wiseau—a mysterious San Francisco wharf vendor with a questionable past—to plow through millions of dollars, multiple cities, and dozens of cast and crew in his pursuit of making the ultimate work of art. From such ill-advised business decisions as purchasing, instead of renting, over a million dollars worth of camera equipment to the odd relationships dominating Wiseau’s life and driving his vision, The Disaster Artist shows just how far one man’s megalomaniacal ambition will take him—and what that means for the rest of us who are merely along for the hilarious ride. (Psst—this title is available in September’s Scribd Selects!)
Everything Is Illuminated
Dave: In Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer has effortlessly dumped the entire bag of postmodern tricks onto the table, sifted through them, picked out the best bits, and joined them together with the glue of magical realism, historical fiction, and metafiction to form a compelling narrative that’s as bombastic as it is—at times—subtle. As far as debut efforts are concerned, this book is a masterpiece, and quickly proved Foer to be a definitive voice in fiction. He would go on to write Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and the non-fiction Eating Animals, both of which were met with much earned accolades, but it will always be Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated that serves as the best example of his preternatural abilities.
The story follows a young man (named after the author) as he journeys across Europe to uncover a mystery from his family’s past. The story is, in parts, narrated by a Ukrainian translator who speaks in hilariously butchered English, and serves as perhaps the best example of Foer’s ability to mix humor, warmth, and literary excellence with the tools of unreliable narration and metafiction.
Also available in audio.
The Way to the Spring
Ashley: Updates on the nightly news about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict have never added up to a cohesive narrative for me—they’re just snippets of a far larger story that I can’t quite figure out how to piece together. After August’s concerns of Palestine allegedly being removed from Google Maps and its implications, journalist Ben Ehrenreich’s latest book, The Way to the Spring, which chronicles the lives of Palestinians in three villages from 2011 to 2014 as they resist Israeli occupation, seemed even more important. Ehrenreich fills in the historical gaps and adds the empathetic element that’s missing from news blasts when discussing Palestinian’s resistance to Israel’s militaristic settlement of Palestinian territory. Though humanizing the Palestinians isn’t one of Ehrenreich’s goals (it’s “a favor they do not need from me,” he says), the compassion and intimacy with which he relates these anecdotes of resistance in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges are The Way to the Spring’s greatest strength.
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